Bullying of Clergy by Congregants - Silence is not the answer
I was speaking recently to a clergy of a local church. She's a Korean American who has been here for most of her life. She told me about several incidents that had happened with an elderly congregant recently. It had started shortly after the Pastor joined the church, first the lady complained that her daughter who has been singing all her life sang too loud and screeched when she sang for the congregation. Then, she complained that the Pastor screeched when she sang and she was too loud.
"You must pause between two words when you say the prayer, we don't understand you and must play catchup"
The elderly lady didn't stop there, she continued to complain about the Pastor's use of the English language, she redlined a letter to the congregation and then brought it to the Pastor in order to explain the grammatical errors she had made. She then insisted that it's OK, the Pastor isn't a native and her English is fine and she understands her fine. The Pastor in fact has impeccable English and has been speaking publicly for many, many years.
The final straw was the eldrly lady complaining that the Pastor's should pause between a noun and a verb when she led the prayer that Christians pray every Sunday. She said, "You must pause between two words when you say the prayer, we don't understand you and must play catchup". The Pastor pushed back but the lady in turn insisted that her command of the English language exceeded that of the Pastor and since she was an immigrant she should be excused but should listen to her admonishments.
"It is never OK to stand by silently and knowingly watch someone being bullied"
In all her complaints this lady used the pronoun "we". "We can't follow you", "we think you're loud", "We feel you don't say the prayers correctly". In all truth, this lady probably speaks for herself, yet she feels the need to represent the whole community with her complaints in order that they might have merit.
"Oh that's so and so, they've always been like that, just ignore them, they're harmless".
This type of bullying is in fact very common for clergy of all faiths. Whether the message is conveyed in person, as in this case, or through email, or phone or through the board, it doesn't matter - there is always one or two people whose job it is to make a clergy's life more difficult than it need to be - often the bully doesn't even realize what they are doing, it is just their nature. More often than not there is nowhere to turn. The clergy can confront the perpetrator however that more often than not only antagonizes them. Clergy can turn to the Board, however they are usually more interested in maintaining the status-quo. It seems that when a clergy complains they are seen to be rocking the boat, creating discourse in the religious institution. Instead of the bully being called out, the clergy is more often than not blamed for the incidents. The end result is often that the clergy will leave the place sooner than planned.
The common refrain from board members or leadership is something along the lines of, "oh that's so and so, they've always been like that, just ignore them, they're harmless". This is not the solution, accepting bad behaviour is never the solution. Bad behaviour must be called out and addressed since it will affect not only the immediate target of the bully but also others, such as prospective new members, other families, staff.
"The perpetrators of such bad behaviour end up defining the culture of the religious institution to which they belong".
Clergy are servants of God, they serve the community, they work tirelessly to support their flocks, to bring God, spirituality, tradition, education and religion to their congregants. They ask for very little in return and more often than not receive very little in return.
It is never OK to stand by silently and knowingly watch someone being bullied, someone being insulted or being the recipient of racist attacks.
This is not limited to Christian organizations, it is common in synagogues. I personally have seen this I have been the recipient of racial slurs, name calling - such as "shiksa". In synagogues its often swept under the carpet and we don't give it a name, yet it is still bullying, it is still racism and it is evil.
The perpetrators of such behaviour end up defining the religious institution to which they belong, when others are silent in the face of the antagonistic behaviour, the bully's voice becomes the loudest, the bully's opinions and views become accepted, they create a spiteful and toxic institution that is no longer welcoming.
It is not OK to be silent, it is the right thing to stand up proudly and denounce the bully in our midst.
Support from leadership promotes stability in the institution; staff and clergy will be less inclined to leave