The Narcissistic Church

by Debra

It's been months but I'm doing a lot better. Being 'set apart' from the UPC culture has given me a clearer perspective on why I was in so much pain.

Something comes into my spirit about the concept of the 'narcissistic church' and I believe the UPC culture demonstrates some of these qualities.

I remember observing how much attention was focused on being Apostolic - this identity 'demanded' conformity, worship and allegiance. It was preached on often, eliciting loud demonstrations of fervent approval similar to fans at a football game. I eventually began to call it 'Pentecostal cheer leading' and it rankled my spirit.

I'm not an expert on narcissism but the narcissist is someone who demands that relationships be centered on exalting and protecting the narcissist at the expense of true relationship. It seemed like so much of my experience centered on being Apostolic vs. being a follower of Jesus Christ.

The narcissistic church has a rigid set of rules for fitting in. But they invoke cognitive dissonance by not publicly acknowledging this or giving newcomers a different message. Unconditional love is preached but no one really feels totally accepted because there is an unspoken subculture in existence. To step outside these boundaries is to risk losing one's identity as a saved, obedient member of the flock. And because no other church is really acknowledged to be equal, this puts the errant member at risk for excommunication and spiritual death, or designation as a member of the 'backslider' caste (another is new saints who 'bless their hearts just don't have a full revelation of Truth yet-that is they are babies and just don't know better--Yet).

Coming from a shame-based family of origin and possibly some narcissism in my family of origin, I was keenly aware of being in a different culture that demanded obedience in order for acceptance to be granted. I fought it, the cognitive dissonance, the desire to be accepted 'as is' but I couldn't handle the invisible barriers I sensed. I felt anointed to conform--even if for a season--and felt peace...but I was always keenly aware of those invisible barriers. Deep down I felt an odd mix of superiority and shame.

The Pentecostal cheer leading continued unabated, yet I never felt as if I was in an environment where I could authentically share what was going on with me. Focusing on God, it was called. People who were emotionally needy were spiritual babies and part of being on the 'inside' was learning to be an adult. So here I am with all this stuff inside watching people worship and jump up and down because 'we got truth' i.e. we really emphasize a few scriptures that no other church does and that makes us inherently special, anointed and chosen.

Narcissists will do anything to protect their false self and the narcissistic church is no different. You do not question doctrine. Period. It cannot be wrong because it justifies the narcissistic churches sense of being special, superior and above everyone else. Narcissists will destroy and tear down anyone who questions them and they may employ other individuals to act in their defense. Ditto with the narcissistic church.

Narcissists will 'gaslight' their victims. That is, they will treat them in such a way that the narcissist comes off looking sane and the victim 'crazy'. But the narcissistic pathology is the source of the crazy-making. In the church these individuals may be referred to as 'backslid' or maybe they 'went charismatic' i.e. they are spiritually weak and swayed by the world, unlike the true, strong and faithful. Because nothing could be possibly wrong when you 'have truth'.

Narcissists will hook their victims by showering them with positive attention. Once attached, they will selectively deny their approval, affection and love if the target questions them or misbehaves. You cannot displease the narcissistic church because they become your entire identity and existence. Your identity is so intimately tied with it and your distrust of outsiders so great that you become psychologically bound to those unspoken rules. To violate them is to risk social, emotional and spiritual death. So you gradually 'get' that even though your pants and makeup are tolerated, you don't get 'full acceptance' unless you conform. Or remain in a lower 'caste' for the duration of you existence there.

In conclusion, I need to say that I am grateful for the spiritual foundation I gained in the UPC. It was a necessary season of my life. But the 'church culture' of the organization never felt quite right and this insight about narcissism helped set me free. That is, I am free from the burden of worshiping a church, masking my pain to maintain a 'witness' to make the church look good and 'sell' people on salvation, and participating in a collective mindset that focuses attention away from God and creates emotional and spiritual dysfunction and pain. Through the Grace of God I am free!


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Page added January 22, 2015

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