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.