Visit our new site at

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ask the Matriach: The Biblical Bully

Remember the contagious negativity post? Remember when we talked about Contagious Negativity? It inspired this follow-up.

Hi Matriarchs!

I loved your answer so much about dealing with negativity that I thought I'd pose another one. I know a gifted young woman who isn't going into ministry because she doesn't ever want to have to deal with:

The Biblical Bully.

You know who I mean... the person who squirms through life (usually with a lot of messed-up relationships behind them) but insists that the simplest reading of every quote they know by heart is the only reading God condones. If you've got some good advice up your sleeve that I can pass on, you might just make ministry sound like a possibility for another great woman.

Just the thought of the Biblical Bully makes me put my hand to my head and sigh. At a recent wedding, attendees were blasted by the preacher's repeated exhortations for the wife to SUBMIT TO HER HUSBAND!!! We felt bullied; well, one young lady got the giggles and couldn't stop laughing.

But anyways, I suspect many of us know someone who fits the bully bill. Singing Owl sure does. "Biblical Bully? I know him! In fact, I have known dozens. They probably abound in some denominations more than others." Her tendency (good pastor that she is) is try to fix everyone, figuring that "with enough reason the point will be obvious. That, of course, is wishful thinking! I used to give B.B. more room than I should have, hoping to win the person over."

But over time, she's decided if it hasn't worked to now, it won't. "As time has passed, I’ve given up on reason gaining the victory with a bully. A bully hardly ever responds to either arguments or cajoling. Placating a bully never works! It is like the kid who steals your lunch money. Giving him more money just makes him worse. Sooner or later, the behavior must be confronted."

No more Mrs. Nice Gal, well, not as much anyway
She continues: "So, now I take a deep breath, and I remind myself that God loves this person, and I pray for God’s love to flow in me, since I know that if it were just me I might just want to smack him or her, or at least roll my eyes in disdain." Yay for grace!

On to the practical: B.B's tend to be drama queens—people who thrive on other people's conflict. It's a kind of what some call emotional vampirism: These folks stir it up because they enjoy seeing other people angry. One of the best things you can do is not escalate it. "Any kind of bully must be confronted with calm firmness," says Singing Owl. "I’m not suggesting that reason be discarded, but after stating why I do not agree, I tend to leave it at that. Biblical Bully loves to argue, but don’t get caught in that trap."

You can respect their opinion while not agreeing with it. (Heck, I have to do this with DFH from time to time.) And you can gently suggest that they move on, if need be. "In one case, though it hurt to do it, the leadership of the church had to ask the person to go," says Singing Owl. "Nowadays, I refuse to spend lots of time stewing over it, something I used to do, asking myself over and over how it could have ended differently. Life is too short, and there are too many wonderful people who will welcome the ministry of a loving pastor. If we focus on the bully, he has won. Let B. B. know he or she is loved, but then focus elsewhere and be about the work of the Kingdom!"

Laughter is the best flak jacket
Jan suggests that the best way to deal with a B.B. is with a sense of humor. " Maybe all you need is to start collecting snappy retorts to silly comments," she says, offering the following scenarios:

Biblical Bully on bus who notices Bible in your lap (to you): I see you've got
a Bible.
You: Yes, I'm a seminarian.
Bib Bully: What? My Bible says that women can't speak in church!
You: Interesting. My Bible says "The one who calls you is faithful; he will do this."

Biblical Bully on sidewalk comments on your cross necklace and says:
BB: I see you're wearing a cross. Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?
You: Uh, yes.
BB: I go to the local Bible Church. Where do you worship?
You: Actually I go to a Bible Church too. It's called First Presbyterian.

For your friend, Jan offers this advice. "Sister—have confidence. You need to be more afraid of God than of any bully out there. If God is calling you, it's important to listen." And while I've never been keen on the "fear God" model, I agree with Jan. My denomination has quite a few bullies (regardless of what point of view I actually hold). But I'm always pleased to see the leadership continuing to listen.

How about you? Ever deal with a Biblical Bully? Share your amusing anecdotes and how you dealt with this common problem in the comments!


  1. Speaking of responses to B.B. silliness: Upon learning that I am Christian, the B.B. asks "When were you saved?" My response is "About 2000 years ago when Christ died and was resurrected." By the time they stop spluttering I've wandered off to where ever I was going in the first place.

  2. Rev Maria: You beat me to it! I use that same response. I love the exasperated looks on their faces.

    My BB (who is no longer at my church) used to say, "The Bible says . . . isn't that right, pastor?" (Yes, she really called me just by "pastor.") I tried to respond as graciously as possible, "well, that's one way of looking at it. But here's another way of seeing it." Which is probably another reason why she's at another church where they hold to the view that there is one and only one interpretation of Scripture.

  3. I have several B.B.'s in my family! When I announced to my step-grandfather at 14-years-old that I would one day be a pastor his responce was a pat on the head and "It's nice to have dreams honey." To which my reply was "It's better to have a calling!"
    There is a woman at the church I co-pastor, who btw is a deacon, who believes that women should not hold office, that God would not call them to office, but sometimes they must because the men are too lazy to do it! She confronted me about my "role" one day saying "My God would never call a woman into the pulpit." "Well," I answered, "maybe you should meet mine!" (Got in some trouble for that, but it was worth it!)

  4. Shirley Guthrie, now deceased Presby theologian, has a good line in his "Christian Doctrine" book that I equip parishioners with when they're worried about conversations with BB's. When ever any one says "The Bible says..." an appropriate response is always "What else does the Bible say about that?" Smart and very useful response.

  5. God bless Shirley; may he rest in peace.

    Very entertaining question today. I needed the reminder not to get into a long drawn-out argument with certain folks.

    I too fall into the trap of, "Clearly I just haven't communicated well; if they understood my position they would surely agree with it." Err, no.

  6. I, sadly, spent about a year in a "discussion" with one BB. Eventually I said, let's move this conversation from the head to the heart. Well. That was the end of that conversation. This BB had no intention of such a thing, and got all huffy and defensive at such a suggestion. What I learned. Talking doesn't change anything or anyone. It's all about the heart. Is it open? Is it willing? Is it able? Or, is it closed and hard? I don't talk any more about such things. Enough is enough. Now, I just suggest we listen, pray, and be with one another... But, like I said, some times folks can, and sometimes they can't...regardless, I trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, and eventually she will prevail.

  7. I guess the thing I've learned is that there is no point trying to have a conversation with a person who is belligerent, as bullies generally are. When I had an experience of being confronted by Exclusive Language Bully, I took it to the Pastoral Relations Committee, since there had been a sense of menace along with verbal bullying. It's important to be sure there are lay leaders who understand there are differences of interpretation, so they know how to deal with the bullies, too.

  8. I love everyone's responses and am just glad that I now have a new nickname for my Mother-in-law.

  9. Did I really say I knew dozens? ACK! I think I was "speaking evangelistically" as they used to say in seminary. CPCLERGYMAMA, I am in AWE! Absolute awe that you said, "It's better to have a calling." Wow!

  10. I find more BBs are women than men... especially when they find out I am in seminary.And it is the reason we decided to stop attending Church B and went to Church C -- because these well-meaning women were teaching sniveling claptrap to my beautiful, God-gifted daughters!!! (You can say snide remarks to ME about seminary, but do not mess with my girls!!!)

    I fall into the argue trap too much. And I need to apply some of these wonderful answers you have all given me...


  11. love Maria's retort :)

    and cpclergymama - that's great too :) It's definitely better to have a calling :)

    and willsmama I'm so glad you have a new nickname for MIL

    somehow female BB's are the worst. Maybe it's just that I expect more from women ... I dunno.

    and Helen "But I'm always pleased to see the leadership continuing to listen." ... I wish :(

    Happy Midsummer everyone. Tonight is the night of the midnight sun. Celebrate with the Nordic Countries - and HAVE FUN!!!! last one out, no need to switch off the light tonight. hahahaha

  12. I like the two examples. And not engaging is the best way to end it..even if for only the moment.

    The fear part - I am not afraid of God, but Biblical 'fear' is awe, wonder, total amazement..and the like. I am full of awe for this loving Being..I call God, Creator, Mother & Father of all, Spirit.

    I think that Biblical Bullies are already afraid. Of what? Things like not being In the group..belonging;'ll note that people into punishing are usually Bible thumpers, or bullies.

    But love does not use afraid-fear to get her point across. I believe God is a who loves and will not bring us in by the use of fear...we have done that to ourselves and to others.

    They seem scared to not to follow what-they-have-been-told...if they question they are usually told that their faith is weak.

    Owning what you believe is so important, but if you've been 'bullied', or not allowed to think, that fosters fear...not love.

    When people put others down it's to build themselves up, needing to prove they're on top. However, it does not last long, this feeling of one-upmanship, so it has to be done over and over. Hence showing they are not very comfortable within themselves.

    But, tell them that and..well good luck. Unless they are away from the source of this 'teaching' they can't learn. Fear of God is not afraid-fear, but the opposite.

    "There is no fear (afraid-fear) in love, for fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18) tells me more about God than most folks wish to know. Making people afraid gives them power...hence bullies. They may be being bullied, that's how you learn it. They would have to be very strong to stand up to folks, or even leave that group...whatever the group, or even a family.

    Some children I taught had to ask permission fro everything they did. I mean with a toy, put the toy away, move to another toy, use the paint, go to the washroom, etc. Those children were afraid! It was hard teaching them it was okay 'to breathe here' and not to be afraid of their own thoughts. It had to be done so very gently something they did not understand...scary eh? Eventually, they learned there was a place they could who they were..children, loved children. They found learning much easier for they were in a safe place.

    Bib bullies are like most other ones they neeeeed love in the worst way... love frees us, it does not bind. That's what Jesus tried to teach..with his life.

    Also Micah 6:8 where we are told what God requires would be a good Old Testament answer. It covers the miriad of fear mongering with those few phrases.

    God must tremble when the Bible, humans wrote, and claimed it to be Holy, which does contain the truth, for which you need to look closely to find, but the essence is Light.

    God will never be contained by human language. How does one describe the indescribable?

    We have tried to bind God within our thinking and words, but thankfully, we cannot, for we are limited and God is not bound by our limited thinking, or words.

    In the end, we are responsible for us...our thoughts, actions and words meaning our own life.

    Blessings to all who deal with Biblical bullies...and any other sort of bully.

  13. *sigh*

    All of this is so good. I love rev maria's response, that's fabulous.

    I'be been experiencing the other side of this recently, the "orthodoxy is always wrong" bullying. I'm neither Bishop Spong nor Jerry Falwell, and I've noticed how rigid both sides can be.

  14. Yeah, both sides tend to get a little dogmatic. I believe when we speak from dogma and not love, we are in error.

    My favorite BB was a lady I called "Mrs. King James Version." Our first conversation was in chairs at karate when she noticed I was reading a NIV Bible. She started with, "You know that's not a REAL Bible."

    My witty rejoinder would have been "Really? You read Hebrew and Greek?" but instead I just said, "Really?" (and paused.)

    She went on to tell me how her pastor told her that the only REAL Bible was the KJV. "Uh huh? Really?"

    "Yes, Jesus spoke KJV."

    O-o-o-o-kay. "I really think that the KJV is a translation from the original languages. Why don't you look in the front piece of your Bible?"

    Later -- "Yes, my pastor said it's a translation, but it's the only one God approves of."

    Really. Can you give me Chapter and Verse?

    I get tired of it around here. I live in KJV territory.

  15. Jesus spoke KJV?


    Poor RM--I guess I am a relative "conservative" among the RevGals, but wowzer...I would not do well in KJV land.

  16. I, like Deb, have found that many Biblical Bullies are woman. My wise mother believes that these "ladies" are tough on female pastors (esp. with the 'women should not teach/preach in public' line) because they had to put aside some calling/vocation/ministry because of their gender. It is much more comfortable to think of oneself as faithful to God's (difficult/patriarchal) command than to contemplate the possibility that one didn't heed God's call to do something. Or are they angry that "God has changed the rules" about what women can and can't do? Revgals, I'm not really sure--but might certainly explain some of the animosity I've felt from older women of faith.

  17. My dh came across a BB when he was working on his undergraduate degree. My dh is Chinese, and this BB came up to him with every intention of converting him to Christianity. My dh ended up telling the BB that he was a Christian and had been attending a baptist church for ten years.

    I don't know what the BB did after that.

  18. my Biblical bully threatened to kill me - however, once he got back on his meds, he's a pussycat. A pussycat who doesn't get invited to the manse, but a pussycat, nonetheless.

    A sense of humor is required equipment.

  19. what mamas said

    I think women are often more inclined to be BB towards women in ministry precisely because it was too hard for them to break through and respond to their call own call of God.

    Others on the other hand are so supportive. I met a wonderful lady called Mary W. in Australia

    She told me she was not ready to die until women were recognised as bishops in the Anglican church. The doors were closed to her all her life - but she continued in prayer and to support those who somehow managed to break through the glass ceiling in church.

    Apostle to the Apostles indeed and we praise God for her and people like her. Two women of prayer (unmarried, one blind) were the impetus behind the Hebredian (Scotland) revial when the evangelist said he didnt' hear from God the way they did - they told him he wasn't as close to God .. and they were right.

    I love that feisty nature. Not BB but women faithful to their calling in their time. If they lived today they would be the Billy Grahams of that I have no doubt!

    That said it must be so hard (and so easy to become bitter ) to know there was a calling on your life and you couldn't break through. We need to pray for people (men and women) for whom that is true. That they wouldn't become bitter because of their disappointment.

    To be honest it could easily happen to me - so pray for me too while you are at it. Tx

  20. Heck, I used to BE a BB - so I will say with some authority that it is because we were taught (or we caught) that true Christianity was all about being RIGHT. And therefore, one always has to stand up for interpretations/doctrine/whatever that is right, and point out when other are wrong (some weird sense of evangelism!). That's why they relish argument - it's on their turf - and won't talk about experience or "heart." But some wise commenter was right that it is all about fear: the fear of being wrong, which is somehow like death. I was weaned from this kicking and screaming, so I don't expect anyone else to give it up quietly and calmly. Jesus didn't break a bruised reed, so blessings on all who turn away such wrath with a calm, firm and gentle word.

  21. I had a B.B. read scripture at a wedding I officiated in... she read the "SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS!" scripture (not the scripture that had been agreed upon, and not in its full context...)

    So I changed my wedding homily to talk about submitting to one another and the husband's (biblical) duty to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

    That shut up that B.B.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.