Last week I published Part One in a series by Tiffany Brown-Erickson. These essays are a response to my Tweet about Christian leaders who abuse their power and behave like tyrants. Their behavior and leadership is anything but Christian. Quite the opposite. Whether they are pastors or leaders in Christian institutions or organizations, they destroy. Dr. Halee Gray Scott tipped me off to studies that show that the ministry attracts sociopaths. To be sure, there are lots of people who drip Jesus from every one of their pores. I’ve met them! But there are also egomaniacs who do untold harm. And as Tiffany noted last week, the thing about these leaders is that they don’t see themselves as corrupt leaders. She wrote, “Always, the abusive Christian Leader perceives all reality as a battle between light and darkness, with themselves leading the charge on the side of the light. Those who are trampled were opposing the light. Always.”
Unless we are blind by choice, or have lived life in a miraculously dense cocoon, we know that injustice exists in the world: humans hurt other humans, continually and with intent. And if we have lived, eyes open, in a religious “Christian” environment, we also know that hurt is inflicted often in the name of Christ. Sheep bully other sheep. But some bullies aren’t sheep at all: they are cleverly, even beautifully, disguised predators. They are leaders whose “leadership” amounts to nothing less than abusive tyranny—cashmere wolves.
Some of you have personally been attacked by such wolves. Others have, like me, witnessed sheep set upon by such leaders, and have seen the carnage first hand. Perhaps in the aftermath, you have lain awake night after night, your fists and stomach clenched, trying to form words of petition, and instead hurling thoughts that amounted to bitter questioning: Why is this happening? How long? Why don’t you stop this? They are your sheep, Lord! Yours!
I have been there. And as years pass, I’ve found myself sick of it. The wolf has bought the jury, rigged the scales, manipulated the game. Any defensive move brings down more judgment from those sheep that huddle in the wolf’s shadow, thinking he is their shepherd. Worst of all, any attempt by anyone to resist results in greater slaughter. I am sickened because to the wolf this is a competition, a contest, and wolves like such deadly games.
Wolves, after all, have fangs and claws. Killing is what they do.
There are times when all my soul can pray are pleas for their swift and utter destruction. Let their cruel plans turn back on them, I beg. Make them suffer as these have suffered. Ruin them, hurt them! With faces dear to me imprinted on the backs of my eyelids when I try to sleep, I have found myself raging into the dark the darkest petition of all: Just make it end. Kill the wolves.
They deserve it.
Because the answer to the question, “What can a sheep do when attacked” seems, in the end, to be: nothing. We can’t out-fang or out-claw a predator with our feeble hooves and woolly mouths. Prayers go unanswered, relief doesn’t come, the wolves are fat and sleek, strong and happy, and our bleating doesn’t scare them.
And we… we are just sheep, perfect for slaughtering.
It’s only been a month for me since the excruciatingly long and painful journey of one family I love took a heartbreaking turn. Just when we all had begun to hope against hope that maybe, maybe, the wolves had given up. Did I mention that wolves often travel in packs? Frighteningly, they do. I’ve watched this pack tear into this one little flock of sheep over and over for so long that you’d think I’d get used to it.
As with any wolf pack, there’s an alpha—a leader who initiates the attack and brings the other wolves in. In this particular case, the leader’s official seal of approval has kept the carnage in the flock going for years. And he was supposed to be their shepherd.
Toward this leader especially I’ve been struggling with a kind of desperate fury that I can easily imagine fuels homicide. Seeing helpless people hurt arouses hate I once didn’t know I could feel, especially when the suffering includes innocent children whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time when their parent is attacked.
There’s nothing I can do. The children aren’t even within reach of my help, if I knew how to give it. Their mother needs more than prayer: she needs her children back, and I can’t give them to her. The children need their mother, and they are held prisoner.
Yeah, I’ve been angry.
While grieving, I happened upon an article on abusive Christian leaders. It had nothing to say about how to stand up to such people, but it did try to tackle the why of abuse. Why wolves are wolves. These words especially caught my attention:
“Don Riso and Russ Hudson… talk about controlling, bully-personalities as being secretly afraid. Many of them had been molested as children and subconsciously believe people are out to get them. Determined to never be molested again, they make themselves big… [they] try to intimidate people and will never allow themselves to be vulnerable. They… will lie and cheat to protect themselves and their empire, all the while posing as a righteous hero. When extremely unhealthy, controlling personalities are stressed, they get great relief and a feeling of power by dominating others…” * (Donald Miller)
I read it. Twice. I assented that yes, this was probably true, that it made sense. The predators were prey once, very likely. They abuse others to protect themselves.
But that doesn’t make them any less evil. And it doesn’t mean I have to stop wishing… even praying…that they will be destroyed.
I shoved it to the back of my mind until a few days ago, when I wrote the line for the first part of this article, “What does a sheep do?”
Something clicked. Later that night, the question came back to me. And without warning, I understood. In that moment I realized, the answer had always been there. I just didn’t want it. I’m still not sure I want it. But the words keep coming, while grocery shopping, writing, watching television…
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
There is something I can do, when those I love are set upon without mercy—when fanged imposters posing as God’s own shepherds tear into the defenseless flock. We are commanded, in fact, to do it.
This weapon for our fight seems about as appropriate and effective for the task as an accordion on a hunting trip, and is nowhere near as easy to use. It’s not just difficult; it seems impossible, even unthinkable… shockingly so.
But it’s the only offensive weapon we have.
*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.
5 thoughts on “Friday Feature – On Wolves or Corrupt Christian Leaders: What Can Sheep Do? (Part 2)”
Praying for the wolves doesn’t come as easily as praying for the sheep, but you’re right that we are commanded to do both. The Bible doesn’t even tell us which has higher priority. We’re just told to do it.
Thanks for the reminder, Tiffany.
What if the task is different for some? We are commanded to pray, yes, and love, but the command does not limit to only those. God called Jeremiah to the distasteful occupation of proclamation of truth. What about Nathan the Prophet, who was tasked to confront the king, David, with his sin? What about Paul, “Beware lest wolves creep in?” Sheep cannot pray for the repentance of unidentified wolves. Or perhaps they can? Would you suggest that churches adopt a prayer service that requests that God expose the wolves? But how does that work for those unwilling to accept God’s exposee? Doesn’t another wolf arise, condemning the original for his wolfness, hiding his own fangs? What if God created a sheep who had a really loud bleat? A sheep who was gifted to recognize wolves and warn, to his own peril, so that others would not get hurt? Surely you can find Biblical precedent for loud sheep? After all, church leaders are supposed to be sheep too. Aren’t those with the gift–not the twisted charisma of our modern evangelical pastors–of discernment supposed to baaaaa as loudly as they can when they observe wrongs? I’m not suggesting that the flock trample the wolf, simply that the warning goes out to single-out the wolf that he may be identified as not among them. I’m suggesting that we pray, but that we bleat as well. I’m suggesting that there is Biblical precedent for vocalization of God’s message over false teaching.
Alternatively we could run. I hate confrontation. I weep when I see a wrong, but do nothing about it, fearing the wolves. I worry that I stand with the wolf out of concern for my own life. And you’re telling me (who has obviously identified wolves, since I have protected their image as sheep), that I should not call out? That I should mumble prayers, shaking in my wool while the wolf stands by? I cannot accept that.
Perhaps wolves are just sheep twisted by a horrific and demented master (like Orcs), inbred and deeply afraid. Or perhaps they are wolves. The Bible talked about Wolves creeping in, not about sheep turning into wolves. So either the metaphor has served its purpose, or wolves are just that, wolves. There are those who were never sheep, they were wolves from the beginning. Perhaps shaped into that from an early age, but still wolves. I think this is the place where the idea of incubus and succubus comes in.
I cannot accept that God allowed wolves and no guardian sheep.
I find your comments very interesting. I am sure Tiffany has a reply to what you have said and she has one more essay coming up next week. But, I do believe in prayerful action. Trying to be loving. But if know great wrong is occurring and turn a blind eye, Proverbs 24: 11,12 says we’ll be held accountable. I think it important that we try to speak as lovingly and as humbly as we can to these leaders. If they won’t listen, then we go to other leaders in the church. And if they don’t listen… we encourage the sheep to get out! Some Protestant churches have a pope in every pulpit as my friend Carl is fond of saying. They call the shots and nobody will stand up to them. Nobody in the leadership that is. I don’t encourage people to remain in such abusive situations.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. You raised valid questions and issues, and all I can say for the moment is read my third installment in the morning and then let’s talk some more.