Church culture is conducive to bullying, argues the Rev. Erik Parker in a recent blog post that has been making the rounds on social media. He writes:
Church bullies have a special advantage… Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.
He offers a list of 12 ways in which bullies in the church operate, or are tolerated. For me the most telling are these:
4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.
11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will work to maintain the status quo. Bullies don’t change, and therefore don’t challenge the system. Intelligent individuals will cease thinking straight in a group and will seek to silence those who oppose bullies (and therefore advocate change in the system) since is it easier to maintain the norm. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.
There is, I suspect, no level of our own Episcopal Church that is free from bullying, from 815 Second Avenue to the vestries, altar guilds and Strawberry Festival planning committee at tiny churches. It happens online as well. My sense is that people do not call bullies on their behavior because they are not willing to pay the consequences for doing so.
Are there ways in which bullies can be called to account gracefully and patiently? And if that happens, will the church support the people or parties who do so, or acquiesce when the bully takes retribution, or the community attempts to sweep the incident under the rug?