(From the July 2011 edition
Signs you may be covering for a pastor who abuses the flock spiritually:
- You've noticed a pattern of people leaving the fellowship, but you hesitate to ask your pastor about it and don't like to delve into the reasons behind the exits.
- You've seen your pastor act in retribution for slights or criticism by removing people from ministries, publicly or privately shaming them or refusing to listen to them.
- You excuse your pastor's wrong behavior: He's young (or he's old), he doesn't understand the people who are unhappy, he has a little trouble relating to people, he'll grow out of it, I'm probably not seeing the whole picture, God will show him his weaknesses and he'll handle things better soon, no pastor is perfect in every way, he's such a good preacher that we can overlook the other parts of his calling.
- You find yourself blaming victims. You justify harsh behavior by your pastor by focusing on the sins or weaknesses of those who are shamed or shunned or criticized or punished.
- You feel that to protect the name of Christ in your community you need to keep secret the alarming behavior by your pastor or leaders in the church.
- You feel it's your duty to think the best of your pastor, no matter what charges are brought against him (but you don't extend the same courtesy to those who feel they've been abused or harmed).
- You feel it's okay for your pastor to build up your church by criticizing other churches with "inferior" doctrines or practices, but it's not okay for anyone to question decisions by church leaders if it looks like criticism.
- You enjoy being flattered by your pastor and seek to please him often. You spend a lot of time in church flattering and seeking approval from your pastor.
- You are frequently in fear of being criticized by your pastor or having your ministry in the church taken away.
- You've seen your pastor flatter those he can use and then later turn on them or ignore them.
- You would feel uncomfortable asking to see financial records of the church, and you are willing to just assume that they are being used in a godly manner.
- You feel constant pressure to help more in church or to give more, or both.
- Going to church often seems like a burden, but you don't want anyone to know you feel that way.
- You have criticized other churches or individuals with your pastor.
- You like the feeling of being in the "inner circle," and you sometimes feel you have the pastor's confidence in a way no one else does.
- You often feel a little bit superior to Christians who don't witness as much as you, or who don't practice their faith as well as you, or who don't emphasize certain doctrines as much as you do.
- You feel that no one quite understands the scriptures, delivers sermons or reaches out to the weak and poor like your pastor does.
- You spend much time defending your pastor, either in your own mind or to others.
- You don't like to admit it, but you often spend more time thinking about your pastor or leaders than you do about God (whether positively, negatively or both).
- You are exhausted.
If many of these items speak to you, it might be a good idea to evaluate what your role in your church really is. Are you providing a constant stream of "narcissistic supply" for your pastor? Is your main role to make him look good? Do you equate making him look good with powerful ministry in your community? You can serve many years believing you are doing good in your church by covering spiritual abuse for your leader, while really doing great harm. Check out the signs of spiritual abuse. If they look familiar, and you feel you may have had a hand in perpetuating it, all is not lost.
You can recognize the harm and turn from it, even if it's been a long time coming.
* This article refers not only to clergy sexual abuse, but to abuse of power in other ways, such as financial, spiritual, emotional, etc.
Denah Michelle Moon is a guest contributor to this edition of HopeSpeak. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and four children. This article, originally posted on Facebook, is used with permission.