Reviewed by Tim Harrison.
In days gone by, mapmakers would designate unknown areas with the phrase “Here there be monsters.” It was meant to arouse both a sense of foreboding and fear of places yet to be discovered. The phrase “Here there be monsters” even found its way into more modern media, from Scully and Mulder in the X-Files to Captain Barbosa in The Pirates of the Caribbean.
After viewing the documentary Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA, I came to the chilling conclusion that there are churches and even presbyteries where “Here there be monsters,” and they are called “clergy killers.” These monsters are not hidden in unknown areas, but live and serve in churches and higher governing bodies, shrouded in secrecy. As James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York prayed: “there are clergy killers loose in the land … adversaries sitting in your churches.”
The premise for this documentary began in book by Rev. Dr. Lloyd Rediger titled Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack. Rediger, who passed away in 2013, was a PCUSA pastor, counselor and speaker. He appeared throughout this video, along with a panel of leaders from several denominations. The documentary also included testimonies and observations of clergy and denominational leaders from a multitude of churches across the theological spectrum.
First, we recognize that not everyone involved in a conflict with a pastor is a clergy killer. Conflict is inevitable and usually painful. We must also agree that all clergy are sinners whose weaknesses and flaws often leak into their ministries and can spark and further fuel conflict. However, there are times when a clergy killer fuels conflict.
Who are clergy killers?
- “A clergy killer is someone who is so intent upon destroying or running off a member of the clergy, that they will stop at virtually nothing, including destroying the ministries of the church or the church itself.”
- “They are the type of folk, who are, for all intensive purposes, seemingly church people, good Christian church people.”
- “They are typically responsible people, very active in the life of the church and community.”
- “One or two or eight or ten members who insist on doing things their way.
- “They operate best under the cloak of darkness.”
- “They are underhanded. They will smile at your face while they are sharpening the dagger at the same time.”
This issue is not limited to the U.S. In fact, “clergy from every major denomination, in Canada, US and Europe and Africa, say they too are suffering the abuses in their congregations, in their church hierarchy, and that no one is helping. They feel abandoned; they feel forsaken. What we’re dealing with here is not one denominational problem. We have a pandemic of abuse of clergy.” This movie quotes alarming trends in the lives and ministries of clergy:
- 1,500 clergy leave ministry each month
- 61 percent of congregations have forced clergy to leave
- 83 percent of clergy spouses want their spouse to leave the ministry
- 90 percent of clergy will not stay in ministry long enough to reach the age of retirement
- 50 percent of clergy would leave the ministry if they had another way of making a living
One chapter that surprised me was the chapter that recommended clergy hire legal representation. Too many clergy feel abandoned and neglected by their bishops, conferences, presbyteries and denominations. One panel member asked “who are the clergy killers trying to influence, or intimidate? Ultimately it’s the (denominational) leaders of the church, to get rid of the pastor. When the officials cave, when the officials refuse to back up the pastor, that makes the pastor vulnerable. When the pastor hires a lawyer, that makes the conference, the judicatory, the rabbinate vulnerable.” He further stated, “the pastor that hires an attorney is a stopping block (to the ongoing pattern of abuse), and that stopping block is discovery, information and truth.” The panel thoughtfully engaged 1st Corinthians 6’s warning about Christians suing other Christians and presented a compelling argument supporting legal representation. What was even more surprising was learning that clergy from the United Church of Canada have unionized under the umbrella of the Canadian Autoworkers Union! Part of the reason they unionized was to protect themselves from the abuses of the congregation and the denominational leadership.
The documentary offered practical responses to this issue, and none of them were new. They include accountability and discipline. The challenge is faithfully engaging in accountability and discipline. Finally, and maybe most importantly is forgiveness. Forgiveness frees wounded clergy to find the new life and ministry.
Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA is difficult to watch, especially if you’ve been the victim of a clergy killer. I know several clergy who are no longer serving because they, and sometimes their families were mercilessly and personally attacked. The attacks were often worsened by ineffectual denominational leadership, and on more than one occasion, aided by denominational leadership. However, unlike the mapmakers of old, we do not proceed with a sense of foreboding or fear, but proceed armed with the armor of God and the truth of the Gospel.
If you are or have been the victim of a clergy killer, there is help and hope! There are excellent counselors, coaches and attorneys who God has called for such a time as this. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.