Bullies at Church? Say it Ain't So!
According to BullyingStatistics.org: "The goal of an adult bully is to gain power over another person, and make himself or herself the dominant adult. They try to humiliate victims, and “show them who is boss.”
I was bullied myself when I was a young adult and fairly new to Christianity. Some of the women would stare at me and give me dirty looks, for what seemed no reason at all. I decided to confront one of them and, I was told that God had assigned her to “Spiritually” raise me. Ummm…..what?
Why did I chose to endure this? I was trying to be “submissive” to my husband. He had his personal ambitions within the church, therefore he would not stand up for me. The pastor, who was my brother in law at the time was well aware of this and also chose not to take action. He was a bully himself, so it was probably something he did not want to deal with. Not judging, just saying. The results? Well this is a trickle down behavior and so I became pretty good at bullish behavior myself.
I was never comfortable being a bully so I acted out in different ways until I was ready to face the consequences of being involved in such a toxic environment. It took watching my own elementary school aged children being bullied by adult Christians for me to finally realize we were in the wrong place. I was starting to get over that whole "submissive" wife thing. Fortunately for us, this church closed down shortly afterward and we moved on.
Common Traits of Church Bullies
- Bullish people typically like to align themselves with the "popular" groups. Or sometimes it is worse, they are the "popular" group.
- They are notorious for starting and spreading gossip. Usually under the guise of being a "concerned brother or sister".
- They tend to have a message from God that is degrading of their victim's character, without a solution or a typical blessing that follows rebuke.
- They are master manipulators who create much unnecessary drama in such a way that no one else notices or realizes the truth of what is actually happening.
- People are afraid to confront them, even leadership. It is more distressing in a family church when the bully is related to pastoral staff.
- They will either push other people out of the church and if that does not happen, they will move on to another church to create a whole new source of chaos.
What to do When you Encounter Bullies in the Church
If you can, walk away from such toxic people. Stick with the winners! You will know them when you see them. They might not have the fancy “positions” or are part of the “in” crowd. But they bear His fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” - Galatians 5:22-23
But what can be done if this person just won't leave you alone or is spreading nasty gossip about you?
- Always start with prayer and meditation, with love. For even bullies deserve love.
- Find a trusted friend to share your frustrations and pain about the situation
- Ask a trusted friend to sit in if you are to confront the bully. This is so that both parties feel safe. The trusted friend does not have to even talk or take part in the conversation. It is equally important for the trusted friend to feel safe as well.
- Calmly and as lovingly as possible, ask this bully “What do you need from me that you are not getting now?”
- If this is not working, an intervention including friends and family of the bully might be needed.
- If none of the above works, the last resort will always be to bring this issue before the congregation. This is a very sensitive area as bullies tend to gather a great number of people on their "side" and many churches have been known to split because of this. Regardless, church bullies must be dealt with; otherwise their toxicity will poison the whole congregation and its reputation within the community, stunting the progress of sharing God's message of love.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35
"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." - 1 John 4:20
- You might even find that you will have to leave your church. This is especially true when the bully is related to pastoral staff and they are unwilling to confront the issue. Narcissism can be a family-wide disease and you will be safer to just leave. In addition, nepotism is an extremely large cancer in many churches. Why would you want to be a part of that anyway?
Have you ever been bullied by someone at church?
Let's Remember the "Real" Christians!
So while we have taken a good long look at bullish Christians, let's not forget the many examples of true Christianity. Those who encourage and build each other up, visit the sick, mourn with their brothers and sisters and celebrate accomplishments together. People who will sit in communion with you without judgment. These are the people to fellowship with. And guess what? They are there. They always were and always will be. These are the people we should want to be more like in life.
They will know we are Christians by our love.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves (and ultimately others) is to not be bullies ourselves. When we live according to this principle, we will sleep with a good conscience and with our spirits intact. No longer wishing to "get even" with our bullies. As long as we keep our side of the street clean, all will be well with our souls.
So when it comes to dealing with bullies at church:
- Pray for them. Pray that they receive everything you would want for yourself.
- Avoid having a relationship with them if you can.
- Talk to someone for your own emotional/spiritual health.
- Start the process of confronting them if you must.
- Be prepared to leave your congregation. This is a realistic possibility.
- Always trust God.