They say a church hurt is the worst hurt. I think its because our expectations are higher for our fellow believers. We expect them to treat us better than their worldly counterparts. When they don’t, we are wounded.
Sometimes, we are gutted.
The thing is, there are people in the church who are simply bullies. The church can be a breeding ground for them. Most people in churches have been conditioned to be kind and to keep peace. We avoid conflict. Bullies flourish in churches because they are rarely confronted and the stakes are low if, on the off chance, they are exposed.
A bully loves to be a big fish in a small pond. They excel at saying all the right words, at twisting Scripture to appear spiritual, and, when exposed, at sweeping things under the rug in the name of “reconciliation”. They are experts at gaslighting, as well.
Church bullies love legalism, although they have a ton of public grace for themselves. They believe that their circumstances are the exceptions to the rules they have for everyone else.
Dealing with them is disheartening, infuriating, sometimes crushing, and always preoccupying. The reality is that church bullies, because of the niceness in church culture, almost always win. Their victims either cower or, after a brief fight, walk away, misunderstood by others and painted in a bad light.
I’ve mentioned before my lack of pretense. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I say what I mean, and I don’t understand the first thing about playing games. Basically, I make an excellent target for the church bully. So I have been one too many times, as I was recently in a church-like setting.
I was the one walking away, misunderstood. I hate to be misunderstood. As I’ve said before, it’s my kryptonite.
Plus, I want to prove to everyone that I’m right. My pride wants everyone to see how I’ve been wronged, to understand the depths of the wrongness done to me, and to fully know the depravity of the one who did the wronging. I want to give those bullies a taste of their own medicine, I do.
Because in my mind, they are the enemy. They can do no right. They are 100% wrong, black-hat-bad, evil. Beyond redemption.
In Googling this topic, I found some good articles on how to handle the church bully. I Hate Church Bullies by Jeremy Myers explores what motivates them. What To Say To a Church Bully from Ministry Today is an excellent article on our responsibility to confront those commandeering the church.
In the past, I’ve allowed my own anger and hurt to so color my thinking, I’ve forgotten that Jesus loves those bullies just as much as He loves me. He treasures them. They are His beloved children. And He had specific instructions for how we deal with our perceived enemies:
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
I will tell you that my pride loathes these Words. “C’mon, Jesus. Let’s bless them with a brick to the backside, instead,” I want to plead (and probably have.) Pray for them, do good, love them, are all I hear in response. And, because I’m no longer around them much, I do the one thing I can from a distance. I pray for them.
And it’s work. My flesh rises up and wants me to do anything but that. But I persist. And soon, more rapidly than if I’d nursed my grudge, my heart softens. Forgiveness reigns. I can see them as Jesus does.
Boundaries are necessary and still in place.
Not gonna lie to you. It’s a struggle at first. I don’t know how to pray for people about which I have nothing good to say. So I start there. I confess my sins in the whole mess (which are legion), and just tell God I don’t know where to start but I want to be obedient to His Word. He reminds me of a small circumstance I know about in one of their lives. I lift it up.
Soon, I can pray with all sincerity for peace and blessing to them. But more amazing to me is the peace it brings in my life.
And I now understand that whether I am the one who has brought the wrong or the one who has been wronged, there is grace for both.