The Bane of Authoritarianism Among Christian Leaders

But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men. – John 2:24

 I said in my haste, All men are liars. – Psalm 116:11

“The liar’s punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Christ knew that men were evil and dealt with them accordingly.   When we’re new believers we naively think that since Christians are redeemed they will be fair, honest, and righteous.  But after we’ve been around other Christians for awhile, we learn that  some Christians can be as treacherous as unbelievers: jealous, greedy, biased, petty.  They can commit every sin that the flesh is heir to. One only has to look at the life of David to see that Christians can be malevolent:  David committed adultery with Bathsheba and to hide his sin when she became pregnant he had her husband Uriah the Hittite sent to the front line in battle, knowing he would likely be killed.

Christians can lie egregiously, behave deceptively, and can be in denial about the sins of their own heart.  At times they can attempt to hide their deception and their true motives by quoting scripture out of context. One can make any argument to justify sinful behavior by manipulating verses, which is why we need the light of truth to shine at all times. It’s why there is a scriptural method to follow when believers have a disagreement.  This way no one person, on group of persons, can control the narrative or make the determination of what is true or not.  A believer should not have their opinions invalidated because of their lack of standing in a church, forum, school, or any other organization.  Truth should always be sought, no matter how uncomfortable it is for those who hold the power position in any given situation.  The crux of the problem is that Christians in those positions don’t want to be challenged.

We attended a church years back that I had an off feeling about but didn’t know why at the time.  In hindsight I believe that my spirit sensed something wasn’t right about the church. We lived in a rural area and there weren’t a lot of churches to choose from.  Neither my husband nor I were raised Christian so didn’t have much wisdom or experience at the time to guide our decisions. I was raised Catholic and my husband had no religious training at all.

We struggled to find a good church when we were raising a family, and we didn’t really know what we were doing at the time.  We had tried a church that was legalistic and one that was very liberal, both of which we left. We had been attending a non-denominational church for about a year while our daughter was away at college.  During that time she became engaged, so we assumed that she would get married at the church we were attending. We were friends with one of the church elders and his wife who had a daughter the same age as ours, who was also getting married and planning their daughter’s wedding. We shared ideas on planning their respective weddings and were both excited. Their daughter was getting married in our church. She didn’t attend in the entire year that we were at the church and we never met her. She, like our daughter, was away at college.

When I approached one of the pastors about marrying our daughter, he flat out said no.  He, along with the other two pastors said that our daughter hadn’t been attending the church and that they had people who came there who wanted to just use their beautiful church to be married in.  I was absolutely floored.  My husband and I had been supporting the church financially.  The church was not “beautiful” at all – in fact I thought it was  drab.  There were pictures of the world painted on the walls instead of Christian scenes which I found odd.

My daughter and I were deeply hurt because this was our church at the time and had been for a year.  We now had no church for her to marry in and were placed in an awkward position.  I couldn’t help the fact that our daughter was away at college (like the elder whose daughter was granted permission to marry in the church).  We also couldn’t help the timing of when we joined the church – after our daughter had left for college.  I couldn’t help the fact of where we were at in our lives. But the pastors of that church didn’t care.  They condemned our daughter in the most callous un-Christlike way.

My husband and I had come up the hard way: we weren’t raised Christian, and didn’t know any Christians.  We didn’t know the bible.  When I first came to God I listened to radio preachers, and had no discernment at the time which was hard.  Satan attacked me relentlessly.  I don’t even like recalling those dark times.  The “dark night of the soul.”  But I came through it – barely.  We went to revival meetings, and tried different churches and I gradually developed discernment.  Later my husband was saved.  It wasn’t easy.  We were raising a family with no real spiritual help or guidance.

To make it worse, our daughter’s fiancé  was serving in Iraq and I felt that he was off fighting so that those pastors could sit in their church and be safe.  It felt very unfair and hurtful. These were people whose homes we had been to, and who had been to our home. We broke bread together, but they were telling us that our daughter couldn’t marry there and that we had to make other arrangements.  But we didn’t belong to any other church. That was our church.

I was reeling at what my daughter and I felt was rejection – a very painful emotion. My husband wasn’t a strong Christian at the time and I couldn’t get much direction from him, so I prayed and asked God to make our paths straight so that we would know what to do.  Anyone who has had children knows that seeing one’s child hurt is one of the most painful feelings on this earth.  And I was hurting.  I recalled in the book of Esther where the king couldn’t sleep, so he got up and tended to a serious matter.  I prayed and asked God to take all peace and sleep away from those pastors until they could see how they were hurting my daughter and I:

On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.  – Esther 6:1

My husband and I went to church the following Sunday and the first words out of the pastor’s mouth were:  “Your pastor couldn’t sleep…”

That was one of the most clear answers to prayer I have ever gotten.  I knew God had heard my prayer.  I wrote a quick note to the pastor and told him how I had been praying and why, and handed it to him at the end of the service.  Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.  We were completely ostracized.  The people in our prayer group gave us the cold shoulder.  The elder and his wife dropped us and refused to talk to us.  I have no idea what that pastor said to them, but I imagine it was something along the lines of me being a heretic. I don’t think that they believed that an individual of low estate such as myself, who didn’t hold a position in the church got answers to prayer.

This hurt me even worse, so I prayed and a thought came to me to ask for spiritual guidance from pastors online. “In a multitude of counsellors there is safety.” – Proverbs 15:22

I emailed approximately 11 pastors and explained the situation.  The responses I got back were beautiful. Almost every pastor said that the church was being unnecessarily cruel, but one Methodist minister in particular wrote a response that resonated deep within my heart.  He told me that by the church acting that way they were driving my daughter away from Christ, not towards Him. He said that her wedding was such a unique opportunity for the pastors to reach out to my daughter and her future husband.  He told me that he wouldn’t want to belong to a church like that.

I believe I cried when I read the answers, it was such a relief, especially the response from the kindly Methodist minister. He validated all the painful and unfair feelings that my daughter and I had felt. Our feelings weren’t wrong, those pastors were wrong. These were Christian pastors who did this – aren’t they supposed to care?  Aren’t they supposed to do God’s work and to be better than unbelievers?  They never asked my daughter to come into the church to explain their decision or even to show that they cared. They never wished her and her husband well, or tried to reach out to them in any way.  They wanted our weekly donations though.  It was one of the worst examples of hypocrisy that I had encountered at to that point.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last.

Christians sometimes do the devil’s work.

One of the pastors was so full of himself that he told me that “God put them into their positions and we had to abide by their decisions.”

Hebrews 13:17 is often misused by Christian leaders to wield power in a Christian institution:  

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17

They wanted our financial support but we weren’t allowed to question them because their decisions were sacrosanct.  I don’t believe that those pastors used the bible in a godly manner, or “lawfully” in the spirit that God meant for it to be used. They used the bible to affirm their own prideful, sinful hearts.

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. – 1 Timothy 1:8

I printed the responses from the online pastors and the minister and gave them to the senior pastor.  After a few days he responded icily “You got the answers you wanted to get because you only told those online pastors what you wanted them to hear.”  I was completely transparent and told him that the pastors’ contact information was right on the emails I gave him and I invited him to email the pastors and minister himself and tell them whatever he wanted to.

He refused.

What does that tell you?

What it told me was that the pastor and his cronies didn’t want their actions held up to the light – to scrutiny.  They did not want their decisions questioned by anyone outside of their little circle.  They wanted to keep tight control over the situation and refused to allow anyone – even other pastors and a minister – to question their actions and hold them up to the light of scripture.

We went to church one more time and I have never felt so uncomfortable in a supposed house of God.

We left the church.  I will always be grateful to those online pastors and the minister who guided our decision.  To this day our daughter refuses to attend a non-denominational church.  She’ll always bear the scars – as will I – of those Pharisaical Christians.

This type of deviousness can leave victims feeling confused, especially younger Christians who don’t have enough experience to know that Christians can be manipulative.

Some Christians temperamentally handle leadership better than others. They’re humble and truly strive to be fair. Others however, expect to never be questioned. These puffed up leaders sometimes focus on “submitting.”  There is something unhealthy about an adult ruling over another adult and not allowing him or her to rely on their own perception of a situation and their own guidance from God.  Christian leaders who engage in this type of demand for submission are stunting the growth of someone and silencing another believer who may offer unique insights that can help the body of believers.

We may easily see something wrong with the draconian obedience demanded by David Koresh, yet be oblivious to subtler forms of unhealthy, controlling behaviors by those in leadership positions. What further adds to the destructiveness of leaders using their position to manipulate others, is that vulnerable Christians are pressured to disregard their own sense of a situation and knowledge of Scripture, under the threat of being ostracized or banished from the church, school, forum, or college.

The individual who is victimized by this authoritarianism can then experience inner conflict.  They may sincerely want to heed Scripture and get along but something doesn’t feel right in their spirit.  Keeping a journal can often help identify and unravel inner conflict that we’ve pushed aside, or when we’re not paying attention to our own sense of a situation.

Leaders often use Scripture to justify their controlling behaviors, but how does God expect it to be applied? And should the leader’s word alone be sacrosanct? Or should they take the log out of their own eye before seeking to take the log out of their brother’s eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5

I recently spoke to a young Christian, who had attended a Pharisaical church and now refuses to go to church at all.  It’s a tragedy that young people have been driven from church.  Not only is that young man being robbed of the support he could get at church, but the church is robbed of his talents and gifts.  How can we do better?

Forms of lying that Christians engage in

-Sins of Commission – complete fabrication

-Sins of Omission – the individual withholds information, thus concealing certain facts

-Gossiping under the guise of ‘asking for prayer’

-Minimization of culpability

-Lying to themselves

-Not telling a lie themselves, but going along with the lie of another to stay in their good graces.

-Exaggeration

For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.  Luke 8:17

This verse in Luke assures us that nothing will remain hidden. This can comfort a  Christian who has been wounded by authoritarian, Pharisaical establishments, but like the young man who told me that he’ll never attend church again, wounds inflicted by other Christians can have lifelong consequences.

Can you share your experiences?  Have you dealt with a Pharisaical Christian establishment? If so, how did you handle it?

Can we do better?  How does God tell us to handle it?

 

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