Bullying in the church

targeted heart

photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski, www.12frames.eu

February 17, 2004, all hell broke loose against me at my workplace. Tension had been building for several weeks, but that Tuesday brutal behavior erupted. By evening, I arrived home feeling like I’d been dragged behind a Mack truck.

Sadly, the truck kept going – and dragging me behind it – for nearly 15 months. The abuse stopped only when I left the abusive situation. Sadder still, I worked for a Christian organization.

Four years later, I learned the name for what I’d experienced. It’s called mobbing, and also, workplace bullying. I learned how prevalent this type of abuse is and how devastating to the target. With deep gratitude, I saw how superabundantly God had poured out his grace on me. He had taken what could have been catastrophic to my life and health and, instead, produced the reverse: He delivered me into a more abundant life and now is using me to deliver others.

This month, Counseling Today published an article by Lynne Shallcross titled, “Grown-up Bullying.” In the article, Jessi Eden Brown, a counselor I’ve never met, described what I experienced – and the damage such experiences can produce.

Brown, a coach with the Workplace Bullying Institute, referenced WBI’s definition of workplace bullying: “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • verbal abuse;
  • offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating;
  • work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.”

Yep, that nails it. So do these excerpts from “Grown-up Bullying”:

“Although popular media frequently portray the workplace bully as a volatile, verbally abusive boss, in actuality, the behaviors tend to be more subtle, insidious and persistent,” Brown says. “Examples include stealing credit for others’ work, assigning undue blame, using highly public and humiliating criticism, threatening job loss or punishment, denying access to critical resources, applying unrealistic workloads or deadlines, engaging in rumors and gossip, endeavoring to turn others against a person and deliberate attempts to sabotage someone’s work or professional reputation.” …

“There is a significant body of research linking workplace bullying to physical, mental, social and economic health harm for the bullied target,” Brown says. Studies have linked repeated exposure to stressful events such as bullying to severe physical ailments, including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems and increased levels of cortisol, among other things, Brown says. The psychological harm from bullying can be just as devastating. “Panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, major depression, substance abuse and dependence, acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder are but a few of the diagnoses encountered when working with targets of workplace bullying,” Brown says.

“The stress and exhaustion that targets endure is often isolating and paralyzing. After all, it is generally the bully’s goal to disempower the target. Even when they do speak up, targets of workplace bullying tell us their employers, family and friends do not often believe them nor understand how it could be so distressing …

“In most cases, the target has done nothing to deserve the treatment [he or she is] receiving,” she says. “The bully chooses the target, timing and tactics. Also, the target may have very little control or influence over these factors. The responsibility to stop the abusive behavior rests with the employer … [However,] 72 percent of bullies are bosses, and standing up to the boss can easily be misinterpreted as insubordination.”

It’s agonizing to be a target of bullying. The agony multiplies exponentially when the people engaging in this form of abuse are trusted Christian leaders. The pain of such a betrayal cannot be overstated. Often, the target succumbs to bitterness against the perpetrators, deep self-rejection and anger with God. The results are devastating – to the person and to the name of the Lord.

If you’ve experienced bullying, or mobbing, in a church setting or ministry-based organization, know this: You did not deserve what has been done to you, and it does not reflect who God is. He will deal with those who’ve wronged you. Further, he will use all that you’ve suffered to purify you and restore you, if you will put your hand in his and allow him to lead you through the healing process. Indeed, he promises that he will restore more than what you’ve lost.

If you have not experienced bullying, or mobbing, in a church setting or ministry-based organization, know this: It is so common as to be epidemic. What’s more, it’s often well-hidden by the godly appearance of the perpetrators and the whisper campaigns used to discredit and isolate the target. Before I experienced bullying personally, two people came to me and told me how badly they had been mistreated by the person later responsible for the mobbing done to me. I didn’t believe them. I still thought the abusive leader godly. Bullying in a “Christian” setting may well have devastated someone you know.

If you’ve participated in bullying, or mobbing, in a church setting or ministry-based organization – or if you saw it happening and looked the other way – know this: Bullying exposes cowardice and control issues. It exposes misplaced loyalties and divided hearts. What you did, or failed to do, reveals a hidden idol in your heart – something you’re so eager to protect that you colluded in hurting someone deeply and in dragging God’s name through the mud. I urge you to repent.

Target, you can forgive. Indeed, your life depends on it. Perpetrator, you can be forgiven. Indeed, your life depends on it. Thanks to the God of all grace, you both can be restored.

6 thoughts on “Bullying in the church

  1. SylGunter says:

    Deborah

    This was painful to read, knowing the pain you went through. Have you elicited from some people the response “Thank you for understanding what happened to me”? I just got an email from a missionary who has been brutalized and kicked to the curb by divisions and infighting in her organization. It is altogether too current a topic. As Paul said, “You bite and devour each other.”

    Praying,

    Sylvia

    1. Sylvia, thank you for understanding what happened to me. In answer to your question, yes, I’ve been able to tell a few other people the same thing. That too has been an integral part of my healing. Thank you for bringing this important aspect of the healing process to light. Thanks also for noting how relevant this topic is. I suspect that’s why God is leading me to speak out about my experience.

  2. Julia says:

    Thank you for your article. It touched me deeply as I have been experiencing a very subtle insidious type of bullying for years which has caused me a great deal of emotional distress. In my case, it happens even when I change churches. I have stopped going to church but continue to study the Bible on my own. I don’t understand why this is happening. I have tried confronting individuals in the past, which only led to denial or smirky faces. I need some specific advice as to what I can do. Is there anything I can do besides pray?

    1. Julia, thank you for speaking up. I’m very sad that you too have experienced this type pain. I’m still learning why this happens so often, especially to women in the church. May I suggest two resources as a starting point for looking for help? One is an article on “,” by Arthur Burk. The second is my ebook, . I believe there’s a mindset in our church culture that, unwittingly, denies women adulthood and even personhood. I believe that’s the root of much of the bullying. Would you let me know if either of these resources helps?

  3. Allison says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and your knowledge. I am currently going through something similar, and one of the hardest parts is that the bully is someone that I considered my friend. Being ostracized, humiliated, and ridiculed has been the hardest thing I have endured, and I am a very strong person.

    I continue to pray for those who participate in the bullying, and I pray for a Christ-like work environment where everyone is working together to make the community a better place.

    Please keep me in your prayers, and please know that your braveness in sharing your story is helping.

    1. Deborah says:

      Allison, yes I will pray. My situation involved betrayal by a close friend, as well. Step by step, may you overcome by the grace and strength of the Lord.

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