I’m assuming there will be harsh language here. I’m angry and I’m tired of sitting on my words in case someone figures out who or what I am talking about. But I’m putting it out there, unpolished, because by the time I figure out an “appropriate and mature” way to respond there will be nowhere for me to speak and no one to listen. You’ve been warned.
I have been angry about this for a while. When I’ve spoken up in writing or in person though the proper channels, it’s been filed away. Or, there is no “proper channel”. That’s often a good sign that I’m the one who is wrong, but I suspect I’m not.
Church, I am calling you a bully. So I am calling myself a bully because I am part of the institution that supports bullying and this post is my way of trying to no longer be a bystander. It’s not enough. But it’s a start.
One more preface. I have worked and worshipped in a lot of churches in several denominations. I am in contact with hundreds of Christians, clergy and lay, around the world, of many different stripes. I’ve experienced and heard hundreds of these stories. If you think I am speaking about you, maybe I am, but not because I am singling you out. I am speaking about you because this is far too common.
You bully clergy, and you stand by while clergy are bullied. Here’s the cycle. People in the parish make our lives hell. You walk into our homes whenever you like. You drive by the rectory to see if we are out late. You talk about us behind our backs. You lie. You ambush us by writing secret letters to authorities or calling us incompetent in public meetings. The cleric can’t really make a charge of harassment because everything is hearsay and there is always a good excuse for the behaviour, and we always have to “be pastoral”–She really loved our last pastor. He just lost his wife. He is very passionate about the church. The cleric falls ill. She is tired all the time. Headaches. Can’t sleep. She goes to the doctor. Goes on stress leave.
And Christians, how do you respond? A huge sigh of relief! Yeah. And it’s not relief that he’s taking a break. Oh no. It’s relief that now you can say, “Well. He was sick, you see. Just wasn’t up to the challenge.” So, bully on you! It’s your fault.
Then it goes up the ladder to the bishop/presbytery/Ministry and Personnel. We give thanks for long term disability benefits, then start looking at how to fill that parish ASAP. And when the cleric is ready, she’ll get another church. Or (another sigh of relief) maybe she’ll move back into the secular world. Well, congratulations, you just squandered yet another of God’s gifts to the church and the world, and beaten someone else up in the process. Jesus wept!
And not a single second has been spent on how to make the congregation deal with their bullying and bystanding. Oh no. They might have to close. They may sue for slander. God forbid you be seen in the public square standing up for vulnerable people! Better to just let the priest go. And another priest goes in, someone newly ordained, or new to the area, who doesn’t know enough to say no to a scary parish.
Clergy. You are bullies too. You bully your congregation. You make them hide your lies. But you save your worst for your sisters and brothers in the college of clergy. You gossip. You form cliques. You spread lies. You isolate. You are sexist and homophobic and then defend yourself by saying that’s your Christian belief. It’s not. You know how I know it’s not? Because you speak in words of hatred and ridicule. If you are a bully, I won’t serve on committees with you. I won’t debate with you. I will not subject myself to your bullying. And I will advise others to do the same. And I will tell my authorities why I won’t serve alongside you. You thrive in secrecy and shame. Maybe when enough of us refuse to work with you, you will lose your power.
And, Church, you treat our lay staff at all levels of the church like shit. My work is hard. I don’t get pay equal to my education and experience. And I love it. I get paid enough. Our lay staff don’t. Their workloads double and triple, they work way more hours than they are paid, they love you, they care for you, and you do not value their worth. In fact, you crap on them. All.The.Time. I don’t know how you can walk into parish and regional/diocesan offices and look these folks in the eye without feeling ashamed that you continue to approve budgets that do not give them pay raises and continue to cut their ministry and staff budgets and then STILL complain that they don’t do enough.
Solution? Sorry. You don’t get one here. Not now. Not until you are as angry as I am and ready to actually take a risk. When you can acknowledge the bully and bystander in yourself and you are ready to stand up for those who are bullied, then I look forward to working towards a solution with you. Until then. Be defensive, be uncomfortable, call me when you are angry.