Death Threats, Stalking, Assault - Pastoring In Modern America

While I rarely deal with current events, I felt constrained to address this one. That we are appalled by the deaths in Arizona, and the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords is an understatement. I join our nation in mourning the dead and in heartfelt concern for the honorable Congresswoman and the other injured citizens.

It is my understanding that the perpetrator of this crime may be suffering from some unspecified mental illness. That's not surprising. Mental illness is a major health issue in the United States, and most people who serve in any public office know all to well about this sad reality.

The National Institute Of Mental Health says that 1 in every 100 adults in the U.S. suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). This disorder is defined as: “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. People with antisocial personality disorder may disregard social norms and laws, repeatedly lie, place others at risk for their own benefit, and demonstrate a profound lack of remorse.”

1 in 100 is not a low number, especially considering the damage that can be done. That's 50 people suffering from APD in every 5,000. Add other disorders, like borderline personality disorder, and the numbers rise to 1 in 25. Some people suffering from these disorders are attracted to religion and politics for various reasons, and often preacher, teacher, and politician become the object of their sometimes homicidal obsessions. This has become all too common in the U.S. and other countries. Some countries have a much higher rate of APD.

I know this is ugly, but my own experience bears this out, and this is the first time I have written about it. I have been physically assaulted twice on church property (thankfully not my current church). In both cases the perpetrators were removed by police. A girl who lived in our home during her high-school years was brutally murdered by a sociopath (now in prison for life). I have been threatened with death numerous times. While serving as a pastor in another state I, and my wife and daughter, were stalked by a “church member” who is now serving 140 years in prison for horrible violence. There are times that I have been under police protection, and have even been asked, in the past, to not attend certain public functions (including preaching) because of security issues. And there's more, but I'll not go into it.

Granted... I'm not a normal pastor. I have served as a senior police chaplain, an elected official, a trained crisis intervention specialist, and I'm a trained mediator who specializes in church conflict. For twenty years I deliberately pastored troubled churches. So it is understandable that I would come into contact with sociopaths... and I have. (Now you may understand why I so enjoy our little peaceful church on the gulf coast)

My intent for disclosing all of this is to raise the awareness of what public officials, including pastors, face these days. This is why I am so dismayed that the discussion surrounding this most recent crime has turned into political wrangling instead of addressing a real root issue: APD. I believe there is an even larger spiritual issue behind all of this.

I have a whole shelf in my library full of books published in the past 20 years addressing the problems caused by the rise of ADP in churches. There are now teams of specialists who go into churches to help the churches survive amazing assaults upon the peace of the congregation. Generally there are a few people found to be driving the conflict who are what some of my Christian colleagues in conflict resolution call “pathological antagonists”. But this is not just in churches, since such a high percentage of these folks reside in our country it is a problem in every area of life from business to education.

Average Americans must be made aware of this epidemic. We must, as a people, begin to address this issue or the carnage will continue without much effort to understand it and take action to resist it.

This is a little longer than I intended, but its purpose has been to raise awareness. I am glad to discuss potential solutions in future posts if there is enough interest.

1 comment:

  1. Discuss away!! For starters...
    - How to recognize a problem rooted in APD?
    - How to intervene or convince the individual to seek the specialized help that is needed? My experience has been that they remain quite irrational about recognizing their problem and continue to do harm to others.
    - How to restrict his/her access to weapons?
    - Were there not enough signs in the AZ case, for example (as in many others), to have warranted intervention long before the catastrophic event took place?
    Thanks for focusing on a neglected but very important issue!



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