When I read the article by our Editor-in-Chief, “The Hidden Danger of Peacemakers,” the other day, the dreadful actions that were told in the article sounded eerily familiar to me. I am not acquainted with the Peacemakers (they are not active, or so it seems, in my home country of Paraguay); but the actions depicted reflect the almost uniform sorts of behavior that appear when jerks — that kind of person that has no trouble abusing others as long as he or she can seek their stated goal — take control of an organization.
Jerks are parasitic. They need other human beings in order to survive, preying on their poor victims to accomplish their own desires. Volunteer organizations, such as churches, are prime targets of this variety of animals. They relentlessly seek positions of power, and in doing so they may promise the sun, the moon and the stars to their would-be adherents.
Once in power, they attach themselves and become self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. They develop procedures, techniques, approaches, protocols, everything, just to keep the sweet juices flowing to them. If by doing that, the organization manages to accomplish its mission, fine; but if not, goals be darned. They are the most important aspect of the organization. Everything else is secondary to that.
This description is, believe me, not made up. It is a completely factual overview of many less-than-desirable leadership changes in too many organizations. I have seen it in my own eyes, and right now I am able to mention several of them. Those organizations were founded with lofty goals in mind, but then they were taken over by the jerks, and now they are little more than tools for self-perpetuation and for the eternal, unending and unfathomable search for power, and more power.
Now, control of an organization by a group of jerks requires certain safety mechanisms, lest any concerned member of the organization challenge their works. The said member might still — poor fellow — believe that he or she will be treated fairly, and that leadership will act in compliance with organizational bylaws that guarantee some degree of control on the leadership.
But no, the reality is that once challenged, the jerks will unleash living hell on the concerned member. Threats; anonymous letters, emails and SMS; character assassination; blackmail; extortion; and several other cloak-and-dagger techniques are all fair game in the jerks' minds. They never do anything in the open, because they are not normal beings; they resort to the ways of what they are at most, that is, a bunch of predatory bullies and cowards.
Churches are prime examples of this abuse. For the two millennia that comprise church history, jerks have been part of church leadership. For many victims of this kind of jerks, the Epistle of St. Jude looks just too familiar: “'But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 17-19 ESV).
The story Tim tells, based on his experience with those who used Peacemaker Ministries' materials, is a remarkable example of jerks abusing church leadership, and everything else they can grasp, to wreak havoc in a person who does not agree with their ways. In this case, the church is run more like a corporation than like a family.
The problem of abuse is compounded by materials such as those provided by Peacemakers, and this should be serious food for thought for them. While it is laudable that Peacemakers apparently seeks to restore Biblical church discipline, they try to do this by basically making every member in a participating congregation agree to extra-judicial arbitration via a contract with a lot of apparently sweeping clauses (think something like Microsoft EULAs).
The intent of Peacemakers might be good, but from Tim's writing, they suffer from a terrible defect: the provisions apparently are not as strong for disciplining leaders as they are for regular members. This makes the materials ripe for abuse by jerks.
Those interested in Peacemaker Ministries or similar programs would do well to recall historical attempts to deal with issues of church discipline and abuse and learn from them, rather than charging ahead without such helpful guidance. In my next piece, I'll look at some related historical and legal matters to reveal how they can help protect churches from jerks.
Eduardo Sánchez is a contributing editor to Open for Business.