Monday, August 13, 2018

Systemic Narcissism, Toxic Systems, and Grace Church

Speaking of dysfunction, there’s a good article on systemic narcissism, toxic systems and church on Chuck DeGroat’s website. For those not familiar, Chuck is a professor at Western Theological Seminary. Much of what Chuck writes is applicable to both the church as a whole, and to the specific dynamics of Grace Episcopal church.

In relevant part, he writes:

The church is waking up to the nature of systemic sin, the embedded narcissism of institutions, the impotence of those called to govern and hold leaders accountable. This time it’s not just about the man – it’s about an entire system.
We’re slow to wake up. When I consult with churches entrenched in narcissistic systems and led by narcissistic leaders, I often see a kind of collective “Stockholm Syndrome” among staff and leaders. If I pull a thread and things begin to unravel, I watch as one-by-one they awaken to the toxic waters they’ve been immersed in. Narcissistic leadership in the church is especially toxic because, unlike politicians, we tend to believe that the pastor is saintly. Narcissistic pastors are adept at waving their magic spiritual wands, putting those that follow them in a trance. It is gaslighting, plain and simple, as followers, staff, and leaders question themselves well before they question the omnipotent pastor. When the thread is pulled and the systemic narcissism begins to unravel, the wake-up can be abrupt and deeply painful. Those around the narcissistic leader will question themselves, their faith, even reality as they’ve known it. This experiential crisis is the only hope for lasting change in the church.
Clearly, this applies to St. Dysfunction, aka Grace church. It’s amazing, too, that Bob Malm is able to wave his magic spiritual wand, trot out the clergy-speak, “John tells us....so we can know,” yada, yada, yada, and people like Jeff Chiow and the vestry lose all sight of what is right, Christian, or ethical. I have seen the internal emails, and some of the comments made about this situation have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, and several are from people who should know better, including former friends of mine.
The same is true at the diocesan level. Bishop Shannon has, time and again, shown that the welfare of the people entrusted to his care is of little consequence—but boy, he sure is worried about how criticism of the diocese might prove to be destructive. But if the church is so frail that it cannot withstand criticism, is it even worth having? Is it living out the truth of the Gospel if its primary concern is to protect itself as an institution?
As I’ve said before, the church is further hindered by a flawed forgiveness theology. Reconciliation takes more than saying, “I’m sorry.” It involves turning from one’s sin and making restitution—neither of which I have seen at any point in this long and sordid saga.
If organized religion is to survive, it needs to get over the notion that there are winners and losers, that its reputation is the most important thing, and that there is any role for exclusion in the church. Jesus hung out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners; he worked to free others from oppression. Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow try to use their roles in the church to exclude and oppress people, including those who are dying.
In short, St. Dysfunction, aka Grace church, has become the whitewashed building that Jesus despised. Pretty on the outside, reeking and corrupt on the inside.