Power Corrupts, Especially In Evangelical Leadership

Abusive leadership. This is a staple of many Christian organizations, and it is unfortunate. The cliche phrase “power corrupts” comes to mind. I have witnessed over my years many kind, generous, well-intentioned people fall subject to this. And while, in many ways, they remain kind and generous, in others, they become the abusers themselves.

There are often warning signs. In smaller circles, those warning signs present in many ways. They present as someone or a small group giving themselves the title of a “ministry” when they are really just a few passionate people sharing their thoughts and views.

From there, they tend to slip towards the rest. In organizations with more power, this often comes in the form of demanding those involved with them adhere to a very strict code of conduct. (ie no drinking, no swearing, no sexual contact with partners, no movies above PG13, not attending “unChristian” places, avoiding close friendships with members of the opposite sex, etc, etc).

That code of conduct eventually grows to include ideas. You cannot publicly be pro-LGBT, or pro-Choice, or vary on any theology. Certain viewpoints within theology are unwelcome, like differing views of hell (ie Universalism and Annihilationism), or penal-substitutionary atonement, or anything else, regardless of whether you can back it Biblically. At one particular organization I worked for, the mere discussion of differing views of the impact of the Holy Spirit/Spiritual gifts was forbidden.

Then comes the “leadership” teams.

A hierarchy is established, even in something that isn’t actively a ministry. Members who do not have a place in the top tier are then told they are no longer allowed to talk to one another about anything involving the “ministry”. Any issues must be taken solely to the leadership team, and any discussion at all with anyone else is considered gossip. Including seeking advice from an unbiased third party on how to proceed with something.

To some, that may not sound like a bad thing. After all, in a company, if you have issues, you are to go to management, not your coworkers right? Except we’re not just talking about running a business here. We’re talking about situations in which toxic beliefs are often forced upon others and when they are not allowed to talk about it. Where people are abused by those in the leadership, and then told any attempt to talk through it with anyone else is gossip.

It’s about setting up a structure where the only people allowed to hear about the abuses are the abusers themselves, who of course, never admit to it. Instead, they gaslight and try to cause further division between the people affected.

Then, they drop the hammer. Personal beliefs are now 100% a threat to the “ministry” and a hard line is drawn. But, when the person decides to stick to their convictions and step away, they are demonized and ostracized. Stepping away, in and of itself, is seen as a direct attack.

And so then, the slander campaigns must start.

Sometimes it’s the leadership as a whole. Other times, it’s members of the “ministry” who take it upon themselves to take up the mantel and destroy those who departed. Even if the resignation is amicable, even if the announcement is respectful, the mere fact that the dissenters would dare to be honest about the incompatibilities (even in a loving manner) is seen as an attempt to slander and destroy.

So, those that leave are labelled the hands of the enemy. Vindictive. Slimy. They’re destructive. Set out on a path to demolish all that is good. They have now made the leaders victims. The leaders are fighting for their reputations, and their ministries are nearly destroyed.

Except that they’re not. In the majority of cases, those that have been harmed by the “ministry” walk away quietly. They make their statement (if at all), and disappear. Then, they move on. They try to heal and forget.

But, the “ministry” can’t forget, because they have to come out on top.

They have to look like they were wronged so they aren’t forced to deal with the fact that they were wrong.

And what’s heartbreaking is, imagine how different modern Christianity would be if leaders actually held themselves accountable. If they accepted when they screwed up and used it to learn and be better, instead of using it to make themselves feel like they were the ones that were wronged. If, instead of gaslighting, they promised to do better and be better.

When you see the people who have actually been wronged, who have been gaslit, speaking out, it is not because they want to destroy the “ministry”. It’s not because they want to see the people who hurt them get hurt. It’s because they want accountability. And it’s because they want them to stop and think and learn before doing the same thing again and again to others.

It’s about a challenge to own up and stop the abuse instead of continuing to perpetuate it.

Power corrupts. It pulls good people away from their purpose and enables bad people to thrive. In the case of Evangelical Christianity, it means that these leaders continue to pull people further and further away from Jesus, because it becomes about their own means and their own platform, rather than pursuit of anything resembling Jesus.

That’s why we speak up. That’s why, after months or years of silence, being gas-lit, and demonized, people find their voices and say something. Because silence will never influence change.

Comments

  1. Amanda Shortt

    I love this, but hate it at the same time if that makes sense..this shouldn’t have to be an issue, but it is. There is a woman who is coming to my new church who was shamed so bad for not going on Sunday’s as her work schedule had changed and she wasn’t able to go to church Sunday mornings. After a month of her not going she got a call from “leadership”, who she thought was just being kind and wondering where she was and the woman who called her after finding out why she was not coming decided she was going to make her feel guilty but saying: “you know *insert name*, God healed you of your lung tumour, and if you stop coming he will make it come back”. My friend did have a lung tumour and it’s all healed now, but how does this “leader” know God will make it come back? This is abuse and manipulation and bad theology and I couldn’t help but cry with her, pray with her and tell her that person was wrong, and I apologized that that happened to her on behalf of Christians.

    1. Post
      Author
      Tabitha

      Unfortunately, I’ve heard this kind of story far too many times. Out of our own community, and even from some people in our own church. I recently encountered a couple who was basically told they were unwelcome at the church they had been attending in town because they believe in female leadership in the church and are LGBTQ+ affirming. I’ve been told things like, God won’t heal me if I take medication because it means I’m telling him I don’t believe him. This kind of abuse runs so rampant in the church and in Christian organizations. And it absolutely shouldn’t. It’s one of the biggest problems I have with Evangelicalism — there is an overwhelming majority that say “you believe things our way, or you’re not welcome and not a Christian.” Ironically, it goes against their “unconditional love” image they teach of God. And it makes it harder for those few churches that are truly open to thrive, because they’re crushed by the weight of all of this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.