From the Archives: Sociopaths as Church Leaders

kinnon —  December 12, 2009 — 9 Comments

A brief moment in the archives reminded me of this older post of mine.

In light of this week's I Should Be Shocked post and this, the line in the graphic below seems particularly appropriate (taken from the 2nd last quote* at the bottom of this post):

Sociopaths-As-Leaders.jpg

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Originally posted July 30th, 2007 (mildly updated here)

I found this post from Touchstone Mag rather 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. (Dr Martha) 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 and link added.)

I'm sure that some of my regular readers will recognize these character attributes in certain folk they've worked with or are working with now.

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. (Or their willingness to hire lawyers in vain hope of covering their tracks.)

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.* (emphasis added)

Although, it does seem sometimes to be more of like calling onto like. Or, perhaps, the well-practiced abilities of those Maureen Rogers calls CA's (charismatic ___holes). Stanford Professor 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. (emphasis added)

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.

kinnon

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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.

9 responses to From the Archives: Sociopaths as Church Leaders

  1. Thanks Bill I needed that.

  2. Interesting – in my book I talk about my dad as a narcissist – there the intent wasn’t to “hurt” but rather he was so self-centered that you either supported him or you were the anti-Christ. The religious rock stars I’ve encountered definitely hit narcissist level as it’s clear their goal is to build up their profile and not build up the kingdom. It seems to be a bit of a gray area when narcissism morphs into socio-pathology. IN either instance, run for the hills – they will not change and you cannot work with them – you’re either with them or the Antichrist.

  3. Dear BESH (Bill the Evangelical Sociopath Hunter),

    Christmas is almost upon us. Dwelling on this perpetual affliction of the Church, and indeed of all human institutions, will ruin your joy. Forget about them for awhile. Let them remind you of why Christ came for you and me. For we are all sociopaths but for the grace of God.

    Let it rest, Bill, at least for a time. Life is too short, the kingdom too broad, your family too beautiful, your God too magnificent, to allow these devils to steal your joy.
    Please.

    Love ya

    Dan

  4. Watched a film documentary carries great message -acknowledge your ability and responsibility to make a positive difference in the world.”The YES Movie” http://www.TheYESmovie.com created by Louis Lautman

  5. Dan,
    I appreciate your care and concern. Perhaps we can grab a coffee in the New Year to discuss further. May you and yours have a wonder-filled Christmas, bro.

  6. Too true, Becky, too true.

  7. That would be great. Enjoy, and say a big hey to your fabulous wife and kids!!! Tell Lliam he owes me some Thai!

    Dan

  8. Oh WOW, you pretty much sum up a huge number of worship leaders! I teach on the subject and always emphasise the importance of serving, but having such a showy gift seems to create pride problems in many worship leaders. My course is trying to help the servants become better at worship leading. This was a thought provoking and very good piece, thank you!

What do you think?