Gaslighting for God, Part 5
Identifying the Different Types of Spiritual Narcissists
Credit: nakedpastor.com. Used with permission.
Michael Camp of the Spiritual Brewpub Podcast offers this succinct description of what he calls a "Control-Freak Narcissist", a term I find applies to all spiritual narcissists.
They have to be in control, can’t trust people, are judgmental, condescending, arrogant, highly opinionated, always right, can’t admit fault, can’t apologize, manipulators, they alone know what’s best, etc. They gather co-dependents (submissive people) around them they can control and micro-manage. In the church, they set up top-down methods of controlling the congregation, so people who stay in the church become clones, follow their pet doctrines, and anyone who questions their authority is labeled “rebellious” or having problems with authority, and they become abusive toward them – use church discipline, shunning, etc. The church or ministry becomes the only one or only one of the few who is doing it right, are special, anointed, cutting edge, truly obedient, have the right doctrines.
Despite the preponderance of catch phrases like "Jesus said it. I believe it. That settles it," "God Bless You," and "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," spiritual narcissists don't fit into a neat tidy easily identifiable clinical definitions. After all, with well over 33,000 denominations constituting the world of Christendom along with an overabundance of “Christian” conferences, there's a wide range of personalities claiming to speak on behalf of the Almighty. But here's a guide to help identify the most common forms of spiritual narcissists.
Blinded by My Light (Exhibitionist Narcissists)
Description: Those self-appointed ungodly gurus are marketed by the Christian industrial complex and its secular counterpart the monied mindfulness movement. This multi-media "spiritual" publishing empire, which is unique to the American culture, produces celebrities who elevate their personal platform and market themselves over serving as a prophetic voice in building and maintaining healthy spiritual communities.
Identifying Markers: On the holy hipster side, rock star pastors utilize branded devices like tattoos, sneakers, cussin', and surfing. The more buttoned down megachurch ministers are known for their spiritual smiles in public while belittling those in private.
Where Found: Headlining those events with enough clout and cash to pay for them to play, featured on NYTimes Bestseller lists the week their latest bestseller launches (placement procured via their publicist, ResultSource, Inc. and other nefarious sources), paid placement on social media sites, running private online platforms managed by their brand managers with "special" benefits available to subscribers, humblebragging about their life and career via those media outlets that produce PR-puffery.
Preaching to the Prosperous (Grandiose Narcissists)
Description: These gilded prosperity gospel preachers possess an unrealistic sense of superiority: a view that they are blessed by God and therefore better than others. While these over top televangelist types lend themselves to religious ridicule, you can also find signs of grandiose narcissism present in less obvious and odious ways in spiritual settings such as those who follow "The Secret" and other positive thinking movements that promise wealth and other "blessings" will come to those who agree to pay in order to play and pray.
The Corporate Christian (Royal Narcissists)
Description: These churches and religious institutions are run akin to a corporation whereby the church's finances and programming is controlled by a select group of capitalist Christians. Like their corporate counterparts, these leaders maintain control via their social rank and wealth.
Identifying Markers: See The Official Preppy Handbook (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose).
*Where Found: Wall Street, corporate boardrooms, country clubs, Ivy League colleges.
Onward Christian Soldiers (Victim Narcissists)
Description: These sad sacks pride themselves on winning gold in the persecution Olympics. No matter what hardships you may have endured, this leader has experienced far worse. While you may initially feel sympathy for them, pull back their mask of religious persecution and you’ll find a self-centered and self-righteous soul.
Identifying Markers: Complain, cry, and carry on all in the name of Christ.
Where Found: Partisan cable news shows, protest rallies (especially online), any social media platform that hasn’t kicked them off for unbiblical behavior, their parents’ basement, soliciting money 24/7 to support their never ending cycle of “needs.”
Comfy Christianity (Seductive Narcissists)
Description: These Christian leaders focus primarily on the curation of a refuge from the world designed to enable their followers feel good about themselves rather than addressing the actual needs of those they claim to serve. Those who become members into this exclusive church membership develop a group-think mentality which advances the leader’s agenda that they are in fact "spiritually superior" rather than actually putting the Greatest Commandment into practice.
Identifying Markers: Presents as a kind charismatic Dr. Jekyll only to reveal their Mr. Hyde side whenever confronted about their unbiblical behavior, Markings on wrist from wearing their WWJD? bracelet too tightly, spiritually smiling 24/7.
*Where Found: Wheaton College, Christian retreat centers, megachurches with padded chairs and Christian sponsored coffee shops.
Kinder Gentler More Compassionate Communities (Communal Narcissists)
Description: As more Christians abandon the Christian industrial complex, some self-appointed Christian progressive leaders seek to package together a form of the faith that on the surface appears to be more inclusive. They claim to welcome all, pointing to their movement as "leaderless" with everyone having an equal voice. But do the math and it's clear these groups are run primarily by cisgender white men with the occasional token person of color, woman, or LGBT person included to give the illusion of diversity. These "missional males" maintain power through their platform which they've established via their publications, podcasts, and public appearances.
Identifying Markers: Branded clothing designed to virtue signal they're "liberal" and "inclusive" towards all who think exactly like them. Responds to any criticism involving their ministry with platitudes such as "let's all be nice." Waves the Progress Pride flag while burning the American one. Pontificates about how little money they need to survive without taking into account how much intern (read “free”) labor is required for them to live well below the poverty line. Never wears a suit, sometimes seen barefoot.
*Where Found: Fair Trade coffee shops, Christian festivals, Beer 'n' hymns, dumpster diving, theology pubs, intentional communities filled with white folx living in multiracial neighborhoods, mainline seminaries.
Might Makes Right (Malignant Narcissists)
Description: These righteous warriors throw down their theological smack in their quest to prove themselves to be biblical badasses. They tend to be among the most deadly of all the narcissists given their use of violent language and other forms of emotional and spiritual abuse that seeks to tear others down as they lift up their own ideas. Left unchecked, their abuse will escalate to physical violence, sexual impropriety, and other unethical, and at times, criminal actions. Wherever they go, they leave un-Christlike carnage behind in their wake. Suffice to say, they have blood on their hands, and it ain't the blood of Jesus.
Often spotted wearing T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, jewelry and placards emblazoned with offensive and violent imagery that go against the message espoused by the Prince of Peace they profess to follow.
Where Found: Any Christian setting desperate for a "savior" who can "save" their dying ministry, partisan cable TV shows and various online platforms where other armchair activists congregate.
Note: Yes, you can find non-narcissistic leaders in those settings I marked with an asterisk (*). I'm simply noting the most common places where one will find spiritual narcissists.
In reviewing these clarifications, be mindful that these spiritual narcissists can fall into more than one category. For example, the latest holy hipster du jour might be an exhibitionist but often they will display malignant tendencies in their mistreatment of those who disagree with their biblical branding, all the while claiming to be a victim. Others, like the prosperity gospel preacher, are exhibitionists in their stage performance while promoting a comfy Christian kind of message as they run their church like a Corporate Christian.
So use these categories more as guides than definitive descriptors of the spiritual narcissists in your midst. What all have in common is that in the end, it's a spiritual show focused on them. Simply put, there's no there, there.
For those wondering if their pastor might be a spiritual narcissist, here’s a handy quiz to see if they might fit the bill.
Next week I'll delve into how one can leave behind the institutional church world but still encounter these dynamics in more secular spiritual settings.
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