DEALING WITH PATHOLOGICAL ANTAGONISTS,
Summary by Dr Peter Hammond of The
Wounded Minister healing from and preventing personal attacks by Dr.
ago we witnessed an extraordinary campaign of hate and slander launched by disgruntled
ex-members against an outstanding mission in South Africa.
Salvos of letters, articles, e-mails and phone calls were launched. Websites dedicated to slandering this mission were
set up. All manner of vindictive abuse was
unleashed against this fine Christian community. I
was astounded at the persistence, obsession and unconstructive maliciousness of the
learned of other ministries overseas, who were also victims of pathological antagonists. Then we became targets of similar campaigns. On my last speaking tour to the USA I was given a
book which deals with this phenomenon. For
your interest, here is a review of the book which deals with this growing threat to
ministries, churches and missions.
Wounded Minister healing from and preventing personal attacks by Dr.
Every church and ministry has to deal with personality conflicts
and intermittent discord. The writer of this
book considers that normal. However, what he deals with in The Wounded Minister is the
growing phenomenon, major problem
approaching crisis proportions of pathological
antagonists and their allies and sympathises who launch systematic and sustained
attacks on the leader of a church or ministry.
Kenneth Haugk, a clinic psychologist, defines pathological antagonists as individuals who, on the basis of non-substantive
evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or
performance of others. These attacks are
selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed
against those in a leadership capacity.
Llloyd-Rediger describes these antagonists as clergy
killers, who have as their one major objective, to abuse or hurt the minister to
the degree that they will leave the ministry. Rediger
notes that this abuse is increasing in
it is a phenomenon that is verified by both research and
experience. He identifies clergy
killers as people who intentionally target
pastors for serious injury or destruction.
researchers have noted certain common features in the modus operandi of pathological
1. There is
always a set of problems in the church or ministry which serves as a background. The antagonist begins identifying the minister as
the cause of the problems. (These problems
may include finance, inter-staff conflict, a mailing, a popular staff person resigning,
it does not really matter what the problems
are - in most cases, the minister is blamed).
2. One person seems to get the criticism train rolling. One person takes it upon himself to begin pointing
out these serious problems that are hurting our church. Phone calls are made
letters are written
3. Often the person who leads the complaint charge takes
several weeks, maybe months, to marshall sympathetic support for his position. Unsuspecting people begin to wonder whether there
may be some truth to the complainers accusations.
4. In many cases the initial accuser enlists a few
key leaders to plan some meetings to be held at his or a sympathisers home. These meetings are secret, that is
invitation only meetings of people who the accuser believes will agree with
his accusations. The primary purpose is to
gather support for the eventual attack on their minister
evidence that the minister is to blame for the churchs problems. Meticulous notes are usually taken by the accuser
or one he designates to do this.
5. They will try to build a paper trail of accusations
with which to charge the minister with inefficiency, poor leadership, lazy work habits,
questionable moral behaviour or unChristian attitude.
An often-heard complaint is oh, its not so much what he does or says that is so bad, its
the way he does or says it. The way is seldom explained; it is just assumed to
be bad, unhealthy, conflicting, in appropriate, unkind or harsh.
6. The accusing leader plans his attack very carefully
he turns on his charm to win the friendship and support of key people.
The clergy killer knows he must work
through recognised authority
to accomplish his goal of getting rid of the minister. When he knows he has their backing, he will move
swiftly, with careful calculation.
The attack has actually been going on
for some time, but the clergy killer, when the time is right, gets his plan of attack on
the agenda of the official board of his church. He
arranges for the minister not to be present.
At this crucial meeting, the clergy
killer lays his charges before the assembled body of lay leaders. He will use statistics to bolster his
When the statistics are
interpreted negatively, the finger of blame is pointed at the minister. The bottom line of the charges is very simple: if we get rid of our minister, all of our problems
will be solved.
He will probably try to get a special
committee appointed (hopefully his friends) to visit the minister in his office as soon as
possible to pressure him to resign quietly for the sake of the churchs unity
and future. By this time
ministers have been so harassed and worn out emotionally by all the accusations (by phone
personal visits and rumours) that they will go as quickly and
quietly as possible.
It is possible that open conflict will
The abused clergy person usually goes
into a clinic depression
his wife and children also feel rejected
collateral damage can be quite heavy and devastating.
Abused clergy are frequently abandoned
and treated as if they now have some dread disease, and their friends, colleagues
and superiors keep their distance. Rarely
does anyone come to their aid.
Characteristics of Pathological Antagonists
these clergy killers? These are not normal people, average complainers,
critics and typical dissidents who are generally unhappy about life itself
deadly and have a knack for gathering a following of ordinary folk with common complaints
and disagreements in the church. They can
easily create the illusion that there are hordes of people against the pastor. They are masters at using the tyrannical they
in their comments: They are very unhappy about
or the illusive people: people are
. These are
verbal instruments in the arsenal that they use to destroy a minister.
Greenfield describes pathological antagonists/clergy killers, as persons with a very mean spirited disposition
destructive. The damage that they want to
inflict is intentional and deliberate. They
are not out simply to disagree
they want to inflict pain and damage persons.
clergy killers are determined. They are headstrong and will stop at nothing. They may pause for a time, change strategies, even
go underground to reconnoitre, but they will come back with a vengeance to continue the
intimidation, networking and breaking all rules of decency to accomplish their destructive
objectives. For them, their plans have
priority over all other programmes of the church. These
persons are deceitful
masters of manipulation, camouflage, misrepresentation and
accusing others of their own atrocious deeds
experts at twisting facts.
maybe mentally disordered, but they do not
yield to patience or love, nor do they honour human decency. Apparently clergy killers carry around a lot of
internal pain, confusion, anger, and even rage. Spiritual
become available scapegoats for this pain and confusion, which is
unidentified and untreated.
killers are masters of intimidation, using it to violate the rules of decency and caring
that most Christians try to follow. Intimidation
is a powerful weapon
therefore, ministers and their supporters are easily
intimidated by these persuasive and charming religious assailants. Clergy killers are experts of disguise when they
see it would be to their advantage. They are
able to present themselves as pious, devout and spiritual church members, who are doing
their destructive work for the good of the church to advance Gods
Kingdom. They can convince na´ve
church members that they are raising legitimate issues.
These religious monsters often hide among their allies of opportunity
openly intimidate any opposition by making it clear that they will fight dirty and use any
tactic to accomplish their goals. Gentle and
peace-at- any-price church members are quickly sidelined by such threats, leaving
ministers and those who support them to cope with the problem the best way they can.
they may possess distinct
anti-social, borderline paranoid, narcissistic
others have learnt to throw tantrums to get their
selfish ways. Theyve learnt how to
distract, confuse, lie and seduce to do harm to the vulnerable.
killers wound or destroy either by direct attacks or by inciting others to inflict the
wounds. Sometimes they induce victims to
self-destruct, by harassing them to the point of frustration and anger.
it only takes one or two in the church to
create havoc and bedlam. Because these people
live in denial as to their true nature, they would not see themselves in this chapter,
even if they were to read it. Clergy killers
have surrounded and insulated themselves with a whole array of defense mechanisms and
justifications for their actions. They firmly
believe that what they are doing in harming and terminating a minister is the right thing
to do. For them, it is the will of God. Nevertheless, they are sick and mean people.
What is a Pathological Antagonist?
pathological antagonist is an intransigent person of antagonistic disposition.
The arguments of a pathological
antagonist are usually found in little or terribly misrepresented evidence
quibbling over petty details, offering strong proof of irrelevant points
exaggerating the position of ones opponent
making an accusation that cannot
be disproved and then claiming that this makes it true
outright lying or
falsification. An antagonist, in his attempt
to make the kill, will take certain facts and so twist them that they are blatantly false
when presented. In time he convinces himself
that his twisted facts are true.
Pathological antagonists are
hyper-sensitive to any word or action, even trivial oversights, so that he
takes these things as a personal attack and responds aggressively.
The pathological antagonist is never
satisfied. His demands are insatiable. No amount of accommodation on the ministers part
will ever suffice. Attempts at appeasement
will not calm him down, but will encourage him to make more demands.
he is persistent and unstoppable.
The pathological antagonist will lead
a campaign of attack on the minister
not trying to give constructive criticism
his goal is nothing short of control, no matter what it may cost the minister or
the church. The antagonist is so full of rage
that he feels compelled to attack the enemy (the minister) until he is destroyed
(terminated and eliminated from the scene).
This person probably has a God
problem. He feels some deep-seated anger
towards God for some reason out of his past experiences.
Because it is difficult to show anger directly towards God, the pathological
antagonist chooses the minister, the man of God, as his target. Sometimes this anger is guilt-driven (possibly due
to some hidden sin)
a smokescreen to cover his own moral indiscretions.
The attacking behaviour of a
pathological antagonist is selfish in nature
this person is rarely interested in
authentic spiritual goals. If one rationale
no longer works to his advantage, he will devise another
his stated reasons for
opposition are a ruse for his own hidden agenda. What
he really wants is power, control, status and authority.
are for destruction
rather than construction. The
antagonists actions divide the church; they do not pull the people together.
Greenfield distinguishes between four types of pathological antagonists.
Seriously disturbed people
out of touch with
which is not easy to detect
can appear normal either
some or most of the time
incredible persistence and an extreme desire to make
trouble, even enjoying their sadistic inclinations. One
can easily spot one of these individuals by the smirk often seen on his face, especially
noticeable after he makes a cynical or snide remark
hard-core antagonists will go
to any length and expense to wreck havoc on their targets
they are fighting a
Jihad, a holy war, and the minister is the enemy. They
believe they are doing God a favour. Their
inner rage is baptised with the aura of holy zeal. Without
a doubt, the hard-core antagonist is slippery and dangerous. He cannot be reasoned with. The Apostle Paul may have had this kind of people
in mind when he warned the Ephesian elders about savage wolves infiltrating
the congregation and not sparing the flock
severely disturbed. If the hard-core antagonist cannot be reasoned with because of emotional
instability, the major antagonist refuses to
be reasoned with. Reason is within his
capacity, but he knows that if he uses it, he may be defeated or proved wrong. So, to protect his position, he simply refuses to
be reasonable and his demands are insatiable. This
individual probably has a character or personality disorder, seen in the heavy load of
anger he carries about
deep-seated. A major antagonist does not want to change, since
change is threatening to him. He has built a
defensive wall around himself, labelled I am right, what Im doing is
self-starting quality of the first two types
the moderate antagonist initiates
trouble only if the opportunity presents itself however, he will quickly follow a
hard-core or a major antagonist in causing trouble but he lacks the perseverance of
the other two. He has personality problems,
but they are not as severe as those of the hard-core or the major types.
goals which may allegedly be in the best
interests of the church, but their methods and attitudes are still those of a dragon,
doing more harm than good, undermining the ministry of the church without intending to do
Dr. Greenfield notes that while all of the above four
types are malevolent in both intent and
effect.. Im distinguishing here
somewhat between degrees of meanness.
Greenfield also clearly distinguishes between persistent activists who are devoted to a
worthy cause, for example the Pro-Life / Anti-abortion crusade. Activists are issue orientated, not person centered as the
pathological antagonists are.
Pathological antagonists possess an insatiable desire
to drag problems out interminably, eventually wearing down the target of opposition. Pathological antagonists precipitate conflict that
is unhealthy and destructive.
antagonists are negative and critical
legalistic and intransigent
quick to point out others faults and shortcomings
well-known for its judgmental attitude
very picky about trivial details
one long story of unhappiness
Greenfield writes: Over the years I have
noticed that persons who tended to be failures in their chosen careers were inclined to
come into the church and take key leadership roles while exercising a strong controlling
although they were failures outside the church, they could be
somewhat important in the church.
Allies of Pathological Antagonists
A pathological antagonist tends to attract certain
followers. Without them, the
antagonists efforts would fizzle. He
usually does not have the courage to go it alone. He
needs followers to bolster his campaign against the minister
calculating in his
enlistment of a small band of followers. Each
had a personal axe to grind
the passive nature of other church leaders simply
allowed this to happen.
The Wounded Minister also notes that
the greatest ally of pathological antagonists, and the greatest enemy of spiritual
leaders, are the passive.
Cicero: There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found
in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury
when they can.
do an injury are motivated either by meanness or psychopathy. Those who stand by and allow it to happen are
motivated either by cowardice or indifference.
Burke noted: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good
men to do nothing.
Those who are intimidated by powerful
and persuasive antagonists enable clergy abuse. The
antagonists see this passivity as an open invitation to continue their assaults and they
become even more bloodthirsty.
It is also
noted that, while the targets of the antagonist are frequently too busy to do their
homework and respond to the vast amount of accusations, the pathological antagonists
always have an excessive amount of free time. The antagonist have tended to be retired people
with a lot of free time on their hands ..., the antagonists had plenty of time to plan
their strategy, organise their supporters, hold secret meetings with their friends and
spend numerous hours telephoning people to get the vote out for key meetings.
When the minister can come up with the
documentation and the facts to refute any number of the accusations thrown at him, the
antagonist simply changes the subject and tries another attack. There are normally no apologies or any
acknowledgement of the damage they have done.
This reminds me of the typical hit and run driver who
never pays for his crime. Unlike the driver,
however, the antagonist enjoys doing this sort of thing.
classical Biblical precedent is Judas Iscariot. Judas
was the treasurer of the disciples, obviously a trusted person. Satan
entered into Judas called Iscariot. Luke
22:3. It is not incidental that the basic
meaning of Satan is accuser, which
is the primary role of an antagonist.
Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10-13 of: False
apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ ;
Super apostles who have a different spirit and are embroiling the church in quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander,
gossip, conceit and disorder. The
Apostle Paul writes that his ministry had been for building up and not for tearing down. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians for not
having defended him in the face of these antagonists.
Biblical example is Diotrephes written about in Johns third letter. John characterised this antagonist as one who liked to put himself first and does not acknowledge our authority. Diotrephes was spreading false charges against us.
concludes with this appeal: Beloved, do not
imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. Whoever
does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Collateral Damage to the Church
underhand tactics of pathological antagonists are a lot like throwing a hand grenade
it may wound
or kill the minister, but a lot of other people and other aspects of the churchs
ministry will be damaged or destroyed as well. A
sad note about this is that pathological antagonists dont really care what damage
involved in angry, grumpy, critical and disgruntled gossip sessions and those trying to
placate them will naturally have little time left for serious spiritual work. A
major casualty of minister abuse is the churchs evangelistic outreach. But antagonists are always right. Loss of members, contributions and spiritual
fervour is for the self-appointed judges of the ministry, always the ministers
that abuse their ministers are not growing churches.
They either stagnate or eventually die, if not in numbers, at least in
ministers observes that when a church is more
concerned with its internal operations
than it is with ministry, it becomes
churches that are more committed to winning new converts and discipling
them in the faith
will be less vulnerable to Satans attacks. Outreach, evangelism, ministry and missions will
keep a congregation on its knees in prayer. Satan
can more easily invade a church that is consumed with secondary matters.
The Curse of Appeasement
When the good, prayerful, dedicated, loving lay
leaders are afraid of conflict in the church and have no stomach for challenging pathological
antagonists, they will choose a philosophy of
appeasement rather than reasonable confrontation ... However, when targets plead for help to those not
involved in the campaign of hate, they are normally met with unbelief that there were any evil intentions
to get rid of the minister.
This naivete fuels and encourages the
pathological antagonist to press on with his obsessive campaign.
Greenfield writes: The Bible wisely sets
limits on the criticism of a minister. Paul
directed Timothy in the churches under his charge:
never accept any accusation against an elder, except on the evidence of two or three
witness. As for those who persist in sin,
rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. 1 Timothy 5:19-20. Legitimate
accusations must be supported by two or three witnesses, and must be clearly recognised as
sinful behaviour by the church. If these
criteria are not met, Paul implies that the accuser must be rebuked for violating
single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrong doing in
connection with any offense that may be committed. Only
on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse
someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord
the judges shall make a thorough enquiry. If
the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall
do to the false witness just as a false witness had meant to do the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid. Deuteronomy 19:15-20
Wounded Minister healing from and preventing personal attacks by Dr. Guy
Greenfield, published by Baker, 2002
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions
and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second
admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. Titus
Response to Slander
Why do so many fail and