Thoughts on Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Within the last year or so, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems to have been mentioned in various places, including the ongoing saga with Tony Jones (mentioned here).  I’ve also seen it referenced quite a lot in relation to perpetrators of abuse.  I tweeted the wonderful psychologist, Dr Kate Middleton to ask her thoughts on NPD.  She kindly emailed me some thoughts, which I then asked if I could turn into a blog.  So here is it…!

Personality disorders are quite controversial, both in their diagnosis and treatment. How and why is easiest tackled by thinking about their theoretical basis. Your personality is about how you respond to the world – the patterns of responses you have (traits) – feelings, behaviours etc. Certain traits are common patterns and thus various theories describe personality along sets of traits – some of which are well known e.g. extraversion/introversion. There are lots of theories of personality with many different traits although some (e.g. introversion/extraversion) come up in lots of theories and are more widely accepted – as well as having relatively strong biological theories supporting them.

Personality ‘disorders’ stem from an acceptance that there is a ‘normal’ – i.e. the more common, central patterns along certain traits. Beyond a point therefore we start to call some personality patterns (patterns of behaviour, feelings or emotions) ‘abnormal;’. Personality disorders in a clinical sense describe patterns which are problematic – generally because they either trigger difficult and painful emotions for the individual, or because they lead to people acting towards others in very unpleasant or upsetting ways. However the concept hangs on the acceptance of ‘normal’ verses ‘abnormal’, and of course where exactly you draw the line. For example, there have been various recent books and articles about the ‘psychopaths’ you might meet in everyday contexts like business etc – just one example where people are looking at personality characteristics in individuals who otherwise function relatively ‘normally’. There is always going to be a range across all these measures and the question is when it becomes ‘abnormal’ or something that we should view as ‘illness’ and therefore treat. And of course whether you can say someone is ‘ill’ when it doesn’t affect them – they are perfectly happy, it is just others who they hurt.

In theory personality (certainly once you reach adulthood) has a degree of ‘stability’ – although some personality disorders can worsen as people age, and some tend to improve slightly. Treatment of personality disorders aims to challenge and develop difficult patterns of behaviour, teach alternative strategies and improve awareness/insight and understanding of what these patterns are with the hope of introducing change. Sometimes drug treatment is also used, often with great effect – especially where the problem is related to emotionality (as we have some drug treatments which can reduce or moderate emotions like anxiety, depression etc). However the treatment of personality disorders is notoriously difficult and it is difficult to define ‘success’. The reality is that people with personality disorders tend to have some degree of long term difficulty, although many learn to manage their condition very well. The degree of insight – how much an individual is aware that they have this ‘problem’ and whether they view it as a problem or not – also varies a lot.

So – on to considering Narcissistic personality disorder specifically. In a nutshell this describes someone who has not moved on from the very ego-centric way of viewing the world that children have – and in fact that this has developed in a a rather unhealthy way. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder generally sees themselves as the centre of everything, and views everything from that perspective. They wish others to view them in the same way and often hold unrealistic beliefs or expectations about themselves which can even be described as illusions of grandeur. They can be very controlling and particularly emotionally manipulative as they try to make sure that everyone else maintains this illusion (for it is usually an illusion) that they are all wonderful and all powerful. Their self-belief is immense (which perhaps explains why people with elements of this personality type do extremely well in careers which require a lot of self confidence).

Thinking specifically about whether there is a link between narcissistic personality disorder and abusive behaviour, this varies a lot. In fact narcissistic personality disorder isn’t always associated with abusive behaviour – but it can be present, generally because people with narcissistic personality disorder can be so controlling and require those around them to look up to them them. This can lead them to resent anyone having other interests and sometimes be very jealous etc. One feature often linked with abusive patterns is a lack of empathy – when the individual is so persistent in only viewing things from their perspective that their awareness of the feelings of others becomes almost zero. This feature varies amongst sufferers.

A key question where personality disorders are concerned is how much we can or should ‘excuse’ bad behaviour or abusive treatment of others because of a personality disorder? It’s very hard to perceive how much insight an individual has and whether therefore these actions are a choice or something they are not able to control. A key distinction would also fall around just how marked key traits were in an individual – how far up the scale into ‘disorder’ they might be. Remember that you can see traits related to the same things we call ‘disorder’ in individuals functioning perfectly ‘normally’ in society.

Another interesting thing to consider where narcissistic personality disorder is concerned is how much it might benefit someone to show some features of this disorder at a lower level. Specifically, if you consider personality type you might need in order to be naturally drawn to be a very charismatic leader – the utter self belief and self promotion that narcissists demonstrate would certainly aid them in gaining ‘a following’. Leadership can be learned and taught – but there are clear examples of people who have naturally and instinctively been ‘drawn’ to leadership – with mixed results. Might some of those be people who would score highly on traits associated with narcissism?

In fact, on this topic it becomes really interesting to ponder how often God selected for leadership people who really didn’t want to be leaders and in that sense weren’t ‘natural’ leaders at all. Time and again God’s selected leaders disagreed and even argued with Him about their suitability for that kind of role. Might it be that some of these people were in fact such good leaders precisely because of the absence of some of these characteristics? It is my belief that when looking for leadership potential we should be careful not to only consider those who are the ‘obvious’ choices – many a successful and charismatic leader can grow out of a less clear candidate.

This subject is also interesting from a cultural perspective, when you consider how much we are encouraged to build and feed our ego and self-esteem from the modern ‘instant fix’ of social media. We’re offered such tangible and immediate ‘evidence’ of our popularity (how many likes do we get to a comment etc) – and we know that the more tangible and explicit the reward the more likely we are to pursue it. And yet God calls us to the opposite, says that if we want to be something, we should be nothing and be willing to serve. Something to pray for for our leaders who have to fight this constant tension between platform and humility.

In fact, one feature of our current culture has led some experts to question whether we might be at risk of developing a generation of people more at risk of narcissistic personality problems. As the explosion in ‘selfies’ encourages us to consider every event we experience with us at the centre, might we be learning to become more egocentric instead of less? Here’s just one example of a discussion of this question.

Ultimately in ministry (and in life in general) we must remember that there are no ‘perfect’ personalities. I am always heard saying that no personality is perfect – they all have good sides and flip sides. The key is knowing yourself well enough to know what your weak points are likely to be – the achilles heel of your own personality. It’s about understanding the push and pull of your personality – these narcissistic people will be really good at putting themselves forward, but their risk is that they will be too ego-centric, not good enough at thinking about things from other people’s perspectives etc..

So can or should we ‘excuse’ behaviour because people have a personality disorder? This is a very difficult question, but my instinct would always be to say no. Abusive behaviour is abusive behaviour and we always need to pull people up on that. However we must consider carefully the degree of insight that an individual has, and there could be situations (particularly when that person is themselves the victim of abuse etc) where some would argue that they are not – legally or ethically – responsible for their actions. This is why the aspect of treatment of personality disorders which involves improving insight – and hopefully helping people consider and take onboard the impact their behaviour has on others – is so important.

In fact for us all an essential part of growth and emotional maturity involves improved understanding and insight of both aspects – positive and negative – of our personalities, particularly the impact they might have on us or on others. This is a vital step on the journey as we work to improve ourselves, and become more like Jesus, and I applaud recent calls for leaders to work as much on their emotional maturity as they do on their spiritual life (for example, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). But this can only be done from a foundation of the absolute and unconditional love that we get from God. Only by realising that we are acceptable as ourselves, with all our human weaknesses and frailties, can we take the risk of admitting and accepting that aspects of who we are may not be all that great – and allow ourselves to become vulnerable as we work to change.

To read more, check out:

The Royal College of Psychiatry notes on personality disorders.

This article looking specifically at narcissistic personality disorders.

You can tweet Kate @communik8ion and find out more about her NEW BOOK “Refuel” HERE.

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Keep Going or Stop?

Rob Bell has announced an event.  It’s called “Keep Going” and is…

“for all of you who are growing and learning and changing and evolving and you’re discovering that not everyone around you is seeing what you’re seeing. Friends, family, spouses, coworkers, employers-what do you do when you’re more alive than ever, and yet all this new life is also bringing with it all kinds of disruption and grief and criticism and even loneliness? For some of you who are leaders, your growth has direct implications for your employment. For others, the new life you’re experiencing is deeply unsettling for some of your most significant relationships.”

The speakers are all white and include Vicky Beeching, Carlton Cuse, Kristin Bell and Pete Rollins.  The same Pete Rollins who only last week declared that calling out narcissism and male violence against women was “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Last week I wrote a post about about Woman Hating.  And I’m back writing about it again.  I know, I know.  I keep going on about it. I’m not going to apologise, because while there’s woman hating, it needs to be brought into the light.

A few weeks ago Steve Chalke declared that serial sex offending is a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Recently Pete Rollins stated that narcissism is a form of self-hatred.  It’s not.  That is one of many myths about narcissism.  He said that publicly calling a narcissist to account is “shaming” and that narcissists are basically pariahs. The fact that narcissists are generally extremely well liked and are given platforms and prestige because they fit the “charismatic leader” role seems neither here nor there to him.  His blog is essentially about rebuffing criticism of his ongoing support for Tony Jones.  Julie McMahon, Tony Jones’ ex-wife has shared her story HERE.

There’s also Mark Driscoll’s grand re-emergence at the Thrive Conference in recent weeks claiming he was the victim of injustice, regardless of the evidence he was an abusive and dangerous leader who hurt thousands.  And most people sat at the conference and applauded him at the end of his talk.

The tale of the two Mars Hills is an interesting one, with Mark Driscoll founding a church called Mars Hill which preached reformed (extremely conservative) theology at one end of the spectrum.  And Rob Bell who led a church called Mars Hill at the other end.

In recent years Rob Bell has become part of the emergent church.  He has partnered with the aforementioned Pete Rollins for this event.  Rollins practices a form of Christian atheism suggesting we all need to deconstruct religion to the point where we realise there isn’t a God anyway.  He presents this as a new and radical way to be Christian, a way which involves no god, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  But hey!  He’s called it “pyrotheology” so that’s okay.

The two white, privileged men; Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  They have grown followings and created Personal Brands.  They seem to have nothing in common, at least theologically.

Yet here I am writing about the whitewashing of men’s violence and abuse, in favour of the cause, from both ends of the theological spectrum.

Perhaps Rob Bell wasn’t aware of Pete Rollins’ recent abuse apologism when he invited him to speak.  Maybe now I’ve tweeted him and written this blog, he might choose to un-invite him?  Who knows…?

Vicky Beeching is also speaking at the event.  A couple of years ago Vicky created a project dedicated to faith and feminism.  I declined to be involved in the project at the time.  It will be interesting to see how she will respond to speaking at an event with Pete Rollins, now she has been made aware of his abuse apologism…  With her feminist values, I hope the voices of women like Julie McMahon will be more important than the prestige of speaking alongside Rob Bell.  Who knows…?

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” 

For me, it is not reform that drives me to be anything or nothing.  It is obedience to Jesus and His teachings that seeks first the Kingdom of God.  The one where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where we ask, “what good is it to gain the whole world, but lose my soul?”

Publicly and privately I will speak out about woman hating within the body of Christ.  Over the last few years God’s voice has echoed through the hearts and halls of people and churches; to see women and girls liberated.  Yet with all the anti-trafficking fundraising and acceptance that feminism isn’t a sin, there is still woman hating and we’re still not talking about it.

We hear all this talk of a “voice for the voiceless”, but guess what?  They already have a voice, and they’re shouting, but the people with the power, those with the microphones and the sound systems refuse to broadcast their pleadings.

We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, we need to be willing to broadcast the voices no one is listening to.  They’re not voiceless.  They’re IGNORED.  Step away from the Personal Brand and make space for the Ignored People.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment.  Imagine you’re standing in front of a tree.  An enormous tree.  It’s not a beautiful tree, it’s ugly.  Planted in a graveyard.  It reaches upwards, blocking out most of the light.  The branches stretch out, gnarled and twisted.  They’ve curled themselves around gravestones, stone squeezed until it’s buckled.  Pieces of gravestone litter the scorched dry earth.  There’s no leaves.  No colour.  It looks dead.  But it’s not.  It’s moving, writhing, squirming in front of you.  Like a colourless hard wooden snake.  Despair and fear grip your insides as you realise it’s growing, inch by inch.  Defiling everything it touches.  As a branch creeps past your face you see images etched into the bark of this undead, ugly tree.  In the dull, greyness you can see the images are women, trafficked and broken.  Beyond that, on the next branch, women and girls photographed naked, the carvings move as the tree grows, women degraded for men’s pleasure.  Peering further into the tree you see other moving images chiselled into the gnarled bark.  Of girl’s genitals being cut, girl babies killed at birth, men beating women.  At the end of one branch the whittled images move, a Bible screams at a woman to STAY SILENT.  Elsewhere women’s bodies are battered by rape in war.  The terror is overwhelming.  You feel your feet being tugged, the roots below you squirm.  Your feet have sunk into the earth.  It drags you down, pulls you in.  You flail around, trying to maintain your balance, falling to the ground, shock numbing the pain.  Immediately you feel your torso dragged into the earth.  A piece of gravestone catches your eye.  The tiny letters are women’s names.  Row upon row of tiny letters, each name a human being.  Before you can read more than a couple of the names, the earth crawls up your face and into your mouth.  Swallowing you whole as it fills your mouth, throat, stomach.

This is the reality of patriarchy.  It is trafficking and female genital mutilation and pornographies.  Women’s lack of representation on the public platform and the Bible being used to silence women.  Toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes.  Everyday sexism and the gender pay gap.

People are appalled by some of the forms patriarchy takes, while they celebrate other aspects.  They donate to anti-trafficking work, completely ignorant to the woman on the pew next to them whose husband makes her stay awake at night, repeating over and over to him that she is a failure and a bad mother.  They talk of changing and evolving while hosting an abuse apologist.

People don’t see the tree even though it’s swallowing them whole.  There’s many good hearted efforts happening taking a chainsaw to one or two branches of the tree, not seeing the writhing, squirming ugliness that those branches are attached to.

There’s all these efforts for progress.  Progressive politics.  Progressive theology.  Yet as the author Arundhati Roy said, “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Men are hurting women.  They are controlling, abusing and hurting women.  And as individuals and institutions we are colluding with that.  So perhaps the sentiment and title of Rob Bell’s upcoming event to “keep going” is wrong.  We need to stop and step back.  Men are hurting women and girls.  The Ignored People have been renamed “the voiceless” so we can avoid having to shut up and listen.

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

so I don’t have to look at them any longer.

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

Translating Mark Driscoll

This morning I watched the 17 minute videoed announcement from Mark Driscoll this weekend that he is stepping down as Pastor of Mars Hill for a minimum of six weeks. You can watch the video and read the transcript here.

 

Within the announcement Mark speaks of the “court of public opinion” not being useful in addressing issues in a Biblical manner and suggests online conversations, like this blog for instance, are unhelpful. I can see that everyone having OPINIONS can be problematic, but without the courageous tenacity of bloggers across the internet raising the issues, Mark Driscoll would not have taken the very necessary and welcome step that he has. So I’m not going to apologise for adding to the OPINIONS in the public space and I would suggest his denigration of the “court of public opinion” is a tactic to silence the hurting, and as a book we Christians honour states, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”

 

I have recently begun working with perpetrators of domestic abuse. I am facilitating a Respect accredited programme with men who have chosen to be violent and abusive to their partners. And if there is one thing that perpetrators are “gifted” in, it is avoiding responsibility and manipulating people’s views of them. I would suggest that some of what we see in Mark’s announcement uses those same tactics, whether intentionally or not, whether orchestrated by a PR plan or by the man himself. I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting Mark is perpetrator of domestic abuse, but that his words and actions mirror those of abusers.

 

During the announcement Mark was emotional, at points he seemed very close to tears. It is interesting to note that domestic abuse perpetrators who visibly show remorse change at about the same rate as those who don’t. In our wider context of power based masculinity, men crying, or being close to tears brings out a specific response for many. That act of vulnerability in a society that states the only appropriate emotions for men are humour and anger can change perceptions of an offender in an instant. I’m not for one minute suggesting they were “crocodile tears” but that we must be careful not to use an emotionally remorseful delivery as a litmus test for repentance.

 

This is my translation of some parts of the announcement:

 

“When a small group of us started what would become Mars Hill Church in 1996, we could not have dreamed it would be what it is today. Thousands upon thousands of people have become Christians as the gospel of Jesus Christ has proven powerful over and over. Every day, it seems, I hear of someone whose life has been transformed by the power of the Word of God taught in this place and modeled by so many who call this their church home.”

I’m going to start by reminding you of all the 1000s of people my ministry has saved from hell, so that when I get to my bad choices, we’re all feeling that is insignificant compared to all the people I have helped. So many people’s lives have been transformed by my teaching of God’s Word and you all living out my teaching.

 

“Today, we are blessed with lead pastors who love Jesus and the people He gave His life for. These men faithfully serve the Mars Hill family.”

Though there are 21 ex-leaders of the our church who are publicly stating that I have behaved in horrendous ways and were either sacked or left due to their strong convictions, the current leaders are supportive of me.

 

“While I’m still young, I suspect when I’m old I’ll be known for many things—some good, and some not so good.”

I am a 43 year old grown up, but I am going to describe myself as “young” in order to suggest that my young-ness mitigates the bad choices I have made. I would also like to remind you that I have done good things and not actually say that I have done bad things, but just things that are “not so good”.

 

“I may be an author, a speaker, and a thought-provoker; but in the deepest recesses of my heart, I’m a local church pastor, and that’s what I want to give the rest of my life for.”

I would like to remind you all of the powerful man I am and the many successes I have had in my career so far, but that I also want you to know that I am humble local church pastor, even though I have intentionally and ruthlessly built a large megachurch over the last 18 or so years.”

 

“It is because of my deep love for the local church in general, and Mars Hill Church in particular, that it grieves me to see anything come against it or threaten to harm it. It also grieves me greatly when something I say or do results in controversy and publicity none of you signed up for when you decided to be a part of this church family.”

I get upset when my choices, actions and words result in people challenging me. I am so totally uninterested in the people I have hurt that I’m not even going to mention their hurt in my announcement. I don’t want to accept the consequences of my actions as the leader of a large church which I am paid large amounts of money to lead and rather than say this, I am going to make it about the peripheral hurt of the church family, which I am actually responsible for not those who have challenged me.

 

“Over the years, as I have grown and as the Lord has been molding and pruning me, I have, on many occasions, shared with you some of the lessons I’ve been learning. Some of these have been painful, and some I’ve been slow to learn. I’ve acknowledged and confessed many of my sins, shortcomings and missteps, and God has been more than faithful with His forgiveness. Most of our Mars Hill family has been forgiving as well, and for that I’m grateful and blessed. By God’s grace, I want to always be humble and teachable.”

I would like to remind you all of the times I have said sorry for what I did over the years. The fact that at no point have I actually changed my behaviour is something I’m going to try and ensure you don’t think about by making it all about the ways I’ve learned. I’d like to also remind you that before God I am forgiven. Rather than mention how much I appreciate and value all those who have tried to stop it coming to this point, I’m going to validate all those who collude with my behaviours by honouring those who keep forgiving me. Although I have proven that over the last 18 years of ministry that I am not willing to be taught and am not humble, I am going to say that I am both of those things.

 

“A central theme in my personal walk with Jesus in recent times has been to follow the Apostle Paul’s charge to Believers in Romans 12:8: If possible, so far is it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip or anything else not consistent with the fruit of the Spirit, and I am deeply sorry for the times I have not done my part to living peaceably with all men.”

By quoting Scripture I can reduce my ongoing hurtful behaviour to the term “not living peaceably with all men”. I am going to use the term “my part” so as to suggest that it is not all my fault, but that it is a reciprocal thing where both I and every other person involved are partly to blame for the hurt I have caused.

 

“I want to thank those who have come directly to an Elder, lead pastor or me to tell us of an offense they are carrying. This allows us to deal with it head-on between the two affected parties, rather than in a court of public opinion and public media. I believe God is honored by this approach—the approach He prescribed for us in Matthew 18 and other Scriptures.”

All those who have used public spaces to challenge me are wrong and dishonour God and only those who have come to me and the leadership of the church are right and honour God. I am going to use the term “offense they are carrying” so as to avoid saying that I had hurt people. The fact that when people tried to come to me I refused to listen, sacking them, threatening them and destroying their lives and livelihoods is of absolutely no relevance. God is not honoured by anyone who publicly holds me to account. I am going to mention the first bit of Matthew 18 where Jesus tells us to approach other Christians who we have been hurt by, but I am going to conveniently ignore the bit Jesus says that’s someone who fails to listen should be treated like a non-believer.

 

“Others have chosen to air their grievances with me or this church in a more public forum. As is often the case, some of what is said it true, some is partly true, and some is completely untrue. Lately, the number of accusations, combined with their public nature, makes it much more difficult to know how to respond appropriately. Indeed, many times we have chosen not to respond at all, which probably raises even more questions in some people’s minds, and I understand that.”

I am going to use the term “air their grievances” rather than talk about people being hurt. I am going to talk about truth, half-truths and lies without distinguishing between them so that I subtly cast aspersions on all that everyone has accused me of. I am going to talk about “the number of accusations” increasing which makes the issues external to me, rather than about my own choices and hurtful actions. I am going to reinforce my criticism of people holding me to account publicly, but will use it neutral language like “public nature” to hide that. I am going to mention that we haven’t addressed the issues, acknowledge that is problematic but continue doing it.

 

“In other cases, some have publicly brought up issues that were long ago addressed and resolved, adding to the understandable confusion many of you may be experiencing recently. For example, nearly 15 years ago I wrote some things on a Mars Hill discussion board on our website using a pseudonym. I quickly realized what I wrote and how I did it was wrong. We removed the entire section of the website a few months later and I addressed it publicly in a book I wrote six years later—calling it what it was: wrong.”

The only accusation I am going to address during my announcement is the one that relates to historical actions. I am going to manipulate the facts to suggest that a book I wrote six years later dealt with what I had done, when in actual fact, that book mentioned that I thought it was funny how I had a man turn up at my house to challenge me; that I talk of things “going crazy”. I’m not going to mention that at no point in the book do I actually own or apologise for my misogynistic, homophobic behaviours and attitudes. I am also not going to mention that for the past almost 15 years I have continued to use similar language and ideology in my preaching and writing. I am going to use language that distances me from my actions by saying “what I wrote and how I did it was wrong” rather than saying “I was wrong and I have hurt people”.

 

“I have taken full responsibility for those actions and will forever be ashamed by what I did, even as a 29 year-old preacher. What I did in this case back in 2000 is indefensible. It is also forgiven; and thank God, I’m not the man I was back then. I have learned hard lessons from this situation, as I have from other situations where I have done wrong things and God has had to deal with me.”

I am going to talk of taking full responsibility for something while still using language that distances me from my choices and actions. When talking about what I did I will mention the age I was in order to justify it as related to being young (like I did earlier in my announcement). Although at 29 years old I had been an adult for over ten years, I will suggest my age made me immature, though I was a married father entrusted with the leadership of a church. I will remind everyone that this happened in 2000, keeping people focused on the historical accusations and not the current ones. I will talk about learning hard lessons which will allow me to suggest I have changed, when the way I have behaved and the choices I have made since then have continued to hurt many people.

 

“Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it. The current climate is not healthy for me or for this church. (In fact, it would not be healthy for any church.)”

I will again talk about the consequences of my actions using language which distances me from any responsibility by talking of what “storm clouds seems to be” doing. I will talk of how unhealthy this would be and subtly place myself as a victim. I will then restart talking of Mars Hill Church as the main victim of the issues, keeping my audience feeling like they are the centre of this and their interests and hurts are cared about while continuing to completely ignore the hurt and pain of the people I have hurt throughout my ministry.

 

“Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for. In recent years, I have sought to apologize to people I have knowingly offended in any way. I’m grateful that God has honored many of these encounters and granted true reconciliation and restoration.”

I will start addressing criticisms by saying that some have been unfair. I will not use language which states that my critics are right, but will instead say “I am deserving of” some criticisms. This sounds like I’m taking responsibility, but subtly avoids doing so. I will use the term “past actions” to suggest that this isn’t related to my ongoing behaviour, thereby subtly connecting it to my previous comments on my actions in 2000. I talk of seeking to apologise to people even though those who have been hurt report being shunned and destroyed by me. I will talk about God honouring these encounters without specifics.

 

“But I’m particularly sorry that any of my past actions or decisions have brought distraction to the mission of Mars Hill Church, and therefore, to those who call this their church home. Part of this is no doubt a function of the media age we live in—anyone can write anything, anywhere, anytime. As a public figure, I recognize and accept this, even if I don’t like it; for this is one of the paradoxes of being a pastor in a media age—the same media channels that can be used to carry a sermon to virtually anyone around the globe can also be used by anyone around the globe to criticize, attack or slander.”

The first time that I start a sentence with “I am sorry” it is related to the impact on the church community which yet again reinforces to the audience that their feelings are validated, but the actual victims of my offences are not mentioned. I make my sorry focused on the mission of Mars Hill, reminding everyone that is the priority, not the reality of the people who have been hurt. I will then yet again criticise people who have publicly challenged me and place myself as the victim by talking of myself as a “public figure”. This makes the situation more about my position than my choices and actions. That I have used media channels to criticise and attack is irrelevant, and I will suggest my detractors are “criticizing, attacking and slandering” without actually stating that is what those who challenge me are doing.

“However, another part of it is simply my fault and I will own it, confess it and move on from it as God continues to redeem me. I will seek to resolve unresolved issues with others, and will seek to avoid such conflict in the future; at least to the extent I have any control over it.”

After spending time being negative about my detractors I will now talk about my fault. Yet I won’t take responsibility for any of it, I will just accept partial fault, which essentially means the other people involved are also at fault. Essentially I am blaming everyone else while using the language of responsibility. I will talk of God redeeming me to remind everyone that God is okay with me, having previously implyred that others have dishonoured God by challenging me. I will use the term “avoid such conflict” which essentially distances me from fault and focuses the issues as conflict based rather than founded in power and abuse.

 

“There is a well-documented list of past actions and decisions I have admitted were wrong, sought forgiveness, and apologized for to those I hurt or offended. I will not review them here, as it is my prayer we can, together as a church, move on as Paul writes in Philippians 3:13—But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

I will talk about admitting I am wrong when what I have done previously is apologise but continue to do the same things over and over. I quote Philippians and use the word “forget”; this implys that forgetting is the option for the church community. That forgiveness and forgetting are not in any way related and that forgetting is impossible when we have been hurt badly is something I want to avoid people being aware of.

 

“These are serious times we are living in and people all around us are dying every hour without Jesus. It is this reality that drives me and motivates me to keep learning God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word to His people so that together, we can continue to reach people with the saving grace and love and mercy of Jesus. I hope that regardless of whatever else is swirling around us, we never lose this perspective on why Mars Hill exists in the first place – Jesus loves people and people need Jesus.”

I will now spend time explaining how people’s souls are at risk of burning in hell and that in comparison these issues that have been raised are really not a big deal. I will talk about my purpose and call and will talk of the current issues that have resulted from my actions and choices as “swirling around us” yet again distancing myself from being the instigator of the issues.

 

“I realize the vast majority of you just want to come to church and hear God’s Word taught. You want to feed your families spiritually just as you feed them physically, and Mars Hill should be a safe place to do just that. As your pastor, I want that for you more than anything. All of our lead pastors want that for those under their care as well.”

I will keep the audience supportive of me by yet again talking about them as the primary victims in the situation. I will talk about the consequences of my choices and actions in a way that acknowledges the struggles of people are going through without taking responsibility for them.

 

“I have submitted to the process prescribed by our church Bylaws as overwhelmingly approved by our entire Eldership for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion. A report on this process will be presented when it has been completed.”

I will not mention that one of the accusations against me relate to changing the bylaws of the church to make it very difficult for the church to hold me to account. I will talk of inviting the process even though it has taken enormous public pressure to essentially force me to take action. Book shops are withdrawing my books from sale, I am being removed from church networks and others and although there have been issues throughout my entire ministry, I have shut down all criticism to the point of changing church bylaws and sacking employees, yet I will state that this is a process that I have invited. I will again reinforce that challenging me publicly is wrong. I mention that a report will be presented, but I haven’t mentioned who that report will be presented to, and I have called it a “report on the process” not implyring whether the outcomes will be made public.

 

As a general rule, I will respond to little if any criticism of me in the media, on social media, blogs, open letters, etc. Conducting church business and biblical conflict resolution through media channels is not healthy and is more likely to prove unproductive at best, and destructive and dishonoring to the Lord at worst.

I will now categorically state that media channels are unproductive, destructive and dishonouring to God. That without these media channels I would be able to continue behaving in hurtful and damaging ways without any accountability or negative consequences. This places anyone who comments publicly about what I have said as unproductive, destructive and dishonouring God. The hurt I have caused people should be compounded further by me attempting to silence and denigrate their attempts to heal.

 

“I have asked our Board of Advisors and Accountability to strengthen our board by adding members to it, and they are in the process of doing so with local members being our first choice.”

We will strengthen the board of advisors and accountability by inviting people who are still in the church and have stood by me throughout all that I have done. Anyone who has had the courage to challenge me has talked of how they were sacked or abused by me. By saying this I yet again focus on my audience, enabling them to feel they are being given power to change things and trusted with that.

 

“I have agreed to postpone the publication of my next book until a future season, to be determined.”

Bookshops have removed my books from sale and due to the current climate I would probably not sell many books if I did publish my book, plus I am no longer able to pay a PR company to unethically get my books onto bestseller lists.

 

“I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men. I have never taken an extended focused break like this in my 18 years as your pastor, and it is not a vacation but rather a time to focus on deep work in my soul in the areas of processing, healing, and growing.”

I will talk of meeting with a professional team of mature Christians but will not mention any of their names. The fact I haven’t taken an extended break in 18 years will be used as an opportunity to be applauded for my commitment rather than concern that I have not had a healthy work life balance.

 

“As I look forward to the future—and I do look forward to it—I believe the Lord has shown me I am to do two things with the rest of my life: love my family, and teach the Bible. I deeply love my family and our church family and am seeking the Lord for how to have a godly and loving future that is not just sustainable but fruitful.”

I will now talk about my family which reminds everyone I am a human being with good priorities. I will establish that I plan to continue teaching the Bible for the rest of my life which suggests I will continue be seeking to influence and lead people.

 

“Finally, I want to say to our Mars Hill family—past and present, I’m very sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been angry, short, or insensitive. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”

Having spent over 15 minutes talking I will finally say that I am sorry, not to those I have direct hurt, but to my church family. I talk about inviting criticism rather than behaving abusively and focus on the actions of the commentators rather than my own actions.

 

“God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day. The gospel is powerfully at work in me, your pastor, thanks to the faithfulness of our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ, and the best thing for us each to do is look to Him and point others to Him. Thank you Mars Hill. I love you.”

I talk of “falling short” and doing things “I am not very proud of” yet still do not quantify that in terms of identifying what I have actually done. I make this last section about what God is doing in me and still do not mention anything about the people I have damaged who are no longer in Mars Hill church. After this I am given a standing ovation by the church and my wife and children all come onto the platform to embrace me. This reminds the audience that there are children involved in any decisions made about me. The image of them embracing me will be used on the Mars Hill website alongside my statement.