Always Be Nice

That’s the christian motto, right? Or is it the Boy Scout motto? I forget.

Christians should always be nice. We should use nice language, smile a lot, be happy, turn the other cheek, did I say smile a lot? Happy, happy, happy.

I am not suggesting we be nasty, but I have noticed that sometimes christians squirm at the least bit of conflict or difficulty. The reality is that life outside the christian bubble is not always syrupy sweet, and sometimes life within the christian bubble is not all that sweet either.

You know why spiritual abuse is so dang unworkable? Because you were dealing with someone who was not playing fair, while the entire time you were trying to play by christian rules.Some of the most inspirational reading I have done over the last few days has been about a couple of books from the business world – The No Asshole Rule, by Bob Sutton (ht Bill Kinnon) and Snakes in Suits, by Paul Babiak (ht to Robbymac).

The No Asshole Rule talks about interacting with people who leave you feeling demeaned, belittled, and de-energized. The author has taken a lot of flack over the title of the book, but I agree with his defense regarding the word choice. Rather than simply an attempt at vulgarity, “no other word quite captures the essence of this type of person.”

The other book, Snakes in Suits, further discusses the bullying personality type that operates in this way and explains some of their methodology. In describing abusive pastors, people often describe a person operating in a degree of personality disorder, sometimes using the word sociopath or narcissist.

Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to describe everyone you dislike as a psychopath. However, the awareness that sometimes you are dealing with a person whose behavior and methodology are outside the norm can be extremely helpful.

There are aspects of this pattern and the systemic issues in church in particular that facilitate and encourage these personalities that intrigue me, but I am hesitant to write further about it because, let’s face it, it is not a very nice topic.


26 thoughts on “Always Be Nice

  1. Sometimes acknowledging that you were dealing with an asshole disguised as a pastor is exactly what is needed….

    Because you were dealing with someone who was not playing fair, while the entire time you were trying to play by christian rules.

    Wow, Grace! You nailed it with these comments.

  2. Actually what happened was … I was playing by Christian rules and I “assumed” they were too. But assholes have their own set of rules that they keep to themselves. Those rules are fair … to the asshole in question.

  3. (This story eventually makes sense.)

    We were standing in line waiting for our keys to a room in the resort in the Dominican Republic. A short blonde and somewhat brassy American woman pushed her way to the head of the line saying “My husband is here now, may we have our room keys, please.” The desk person’s response was, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait over there, M’am.” Pleased by his response to this woman, I turned to him expecting my keys. “I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to wait there, as well.”

    The blonde turned out to be more bubbly than brassy and she had a wonderful husband. She asked what we were doing in the DR, and we briefly told her of escaping the cold – and the somewhat bizarre leadership we were experiencing at the church we’d gone to work for. She said, “let me guess, they want to oversee every decision right down to the flowers.” It was almost prophetic. (They aren’t believers – the folk we met in the DR, although I confess that I’m not so sure about the “leaders,” either.)

    We got to know them well over our week there and they have become good friends. She later told us that what we were dealing with was Narcissistic Personality Disorder – and I believe she was bang on. Without knowing the two church leaders we were working with, she could describe their actions almost perfectly. (She’d once been married to a man with NPD.)

    When I did the research on the disorder, I was not surprised that folks suffering from NPD are often attracted to the ministry. They crave adulation. What better place than the church to experience an audience’s worship. And when you stop worshiping them, they get vicious. All within type.

    How very sad.

    The Sutton book is an important read for anyone in leadership. I’m on my third copy of the book.

  4. good points, grace. and much needed.

    for the record, though i’m not sure if really matters for this conversation, psychopath, sociopath, and personality disorder (narcissistic or otherwise) are all different diagnoses with different affectations.

    I absolutely agree that examining how people with certain personality issues/mental disorders are drawn to different fields to be extremely helpful.

    thanks for addressing this, grace.

  5. Good stuff, Grace. I have found solace and understanding in a pagan (Sam Vaknin). He is a self-confessed narcissist with astounding self-awareness and brutal honesty. I highly recommend his website for anyone dealing with or detoxing from an abusive, authoritarian pa**tor. It helps to know YOU’RE not the crazy one.

  6. weren’t the pharisees the pastors of the first century Israelites? and if so, didn’t Jesus have some very nice things to say about them?


  7. The problem with people who “play nice” after they have treated people horribly is that they hide behind the Christian mask- see how “nice” I am, what a good Christian I am, see how I can stay calm and sweet while you feel the need to avoid me. It allows them to be the “bigger person,” “more mature” than the rest of us. Any encounter with them will be full of niceties and polite conversation, no doubt ending with them saying “God Bless You.” And we walk away feeling like a hypocrite, wishing we’d said what we were really thinking. But if we do say what we are really thinking, then we have played into their hand, and proven them right, that they are and always were righteous and holy. And so as their victims, we are trapped- either we suck it up and play nice right along with them, just to get it over with, or we act coldly or we are outspoken, and we become what they always said that we were (immature, rebellious, etc). Either way, we are victimized and abused by them again.

    You can call it passive aggression, narcissism, whatever. The point is that these people are completely toxic. I am so glad that I “got away” and don’t have to deal with them on a weekly or daily basis anymore. But I resent the fact that I live with the dread in the back of my mind about meeting up with them at the grocery store, bank or at a social event. We just left our church about a month ago, I hope that it gets better and I can some day have complete peace without these toxic people creeping into my every other thought.

  8. *mouth gaping open*

    Wow. Um. I’d post something more succinct but you hit the nail on the head.

    How about when they ARE an internationally known “prophet”? And the rest become “known” in the community?


    *shakes head*

    I finally had to admit to myself that some of the people in my leadership, I loved… but I didn’t like them one bit.

  9. The problem with the “always be nice” rule is that Christian can’t share their deepest worries and problems. Thus we get prayer requests for health and travel ad infinitum.

  10. I’ve dealt with a few of those snakes in the church…never fun and it always seems to blindside me because I don’t anticipate it. (silly me)

    I think that’s why praying for discernment when our gut sends out a warning is all a wise thing to do!

  11. I sure hope I’m not understanding this post to be a declaration that it’s okay for christians to live with an “eye for an eye” attitude toward other christians, specifically christian leaders(regardless of how un-christian they may be act). The same grace that God made available to an asshole like you or I was extended to the rest of the assholes in the world, even the really big ones. Take a look at church history, some of the worst assholes in history were (truly) great people in God’s kingdom: RC’s toward the Orthodox church & reformation, reformers toward Anabaptists, Quakers vs Shakers, the list can go on and on…

    I’ve many times had to remind myself of that the story isn’t over yet. These assholes could yet repent, or worse, they could not repent, die and still go to heaven, but do with right intentions (and wrong beliefs) more good for the kingdom of God than people like myself who suffered under their abuse yet in our the self-rightious victimhood do far less to advance God’s kingdom even though we were given the freedom and hard-earned “lesson-learned” knowledge to do so much more.

    Two scriptures come to mind: Ps 73 & Matt 18.

    I guess my point is that you & I will be judged for our own actions and “the big brown eye” will be judged for his/her actions, and we have to have confidence that God is a just God as well as a merciful God.

    I’m also reminded of an incredibly valuable article regarding church government, “The Ekklesia” by John Reisinger (I’m too lazy today to make it a link).
    The part I remember best of the 5 part article is this…
    A good man in a bad system won’t abuse the system.
    A bad man in a good system will be kept in check by the good system.
    A bad system attracts and protects bad men.

    As for me, I’ll stick to, “turning the other cheek” and maybe even “heaping coals”.


  12. Here’s a quote from David out of Romans (Message)

    David was upset about the same thing:
    “I hope they get sick eating self-serving meals,
    break a leg walking their self-serving ways.
    I hope they go blind staring in their mirrors,
    get ulcers from playing at god.”

    Dosn’t sound too “nice” does it?
    Former Leader

  13. this is a great post!
    I had to read it my hubby…we can so relate!
    I love the way you call a spade a spade or an ass an ass!

  14. I always wonder where this concept of “nice” came from? Can you imagine Jesus saying “Be ye nice to one another?” No, me either. He did say “be kind” though.

    I think there is a mammoth difference between Nice & Kind – nice is patronizing, never courageous and doesn’t want to rock the boat – even when it’s called for and you are dealing with a-holes…

    Kind knows that telling your daughter that outfit looks “nice” even when it is horrible isn’t truly kind, and some courage is needed to be kind enough to say so.

    Nice can’t handle conflict, kindness can. The kingdom is dying because of nice-ness – we have filled out pews with people who put up with abuse from a-holes in power and the kind people are being trounced on, because they’ve confused kind with nice.

    I believe forgiveness happens when we are able to tell the truth – it sets us free. Deciding that you are done with giving that person the power to hurt you again and laying down the power to seek revenge is where I am able to begin to find healing and begin the forgiveness process. I forgive for me, not for them.

    Great post Grace – got me thinking this morning! :)

  15. Thanks annie grace. Knowing this earlier could have saved us a lot of heartache.

    It kind of throws things off kilter when everyone isn’t reading from the same script. We assumed also.

    The things I read this week about NPD filled in many of the missing pieces of the puzzle for me. I think I will post more about that disorder specifically.
    Thanks for the ht on the Sutton book. Just reading about the book has been interesting.

    I appreciate the distinction, and I would like to learn more about the differences before I post further about this because to simply toss the words around like insults is not my intent.
    Vocationally, I read that narcissists are drawn to ministry, hollywood, and the medical field, to name a few.

    1st anonymous,
    Thank you for the link. I browsed his site for a bit. He certainly has a lot of information. Dealing with that kind of person does leave you feeling like you are the crazy one.

    Jesus was especially harsh with those who stood in the way of people’s freedom under grace. But then again, he was Jesus. ;)

    I really appreciated the insight in your post. It is always lose/lose when dealing with this kind of person. You described it perfectly, and yes, it is toxic.
    Keep working on your plastic smile, and “never let ’em see you sweat.” It does get better over time with some of them, but not necessarily all of them. You will heal and forgive, but it takes time.

    One of the first times I actually dared to say something, I used Wendy’s exact phrase, “the most evil man I’ve ever known.”
    I had not heard this part of your story before. I’m glad you had men of integrity willing to stand up for you. That was a very young age to learn such difficult lessons.
    No matter how difficult leaving is, sometimes it is necessary to break agreement with those who are intent on destroying your identity in Christ.

    What is sad, especially in regard to the prophetic, is that the prophetic gift is supposed to be about speaking out God’s purposes and intent. To use that gift in spiritually abusive ways is incredibly damaging.

    I think that one step toward creating a culture of acceptance where people can be honest and vulnerable is addressing issues of toxicity in the system and sometimes the leaders.

    2nd anonymous,
    That verse has meant a lot to me. In the end, the Lord knows our heart, and He is always just.

    I hope that I would not be blindsided again. This time I was too naive to believe that someone would willfully do the things we experienced. We tried for a long time to override the red flags we saw. One of the things we tell those who have recently left this church is that they can trust their discernment.

    Fortunately, I have not known very many, and I honestly hope there aren’t very many, but it seems like there are way too many stories like this.

    That blows me away too, especially when they dare to teach that God endorses everything they do,
    and people believe them!

    The point of my post is about awareness in dealing with this personality type – not the average difficult person, but rather someone whose way of relating with others is abnormally toxic.
    Those of us who have the scars from our interactions with this type of person have had to deal with the judgment and forgiveness issues. There is plenty on this blog about what that process has been like for me.
    To be honest, understanding the nature of NPD has been especially helpful for me in understanding why we faced some of the things we did. I wish I had run across this kind of information when we were in the midst of trying to make the relationship work.
    The article sounds interesting. I’ll take a look.

    3rd anonymous,
    True, and in always-be-nice-ville, there is a pretty strong “don’t talk” rule.

    just me/former leader,
    That is some pretty harsh language. David had a way with words. :)

    Thanks Rhonda! Sorry you can relate. ;(

  16. Heidi renee,
    This was brilliant. It answers so many of my questions and probably stops many a fight with my husband. As we talk to people who are gradually coming (we left our church about 4 weeks ago) we often have a discussion afterwards where he says that I am being too “nice” and not telling the whole truth.

    Your comment made me realize that I can be completely honest and tell the whole truth and still be kind. I can do this!! God never called me to be nice. Wow!

    I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to post your comment to my blog today.

    Grace, thanks for starting this conversation.

  17. it is a weird thang – whilst i can always spot everyone else who is an asshole, i can never tell when i am… which is why i have a wife, lol.

    Part of my asshole detection is set off by people who have different personality types – i’m very people orientated but there is a whole type who is action orientated – they probably think i’m an asshole for being that way and no doubt about it i return the favour :)

    Of course that reminds me as the body of christ we need an asshole surely – otherwise we’d seriously suffer with no way of relieving the crap ;)

  18. Ah … yes, Paul, but proper assholes deliver the crap into a toilet. They do not dump it all over other people. And that is the problem. It’s the assholes who don’t know where to put the crap and they dump it on us … I do not like living my life covered in someone else’s shit, just because their mother’s did not properly toilet train them. ;-) fwiw …

  19. It’s so true that some people can be ass holes. My husband was once disallowed to take Communion and he called the pastor a “#$%^& asshole” and has been spurned ever since. In reality that pastor is a #%^&* asshole and a #$%^&* for the many things he has done to others as well.

    (edited – Sorry kim, it’s probably hypocritical, but asshole is as vulgar as I can stand.)

  20. I think that this comment thread is demonstrating a false dichotomy.

    It seems that we are being given the choice to either pretend that everything is ok when others have abused their position and hurt us, or to unleash torrents of vulgarity about them.

    I would humbly plead with my brothers and sisters to consider the attitude of Jesus which is to love our enemies, do good to those who hurt us, and yes, to turn the other cheek.

    Doing these things is not condoning the behavior of those who we would label with vulgarities. It is not pretending. It is not being fake.

    Please, let us not so quickly brush aside the words of Jesus in these situations.

    Are those who hurt us wrong? Absolutely. But it is not for us to unleash judgment on them.

  21. Heidi,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the distinction between “nice” and kind. Dealing with the truth and reality of a situation can actually be a step towards forgiveness and healing as long as we lay aside our desire for revenge as you said.

    just me,
    To this day, I still have to rely on the HS about the amount of truth that is wise to share with others regarding our situation. It depends on who we are talking to. There are some things that people have to see on their own. However, there are times when we can help someone sort through the confusion. Often, that is more a process of listening and affirming what they already see.

    My next post clarifies a bit the type of person I’m talking about.
    Yes, we’re all prone to being an ass at times, but there is a bullying personality type that is different than occasionally being a jerk. Those who have had to work or relate closely with this kind of person will know what I mean.

    I should have known this comment thread would end up in the toilet. ;)

    Graham Cooke calls the people like that in our lives, grace growers. They give us the opportunity to grow. While it is important to learn to recognize toxic behaviors, in the end, we are the ones who get to choose to learn and grow, whether they ever change or not. God can use even the bad things we have experienced to transform us.

    I agree with your balanced rebuke. While I did not intend for this post to be about leader bashing, I take responsibility for opening that door.
    There is a dark underbelly to the character of some leaders and the political manipulations that happen in churches. While I believe exposure is healthy, I do not want to dwell on the negative either.
    Hopefully my next post steers the conversation in a more healthy direction.

  22. Again, Grace, I am amazed at the similarity of our stories… are you sure I don’t know you?? ;-)

    I think a**hole is VERY appropriate when it is a pattern of behavior rather than your random bad day.

    And, just for the record, I’ve referred to the leader/pastor of CLB as a freaking narcissist on my blog before.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve visited over here, but glad to see you are still putting it out there.


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