Sociopaths as Church Leaders – I’m Not Shocked

kinnon —  July 30, 2007 — 2 Comments

I found this post from Touchstone Mag most interesting. They point to this series, from Jesus and the Culture Wars’, Christian Sociopathy – Parts One, Two and Three. From Part Two,

The Sociopath is unable to develop any kind of true, loyal attachments to people.  This inability to be genuinely connected to others renders their experience of life bland, colorless, boring, and tedious. Consequently, they turn to power, not love and relationship, as the primary motivational factor for their lives.  The sociopath seeks to gain power through which she can find some sense of connection to humanity by causing the suffering of others.  The more she is able to make another suffer or hurt, the greater her sense of personal power, and the more exciting and invigorating life becomes.  Stout says that the motivation for self aggrandized power is so strong in the sociopath that many of them work hard to place themselves in leadership positions because the authority of an office or position gives the sociopath the tools and avenues she needs to both feed and fuel her mental illness. (Emphasis added.)

I’m sure that some of my regular readers will recognize these character attributes in certain folk they’ve worked with. I found this quote particularly enlightening,

Sociopaths are not the most conscientious of workers, but they know how to make a splashy entrance from time to time, or initiate some new project, to maintain the appearance of normalcy- to keep people from finding out about their sociopathy.

Or to keep people believing the train is still on the rails – even when its long since left the tracks.

Sociopaths lack remorse.  They have absolutely no sorrow or shame for the things they do wrong and the ways they hurt other people.  In fact, more than lacking in remorse, they often justify what they do- if not externally, at least internally.  Their efforts at self-justification usually involve whole other layers of hurting others as they lie and falsely report about them to justify their sociopathic behavior.

I live in shock at the apparent lack of fear of a just God, when I read the fountain of words that some supposed leaders are willing to spew to cover their own misdeeds.

Sociopathy is incurable.  Even if it were curable, sociopaths almost never want to be cured.  They look at people who allow an overriding sense of obligation mitigate their responses to situations and consider them total fools. Sociopaths can oftentimes be heard as describing the conscience that others possess as a weakness and an impediment to personal power and progress.

And then there are the number of people who desperately desire to find themselves enmeshed in the machinations of these leaders. From Part Three,

It is stunning the extent to which Christians forgo what they know to be true, pure, and right when they get to sit across the table from a powerful and charming bishop, pastor, or seminary professor.  Studies show that otherwise normal and healthy personalities will do some of the most atrocious things in their blind allegiance to an official with a title.

Although, sometimes its more of like calling onto like, or the well-practiced abilities of those Maureen Rogers calls CA’s (not Certified Accountants). Bob Sutton comments on Maureen’s CA post,

Maureen makes a compelling case that "CA’s" are the worst.  I agree that people who have the power to attract and persuade others, but are selfish and mean-spirited beneath the veneer, are extremely dangerous. In fact, although charismatic leaders are generally described in positive terms by management theorists, other behavioral scientists often portray them in darker terms — especially when they write about political and religious leaders. The best book I’ve ever read on the dark side is by  anthropologist Charles Lindholm, which is simply called Charisma. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but it looks like you can pick up a used copy on Amazon. Lindholm shows how leaders including Hitler, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones used their charisma to do vile things to their followers and enemies.

Now, perhaps I’m just a romantic (though Imbi would strongly disagree) in my belief that true conversion experiences can radically transform folk – which I believe I have seen. Unfortunately, my experience is also that there truly are wolves in sheep’s clothing – however well they wear those clothes.





A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

2 responses to Sociopaths as Church Leaders – I’m Not Shocked

  1. Bill,
    When you posted the link to the article on a******es, I did quite a bit of reading about leaders with personality disorders. It was like finding the missing piece of the puzzle for me, explaining so many of the actions that never seemed to make sense because we expected “normal” behavior.

    “otherwise normal and healthy personalities will do some of the most atrocious things in their blind allegiance to an official with a title.”

    Sadly, this is so true. It was a major factor in the church politics at our CLB.

  2. Bill … Like, Grace I’ve done quite a bit of reading on personality disorders in leadership as well. I’ve read extensively on adult bullying … this seems to happen quite often in church situations, mostly because people think they are safe in church and they suspend their ability to think critically of leaders. This is in addition to the fact that they love their leadership. The sociopathic leader (aka bully) then uses that to their best advantage.

    As Grace says, it is a major factor in church politics.

    Thank you for pointing out these articles and the thorough review.


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