Bullying in the Church
Adapted from an article written by us for the Society of Mary and Martha newsletter Autumn 2000
Mention the word bullying and most people think it's something that only happens to children. But adults get bullied too and, as with children, the effects can be devastating - bullying can lead to serious psychiatric injury (post-traumatic stress disorder, reactive depression, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, etc.), job loss, family breakdown and even suicide.
Adult bullying can cover a range of behaviours, from teasing which has got a bit out of control to serious criminal activity. However, in a work context it tends to be a psychological assault, usually involving a serial bully who, although superficially charming, tries to boost their poor self-image by dominating others. If someone is perceived as a possible threat to their dominance, the bully will systematically undermine that person's confidence and reputation until they are coerced into compliance or "got rid of".
Bullying is usually a very covert and subtle form of abuse which can be difficult to identify. Constant criticism, verbal abuse, unrealistic expectations and manipulation are all examples of bullying behaviours, but it is the sustained nature of the abuse, and the context in which it happens, that turn seemingly minor incidents into seriously damaging abuse. One good indication that a person is being bullied is when their emotional reaction seems disproportionate to the event(s) they report.
Increasingly clergy are finding themselves targeted by bullying. They may be bullied by lay officers who want to control everything that happens in the church, or by colleagues or superiors. Either way, being bullied is a devastating and intensely traumatic experience, but bullied clergy who suffer consequent health problems are all too often labelled as inadequate, and may be sacked, retired or forced to resign their office, whilst no action is taken against the perpetrators. Even those who receive more sympathetic support may still find that they are physically and mentally unable to continue in their ministry.
We set up BALM in mid-1999 following our experiences of being bullied out of ministry. The BALM e-mail group (details on our home page) provides a forum for mutual support and is open to anyone who has been or is being bullied in authorised Christian ministry (any denomination, world-wide), and their families. Our website provides information about bullying in ministry, and links to some of the major anti-bullying websites and to organisations which offer support to those in ministry. We welcome contact by e-mail (see our home page), but, as in everything we do, we are very much limited by our own ongoing health problems and cannot guarantee an immediate response.
Finally, the long term aim of BALM is to raise awareness and understanding of the plight of bullied and abused ministers, and to encourage better practice in our churches.
Arthur & Pauline Kennedy
BALM Home Page
Introducing the Founders of BALM
How to Support a Bullied Minister
What Not to Say to a Bullied Minister
How Bullying has Affected Me
Bullying and Spirituality
Links to Other Websites and Organisations
Counselling with Care
Bullied in Ministry
Bullying in the Church
Bullying and Burnout
Submission on Clergy Stress
Additional Resources on Church Abuse