When Bullying Occurs in Churches

Bullying is using force to compel a person to do something against their will or to punish rather than correct. It does not aim for the good of the person. It aims to control or to harm.

Despite recent attention on bullying and developing strategies to address it – in schools and in the workplace – very little is being said about bullying in churches. But bullying in churches is very real. Attention to the dynamics of bullying will raise awareness of its prevalence in communal life and help guard against it.

1. The Abusive Use of Knowledge

Bullying cannot occur without the use of force or the exercise of power. In Christian circles such force or power is often expressed as knowledge. Those who are ‘right’ are those with influence within the church group.

Certain characteristics of our theological tradition feed this dynamic. Our faith is grounded in history; we believe on the basis of revelation and we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These characteristics of our faith bring us certainty and confidence. How do we express our convictions? Usually with vigour!

The difficulty with possessing knowledge is not the knowledge itself but the way it is communicated to others. When knowledge is used to dominate people it is a form of bullying. The church bully is the one for whom the aphorism ‘knowledge is power’ is a working reality.

2. Can Goodness be Compelled?

When Christians try to compel people to do good acts they often call these actions ‘duties’. A duty is an absolute obligation that a person must behave in a particular way, no matter the circumstances. The argument is made that as we are created beings, we must find God’s instructions for living in scripture and obey them.

Christians do have a duty to live in response to the love God has shown us. There is, however, a limit to the things that can be rightly described as duties in church life. When people act in response to force or pressure – rather than love for God – they are being bullied.

3. Punitive Behaviour by Christians

When power fails to influence others, bullies turn to punishment. Christians tend to punish by withdrawing financial support or their presence (or both). Such actions, however, are not usually described – or understood – as intent to punish. Such actions may be justified by reference to conscience. It is difficult to criticise an act of conscience! However, withdrawing support from a group is rightly described as punitive when it only harms or weakens the group and does not actually express the true concerns of the conscience.

4. Some Suggestions

Here then are three suggestions for keeping a check on church bullies.

First of all, model ‘being right’ in the right way, and be alert to those who need guidance in this matter. Help people to resist the temptation to use knowledge to dominate.

Secondly, observe when people are being pressured to do certain things. Those who are exerting the force may need to be challenged about their actions, and those who are complying may need support to resist.

Thirdly, be aware that when disagreements arise, people act in ways that have more to do with punishing than achieving the good they are ostensibly aiming for.

Leave a comment

  1. In researching the topic of “Church Bullies” for submission for publication, yours in the first to not list a bunch of “holies”! I am impressed by the fact that your approach is that of “people management”. Or, as I have termed the exercise “Magnificent Manipulator”, drawn from the Apostle Paul’s approach to the forming of the church.
    Somehow, I have overlookd a date on your article, but it is very timely and especially for my endeavors.
    Would you be inclined to give approval for this blog to be considered in the “collection”?
    Wayne Montgomery, Th.D.
    Retired Elder
    The United Methodist Church
    Kansas West Conference

  2. Rev. Valerie J. Scott says:

    Factual and very well wrritten! Bless you for the insight and education

  3. Johnny Mullens says:

    I am doing research for a book on Compensatory Narcissistic Personality Disorder in ministers and church leaders. The pulpit minister in the Church of Christ that I attend is a narcissistic bullies who has lied about me to church leaders and lied to me. He told me in front of an elder that I was using diabetes as an excuse to sit in the back at church because he wanted the members to sit 8 rows from the back. I watched as he went constantly from narcissistic rage to crying in the meeting. He is very punitive. I learned James 5:!6 is the wrong verse to use when meeting a narcissistic bully. They seize on weakness. I would see why the minister is a minister (or church leader)and what areas of their life is so bad that they feel inferior and have to bully to compensate for their inferiority or how much cognitive dissonance affects their faith.

  4. Phil Pidgeon says:

    I had an unsettling incident at church yesterday. I asked a leader to pray with me for the intention of a friend who is trying to find a long lost daughter. This leader asked me what church did I belong to. He asked me what were the motives of this woman in wanting to find her child. He told me that he would not pray with me and wanted to end the communication. He said to me that there was a spirit in me and would not tell me what that spirit was. I asked me what he meant and he said that he would not tell me. Emotionally I fell sick, spiritual I wonder is there really a God and could this leader who just gave a lesson on the message of Jesus Christ as a servant and how we should be willing to serve and show mercy to others. I would like an answer from him, or should I just keep my mouth shut.

  5. Donella Gallo says:

    Excellent article on church bullying. I have been in full time ministry for many years and have seen so much bullying going on by church members and leaders trying to get their own way. There is just not enough information available for us to be able to know how to deal with such difficult people so I am glad to see something being written on this subject. Thank you!

  6. john potts says:

    What about when the bully is the preacher?

  7. Loves God says:

    This reply is to Phil Pidgeon: Phil, I am sorry you went through that horrible situation; sad to say, I have had similar
    situations in the last few years. I was verbally abused by
    my pastor for about 15 years, usually the abuse was public.
    He could have called me aside to discuss any concerns but
    instead he decided to point the finger at me and publicly
    rebuke me on unfounded charges. If he had taken me aside,
    which by the way, is biblical, we could have reached some
    sort of agreement in the matter. Instead he thought what-
    ever he assumed I was doing needed to be brought out into
    the open for all the church to witness. Later on I decided
    to confront him (I did it privately, unlike what he did).
    When that made it worse, I left (God told me to “wipe the
    dust off my feet” and leave). When I tried to find another
    church in the area within 2 months the next pastor falsely
    accused me in public in a Sunday morning service. I
    tried to meet with him but he refused to hear me out. Putting
    two and two together, I realize the first pastor spoke to him
    and accused me to this pastor, and the 2nd pastor
    believed him and came against me publicly without ever having
    gotten to know me. I left and have been having trouble since
    finding a church. I have heard of pastors contacting other
    pastors anywhere in the area about those that have left (even
    with good reason), and spreading accusations so that the
    pastor and the one searching for a new church never make a
    connection. I really believe God is getting tired of these
    shepherds that are scattering the sheep and instead of making
    us better prepared, are causing much confusion in the body
    of Christ. But please remember, God is real and God is good…
    no matter how people act God will NEVER leave you or forsake
    you. Ask him to help you get over the hurt and to heal you.
    Please post about your friends daughter. Did they find her?
    Also, Phil, ask God to help you find other believers that will
    help you heal inside. Not all Christians are like that pastor.
    He may have you join a small group for fellowhip. Please
    don’t give up.

  8. jennifer alessio says:

    A “Queen Bee” (women’s leader) in Mega Church banned me from all women’s events, retreats and called me to not fellowship with any women from the Church and refused to tell me why after repeated attempts to make an appt or talk to her. She then followed me, wrote twisted notes, had her help follow me into bathroom to eavesdrop and report to her what I said. She had all male ministers ban me from choir, singles group, Divorce care classes, etc. Finally she had me physically removed with Police and a Letter from pastor from Church to not step foot on the property. It is now 7 yrs later. I never found out why she has done this. This church is very connected with all other churches and denominations from large to small churches, that has heard the gossip from the parishioners and then the new churches find a reason to not allow me to become a member due to other peoples gossip. Some of these parishioners come into other churches telling minister they will not attend class if I am there. Then my minister bans me from the class in my new church because the people from old mega church travel in groups attending classes. When I have called Old Mega Church to speak to Minister, the secretary Blocks my calls from speaking to Minister telling me to contact Crisis Services.

    This Bullying has gone on for 7 yrs, is keeping me from Jobs since some of the People work in Hospitals, and many of the Churches overlap and work together in large Christian EVENTS. These Churches refuse to talk about what happened but put in writing that they want me to apologize for something I did not do and they want me to do it in writing and in person but this Church is denying me access to apologize in person because I cannot even get access by phone. To this day I do not know what I did. Many relationships have broken up due to gossip and many members I know still attend there and will not talk to me due to their gossip and being black balled.

    Now in a New Church I signed up for Membership and they did not question the past. However the Membership person that I did not say a word to, went ahead and did a background check on me with the church I attended 7 yrs ago and made a verbal dig towards me on phone. I did not even know who this person was. She went ahead and snooped around and asked questions and made a judgement towards me, a new member. I cannot get ahold of the minister at this church either. They have Security all around and I am prevented from getting close enough to Minister to even shake his hand after service. Security is treating me like I am dangerous. What do I do?? I am blackballed from almost all Churches due to Gossip from Churches that is not true…they will not talk to me but want me to apologize in person and in letter form. All I could say is “I’m sorry if I have offended you in any way” knowing that they intentionally bullied me and banned me from all fellowship. Jesus is all about Love and Forgiveness. No Church wants to get involved. I do not even tell them anymore but now churches are snooping around asking people about the gossip on me. I need fellowship….This is all Gossip. They believe I am dangerious and refused to help me when some of parishioners saw bruises on me, told me to talk to Minister, he refused to listen and made a public spectacle out of me and then when people who referred me to speak to Minister asked how it went, I told them the Minister refused to talk to me, which was the honest truth and they want me to lie and apologize for telling the truth, so they look good.

  9. Connie Rose says:

    hell, I am a victim of church bulling but only God, he brought me through and am talking about how I over come my bullies.

  10. Rhonda Tircuit says:

    Thanks for sharing
    I’ve experienced this because of my meek and quiet
    You can say you are called to ministry in the south
    The immediately want to force you to be behind the
    Pulpit. Like that’s the only area you can minister, Lord
    Help us and pray that God continue to give me strength

  11. Mandy says:

    In our church my 2 older kids have experienced bullying, but for years until recently we told them just to be nice and not to retaliate. We have not really went around the families kids much that bully. Well, our church is small so we’re kind of the ostracized ones because of that. Things have relatively gotten better between others kids and our older ones although we still aren’t treated with the same care or love as others in our church and my kids see it. Yesterday, right in front of me, an older and much bigger boy crunched or popped the fingers of my four year old for no apparent reason. He came to me in tears crying. I didn’t see it and couldn’t understand what he was saying between the sobs. So my older son said Justin (lets call him) had cracked my sons knuckles. I was upset, so I looked him in the eyes and I said, “don’t you ever do that again!” Well, our whole church came over to our house that night and my little son came out of his room where all the boys were and he said, “Justin said he was going to crack my knuckles, but I told him he couldn’t.” Now my sons getting threats. Should I go to his parents and talk to them? Their son also cracked the knuckles of our neighbor girls this last summer (they also were in tears)and the girls father talked to the boy. So, it seems like my warning him won’t stop him either. I’m tempted to tell the parents that if it happens again I will crack the boys knuckles myself to teach the bully not to bully others.

  12. Ann says:

    Can one be bullied by a pastor? I feel that is what is happening to me as a pianist in the church. The problem arose when I innocently thought that I could email my pastor in friendship to let him know of my deepest thoughts (none sexual) regarding the music ministry and my relationship with Christ. He sent me back countless scriptures from the KJV (our version of choice) regarding humility and accused me of putting myself higher than anyone else and essentially expressed his doubts concerning my pure motives. Before God, I am confident that I have never tried to place myself higher than anyone else, in fact the very contrary. Can someone please comment on this? I now feel as a woman not only am I told to be silent in church (that indeed is scriptural) I am not allowed to even express myself on paper! The only thing I feel free to do in the church is to walk up to the piano, play, then go to the back seat, skip out quietly and avoid other people and the pastor in the end.

  13. [...] When bullying occurs in churches | baptist social issues Excellent article on church bullying. i have been in full time ministry for many years and have seen so much bullying going on by church members and leaders trying to. [...]

  14. [...] When bullying occurs in churches | baptist social issues Excellent article on church bullying. i have been in full time ministry for many years and have seen so much bullying going on by church members and leaders trying to. [...]

  15. Ellen says:

    I was bullied at a church that I used to go to. The kids would always say mean things, and then use their faith to justify it. The parents of these kids would just turn the other way. The church I used to go preached about forgiveness and faith alone. Everyone in that church seemed to believe that they were not accountable for their actions, and because they believe that they only need God’s forgiveness, they did not need to apologize for being mean, hurtful and rude.

    I mentioned that the parents of these kids would just look the other way, but they always believed that it was their place to “scold” or take a tone to “correct me” when I did something. No parent has the right to yell at or condemn someone else’s child. It is very unfortunate that my mom didn’t go to that church. I went to that church with a friend and her family. Over time, they became next to impossible to be with. Yes, there were lies and accusations. My friend’s mom would sometimes call my mom to tell her that I did this or that when something happened. My mom wasn’t there, so she didn’t know what to think or do. So, she would just yell at me and tell me to be nice. It was pretty much impossible for me to be able to stand up for myself because there wasn’t one person in that church who supported me in anything. So, to me, there was absolutely no point in me going to that church.

    After me experience, I can understand why church social groups do not work. If people would stop being fake and be more caring and interested in people, church groups might actually work.

  16. Maree says:

    I have been bullied and abused by a fellow Christian in my workplace (as volunteer). He is intermarried with several other families within the church which makes it difficult as to where to start a complaint. Many of family are on the board of deacons. Our Pastor has not been wiling to face the issues in any shap or form. Many efforts written and personally have been tried to resolve the issue to no avail. It now has come to the point where he has spoken to other church members intimating that I am mentally unstable. His history is well documented but others say ‘oh that;s just the way he is’. At present I am bringing it to the notice once again to the deacons to of whom are not related and will have a mature person to be a part of the investigation.
    My biggest mistake was to believe that in the first instance as Christians it would work its way through. So I have not documented many of the instances.
    How do Baptist Churches deal with these issues, are they obligated to have a document relating to Policy on Harrassment and Abuse? As you can imagine it is stressful and humiliating to have to do this, but many aspects of my worship, fellowship and personal life have been dramatically impacted by what has happened.
    I praise God that there are avenues to at have a say and ask important questions. Thank you.

  17. Courtney B says:

    Well written and much needed. Thank You.