Narcissistic Pastors, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Bullies

Spiritual Abuse: Pastors as Psychopaths?

Can you think of any profession where one can obtain a CEO-like position having no formal training, no formal credentials, or no former experience?   In the secular world, CEOs usually need to have some experience and qualifications behind them.   Frequently, a CEO will have many years of experience in the company and move up the ladder before attaining his/her spot as top dog.   We can see this type of progression in churches, too, where men start out as regular church attenders, move on to become a deacon, then elder, etc.     This progression makes sense –  both in the church and secular situation – these folks have proven themselves in character and skill level.


I can’t imagine a company with over 100 employees bringing in a new head honcho with no prior experience or history, yet for some reason, churches have been known to do this.  My former church was one of them.  I believe this is a recipe for disaster and what we experienced was definitely a disaster (and apparently an ongoing one).

We know one common trait of spiritual abusers is their desire to be in control.  This desire can consume them.  Some of these dangerous controlling pastors want to control what their people say, what they do, even to the fine details of who they are friends with on Facebook.  This is messed up and wrong.  It is certainly not what God had in His job description for shepherding His sheep.

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.  2 Peter 2:18-19

A long-time reader, Buff, sent me a link to this article a while back and I found it buried (thank you, Buff!):

Professions that attract the most psychopaths

Below are quoted portions of the article which could easily pertain to pastors.  It is fascinating:

While most people think of psychopaths as serial killers and rapists – because most serial killers ARE psychopaths – not all psychopaths are murderous.

In the workplace, psychopaths are characterised by their attempts to try to undermine and “mentally destroy” their co-workers to feed their need for a sense of power and domination over other human beings.

“They don’t suffer any guilt or remorse, or in fact they enjoy the suffering of other people,” Dr John Clarke told a conference in Tasmania.

The book said psychopaths are drawn to and thrive in roles where people need the ability to make “objective, clinical decisions divorced from feelings”, the Business Insider reported.

Top jobs for psychopaths:

1. CEO
2. Lawyer
3. Media (TV/radio)
4. Salesperson
5. Surgeon
6. Journalist
7. Police officer
8. Clergyperson
9. Chef
10. Civil servant

On the other hand, psychopaths are likely to steer clear of professions that require empathy, human interaction and feelings.

Least likely professions for psychopaths:

1. Care aide
2. Nurse
3. Therapist
4. Craftsperson
5. Beautician/Stylist
6. Charity worker
7. Teacher
8. Creative artist
9. Doctor
10. Accountant

I do not believe the majority of pastors would fit this category, but it is important to consider that the pastorate is a job that psychopaths would naturally desire because of how much control they can wield over unsuspecting congregants.


photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc

43 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse: Pastors as Psychopaths?”

  1. “On the other hand, psychopaths are likely to steer clear of professions that require empathy, human interaction and feelings.”

    Hmmm. So being in the clergy requires no empathy, human interaction and feelings. I know this is reality in many churches, but why?


  2. Here is an excerpt from the book that this article is based on,

    Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath. As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.

    I may be wrong but this isn’t proven science or psychology. The people that this guy interviewed were the criminally insane and con artists and then wants to extrapolate to the general population that we all are functional psycopaths. Julie Anne, your better than this. I agree that there are bad people who become pastors and there needs to be more training and oversight, but this is way out of bounds. This kind of over reach to make a point does nothing to further the cause of spiritual abuse. I read your blog often and this is the first time to comment. I believe that bad pastors need to be called out and held accountable, but please stay away from this kind of stuff.


  3. @stevescottpew, have you ever seen The Book of Eli? The bad guy in the movie knew that he would have POWER if he had the Word of God. In addition, that power sometimes gives into pastor worship, as many see the pastor as the only one who knows the Word of God. Unwittingly, that Power is given to that pastor, and that pastor puts on a mask of empathy, a mask of human interaction, and a mask of feelings, saying, “I feel your pain”, when he really doesn’t. According to the apostle Paul, Pastors should be uplifting the church congregation, and not tearing them down. It is called Edifying. I worked with someone years ago who did not want to give up his knowledge through the training of others. He wanted all the knowledge to himself, so that people would seek him out. He wanted to be the go-to guy for everything. He wanted to feel important. He didn’t want anyone to know what he knew. If they did, he wouldn’t have as much power over others.


  4. @Steve, there are many more studies on the word “psychopath” other than the ONE and only that your comment is based on. Dutton isn’t the only one who has studied this. The word psychopath is

    The following is a quote from that web site:

    “For those of you who are seeking understanding of psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley’s book The Mask of Sanity, the absolutely essential study of the psychopath who is not necessarily of the criminal type. This book is no longer available….

    “Likeable,” “Charming,” “Intelligent,” “Alert,” “Impressive,” “Confidence-inspiring,” and “A great success with the ladies”: These are the sorts of descriptions repeatedly used by Cleckley in his famous case-studies of psychopaths. They are also, of course, “irresponsible,” “self-destructive,” and the like. These descriptions highlight the great frustrations and puzzles that surround the study of psychopathy.”

    Lastly, the word is also associated with the word, narcissist. A topic already covered long ago.

    So, Steve, don’t be so quick to disregard this topic in regards to the clergy.

    You cannot minimize the as nothing more than “bad people who become pastors”, Steve.


  5. @chapmaned24…I am not trying to minimize spiritual abuse or those who perpetrate it. I was trying to make the point that the list she posted came from another source that seemed to be spurious. I have no issue with anyone posting various studies about psycopathy or narcissim, it is valid to talk about these issues, but when you link to an article that quotes from a book where the main research subjects are criminally insane, I don’t think it correlates.


  6. @Steve,
    You are minimizing the word psychopath as it pertains to the clergy by replacing it with “bad people who become pastors”. Describe those bad people, please. Are they psychopaths? How do you define it?


  7. Hey Steve – thanks for the comment. I don’t have a problem providing a link for my readers to read. We’ve talked quite a bit about pastors who are narcissistic. I don’t agree that it is out of bounds. It’s okay if you don’t agree with this, I just found it interesting. My philosophy: take what works and chuck the rest. Hmm, did I just type chuck?


  8. First, let me say that I understand that psychopaths cannot help that they are psychopaths. This is not so say that they are not responsible for their actions, but they do not have the feelings of guilt and empathy that plague most of us when we do something morally challenging. To borrow a cliche, it is just how God made them.

    Given that 1-4% of us is a psychopath, it does seem obvious that some psychopaths will become clergy, but even with possible higher rates in clergy, most clergy or even most abusive clergy will not likely to be psychopaths.

    I am divided over whether or not a psychopath would necessarily be a bad pastor. The disorder might certainly handicap someone in counseling. Still, one could still be an effective administrator, exegete, and parson in weddings. The question is would they be honest instead of overtly manipulative?


  9. I guess the question would be would God want them to be shepherding His flock? I suppose a pastor could get away with not expressing feelings or empathy, but the part about psychopaths not liking human interactions is not working for me at all. Pastors must interact with others. It’s a necessary part of the job. I don’t believe a psychopath belongs in the pastorate. Nope – I just do not.


  10. Moses, I think I see where you are going with this. I was speaking about this disorder with regard to the pastorate, not with Christianity in general.


  11. I am in the midst of multitasking on projects and took a break to drop in here. I cannot follow up on this thought at the moment, but feel a key idea to contribute is this, for now: There is a growing consciousness about the issue of whether CEOs and other leaders who lack empathy and conscience are ultimately destructive to a humane work environment, despite their ability to be effective. As I understand, this comes up with critiques of whether Steve Jobs, for instance, was a force for good or bad.

    While it is crucial to bring up the question of mental illness, genetic predispositions, etc., for those stricken with this level of sociopathology, the discussion would profit from research posts that explore how all of this might be consistent or inconsistent with biblical requirements of public leaders in how they interact with and minister to people. I think comment-bite interactions can help outline the issues, but could be detrimental to trying to get to the depth needed for getting into the substance of this complex problem.

    There is emerging professional-level literature (i.e., business, leadership, and psychology) on these questions. You might find this particular book of interest: *Destructive Leaders and Dysfunctional Organizations: A Therapeutic Approach* by Alan Goldman (Cambridge University Press, 2010) – a professional book that deals with a broad range of personality disorders (narcissism, obsessive compulsive, borderline, antisocial, histrionic) and how each affect peers and subordinates in organizational/business settings.

    For a popular-level version addressing a similar list of personality disorders, consider: *Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry* by Albert Bernstein (revised and expanded second edition, 2012).

    Okay, sorry, but gotta get back to project …


  12. The lack of true empathy, understanding of pain/distress in the middle of a crisis, other than using empty words, was or should have been my wake up call to the psychopathic behaviour traits this particular pastor displayed.

    He seemed not to be affected by major traumatic life events but got very angry over seemingly insignificant slights or problems. Another major red flag is the continual inconsistency, just as you get used to doing things one way or start to question why something is done, everything changes, purposely of course, to keep you unbalanced and emotionally dependent on him and his control.

    I think pastors and all clergy who counsel vulnerable people on their own should be forced to undergo twice yearly psychological assessments for their own mental health, keep updated accountability records of all the people they counsel on an ongoing basis and also have regular training by a professional body which is relevant to the problems they face in counsel as just a start of showing us they are willing to be transparent and accountable to the laws and rules which govern every other profession that deal with intimate personal problems and if they refuse should have their access to vulnerable people and situations denied.

    The main attraction for the wrong type of pastor is the total lack of true accountability and the ease with which they can manipulate, other than be accountable to as many others have mentioned..”the inner circle” of ruling elders and complicated structures they create to protect themselves in the face of ugly truths being exposed.


  13. Thank you, Q-C – Adding to your thoughts, we have the problem that many pastors believe that all psychology is bad/evil and would never submit to any sort of testing.

    The issue of accountability is huge. I suppose a psychopath would not join a church group where there is real accountability because of fear of exposure. The interesting dilemma is that psychopaths can function in a group and manipulate the hierarchal structure so they defend/protect the pastor and would never offer real accountability to him.


  14. Hi Julie Anne,

    A pastor will sometimes say all the right things about psychology but crucially remain uncommitted to anything concrete or any viewpoint which may expose his true feeling on the subject.

    Never forget that the psychopath pastor is likely to be well versed in the language of trauma and knows that his dangerous decisions, demands, rules and control if identified early enough by the victim, are directly against all the tried and tested methods of successful recovery. (for most victims of abuse)

    He will easily lie and willfully confuse, make you hold guilt for daring to ask any questions which may expose his behaviour or authority, then ever so expertly deceive you that he will ”concede to your concerns” as he wants you to invest your trust in him but only to lull you into a deeper false sense of security regarding his breaking of boundaries left right and centre to satisfy his needs.

    It is a skill to know how to ask the correct questions without putting yourself at risk with these men, listen very carefully to everything he says, they often slip up on little things that make you feel ”that was weird” but often you do not connect the odd stuff at the beginning because of the charming and compassionate persona. (all fake)

    With regard to the ruling elders, it is all a type of clique, each having something of use or influence to the other and until everyone, regardless of position is included in decision making, then vulnerable remain in so much danger.


  15. I’m glad you brought this subject up. I believe there should be some sort of training or licensure for pastors. But, unfortunately it is something that would be impossible to regulate. I was exposed to a self-titled pastor who had no training. I was exposed to her church at a very vulnerable time in my life and got pulled into believing I was someone she was “going down” a few levels to associate with me and help me. Long story short, as I began to improve and gain some strength after this vulnerable time, it was almost as if she wanted me to STAY in a “lower” or vulnerable position?! I was fortunate to be able to leave that church and find a little bit of support outside of it. But, many others weren’t…they were really dependent upon her and she LOVED that control! I have always thought it was irresponsible for her to KEEP people stuck.
    All that being said, with proper training and accountability, I believe the members would’ve been able to find more strength in God and be encouraged to grow instead of staying in a “lower position”.
    One of my counselor friends told me that sometimes people have disorders(maybe along the line of narcissism) in which they thrive on the idea of themselves being a “hero” to others, but they can’t stand it when someone no longer NEEDS them.


  16. Isn’t the need to be needed a term used with co-dependency as well?

    Co-dependency almost seems to be the flip side to narcissism. Co-dependency being one way (vulnerable way) to gain the wanted attention and narcissism (the strong person’s way) to gain adoration. Both people types are self focused (in different ways) and both tend to suck the life out of other people.

    Just a random thought going through my brain. As I was reading through the comments.


  17. Narcissism is probably the result of a weaker person, who has much deeper insecurities and poor self esteem to need to project such a controlling self inflated persona over others, surely someone who is healthy and happy with themselves does not behave like this, controlling behaviour is fear based, co-dependency could also result from being abused at an early stage of life, and the pattern of continually finding the bullying forceful controlling person to attach to, could simply be the minds way of bringing you to this behaviour until you consciously decide to resolve the original issue that made you choose (unconsciously) to be attracted to this type of person.
    Fascinating stuff, just not when you are going through it, wood/trees and all…


  18. Something you have to know about psychopaths/sociopaths:


    I know from experience that there is nobody as Concerned as a Sociopath, as Compassionate as a Sociopath, as Loving as a Sociopath, as Truthful as a Sociopath. Until the instant you have outlived your usefulness.

    I believe this is the day-to-day application of “Satan can transform himself to appear as an Angel of Light.”


  19. Co-dependency being one way (vulnerable way) to gain the wanted attention and narcissism (the strong person’s way) to gain adoration. Both people types are self focused (in different ways) and both tend to suck the life out of other people.

    And both reinforce and boost each other synergistically, like the fusion and fission reactions in a thermonuclear bomb’s secondary.


  20. Do you think the author would find many pastors, lawyers, surgeons and civil servants who were not criminals who would ADMIT to being a psychopath and allow him to study them and discuss them in his book?


  21. There was a reason Jesus said he hated the doctrine and deeds of the Nicolaitanes, and for good reason. All churches today are based on that concept. It is notable that Jesus never required that any of his disciples had university degrees, or any training other than what he gave them and they were agreeable to accept and obey even though it would entail much sacrifice, suffering and danger.


  22. Mark Dutton was the pastor of Calvary Community Baptist Church in Northglenn, CO for about a year. In that short, unpleasant time, he called my wife lazy, called me various names, lied about me publicly, used innuendo to turn folks against me, refused to freely let me meet with the deacons and speak freely; he threatened to ‘cast me over to Satan’ unless I publicly apologized for my sins (which amounted to thinking for myself, questioning him) and under the guise of ‘church discipline’, he managed to take a church vote to kick me out of the church – the vote was indecisive, but he verbally said, that looks like a majority without an actual count; all this because I actually questioned him for his practices, and mis-using the Bible. They church finally fired him, but not until after he had convinced the school board to fire me from my teaching job (unrelated to teaching I was told); he claims to be a ‘Fellow’ (whatever that is) with NANC (nouthetic counseling’ which is highly abusive the way he uses it – I warn you of Mark Dutton – he is a liar, and a spiritual abuser who uses his brand of ‘counseling’ along with Bible verses to abuse people. He desires lot’s of money, total control and status. His church was Faith in Lafayette, Indiana – Steve Viars has a similar arrogant, condescending mindset there.
    I have attempted to communicate with Mark asking him to apologize, make things right, but I am utterly ignored.
    As a result, I have learned to stop trusting ‘Christians’, the Christian religious system. The unsaved, seem to be far more caring, less concerned about how well one complies with arbitrary rules, and more ethical.
    Mark Dutton is everything the Scriptures warn against.


  23. Kelly, give up on everything if you will, but please don’t give up on Jesus, His teachings in the Word, and the Holy Spirit to teach and guide you. I did at one point in my life, which was a huge mistake. Just remember that it’s Satan’s job to turn people away from Christ and the Truth. Come back to Jesus and he will heal those deep wounds, just like he did mine. Jesus bless you and grant you grace and peace in him……Scarlett


  24. I am Senior at NYU and have been attending Remnant Presbyterian Church. Our pastor Victor Kim may be a Sociopath. RSD people have been talking about the weird looks they get from him. Some of the girls talk about this look with a spooky grin that he gives. The good thing is that he is gone. Pastor Victor Kim was caught in a 10 year affair. I have been obsessed to find out if he is a Sociopath. The topic of sociopath is very intriguing. Pastors must have love, but sociopaths are incapable of love. Shouldn’t people notice fairly quickly? I didn’t know victor kim, but would like to study his personality. This is such an interesting topic.


  25. Barry: I googled pastor victor kim and read all he has done. That is crazy. Did your pastor victor kim write a biblical theology of worship.


  26. This article describes victor Kim of remnant church. Although he is a sociopath, victor Kim is a great writer and insight. Really like his book, a biblical theology of worship. Very insightful man and great writer. I can forgive him for his 10 year affair. Victo kim, your the man!


  27. FYI…I have recently, inadvertently met Mark Dutton (which is why I’m reading this blog atm) and I’d have to say, sadly but honestly, that he is not and probably has not been of great mental health for a long time. He is currently being looked after. I hope you all have better experiences now, with your churches, religion, and/or spirituality. Sounds like he affected many people over the years.


  28. Its interesting that I’VE left a Mega-Church who the Senior Pastor IS IN FACT a Narcissist/Pathological Liar, it seems like a Fantasy World I met my wife and moved and Married, several of his cronies came to my work place to annoy me, being I do not want anything to do with him. I believe one or more people tried to get me fired, the next job the next person met me there, it seems a never ending please come back etc.. To make a story short, I told one of them that a DOOR WAS CLOSED AND SLID! I’ve completely severed ALL friendships, deleted phone numbers which wasn’t many.

    It hasn’t been a year yet, I’m again working elsewhere (for security reasons I’m NOT DISCUSSING anything, )

    You cannot get a Narcissist in to see a Psychiatrist at all, they will Gaslight everyone, convincing you they are right, and me wrong.


  29. Some of these comments are LIES, and people answering situations without ALL THE FACTS — doing that make them a Biblical FOOL!!


Thanks for participating in the SSB community. Please be sure to leave a name/pseudonym (not "Anonymous"). Thx :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s