This isn’t intended to be a Bible study or a comprehensive article on dealing with those people in our lives who seem to be at war with the world. This post is a follow-up to my original post last year on the necessity of drawing boundaries with people who seem to delight in tormenting others, creating chaos and refusing to reconcile.
Due to the length of what I want to say, I am going to have to continue this into a Part 3 that will deal with how to properly deal with these people when you are pulled into their orbit. This portion is an overview of toxic individuals in the home and ministry.
If it’s a sad thing to witness in the world at large, it is even more tragic and horrifying to see this kind of conduct among those who claim to be Christians. I explained in the last post that by “toxic”, I am not referring to people who let you down, annoy you or who tend to pop your cork occasionally because of personality traits.
It bears repeating that we are all sinners before God, (Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9) and that as Luther put it, “We daily sin much.” That is the wonderful thing about repentance and contrition. We can find forgiveness through Jesus Christ and help in our lives so that our sin patterns don’t become a permanent stumbling block for somebody else.
All of us have encountered those people best described as one man/one woman destruction machines. In families, this is usually manifested by behavior that tries to control, that incessantly tears another down, that manipulates through guilt, that denies the needs of others as a matter of practice, and that first, last and always is about SELF.
One of the most helpful books I have read about people like that is Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, by Sandy Hotchkiss. Here’s is a list of the traits that describe these people:
I won’t take time to go into what the author says about these things, (please read the book), but most of us who have been in close proximity to someone whose inflated sense of self is destroying the lives of others will recognize some or all of these traits.
Toxic People in Families
While some people walk into this kind of individual on the job, at school or other outside situation, it is even harder when you have someone like this in your family of professing Christians.
A toxic husband and father who claims to be a Christian contributes to the destruction of the faith of his children. To be forced to sit and listen to Bible verses and devotionals being read by someone who mistreats his wife makes a mockery of the words he reads. Give children credit for seeing through this from the earliest possible age. I have advice for men who want to live lives of selfishness, arrogance, unforgiveness or abusiveness towards the mother of their children. Put your Bible away. Nobody’s listening to you, sir. And if your kids turn out to be atheists, you have yourself to thank for it.
I mentioned toxic “Christian” fathers, but obviously, the same is true for mothers. Mothers who say they follow Jesus, but live for self in relationships with their spouse and children are equally damaging.
Any claim of Christianity that isn’t accompanied by vital change in conduct is worthless and fraudulent. No, Christians are not perfect. They sin and fall down and make mistakes. But the hallmark of a follower of Jesus should be the willingness to ask for forgiveness, to forgive others and to show the love of Jesus through humility.
Christianity is not just the memorizing of “correct” positions on moral issues, memorizing the Ten Commandments, and so forth. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ that completely changes you and your perspective. A Christian no longer lives for self, but for God, the author of love. That is why our lives should be marked by love.
While toxic Christians usually focus on moral sins like adultery, stealing, murder, etc., they ignore the first table of the Law that deals with things like idolatry and loving the Lord God FIRST in our lives. Toxic people, “Christian” or otherwise, can be summed up as those who are idolaters to self. They’ve erected an idol to their own egos, and they bow low before that idol each and every day of their lives.
(Ironically, these same self-idolaters would be the first ones to praise handing out religious tracts to Mormons or Muslims and everyone else they would label a religious idolater. There’s another god in the pantheon and it’s spelled ME.)
Toxic People in Ministry
It is no secret that there is a high number of toxic individuals in what’s called Christian ministry. I don’t care what denomination or sect you are in, ministry, the pastorate in particular, is a prime location for these people to land. The reason is simple. The pastorate or elder board is a place of authority. Narcissists love control, and what better place to find new victims and exalt your own ego than as “Brother Fred” or “Father Fred”, “Elder Fred”, or “Pastor Fred”?
Evangelical churches are seeing a new wave of these kind of hip young pastors who are egos on steroids. Through New Media, the new celebrity pastors can be as toxic as they want to be and still have a following. One such toxic ‘rock star’ celebrity pastor from Grapevine, Texas was just outed on the local news station for his lavish spending. This gel-haired wonder is followed by thousands who have built him into an international name. He jets around the world, posts his daily agenda on YouTube in his bathrobe (with carefully styled bed-head hair) and assumes that millions hang on his every word.
He’s toxic. Beware of these men in the ministry who are all about self as they sit on Twitter, tweeting their every amazing thought.
Lower level toxic people in ministry can also do a lot of damage. I call it the Fred Phelps Syndrome. The truly horrific slaughter of 51 million babies in the womb in this country has led to activism. Unfortunately, that activism has produced some self-anointed “Brother Fred” type pastors who have no business in ministry. This is no criticism of those faithful pastors who decry the moral ruin of this country and who stand for the sanctity of human life publicly. I am referring to some personally damaged individuals who do not have the loving heart of a pastor. They are individuals without training or accountability who have enjoyed a taste of leadership while in activism and want to make it permanent by creating their own self-styled churches.
The hallmarks of this kind of ministry are unbalanced messages (much Law and no grace) and a track record of destroyed relationships. Anyone in any kind of church or para-church ministry is going to make enemies. I am talking about a consistent pattern of unreconciled personal issues with others that results in persistent, malicious conduct. (In Phelps’ case, outright Satanic hatred for others.)
Attempts at reconciliation with such people are greeted with contempt and further attacks. Years ago, I sent one such individual an apology over my tone in our disagreement. An hour later, my fax machine spit out two full pages of personal attacks that were way, way below the belt. (I guess the man wanted me to have a hard copy, so he faxed it.) I realized that moment 10 years ago what is confirmed today: He doesn’t want reconciliation. In fact, these toxic religious people consider it a sign of their own rectitude that they DON’T reconcile with their antagonists. That would be unbiblical compromise. And so the self-delusion goes.
After our family moved to South Carolina five years ago, we began attending a church with a pastor who was well-known in certain circles for his expository preaching. We were excited to be there, but slightly puzzled about some things we experienced with some of the church leadership. There was a coolness there that was unmistakable, even after several months.
The story finally came out. The same toxic man who continued to harbor a grudge had heard of our arrival at the church and had personally contacted the pastor to “warn” him about us as “ecumenical compromisers.” While the pastor claimed he hadn’t believed the testimony, we knew that the damage had been done because of what we had experienced. Our names had been smeared by an angry, bitter individual who deluded himself into thinking he was “standing for righteousness” by slandering us.
Malice is the hallmark of these kinds of toxic “Christians.” Thankfully, we were able to clear up some things with the church leadership regarding this man’s malicious testimony and ongoing conduct. But the lesson is clear: toxic Christian leaders and self-anointed pastors are highly destructive.
As Christians we are told in Scripture not to “strive”, to live as much as possible in peace with all around us, and to be “tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” So how, with this biblical teaching in view, do we handle things?
I will start answering this question and continue it over into my next post. When you are in a situation with a professing Christian who has engaged in a pattern of abusive and malicious conduct, without remorse and without willingness to reconcile, you need to protect yourself from them. It’s that plain.
Jesus Christ said the following in the Gospel of Matthew 7, verse 6.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
When your heart craves peace and reconciliation with someone, and you take that humble heart to the other party only to be effectively cursed and further abused, you are taking what is precious and casting it before dogs.
We have to forgive these people who behave like selfish beasts while professing Christ, but we are not obligated to continue to give them opportunity for grinding our “pearls” under their feet and attacking anew.
The enemy of souls loves conflict and enjoys nothing more than creating emotional and spiritual chaos in our lives. When we endlessly poke around ruined relationships with toxic people or fight back, engage in flaming emails or even engage in constant back and forth arguing to try to get such a person to see your point, we are not enjoying the peace of Christ to which we are called.
My sister once said that in dealing with toxic people, you need to “cut them out of your emotional framework.” She didn’t mean that you don’t care about the person or pray for them. What she was talking about was working on developing a mindset that will not allow the individual to raise your blood pressure or push your buttons. How? By simply not communicating with them unnecessarily, (marking and avoiding a professing Christian who is disorderly), not engaging in game playing, not rewarding their guilt manipulation by feeling guilty, and not giving them further fodder to hurt you by casting your pearls. Give the pearls to your Heavenly Father in prayer and let Him keep them instead. He sees what has transpired, and He alone can break through pride and heal the toxic heart.
While in some cases it is possible to cut off communication with those who are chronically quarrelsome and divisive, in others it isn’t. I’m going to talk about that situation in my next post on this subject.