Leadership, Power and Authority in the Church and Home — by Diane Langberg, PhD
As a Christian psychologist, Diane Langberg has worked with many victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and genocide; and also with people who have abused power in positions of Christian leadership.
Diane is a practicing psychologist whose clinical expertise includes 40 years of working with trauma survivors and clergy. She is director of Diane Langberg, PhD & Associates, a group practice in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a faculty member of Westminster Theological Seminary. She is the author of Counsel for Pastors’ Wives (Zondervan), Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Xulon Press) and On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Tyndale House). She is Chair of the Executive Board of the American Association of Christian Counselors, serves on the boards of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) and the Society for Christian Psychology. She is also the founder of The Place of Refuge, an inner city, non-profit trauma and training centre. [bio adapted from the Forum of Christian Leaders website]
Here is Diane’s presentation Leadership, Power and Authority in the Church and Home, a talk she gave to the Forum of Christian Leaders, European Leadership Forum, Budapest, 23 May 2010.
Alternative link to the video can be found here.
You can find other talks and resources by Diane Langberg at her website (Diane Langberg).
Below is a partial transcript of what Diane says in this presentation (transcribed and published here with Diane’s permission).
Bear in mind that Diane is speaking about the psychology of how Christian leaders can misuse power. I believe that what she says applies just as well to domestic abusers as to Christian leaders who misuse their power in the church.
21’10” Self deception becomes like a narcotic. . . . It deeply habituates the soul to looking at things that is diametrically opposed to the way God sees them.
23’30” I don’t want to face myself, I want to deceive myself; I administer the narcotic of self-deceit in order to avoid the pain and humiliation of looking at my own sinful heart and responses.
We also deceive ourselves by comparing and contrasting, we compare a bad thing we’re doing to a good thing we’re doing, with the implication that somehow the good thing lessens the bad. So I cheat on my taxes but I go to church. Or I’m unkind and neglectful of my spouse because the ministry is so difficult and I’m really committed to this ministry.
We apply the narcotic of self-deception in order to maintain a good image of ourselves, even though we know what we are doing is wrong. So we use all manner of self deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to see ourselves in ways we do not like.
And this mechanism enables us to ignore sin, to commit wrong, and to doing that feel justified and even righteous, while we in the meantime avoid facing our failures, abuses and sins with repentant hearts.
And of course deceiving ourselves like this, it is not a very big step from self deception to deceiving others, because what we want is to draw them into our web of deception so they don’t confront us, right?
So we work with them because we don’t want to receive their input, we don’t want their criticism, we don’t want their confrontation, we do not want to be held accountable. Those things become threats to our image of ourselves as leaders. And so we use the power of our position or our verbal power to entrap others in our self deception.
And if we cannot get them to agree with us about ourselves, we at least work to shut them up. We get them to think we are fine when we are not, that what we are doing is really good when it is not.
We get others eventually to be complicit in wrong behavior with us; we silence them by our words and our knowledge, and so we end up as Christians hiding our sins, fudging numbers and sometimes sanctioning immorality in leadership.
And I have say to you that I have over the years heard all manner of blatant sinful behavior justified in incredibly outrageous ways. And due to the narcotic of self deception the person who is doing this, and sitting in front of me, believes that wrong is right, and in fact has often got others to agree.
So for example, an entire leadership in a church agrees together that it is actually good for the body of Christ to keep hidden from them that the man in the pulpit every Sunday is living immorally.
Secrecy is called good. Sin is ignored or denied, because, if we expose the sin and speak the truth, it will damage the church. And somehow we become convinced that it is godly to preserve the form, even though the substance is absolutely wrong.
And if we know our scriptures, we only have to look at God and his relationship to Israel: and when Israel maintained the form and had a rotten substance, he blew that nation apart. He did not want the appearance of holiness. He wanted true inward and outward holiness in his people. And that has not changed.
Now deception — of self and of others — eventually leads to coercion . . . We’re doing something by force, basically: the word coerce literally means ‘to surround’. … The threat of dire consequences is enough often to force people into silence. . . Sometimes we can coerce people through emotion. . . what we do is show fear about the ruin of what will occur if the truth is told. . .
30’45” The abuse of power involves these three components: self deception, the deception of others, and the coercion of others. It deceives and confuses followers. And the one of course abusing their power is clearly deceived and confused, and they bear like fruit in others. The abuse of power, no matter how small a way that we do it, requires deadening our ability to discern good from evil. Which if we stop to think about that, is an absolutely terrifying place to be.