A Good Name in Ministry

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161

In the fantasy world of corrupt spiritual leaders, and by corrupt, I mean far more than the Creflo Dollar types, a “good name” is highly valued. After all, these leaders have built impressive organizations with a wide outreach and many expensive assets.

As the injured limp or crawl away from these ministries and word begins to circulate about what happened to innocent people, the common strategy from organizational leaders is to run smear campaigns for cover.

There is so much literature written on this behavior the web is choked with it. At stake is the “good name” of the leader and ministry. It must be preserved. The terrible “slander” of the “good name” must be stopped, even if it means lawsuits, behind the scenes threats and outrageous lies.

But a good name is far more than a public image solid enough to keep donations rolling in. A good name is far more than the holographic image projected by media, an image untarnished by any financial impropriety, DUI arrests or lurid sexploits.

A good name is supposed to represent an entire person, not just an image. In the minds of malignant narcissist leaders, including the self-deprecating variety found so often in fundamentalist Christian circles, anyone who dents that image, questions something or holds up a mirror to them about the harm they are doing behind the scenes is the one who must be destroyed, threatened, intimidated into silence. Their name must be mud-spattered.

The rationale for a leader’s legal threats, for example, is the protection of their “good name.” The fact that their own malicious and ungodly behavior has generated the cries of pain heard by the public is neatly covered over. The simpletons who listen to these leaders cluck and shake their heads. “Such a shame, so terrible.” In the distorted thinking of these useful tools of the narcissist, it is impossible that their beloved hologram could possibly engage in harm to innocent people or family members. It’s easier to believe the narrative cleverly spun by the Good Name. It requires no moral courage, no discernment, no critical thinking or godly analysis if fans just go with the legend instead.

In this way, enablers and sycophants help fuel the destruction machine for innocent people and their names. When evidence and testimony of witnesses is ignored in favor of the hologram’s teary-eyed stories, you have a cult mentality, not a Christian organization.

It is ironic, and sadly so, that as judgment descends on this country, the true state of the hearts in many evangelical and conservative ministries today is one of the reasons for it. The idea that Scriptural instructions are for everyone else but leaders is an entrenched one. It isn’t said or thought outright. It simply is the operating principle for many. Of course, this never ends well.

The good name of a manual laborer matters as much as that of someone in the public eye. And the name is only as “good” as the character behind it. When there is no transparency in donor-supported ministries (i.e.the names of those on boards of donor supported ministries should be public), no responsible and professional boards of directors who actually “direct” rather than serve as human rubber stamps, the good names of those departing these dysfunctional ministries get harmed. They are labeled as malcontents, slanderers, rebels, divas, nutcases, and so forth and so on.

I have news for anyone harmed by these outfits. The word ICHABOD is written over the door frames of the facilities. Any glory has departed. Whether it is ten months or ten years, any organization claiming to be Christian where there is no compassion, no heart for truth (that means listening to more than one party involved), and no concern for the souls on staff, has a bleak future.

What an avoidable tragedy it is. I believe that God honors repentance in individuals and by leaders of organizations. It is so rare, however, that I cannot name a single case of it.

There has never been more of a need for light in the darkness of our times. Sadly, neglect of first things, ambition, idolatry and opportunism in the name of ministry have weakened the underpinnings of Christian organizations all over. Like the bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago that came crashing down from bolts that quietly rusted away, ministries risk a similar demise.

At stake is more than the “good name” of temporal leaders. It’s the good Name of our Savior and his Gospel that hangs in the balance. Those who are harmed are not to blame for crying out and supposedly besmirching the Name of Above All Names. The squelching of  the victims of spiritual abuse to avoid public scrutiny is not the solution. Addressing abuse and making amends (and restituion, if necessary) to those harmed is the answer. When this does not happen, the bolts on the bridge continue to deteriorate. Tick tock.

P.S. A pastor was once asked by a journalist to explain an unsavory situation he was involved with. “We are Christians, we don’t air our dirty laundry,” he said pompously. No, sir, instead we fail to wash the laundry until the stench is so bad the wider world takes note. Something to think about.

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One Woman’s Story – Married to a Narcissist

The most commonly read posts on this entire blog in the last seven years have been those that addressed toxic relationships with malignant narcissists. A friend has chosen for the first time to share her story anonymously. The account speaks for itself, and her purpose in sharing it was clearly stated to me. “If it saves even one woman from the hell I went through, it’s worth it.”

Everyone reading this needs to understand this point. While all of these abusive people are dangerous, the most effectively destructive ones are those who claim to be Christians, who use their charm and talent for “Jesus”, and who operate under cover of their religious claims and outreach. When those they harm speak out, they have the advantage of a public image at complete odds with who they really are. Their targets are then twice victimized, because those who should stand with them stead join the perpetrator in scapegoating the one in pain. If you have ever lived this, it’s worthy of a horror movie.

Here is her story. I hope it helps someone. My thanks to the lovely Christian woman who has shared this.

masksI watched him from the back of the sanctuary. I listened to his well-rehearsed and flawlessly executed presentation, citing Bible verses and speaking of his relationship to God. He was a self-proclaimed evangelist. By the end of the service, he had us all eating out of his hand. But at the end of the event, he singled me out. He was charming, complimentary and attentive. I was smitten.

We communicated daily. He wooed me in a way that was straight out of a romance novel – flowers, love letters, snippets of music to soften my heart, long telephone calls at midnight, endearing pet names, always telling me what a remarkable woman of God I was, and how blessed he was to have found me.

We married 6 months later, a year after we met. I thought I had found heaven on earth, a man who loved God and loved me and my child. It was only a matter of time before I began to realize what hell on earth can be like, and that I would live the next 15 years of my life in a black hole, a hole that would suck the life and breath from me, that would skew my sense of personhood, that would deny me the opportunity to be true to myself in order to be true to my spouse.

During our engagement, he was fired from his job. He explained that he had been lied about, and sabotaged, and that was the real reason for termination. It never occurred to me that he was lying.
A few months after our marriage, he was hired at a new job. Less than a year later, he was fired. He was angry that they just didn’t see that he was the right man for that job. It never occurred to me that he was lying…again.

Things became difficult at home. It became obvious that everything about our marriage was about him. We ate when he wanted, and what he preferred. We did, for the most part, what he wanted to do, socialized with those with whom he wanted to be, and did what was most pleasing to him in all areas of our life.
He expected to be praised for every small achievement, and was in constant need of being “stroked” and admired. I often felt he wanted cheerleaders, not a spouse or friends. Every business opportunity he pursued was ultimately about self-promotion, and a desire to be viewed as someone incredibly special. He had delusions of grandeur – “this project is going to be the big one….I can feel it.” It never was.

He was preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and the “ideal” love. I began to see how he selfishly took advantage of others to his own ends –family, friends, acquaintances, even strangers were targeted as “aides” in his acquiring of money, fame, and success, most times under the guise of doing something “for God.” Once they had served their usefulness, they were left behind. I would often challenge him about this, as it made me horrifically uncomfortable and uneasy. His response was that I had no business acumen, and to leave these matters to him.

I had learned, early on in the relationship, as a good and godly wife, to “submit” to him, but as time went on, I began to challenge him on his behaviors which, to my way of thinking, were more than just impulsive and immature, but, often times, outright unethical, immoral and ungodly. With every challenge came retaliation in the form of silence. Days of silence, of withholding affection, withholding even a simple “good morning” or “good night.” I learned, quickly, that if peace was going to reign in our marriage, it would be I who would have to apologize, and make it right. In the entirety of our marriage, I can count on one hand the times that he ever said, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong, please forgive me.”

After several failed attempts at being self-employed at various projects that interested him, he took a job with a highly reputable, nationally known company. A few years later, he came home and announced that he had quit his job to pursue another project which had the potential to make us “rich and famous.” It never occurred to me he was lying about quitting. As I would find out, only two days before our divorce, he was fired with serious allegations of illegal activity which could have been prosecuted and included mandatory jail time. The company, for its own name’s sake, and for the sake of me and my child, chose to terminate with no severance pay, loss of medical and dental, and a promise that they would clean up his mess, and not prosecute. For the last six years of our lives together, I became the sole support of the family while he “chased the dream.”

You may wonder how any woman can be so trusting, so naïve, or just plain stupid. I wonder it myself. I am a well-educated, quite intelligent, professional woman. But as a Christian, my commitment to do what was right, to be faithful and supportive, overrode my own intuition, and I kept ignoring all the warning signs. A narcissist is exceedingly charming, and masterful at developing an environment that does not allow for questioning or challenging him. Challenges are viewed as criticism, and in a narcissist’s mind, all criticism is viewed as being against the narcissist. There is no gray area for a narcissist – if you are not for him, you are against him. If you are against him, he will make your life miserable. A narcissist excels at grooming his spouse to live according to his wishes, his desires, his needs. To not comply is reckoned as a lack of love for him. What spouse wants to be accused of not loving her mate?

In the last 15 months of our marriage, I became critically ill. I was also grieving the death of a very dear friend and colleague. At the same time, my spouse was engaged in a project that truly did have the potential to be all he had hoped for. He hired a woman to come into the project, against my wishes. Every red flag in me went up, but he assured me it was a purely professional relationship. But I saw the signs. I confronted him. He denied it, stating I was being paranoid and jealous.

Two months later, on Christmas night, I would discover that they had been involved with one another for well over 6 months. When confronted with the affair, I was given a classic retort, “This is what you get for not being the kind of wife I needed.” Please note, there was no, “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t mean for it to happen.” No, it was MY fault that he had cheated.

A narcissist lacks empathy – he’s never sorry for what he’s done to harm others, and most times cannot even see the harm, damage and pain he has left in his wake. His awareness of pain is only of the pain he has incurred, and his belief is that his pain is at the hands of someone else, never as a result of his own faulty decisions and ungodly choices. To this day, if given an opportunity, my ex-spouse will tell people that it was I who ruined his reputation and destroyed his business opportunities, and it was I who “held him back” all these years from being a successful businessman. Narcissists were often, as children, excused or rescued. They seldom were allowed to suffer the consequences of their decisions and, subsequently, they form an entitlement mentality, or a victim mentality, whichever is useful for any given circumstance. My ex’s parents have always been there to “bail him out” of any difficulty he had, going so far as to pay for his divorce attorney so that he could be “happy again.”

As a very public Christian figure, he refused to see that cheating on his wife and walking away from his family would have serious repercussions to his testimony and reputation. He believed he should have been able to walk away because, after all, God also wanted him to be happy.

He left us on New Year’s Day. He never looked back. He never apologized. He never said good bye. It was as if we never existed. He simply took a huge eraser to me, and put her in my place, without skipping a beat. I would find out after we were married that he did this exact same thing to his first wife – with me. She did NOT want the divorce as he had told me, but after he met me, he went home and told her he no longer wished to be married to her. He had left her with no money. He did the same to me. He walked away from her without looking back. He did the same to me. Narcissists have patterns, and when they are unmasked, and finally are seen for who they are, they run from their current situation into a new one as quickly as possible. Narcissists cannot live without their mask. Expose a narcissist at your own peril – their ability to retaliate is phenomenal.

But, in the immortal words of the late and great Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story.
He has been gone for a year now. It’s been one of the most painful times of my life and horrifically confusing and damaging to my child. My health is still fragile, and I am caring for a special needs child while maintaining my career in order to support us both. The divorce was brutal and unnecessarily litigious.

But God is good, and He is faithful to those who walk in righteousness. He has been a Provider, far better than my ex ever was, and He has done so in phenomenal ways. The graciousness of family, church family, friends, other churches, colleagues, and many of my ex’s colleagues has provided us with enough cash gifts to pay off my mortgage, all my medical bills, and the divorce settlement owed to my ex because I kept the house. I have a new furnace and air conditioner because of the kindness of the owner of a heating and cooling company who heard our story, and extended great grace to us, giving us the furnace at dealer’s cost, an air conditioner for free, and installation of both for free. Friends who knew I could only eat organic grass-fed beef brought us a large bag full of one-pound packages. We received gift cards to restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores.

But more than any other gift we’ve received, all of which have been incredible, is the gift of finding myself again. Living with a narcissist is like living in a black hole – it sucks the very life out of you. You give, and give, and give, and receive little to nothing in return, because even when something is given back to you, it’s because it serves a purpose to the narcissist.

I am opposed to divorce, even in instances of infidelity. I believe God’s grace, love and the power of the Holy Spirit can redeem anything. When I discovered the affair, I forgave him and asked him to stay to work on our marriage. I would have done whatever it took to save my family. He did not want to do so. He could not afford to do so – I now saw him for who he truly was, and it could never be the same as it was, for either of us. He had already made plans with many new dreams with his paramour (yes, she was married and left a 23 year marriage for him).

I see now that God has protected me from a life that would have eventually destroyed me physically, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually. God may hate divorce, but I believe He hates even more the destruction of a life He designed to love and serve Him, and to be a glory to Him. Living with a narcissist destroys who you are – you are forced to be something “other than” who God made you as a matter of survival.

God never intended that we simply survive. He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. We were intended to thrive in the light of His love and grace, not to be a withering and dying flower living in the shadow of a spouse who lives only for himself.

If you “see yourself” in this story, I encourage you to seek counseling. Don’t live in the shadows. The journey back into the sunlight will undoubtedly be painful in many ways, and certainly not the easiest journey you have made, but it can be quite beautiful once you finally arrive.

Understanding How it Works

narcissism33I came across an article today linked on Facebook on the subject of narcissistic abuse and how enablers are not innocent. It is truly the best piece of writing on this angle of the subject that I’ve read yet.  I have said this before, but I will repeat it: Understanding how malignant narcissists and their weak-willed enablers operate is essential to protecting yourself and your loved ones from their harm. Failure to understand their methods and behaviors can cost you years of your life in pointless grief, headbanging and self-blame.

The fact that this happens in supposedly Christian settings is not surprising. Of all people, Christians are the ones least equipped to deal with this kind of evil. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Fear of “harming the cause of Christ” creates an extra layer of reticence to speak out when narcissistic abusers are on a rampage. Fear of being a “gossip” becomes the excuse many times for saying nothing at all as innocent people are chewed up and spit out. Wrong-headed thinking about taking abuse from others is also a frequent problem among Christians. A lot of cowardice hides in pietistic thinking. (“We’ll just pray about it and God will change things in his time,” said even as they watch others ground into hamburger.)

There is nothing so vile as those who stand back and watch others destroyed. This article underscores the fact that there is no neutrality when evil is being done right in front of you. Those who cower are useful tools in the hand of the narcissist abuser when a direct hit is launched. Here’s the article that nails it all down. Quote from the article:

The narcissist depends upon these weak-willed comrades. Abusing someone isn’t nearly as much fun if it’s only a party of two. With a crowd, there’s unlimited potential for drama. The narcissist gets to pull a lot more strings that way.

If it were just the abuser, and her target, it would hardly be worth it to carry out a full-fledged hate campaign.

That’s because the narcissist labors to get others to turn on the target. The collective betrayal that comes from the camp of these enablers is even more devastating than the primary source of abuse.

Targets, especially if this plays out at work, or in a social setting, watch as, one by one, the people they thought were their friends, slink away when the battle intensifies.

Not taking a stand to stop someone from being hurt doesn’t absolve you of guilt. In fact, when you do this, you become an active participant, whether you consider yourself one or not.

The next post at the Hope Blog is a story sent to me by a woman who was married to a malignant narcissist for a number of years until he divorced her and married another, all the while, lying about his original marriage and keeping his ministry speaking credentials impeccable. Reading her story, shared anonymously, we find a very clear example of how it all works. Creating a false narrative against a target is one of the chief strategies found in the narc playbook.

Helpful Links for Those Struggling to Understand

Given the surprising recent number of hits on articles I have posted in previous years about toxic relationships, I’m going to post some further article links here that will hopefully give additional insight. Each year at this time, there is an uptick in online searches on topics related to dysfunctional family systems. The holidays have a way of resurrecting issues many thought they had buried. These are just listed FYI, and may be of some help on the subject.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse – this is a helpful list of behaviors that, once understood, can be better avoided. Take special note of the term “gaslighting.” No other toxic behavior of destructive people (the ones I call the Human Wrecking Balls) is as effective at destroying others as this one. When you toy with someone’s mind and perception of reality for specific ends, it is evil on steroids. Narcissists create the instability that they then can falsely finger as the source of the problem. Very clever. Identify this behavior and walk away.

Selfishness and Narcissistic Family Systems

Narcissists Force Co-Dependent Relationships

I have more to share and will add some in coming days. Conservative Christians are often so busy inveighing against the evils of psychology, it’s a little embarrassing to realize that narcissistic sociopaths are explained and defined down to their last method in psychology text books around the world, while those with their Bible raised aloft frequently seem to know only how to further enable the perpetrators. This explains why people in the corporate world are frequently seen on the front pages of newspapers for losing their platforms and jobs for destructive behavior, while pastors and other Christian leaders can continue on for decades untouched by consequences. They are surrounded by those who claim to believe in God and his Word, and yet they enable the most unspeakable evil done in Christ’s name. Those injured are shunned and discarded.

If people can identify these behaviors for what they are, whether in churches or in families, it’s step one in ensuring that more lives are not destroyed by this kind of thing. If many people, Christians in particular, were aware of what this grotesque, malignant pride does and how it manifests in relationships, there would be a great deal more hope for salvaging lives before untold damage is done to health and to faith. Yes, it is all sin, but seeing the enemy of soul’s devices is a first step toward resisting.

Faith. The greatest damage, beyond the emotional and psychological, is done to faith. The question asked by the “little people” when they see God “using” these “great workers for God” is this: If this, God, is what you have to use to advance your kingdom, what exactly is being advanced when it’s built on the bones of victims? It becomes very difficult for those injured, sometimes horribly crippled, by soul-destroying people, to understand what exactly they are following when God seems to put his own stamp of endorsement on “Bible-believing”, conservative leaders who grind those closest to them under their cloven hooves – behind the scenes, where nobody can see it or hear the cries for help. Or, should I say, where nobody will listen to the cries for help.

It is not godly to be silent on these issues, contrary to the pietistic thought of many in churches or families. One of the greatest tools of the enemy is to convince those injured in Christ’s name that they are “suffering for Jesus” by saying nothing and not sharing what they have learned. Persecution by the world and declared enemies of Christ is bad enough, and we are told to expect it. Abuse wielded under cover of a Christian banner and churches and ministries is quite another. All silence does in cases like that is lengthen the victim list. And that is a terrible thing.