I expect most church workers are not bullied by their congregations. The problem for those who are, and this is the same for bullying anywhere, is that those who are not bullied tend to look to their own experience as universal as opposed to taking the word of the bullied person.

"I am not bullied/I have not seen bullying, therefore bullying does not exist."

This attitude, which is the one that has dominated most responses from the hierarchy on this issue in the last week, just adds to the bullied person's sense of isolation and could be regarded as a subtle form of bullying. I would suggest that most people in authority would not be so dismissive if a person complained to them of racial or sexual harassment.

In the mental health field a competent counsellor always takes the attitude that the client's experience is real to them no matter how unbelievable it may seem. If they did not they could not even begin to help heal the client. I suggest that the same paradigm should be used in church pastoral situations concerning bullying. If someone says they are being bullied then that is their reality. Dismissing their concerns achieves nothing other than making the bullied person's reality feel even more real. In fact, it gives the victim a concrete reason to believe that they are bullied.

(posted first at LESLEY'S BLOG)



  1. It’s easier in therapy where there’s only the client and the therapist.
    In a work situation there’s also the alledged bully who has to be investigated and confronted.

    That it’s not as simple is no excuse for not doing it!!

  2. MP, it’s an expression in this country – often people are told that their fears are unjustified and they should just relax. I was hearing the same kind of feeling in your post – there’s a certain logic to the expression. The more a person is labeled “paranoid” the less likely people are going to believe them when they make their claims. That’s all.

  3. RE: “Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”

    I’ll second that.

    It’s what Joe told me would be running through my head if I ever sat down and read the Illuminatus trilogy.

    So I never did read it.

  4. MP, the bullying you speak of is real. I have seen it in our own church. Our last priest was newly out of seminary and came to our church because he was led to believe that the church was open and affirming. He was attacked by a group in the church because he would not discriminate against Sarah and I. The deacon in our church led the charge. I think the larger congregation was unaware of a lot of what was going on until after the priest left.

    When he had finally had enough, and found another job the attacking group tried to shame him for that

    The only thing that you can do with a bully is confront them directly and openly. Even that may not work. The deacon finally had a “hissy fit” in a vestry meeting just before the priest left and was seen for what she really is.

    We hear from the priest and wife regularly. They are now in a church that values and loves them. For that I am grateful. I am sure that he will go on to have a wonderful career.

    Bullying does exist. It does exist in churches and can take many forms. It should be confronted and dealt with appropriately.

    The disgruntled group left just before the priest did. I believe that our church is much better off without them. They were never happy and always complaining. They are now in a larger church that can deal more effectively with their venom.

  5. Goodness, Tracy. I had never before heard of the Illuminatus! Trilogy so I did a search on it. One reviewer said this:

    ‘Your basic view of “reality” will probably not survive this book.’

    Now, that’s inticing.

    I may well say more about bullying later. Got a client now so I must go.

  6. The bullying of clergy is very real. Sometimes it is an individual in the congregation or a group. Sometimes bishops or diocesan staff. And, sadly, sometimes it is the priest who is the bully. All of it horrible and very anti-Gospel. There is a reason some congregations have a reputation as “priest killers.”

    And then there is a lot of clutching of the pearls when someone like MP brings the discussion out in the open.

  7. A St. Louis-area UUC pastor wrote a book, “Steeplejacking”, about attempted and successful takeovers of churches in this congregational-polity denomination. Following is a summary of some of his thinking, and also some of my observations about secular organizations’ analogous issues.

    Potential bullies are present in most large groups. The group as a whole may be aware of bullying actions and do/say nothing, the group as a whole may be aware and make it clear that bullying is not acceptable, or the group as a whole may be unaware of bullying.

    Bullies who feel sure of their influence on public opinion will bully in the open, in which case it is imperative for respected senior members of the group to challenge the bully.

    Bullies who realize that they hold the minority opinion will bully in secret. They may also engage in gossip-mongering and passing along lies. It can be helpful if someone sensible being secretly wooed by the bullies as a potential ally can play uncommitted for long enough to figure out exactly what the bullies claim and how they present their claim (if they use pamphlets or websites, get hard copies). Gather known allies and prepare counterarguments in advance. Then choose a time and setting to present the entire group with the issue, preempting the bullies’ plans to accumulate allies, stir shit, and then go public with their complaints. Have formal discussions ***with rule of order (and a designated moderator, if needed)***. The victim demonstrates openness and fairness and courage to the group as a whole, and also controls the discussion format (short time allowed per speaker) so that the bully leader doesn’t get to grandstand. Prompt and prepared public challenge of the bullies, however unpleasant, is likely to gain support of the usually non-political majority and isolate the bullies, de-fanging them.

  8. I worked for a magazine once where the editor was an appalling bully. She made people physically sick at the stress of having to have a meeting with her. She wasn’t even vaguely reasonable. To give an example, she gave me a written warning for, get this, talking too loudly – not on any particular occasion, that is, just in general. (I don’t talk loudly in the slightest. It was just mad.) Last I heard of her she had left the magazine and given a tremendously self-regarding interview to another publication saying she was now a Buddhist. I thought, and still think, that she had quite a lot of apologising to do before she could start calling herself a Buddhist.

  9. I hasten to add that talking too loudly is, obviously, not an offence under employment law in Australia. Or any other law.

    Bullying is a horrible thing and I don’t know which is worse, the bullying itself or the way other people put their heads down and let it happen.

  10. At my own church (Catholic) the priest was pretty unpopular because he was very liberal. The leaders of my RCIA group talked him down and would actually go to a different church for confession. I liked him, though.

    Those illuminati! Ignatius of Loyola hung around with them a bit and got thrown in prison for it 🙂

  11. From Cathy’s comment:

    “Bullying is a horrible thing and I don’t know which is worse, the bullying itself or the way other people put their heads down and let it happen.”

    I so agree.

    I think I’d better leave it at that for the time being.

  12. Y’all need to read “Standing in the Whirlwind” by Nancy C. James. (You can get it at Amazon for $3.79) True story of bullying – in the extreme – but those who have been bullied will recognize the pattern. And, sadly, the bishop who didn’t/wouldn’t help.