For the last three weeks in my Friday Features section, we have been considering the characteristics of a twisted Christian leader with the help of Tiffany Brown-Erickson. In the introduction to her essay the first week, I wrote this about Christian leaders who act like wolves: “Unfortunately, we’ve come face to face with them in the church or in Christian institutions and organizations….So many people have been hurt by leaders in the church who are, to a great degree, supposed to be icons of Jesus. But some weasel their way into leadership-running people over to attain the status they seek. They abuse power.” Tiffany’s essays are a thoughtful response to a tweet I had about Christian leaders acting like tyrants. Of course we know that there are so very many Jesus-like leaders out there; these essays aren’t directed at them. We’re talking of those that leave all sorts of destruction and casualties in their wake (often behind the scenes, after all, they have an image to maintain). I recommend that you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this three part series. And share them with others! Each essay is so very good. Thank you Tiffany!
By Tiffany Brown-Erickson
We are sheep. We know we are not, by our very nature, well able to defend ourselves. We know we are vulnerable to pain, sorrow, loss and harm.Yet when destruction takes a human face, and it is the face of a Christian leader, claiming to stand in God’s place—in this, our helplessness and God’s silence can seem exponentially more difficult to swallow.
In the face of our weakness, we hold to a higher Strength. We confess and believe that our God’s power more than compensates for our helplessness in the face of the tyrant and the oppressor. Yet the reality that we must grapple with is this: God does not always stop the wolf. He does not always rescue the lambs from injury. Sometimes, he allows the wolf to ravage.
We wonder why. We shout, we scream: why?
The answer doesn’t come, and doesn’t come. We have instead the answer to another question, that of: “What can a sheep do, when attacked?”
The answer is simple to give, but hard to follow. Agonizingly, soul-rendingly, overwhelmingly hard. And I have only had to watch the carnage. I can scarcely imagine how hard, for those who have bled.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
I’m unfortunately convinced Jesus was talking to sheep, that abuse qualifies as persecution, and he meant “you” in a collective sense. I’m not off the hook because I am not individually being victimized. The victim’s pain is mine; their call to pray for their oppressors is also my own.
When first this revelation struck me as the “answer” to my own desperate question, I did not want it.
I’ve misunderstood, I told God. This can’t be what you mean. I’m to pray for these people? This wolf pack? Worst of all… I’m to pray for the alpha? How can this be?!?
This is our weapon? Our offense? This is our sword against the visceral teeth and claws and hate that rip apart bones and muscles and ravage souls? Prayer? Love?
I closed my eyes, unable to stop remembering those words I wished I’d never read: “…determined to never be molested again, they make themselves big…” I couldn’t stop remembering what I had tried not to think about for years: the tyrant was once a child. And I do not know the whole of the story.
I began to think of Saul… the “Jew of Jews”.
Did Saul look like a wolf to the families he ripped apart? I wondered. Did it bother him even a little, when at his orders fathers and mothers were torn away from their weeping children? Or did he assure himself that those children were better off without fanatics and blasphemers for parents? Did his followers ever glimpse the wild yellow eyes beneath his fleece while they obeyed his directives?
Was Saul driven by a need to be in control? Was he hurt, as a child?
We aren’t given all the details. But the Biblical account tells us enough to know that he ravaged the sheep, and by his own admission he did so in God’s name. He was a leader among God’s people, in his mind and the minds of his fellows.
Saul of Tarsus was a wolf. A big, ugly, deadly wolf, whose followers saw only wool. And not one single Christian in the places that he hunted had teeth or fangs to fight back. Yet when God brought him to his knees in the perfect middle of his savage hunt, Saul was changed. Suddenly, irrevocably. Saul.
The sheep in Antioch didn’t want anything to do with him. I feel their pain, their fear, their rage.
I think I know now, what sheep do, when attacked by a wolf.
We call evil, evil. We call lies and manipulation and bullying by name, and abuse we name abuse. We are never commanded to go silently to slaughter. We should resist. We should band together. A sheep left alone by its flock is far easier to kill. A flock that stands as one and bleats for dear life is far less appealing.
We don’t have to stop fighting for justice; we must standing beside our brothers and sisters in Christ in grief and woe, cry out with them, and bleed with them. But we must also pray for those who attack them… pray that the God who could reach the heart of Saul of Tarsus, will somehow reach into the hearts of these wolves, and change them.
I’m not “okay” with this answer. It will probably take me a long time to stop having moments, hours, days of rage. I can’t easily start caring for the hardened soul of a person who has damaged souls for his own power’s sake, even if he does so because he is afraid. I can’t feel love yet, and I would never lightly admonish my bleeding loved ones to love their abuser. I wouldn’t let them anywhere near the wolf, not now, not ever, short of a miracle to convince me it was safe. A wolf is a lethally dangerous thing, and I will treat him as such.
But I find that I can pray. I can, not without some struggle, try to remember that I do not know all of the forces that shaped these people, this person, into wolves. I can cling to the tiny flame of hope: once, at least, God changed the heart of a wolf so powerfully that it changed the known world and the course of history tremendously for good, for love.
I find that I no longer feel the same overwhelming, crushing level of helplessness. I have a weapon, after all: a strange, unwieldy, backwards weapon which works in a mysterious, incomprehensible way–but a weapon, nonetheless. And I’m going to use it.
It’s the only one I have.
*from ‘How to Spot A Manipulative Church Leader’ by Donald Miller
*Tiffany is an obsessive-compulsive writer, avid medieval re-enactor and a mother of four highly energetic children living in the Idaho’s beautiful Treasure Valley. She and her best friend and co-author are currently with book and expecting the first volume of their baby, a fantasy epic, to be ready for publication within the coming year.