Lloyd Rediger, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, serves as a consultant and trainer in spiritual leadership and pastoral ministry. He has served congregations in Illinois and Minnesota as a pastor, and is active as an editor or editorial consultant for the Journal of Pastoral Care, the American Journal of Mental Health and Spirituality, and the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health. He is the founder and former director of the Office of Pastoral Services for the Wisconsin Conference of Churches, an ecumenical pastor counseling service for clergy and their families across 34 denominations. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from the University of Minnesota, a Bachelor of Divinity degree in ethics from United Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Religion degree in pastoral counseling from Chicago Theological Seminary.1
Dr. Rediger’s central thesis is that naïve Christian perceptions and expectations vis-à-vis church conflict leave pastors, their families, and congregations unnecessarily vulnerable to the deleterious effects of destructive church conflict—a consequence that can be avoided or ameliorated. Through categorization, definition, and selected case studies, Rediger gives pastors and congregations an introductory toolbox to identify possible roots of conflict, the importance of pastoral support systems, and the characteristics of healthy congregations.
Alarmingly, Rediger observes some of the abuse pastors and their families experience are dismissed as normal attrition, ordinary movement between churches, or perceived as an incompetent pastor. He also cautions the upward trending incivility and abuse directed toward pastors is tantamount to “killing the prophets . . . a forerunner to tribal and national disaster. The record of human history shows that the tribe that kills its shaman loses its soul.”2 A congregation that abuses its pastor colludes in its own demise.
THE CLERGY KILLER PHENOMENON
Rediger rejects terms that soften the import of forced pastoral termination: “Words such as ‘disagreement,’ ‘clash,’ or ‘conflict’ do not deliver the wakeup call the church needs. ‘Clergy killers’ tells it like it is, for killing is the agenda, and pastors are the target.”3 However, this is no mere emotional ploy on Rediger’s part to ramp-up the response of the reader. Rediger notes, in the United States, a pastor is force terminated every six minutes, and “at least one-fourth have been forced out of one or more congregations.”4 While pastors are the predominant target of clergy killers, frequently their congregational supporters become targets as well. Where pastors were once a life insurer’s dream, pastoral stress, and the concomitant diseases stress often induces, has moved pastors to the actuarial equivalent of the general population.5
The dynamic central to successful clergy killing, so Rediger, is a contemporary anti-supernaturalism that expresses itself in an unwillingness to “believe in, identify, and do battle with evil.”6 An increasing acceptance of and appeal to popular psychology serves to relegate sin and evil as “mental disorders and human failures.”7 Consequently, there is little appetite among congregations to confront clergy killers, deeming it a venue more appropriate for mental health specialists outside the province of the church. Contributing to congregational reluctance to confront evil is misapplication of Jesus’ admonition “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” a referent to the attempted stoning of a woman accused of adultery.8
Rediger is intentional in the term clergy killer. He cautions against so labeling normal dissenters or “attitude-challenged” congregants.9 Rather, clergy killers are few but intentional, and, according to Rediger, abnormally so. He identifies six characteristics of the clergy killer phenomenon. First, clergy killers are intentional. They seek to intentionally inflict pain and cause damage to their targets. Second, clergy killers are determined. Their agenda is always the most important. Third, clergy killers are deceitful, willing to “manipulate, camouflage, misrepresent, and accuse others of their own tactics. Their statements and negotiations are not trustworthy.”10 Fourth, clergy killers are evil. They do not yield to normal ministrations of love and patience, nor do they “honor human decency.”11
The final two characteristics of the clergy killer phenomenon are reflections of congregations rather than characteristics of the clergy killer. Fifth, the contemporary anti-supernaturalism vis-à-vis evil leaves the church in a state of denial, and that denial leads to inaction and ultimately collusion with the clergy killer. Sixth, the spiritual gift discernment is required of “an enlightened person who sees and understands evil, and allows himself or herself to be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and to become an agent of exorcism”12 Since clergy killers can disguise themselves as pious church members who are working for the “good of the church,” gifted discernment is paramount.
Rediger recognizes that while the clergy killer is the most prevalent phenomenon, there are also killer clergy, which he identifies as belonging to two distinct categories. The larger of the two categories is that of the harmful clergy.
Harmful clergy are those who are misfits to the congregations they serve. They may be professionally incompetent, spiritually mismatched, or simply immature. Nonetheless, they are toxic to the congregation they serve in that they cause more harm than good in their ministerial attempts.
Evil clergy, Rediger notes, “are a rarity.”13 Evil clergy, like their clergy killer counterparts, are intentionally deceitful, with a destructive agenda that interferes with the health and life of a church.
CONFLICT IN THE CHURCH
Rediger is also intentional in pointing out that conflict can be healthy, and that conflict in the church is normal. Conflict serves to keep the church honest, to keep lines of communication open, and to favor unity over homogeneity.14 He suggests there are three types of conflict: Normal, abnormal, and spiritual.
Normal conflict, so Rediger, is routine disagreement as people come together to solve problems. Also included in the normal conflict category are those congregants who are frustrated due to boredom, under-recognition, or those who sense a loss of influence due to a church’s changing demographic. The defining characteristic of normal conflict is that it responds positively to recognized management strategies, it is rational, and exhibits “a realistic awareness of consequences and shared needs.”15</15>
Abnormal conflict, as defined by Rediger, occurs when “at least one of the participants in the conflict suffers from a major mental or personality disorder.” The defining characteristic is that responses to recognized management strategies are abnormal or inappropriate.16
Spiritual conflict is unique in that “the instigators have an intentionally unhealthy agenda” as they specifically target spiritual leaders.17 Bereft in its desire and the absence of tools to recognize evil, congregations and their spiritual leaders are highly vulnerable to the oft-disguised attacks of clergy killers. Where normal conflict responds well to recognized management strategies, spiritual conflict requires surrounding or expelling the perpetrator from the congregation. Surrounding, in Rediger’s understanding, seems to suggest an intervention model that analyzes the crisis and contravening strategies and empowers a team to guide the perpetrator into “disciplined recovery insistently.” The intent is to impose a therapeutic regimen to end the destructive behavior.18 Rediger bases his structure in Scripture: Naming the demon, commanding the demon to leave, and replacing “the demon with a positive message and mission.”19
Rediger notes pastoral roles are all encompassing in that it is the only “profession” where one’s professionalism, personal and familial identity, and religious faith are bound into a singular identity. Where other professionals may retreat to their faith when undergoing stress, pastors do not have that line of retreat. Concomitant with that role, family members are expected to participate in the pastoral role, in varying degrees.20 Thus, when a clergy killer begins an attack, the family suffers more severely from collateral damage since there is little separation of the roles as pastor, husband, and father. Where other professions work “out there,” and have a “home-life here,” thus providing a degree of separation, pastors and their families are intimately intertwined in the pastoral role.
Rediger offers more than merely the means by which clergy killers may be identified. He also suggests how clergy can proactively ameliorate the onslaughts of conflict. One of the critiques that Rediger voices about pastors is that they rarely have adequate support systems. Of these, the most common is that pastors often have no pastor. The consequence is that they have no one from whom to receive encouragement or admonishment. Pastoral support also includes the pastor sitting under others who provide solid preaching and teaching, for their own spiritual health, as well as for the spiritual health of their ministry. Enlisting a mentor, perhaps a colleague, peer, or a trusted congregant, can offer vital support and guard against “lonerism.”21 Spiritual fitness is the essential component of a pastor’s fitness, and there is no spiritual fitness without “a consistent practice of the presence of God.”22
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS
The contemporary mantra of the church seems to be “Jesus is love,” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Together, they emasculate the church by dismissing evil as a nonexistent, and refusing to acknowledge that discipline is necessary to health. Rediger’s allusions to increasing incivility are simply manifestations of the church’s and pastors’ reduced influence as shapers of expectation.
One of the important aspects of Rediger’s treatise is that conflict is normal. It is the mechanism by which we are restrained, sharpened and taught. However, it is also important to differentiate between abnormal and spiritual conflict, where intent is the definitive characteristic. Abnormal conflict has no agenda; it is simply a response that is beyond rational expectation. Spiritual conflict, on the other hand, while also beyond rational expectation, has ignominious and destructive intent, and is the purview of the clergy killer, and, sometimes, killer clergy.
Rediger’s approach is even-handed. His explication that damage from clergy killers frequently extends beyond that of solely the pastor is a note that bears repeating. From pastors, it requires extra diligence to help insulate their families from potential destructive conflict. One mechanism may be to keep their families from attending church when it is in the throes of destructive conflict.
1 G. Lloyd Rediger, “G. Lloyd Rediger: Author, Conference Speaker, Preacher, Consultant/trainer” (G. Lloyd Rediger), accessed March 18, 2015, http://home.comcast.net/~glrediger/.
2G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 1-2.
8John 8:7 NAU. Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural references are from the New American Standard, Updated edition.
9Rediger, Clergy Killers, 8.
19Ibid., 68. Rediger grounds and derives his structure from Mark 5:1-20.