It was the beginning of the weekend. I was excited to drive for hours to meet up with my friend, who was speaking at another church, but as soon as the meeting was over he was heckled. I’m not talking about fans or paparazzi, he was questioned by a couple aggressive fundamentalist Christians who felt he should agree with them.
The next day as soon as we broke for lunch, he was surrounded by the same people again. There was one in particular who pounded him with questions both during the meetings and monopolized him throughout lunch and all afternoon until the next meeting. As one of his friends, I just wanted five minutes to say hi.
I finally interrupted the conversation after he had been grilled for hours. As I entered the room, the one questioning said, ”Okay, so now we can agree.” It seemed like the whole room let out a sigh of relief. I commented on something the speaker said earlier and we both laughed a little, when his opponent suddenly said, “What did you just say? And after all this I thought we finally agreed; now I’m not so sure!”
It was sort of a tongue in cheek joke, but there was truth in it. My question to him would be why do we have to agree on everything? Many people feel they cannot allow someone else to see God differently, but why? Who of us has seen God and can give a full account?
Later after the last meeting, the speaker asked for questions when one of his opponents felt inspired to read a list of Bible verses hoping to straighten him out. It was frustrating to see people misunderstanding and misquoting him. This man seemed very sincere about disproving what he thought my friend taught, but the reality was he completely misunderstood him.
Because I had hours to get home, I decided to leave. The last thing I heard as I walked out the door was a loud booming voice saying, “I hate equality.” This whole weekend was about loving others with equality like Jesus does. It struck me as strange that the weekend ended this way, but I imagine if Jesus Himself were there, it would have been even worse. As much as I had looked forward to seeing my friend, it was really a stressful experience. And as I drove home I sorted out my thoughts and realized what I had experienced was an example of religious narcissism.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a religious narcissist because we aren’t looking for it. A big red flag is that narcs are unable to let go–let go of expectations, let go of differences of opinion, and let go of anything they want you to do for them. While they might not be able to let go, the only sanity you will find is to let go of such people or they will suck the life out of you.
We naturally expect Christians to follow the golden rule and do unto others as we want to be treated, but that’s not reality. You can find a narcissist in just about any church and my guess is half of the congregation has had a run in with them or left because of them. So here’s a list of narcissistic traits often manifested in Christian circles and an idea of how to deal with the situation.
No two people agree on everything, but some people get their ego fed by pushing their views on other people or calling those they disagree with heretics. Paul and Barnabas didn’t agree and parted ways, but both still worked for God. Healthy Christians give each other grace without forcing their views on others.
When you run into right-talkers, you can argue with them from sunrise until sundown and still not resolved the issues, so it’s better to let go. Those who want to be right have no desire to see what others see. They will manipulate and misquote you just to keep the argument going.
This is what Jesus meant when he told us to shake the dust off our feet. If you are engaging in long arguments about God, why not release your opponent from meeting your standards and let peace return to all?
2. Lacks Empathy for Others
A classic trait of narcissism is a lack of empathy. When people monopolize a visiting speaker, they show lack of empathy for the speaker. What if the speaker would like to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or maybe visit with other people?
The narc sees himself as the only person in the room so he ignores other people standing in line. Sometimes this happens in group meetings where someone monopolizes the entire time talking about how terrible their job/childhood/marriage was. The narcissist imagines everything is about them. They don’t know how to listen to others, but healthy relationships require listening.
3. Has a Martyr Complex
Have you ever met someone who always works in the kitchen or with the children but all they can do is complain about how lazy everyone else is? The Christian narc often feels like a victim. If you listen to them you will hear all sorts of sad stories. No one sees it his way. No one offered to help her. No one called him when he was having a problem. No one cares that she is working so hard. There is literally nothing you can do when you meet a narcissist with a victim mindset but walk away, because whatever you do, it will never be enough.
4. Uses Other People
Some people are glad to see you only if and it’s a big IF—you can meet their needs. I once resigned a volunteer position at church due to a health issue at the time when the man I spoke to said, “Well what else can you do for us?” He simply saw me as a tool to help him get his goals met. This is called narcissistic feed. I remember one pastor telling the church board, you can’t get mad because church volunteers don’t do things your way, you have to remember they are all volunteering their time.
The only thing you can do with religious narcs is refuse to get involved with them. It sounds harsh, but if you try to please them, you might find yourself up to your ears in their drama and messes. It’s never a pretty sight to do discover you’re a pawn in someone else’s schemes.
5. Talks About Other People
Study groups are not safe when someone talks about people who are not there. We have a rule in our group that “What’s said in group, stays in group.” I’m sure there are times when even the nicest people slip up, but hopefully, we can learn from it and apologize and do our best to be safer people in the future.
The difference between a sincere mistake and narcissistic rant is that the narc will NOT appreciate a reminder from you if they have acted in an unsafe manner. They want to take sides in every conflict and while they whisper about who did what and who should not have been there, they will often complain about the pastor and elders or anyone who reminds them this is inappropriate.
While we can’t control what the narcissist does, we can refuse them an audience. If someone starts talking to you about someone else, just say no. This can be done kindly and without self-righteous airs. You can distract them from the topic or you can say you have to go without a full explanation. And believe me, a full explanation is the last thing you want to try with a narc, because then you might end up arguing with them until one of you dies or moves away.
Lay Your Weapons Down and Walk Away
When you run into a narc, you might want to fight them and straighten them out, but trust me, it’s a colossal waste of time. Our goal is not to put the narcissist down or argue with them, but to avoid the unsafe drama they bring with them. Any time you feel uncomfortable at church in a conversation, any time you feel manipulated or pushed or condemned for not meeting someone’s needs or standards, it might be time to determine why exactly you feel this way. Do they remind you of someone else? Or is this person actually acting in three or more of these ways?
If you notice more than three of these behaviors with someone at church, you might just be dealing with a Christian narcissist. If this is true, the best thing you can do is walk away. Don’t hate on them, don’t talk about them to others, don’t preach to them, just quietly and gently step back and look for some like-minded Christians to hang out with. This will save hours of your life that you can use for a much better purpose. Let’s let go of the drama. Let’s see if we can make our churches narc free zones. Just say no to narcissism.