The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 2

Opening the Eyes: The Cycle of Abuse

Mike Phillips


Julia Dahl, MD

One of American literature’s most enduring characters is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, the lead character in his novel “The Scarlet Letter”. In this book, Hester has an affair with the parish minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. She becomes pregnant with his child and bears a daughter, Pearl. Because she is a widow, the people of this Puritan community quickly surmise she has had an adulterous affair with someone in the town. They cannot convince Hester to name her accomplice, so, her church and community decide to shame her. Her sentence? She must wear a scarlet letter “A” (for Adultery) embroidered on all her clothes.

She wears this emblem designed to shame her for the rest of her life, choosing to place the needs of the community and her abuser above her own and protect the identity of her abuser.  Hester allows her abuser to continue his life without shame since she will not reveal the father, Rev. Dimmesdale. I have read this book several times, and the final time I came to this conclusion:

“Hester has been duped”.

Arthur, through his careful selection of Hester (for she was kind and good) and grooming of her for his abuse, did all he could to ensure Hester knew how important it was she keep her mouth shut. Arthur took advantage of her position as one of the only single women in the parish, and a recent grieving widow, and had his way with her. Then after, he continued to abuse her by allowing her to be shunned and ridiculed for decades, while going on in his position of prestige, presenting himself as a beacon of righteousness in the Puritan community.

Today, we would demand he face a court of law. He controlled Hester and groomed her for sex from beginning to end.

He is an example for what many clergy have done throughout the history of the Church.

In the first article in this series, it was noted:

Pastors can be roughly grouped in three categories:

  • Divinely called and faithful servants of God.
  • Divinely called servants, presently tempted, and struggling with personal sin. They deal with their own weaknesses but do not use others for their gratification.
  • Intentional usurpers of the pulpit and the congregation for the purposes of their own enjoyment and control.

One pastor suggested that the first and second categories be combined since all non-predatory pastors are more accurately described as Category 2.  We have no problem with that assessment. But Category 3 remains an accurate description of the very type of pastor exemplified by Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale:  A man who sought the pulpit with the intention to serve himself and not God.

In their landmark study in 2008, through surveys of committed church-goers, Chaves and Garland concluded that in America, 3.1% of all churchgoers had entered into a sexual relationship with their clergy. If this is accurate, then this means 1.78 million adults have had sexual relations with the pastor who oversees their spiritual care (Chaves and Garland, 2008).

Chaves and Garland report that their estimated figure is probably low. Self-reporting sexual behavior usually tends conservative, underestimating the frequency of the event, especially when a person has been under the influence of a Narcissist or Sociopath.

As we noted in the first article, a narcissist is someone who cares only for themselves and views other people as objects designed for their control and pleasure. The Narcissist loves attention and the spotlight. They hate others having the spotlight. They love to be adored and needed. To achieve this goal of being adored, they will groom people to meet their needs. Some of these needs are sexual.

To get other people to serve their needs, Narcissists are skilled at both manipulating others and managing other people’s impressions.

Narcissists are experts at hiding their true intentions from people they contact. For instance, you may watch your pastor speak to people after a church service and say to yourself “My pastor is very attentive to people when they speak to him.  He listens carefully and makes people feel heard.”

It would seem almost offensive to wonder: Why is my pastor so attentive?  What is his motivation?   Being attentive is part of his job description.

Narcissists are indeed attentive to those around them.  In normal interactions, attention indicates interest and care.  For narcissists, attention is not about the other person, but about how the narcissist can use the other person to meet their own needs.  The narcissist is genuinely interested; however, the interest is designed to gain information the narcissist can use in their favor. They model emotional responses and “mirror” the person in order to give the appearance of having things in common.

To people with typical emotional characteristics, being attentive is an expression of human kindness and compassion.  However, Narcissists are experts at mimicking genuine emotion; they can give the appearance of care and concern.  To the narcissist, being attentive is an investment to be able to gain something from the victim, immediately or in the future.

The narcissist pastor feels ego satisfaction that a member of the flock, after being listened to, is now a “believer” in the wonderfulness of the pastor.  They may receive words of praise and recognition from the church member. The pastor may observe emotion in the church member that they can later emulate in a separate interaction.

Narcissists are skilled at crafting narratives and explanations that promote belief in what the narcissist says, while maneuvering the conversation so their negative behavior is ignored.  They then have plausible deniability should their intentions or selfish actions be exposed.

Another talent of narcissists is to recruit people around them to support their image and their story.  Narcissists are able to select the right people to target and manipulate.  Once the narcissist’s constructed image is in place and affirmed by a sufficient number of loyal followers, one might think that the narcissist’s ego needs would be satisfied.  This is rarely the case.  A hallmark of narcissists is the desire to reaffirm their “specialness” by promoting their image on larger and larger stages.  When framed under the guise of “building God’s kingdom,” it is easy to overlook this feature of narcissism within a pastor.

Consider the following statements:

  • “At the end of the sermon, I’m so grateful for my pastor’s teaching.”
  • “Pastor X, he just makes the Bible seem so understandable.”
  • “When Pastor X speaks to me personally, it feels like I’m the only person in the room.”
  • “My pastor talks a lot about how much God has done for him.”
  • “Pastor X always has a way of connecting the Bible lesson to something that has happened in his life or our church.”
  • “It was spell-binding today when the pastor talked about receiving revelation from God. I don’t think I’ll ever be that spiritually mature.”
  • “It’s exciting to be a part of a church where we’re seeing so many salvations and such church growth.”

If you can identify with any of these statements, you may benefit from asking yourself some additional questions to discern whether your pastor is focusing on representing Jesus or focusing on promoting the pastor.

  • At the end of a sermon, do you feel closer to Jesus or your pastor?
  • When your pastor makes the Bible understandable, does that lead you to spend more time or less time in the Bible? Do you spend more time or less time asking Holy Spirit for guidance and teaching about the Bible?
  • Who are the other people in your life that make you feel like you’re the only person in the room when they speak to you?
  • When you hear your pastor talk about how much God has done for him, do your thoughts focus on your pastor or on God?
  • How often does your pastor teach without making a reference to himself? Does your pastor teach using examples of other people in the Bible without turning attention to himself?  How often does your pastor feel “invisible” during a sermon because you’re so focused on Jesus?
  • Who are the spiritually mature believers in your life? Do they receive revelation?  Do they speak about how special they are in God’s kingdom?
  • Why does church growth matter to you? Do you feel like you are part of something special because your church is growing?  Does church growth give you a sense that your church is “bearing fruit?”

With 1-5% of the population having a form of dark personality disorder and 5-30% of pastors currently in the pulpit exhibiting signs of narcissism (see the previous article), each person reading this has likely encountered one or more narcissists in their life.  In the remainder of this article, we provide resource material to help the reader clearly identify the tactics used by narcissists.

Narcissistic behavior has a clear and defined cycle. There are several ways this is defined, but here is the one we are choosing for this post

(Graphic by J. Dahl)

Though there can be as many as seven stages to Grooming and Controlling behavior by Narcissists, in this post and the next, I am only going to concentrate on four of them:

  1. Selecting Target
  2. Grooming
  3. Idealizing
  4. Devaluing

Quick Definitions:

  1. Selecting Targets: Narcissist-abusers are always looking out for their next “target”. This would be someone they believe has the right elements to be controlled for sexual abuse and manipulation. (We will address how this works in the next post in this series).
  2. Grooming: This is the process of breaking down natural objections and dismantling boundaries which would prevent the abuser from taking advantage of the victim.
  3. Idealizing: Using flattery, gifts, promises, and attention, the abuser lures the victim into sexualization. This can be physical sex or some other way the victim makes themselves a sexual object for the abuser.
  4. Devaluing: After the sexualization has begun, the abuser will then use behavioral conditioning techniques such as gaslighting, threats, and insults to keep the victim under their control. When the victim gets disgusted and registers pain from this, the abuser often resorts back to Idealizing to repeat the cycle over again.

Before we spell out the grooming actions of the narcissistic-pastor, we want to give a word of instruction/caution. These behaviors will be hard to read. But unless you are a victim who has not started to work through the issues of abuse, please take courage to read on. We asked blogger and abuse survivor, Lori Anne Thompson what she would say to all who will read what comes next. Here are her words:

Evidence indicates victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse (CSA) have been groomed by the pastors and preyed upon, often using vulnerabilities and commendable attributes the Christian community supports. These include humility, deference, beauty, hunger for God the Father, desire to trust a father figure, desire to make a difference in the world, etc. CSA victims—whether adults or children—often love their pastor and revere him as one who is connected to God.

The victim feels complicit in their own abuse and deeply confused. They believe they alone have been subject to this type of treatment. In addition, they believe it must have been something they said, did, or wore that caused this pious man to stumble. It is not only what happened in CSA that is so appalling, it is also WHO did it to them. Confounding factors such as loss of community, faith, and reputation creates a tsunami of profound isolation.

Therefore, when the victims realize the sexual assault was not love, was not their fault, and that they not alone, this knowledge can be the genesis of hope. Coming to terms with this is a process, much like getting in cold water, the victim may need to ease herself slowly into this realization.

We encourage victims of CSA then to use the following descriptions of abuse to help your mind ease into the realization that you are not alone in this.

With this being said, here are the Grooming actions I (Mike) have heard about in counseling both from the Abusers and the Victims. Some of these fit more than one of the above stages, but I have grouped them according to how they are most often used.

Grooming Behaviors:

  1. Exaggeration of Credentials, Achievements and Failures: Abusers will use their personal stories with two goals in mind. First, they use exaggerated achievements to convince the victim they are above reproach and an extremely valuable servant of God.Second, they may also tell about spectacular ways they have failed in life in order to garner sympathy from the victim. Often, they will relate to the victim by claiming to have failed in the same way the victim has in the past. The purpose of this behavior is to build a close bond. Many times, the “failures” are completely fabricated. Note that in most of the grooming behaviors, lying is central to the process. One pastor told his victim that he was working for the CIA and might need to change stories depending on what people he was with. He did this to cover himself in case he couldn’t remember details he had used with this victim. He had never worked for the CIA.Another pastor told his victim his wife was a closet alcoholic to gain sympathy from the victim. This story was not true but was part of a complete web of deceit he weaved to wrap her into himself. Whenever his victim started to pull away from their relationship, he would talk about how bad his “drunk wife” was acting. For several months, the victim believed she was giving emotional support to this poor victimized husband.
  2. Confiding Deep Personal Details: The abuser will often share details of their life which are so personal the victim will at first be surprised they are being shared. This builds an unusual level of trust. Many of these details will involve the abuser’s family and marriage. The abuser will emphasize they are doing this because they trust the victim. The word “trust” is used a lot during the beginning stage of the grooming process. Because the abuser is going to manipulate the victim later, they must establish an unequal trust dependency first.One pastor shared his struggle with pornography with his victim. This was a problem he indeed faced, but the way he used it to snare her was evil and ingenious. He asked if he could call her any time he was struggling with porn. She was to be his accountability partner. She agreed. Then, he would call her regularly and describe what he was seeing on the screen. For months, he did this. Then he began asking if they could meet to pray so he could get deliverance from “the spirit of lust.” It was during those prayer times he suggested they begin forming a “real” physical relationship to overcome his addiction. By the time he did this, she had completely viewed herself as his savior.
  3. Asking for Deep Personal Details: After sharing their own personal details, the abuser will ask the victim to trust them with the intimate details of their life. This way, the relationship feels mutual. The most common intimate questions involve the victim’s sex life. They will often ask to describe painful or difficult events from childhood. If the victim was also a victim as a child, the abuser will force the victim to go into detail about sexual abuse in particular. If the victim is married, the abuser will focus on unhappy elements of the victim’s sex life with their partner.The abuser is searching through these details to determine if the person will make a good candidate for his control. If they see co-dependent behavior, excessive appreciation of people in authority, previous victimizations, tendency to trust other people without question, these are tell-tale signs they can be led into a sexual relationship.One victim shared with her abuser that her husband never touched her in a particular way. She had asked her husband to do that, but he never followed through. Several weeks later, the abuser began to touch her in the exact way she had mentioned. After several weeks of this, the victim acquiesced to sex. The abuser had used her information against her.
  4. Extensive Knowledge: Many abusers seem to have extensive knowledge of the victim very early in the relationship. If the victim had been paying attention, they would figure out the abuser had been researching them even before they were involved. They often utilize social media, friends of the victim and other resources to find out as much as they can. The indicators of this are subtle, but easy to spot if one is paying attention.Most victims are not paying attention until it is too late.When a church leader seems to know a lot about you before you’ve even formed a relationship, the first question to ask is why they are so interested. Though the reason is not always nefarious, it will help potential victims from falling into the abuser’s trap. More about this in the next article.
  5. Near the beginning of the relationship, the abuser gives the victim unfettered access to their lives. They answer texts immediately. They interrupt dinner to go out and meet with the victim. They allow them into their office on a moment’s notice. This results in Serotonin production, which causes the victim to feel like their love needs are being met. (More on this in a moment).Much of this is done through smart phones. Text messages, private messenger services, Skype, FaceTime, and other media are used to create a constant connection between abuser and victim. But abusers can get very creative with their access points.One abuser got a safety deposit box for the two of them. They could exchange notes and gifts to each other without their spouses or the church office assistant knowing about it. It was through this box that the abuser began to make the notes more sexual and included instructions on things he wanted her to do for him.At one point, in order to control her, he took away her key to the box until she could learn to be the kind of person he could admire. She nearly fell apart emotionally. When he gave the key back a few weeks later, she was completely dependent upon him.
  6. Family Connections: The abuser will sometimes become close to the members of the victim’s family. They may also encourage the victim to be friends of their family. The purpose for this is unclear, but one theory has been proposed. The abuser wants more and more access to the victim without others getting in the way. If the families are friends and naturally do things together, this gives the abuser more opportunity to affect the victim.One abusing pastor would invite his victim’s family over for barbecues at least once a month. Their families became close friends. Their children loved each other. At some point at every barbecue, he would ask the victim to come to a private spot in the house where he would do something sexual and provocative. When she was afraid to cry out, he would laugh and tell her how fun it was just to have that private time alone. Later, when she wanted to pull away from the relationship, he reminded her of how devastated all their children would be if they knew what had happened while they were having barbecues together.
  7. Idealizing Behaviors:

  8. Excessive Praising: The abuser, near the beginning of the relationship will often compliment the victim. The abuser focuses on their intelligence, compassion, and spiritual fervor at first. Once a level of trust is reached, the abuser will progress to comments about the victim’s beauty and attractiveness. After that, the abuser will make compliments about body type, desirability, and sexual knowledge. Eventually, the abuser will solicit the victim to assess if they feel sexually aroused by the abuser.One abuser frequently asked his victim to wear certain color underwear to their times together. Even though they had not progressed to physical sexuality, this request—and her acquiescence—caused the victim’s brain to make a neural connection between the intimacy of underwear and the abuser. Once that connection had been made, the move to sexualize their relationship was not difficult.Abusers like to stay away from praising a woman’s sexual characteristics at first. They will focus on her intelligence, her charm, her spirituality. Then, he will move on to praise her friendship, her ability to spot phonies, and her bravery at putting up with such a lousy marriage partner.Finally, the abuser will praise the woman’s beauty in classical terms. After she accepts this, then he starts in to note her secondary sexual characteristics. From there, the abuser solicits nude pictures, phone sex, voyeurism, and any number of other behaviors. Eventually this leads to a complete sexual domination.
  9. Serotonin Games: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) which does many things. One of its functions is to regulate the mood. A drop in Serotonin often causes one to feel depressed. A rise in Serotonin gives a sense of excitement. This excitement also raises a person’s immediate libido levels. When the abuser spends a lot of time and attention helping the victim and showing they matter, this raises Serotonin levels.But then the abuser often does the opposite. They will occasionally withdraw completely from the victim. This causes Serotonin levels to fall in the victim’s brain. Because of this, the victim will have an insatiable need to reconnect with the abuser. This is by design; this cycle can often happen dozens of times in their relationship.
  10. Ministry Recruiting: The abuser asks the victim to be involved in ministries where the two of them will be alone for extended periods of time. This involves praying together, going on visitation, and attending prayer retreats. The purpose of this is to begin a normalized, spiritual life together. Once that has been accomplished, it feels natural to continue more frequent sexual encounters.One abuser invited his victim to go on visitation with him. At first, he told the rest of the staff this was because he was visiting female members of the church in their homes. That sounded legitimate and necessary. But many of the visits were brief, usually something that could have been done on the phone. After the visit, he then took the victim somewhere they could “pray and process.” On one of those post-visit parking sessions, he instigated their sexual relationship. This went on for over two years until her husband hired an investigator who took pictures of one of their liaisons. When he threatened the pastor with exposure, his wife begged and pleaded with him not to ruin the life of the pastor. He ignored her and brought the evidence to the Church board.Even after being groomed and sexualized, she still felt a large amount of empathy and protectiveness toward her abuser. This is what the abuser always wants to produce in the victim.
  11. Extended Time Line: The abuser will refer to their relationship with the victim as something which is going to last for a long time. They will make plans for what they will do together months or years in the future. This is intended to cause the victim to break down any remaining barriers.In addition to that, they will use the word “love” and “we are doing this because we love each other” a lot. Victims often have a deficit in their Love and Belonging need, and this word “love” reinforces they need to stay in relationship with the abuser.
  12. Targeted Use of Scripture: The abuser knows the victim looks up to them as a spiritual leader. They are counting on this to get them to do what they want. But at various times, they must reinforce this. They will give their own interpretation of Scripture to justify some of the things they are doing.I know one pastor who told the victim that God wanted all of God’s people to be like the angels in Heaven. He quoted Matthew 22:30 which says “In the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” His spin on this was that since the resurrection of Jesus has already happened, marriage vows are not as important to those really walking in the Spirit. He told her the two of them were part of a brave breed of Christians who could have sex with other people and still have a powerful relationship with their spouses. The victim believed this because her abuser was a respected preacher and Bible scholar.The abuser will use Scripture to justify their actions. They will also let the victim know they are not as smart as the abuser to make them even more dependent.
  13. Intrusive Questions: Abusers often ask more and more probing questions about the victim’s sex life. They ask for more details and ask the victim how certain sexual acts impacted them. They do this under the guise of wanting to help them move forward. At some point, the abuser will sexualize his language more and more. Abusers regularly use slang terms for genitalia in order to establish a more intimate relationship.
  14. Church Details: The abuser will begin telling the victim more and more about the inner workings of the church or their ministry. This will be information that very few people have access to. The purpose of this is to convince the victim that they are in a secret inner circle in the life of the abuser.The abuser may even allow the victim to suggest ideas to improve the ministry. Though the abuser would never take her seriously, this reinforces the idea their relationship is spiritual and helping others.
  15. Fantasy Narratives: Once the relationship becomes sexual, the abuser will create fantasy scenarios where they will be able to be together and others will accept it. This keeps the sexual relationship going. This is often used when the abuser feels resistance from the victim.One pastor explained how their church was becoming filled with divorced people. He speculated often that they would eventually accept a divorced pastor. He did this to plant the idea in her head he would eventually divorce his wife and marry her. He never actually told her that. She recalled in counseling how he had skillfully planted these ideas in her head. When she confronted him about it, he truthfully said he never told her he would divorce his wife.
  16. Prayer Instructions: Abusers will sometimes use their prayer time together to give instructions to the victim. They will focus on something they want the victim to do for them by asking God for it. As in “God, you know I have been so lonely lately, and I wish you would lay it on someone’s heart to accompany me on my upcoming prayer retreat.”Grooming pastors use prayer, Scripture and ministry a lot in their grooming behavior. The victim came to him because he was a spiritual leader. They need to maintain at least a shell of that spirituality to not scare away the victim.
  17. Drug and Alcohol Use: Abusers sometimes suggest to victims they try certain addictive substances in order to experience them together. I have several clients who shared how they and their abuser used cocaine, methamphetamines, and cannabis together.One abuser would get his victim drunk on overnight trips they would take. He took pictures of her and threatened to send them to her husband if she pulled away. She eventually attempted suicide and finally got into treatment for her victim recovery.
  18. Devaluing Behavior

  19. Critical and Targeted Fault-finding: Here is where the abuser starts to play with the mind of the victim. They will often criticize one or more minor faults of the victim. It might have to do with clothing, the victim’s weight, speech problems, or some other incidental detail. They will keep asking if the victim has been working on her problem. This is designed to keep the victim attached to the abuser and to need them for future “growth”.One pastor noticed his victim wore shirts and other items of clothing that were not ironed. He began to point that out to her and casually mentioned how this often was a sign of deeper problems. He would constantly mention this any time part of her clothing was wrinkled. She began to buy new clothes more often and became obsessed with ironing and dry cleaning her existing clothes. When she came into his office with perfect clothing, he would praise her and lavish affection upon her. By doing this, he created deep neural pathways in her brain which tied praise to both the abuser and the clothing. Since obviously she had to be clothed most of the time, the neural reinforcement was constant.
  20. Abuser plays the Victim: The abuser mentions regularly how they are mistreated by others. If they are married, they will begin dropping hints on how they are heroic to put up with their spouse’s bad behavior. The description will sound strange to the victim at first (if they know the spouse) but gradually, the abuser’s point of view will replace reason. Soon, the victim will feel they are the only one who can understand, love, and protect the abuser.Abusers need the victims to accept their view of the world. To accomplish this, they give their opinion on everyone and everything. The victim is not allowed to have her opinion on anything. If she tries to express an alternative opinion, she will be ridiculed and shamed.
  21. Abusers and Persecution: The abuser steps up the game from being victimized to a new level. Abusers will pretend they are persecuted by others. They will express a false sense of hurt and betrayal, showing the victim they need comfort. This behavior often leads to crying and embracing. This is used then to initiate sex between grooming pastor and victim. In this situation, the victim begins to view themselves as the sexual instigator.I know a famous evangelist who told his victim stories of how he had been chased and beaten up on recent trips to Mongolia. He was expert at crying on cue, and this reinforced her sympathy for him. Later in their relationship, when she began to question the morality of their make-out sessions, he would cry and ask her if she really hated him that much. This would cause her to have severe anxiety. She eventually began using tranquilizers and drank heavily to deal with the idea she had brought him pain.
  22. Reversing the Blame: The abuser will contact the victim after sex has been initiated and instruct the victim to view the sexual contact as something the victim wanted and initiated. They will use some variation of “we probably shouldn’t do that again” while arranging another time to meet privately. This is a variation of the Serotonin Game.Occasionally, the abuser will either pretend to be remorseful or actually be remorseful.Recently, a pastor of a very large church in America admitted that years previous he had sex with a teen in the youth group while he was a youth pastor. (Note: He didn’t admit it was assault. He called it an “incident”. This is a classic case of minimization). After he forced her to have oral sex on a deserted road, he then got out of the truck, fell on his knees and begged her forgiveness. This type of behavior is designed to get the victim’s sympathy while also making the victim feel ashamed that she led this Man of God astray.
  23. One-Way Instruction: Once the sexual relationship is established, the abuser will never allow the victim to disagree with them or instruct them. The abuser will begin to direct them in even minor parts of their life. They will tell them which friends to stop hanging around with.This will result in the abuser telling the victim to do things that the victim feels degraded by. Abusers often want victims to take nude pictures of themselves or engage in phone or online sex. They force them to have types of sex they know the victim hates. The reason for this is to add shame to the victimization. Once a person is ashamed with themselves, they lose hope of ever getting out of the controlling relationship.
  24. Isolation: The abuser will seek to separate the victim from other significant relationships in the church. They will encourage the victim to cut off these friendships and hint that to continue would hurt their own relationship. The purpose of this is to build a victim’s bond only with the abuser.The most common command given by an abuser is this one: “Remember, you are never to tell anyone what we are doing. They wouldn’t understand.”When the victim finally pulls away from the abuser for good, the abuser uses a different tactic called Triangulation. This involves getting other people to treat the victim badly. They begin to spread rumors about the victim, especially with other women in the church.Recently, a woman who was being groomed by a pastor, told her would-be abuser that she didn’t appreciate the long lingering hugs he foisted on her. He acted insulted by this. As a consequence, he turned one of her best friends in the church against her. This woman then went on to turn the other women in the church against her. It was painful to be mistreated by him and then by the others.
  25. Boundary Lip Service: The abuser will constantly mention how important boundaries are for people, while at the same time crossing every boundary. They will explain this by letting the victim know that the two of them are a “special situation”. Variations of that phrase are often used in an unbalanced power dynamic.Near the end of the relationship, the abuser will mock the idea of boundaries.When the victim is fully controlled, they will even mock any attempts the victim uses to pull away and establish new boundaries. They refuse to take any boundary seriously.One pastor I know asked his victim’s husband how he would react if he found out his wife was cheating on him. He did this with her in the room. Her husband said it would destroy him. This kept the woman for months longer in the unhealthy victimization.
  26. External Critical Evaluations: Abusers will often tell their victims about other women and their flaws. They will share private counseling information to show the victim how hard it is to please the pastor abuser. The victim will decide they “don’t want to be like those women.”In addition, the criticism of the victim now turns to shaming. Abusers like to taunt their victims and sarcastically point out their flaws.I witnessed one abuser do that in court to his victim. I could tell by looking at her face he still had a measure of control over her. In this devaluing stage, the purpose of the behavior is to convince the victim that the abuser is the only one who will still accept them. Between this and isolation, the victim believes they are worthless and incapable of being loved except by this monster.
  27. Reversing Emotional Direction: Near the end of the grooming cycle, the abuser will suddenly become critical of everything in the victim’s life. This causes the victim, who has sold out completely to her abuser, to become desperate. At this stage, the abuser can ask almost anything of the victim.They may also begin a pattern of physical aggressiveness or violence.Sometimes, the violence is implied, telling the victim they are in danger if they go against the abuser’s wishes. This is used more with younger victims, but can be utilized at any age if the abuser is bigger than his victim.One of my clients called me from the Emergency Room where she was being treated for a head injury, sustained in a counseling session with her abuser-pastor. Even after all that, I couldn’t convince her to go to the police. Therefore, I went to the police. When they interviewed her, she lied and told them she had fallen and hit her head.
  28. Dealing with The End: If the victim tries to pull away or to reveal details of their relationship, the abuser may do one of the following:
    • Threaten to expose or harm them.
    • Threaten to harm their family.
    • Threaten suicide.
    • Mention how exposure would hurt both of them, their marriages, their children, the church, and God’s work in the community.
    • Agree to put more limitations on contact. This is a lie; boundaries they agree to are only temporary.
    • Tell the victim that no one will believe them.

The first article in this series “shattered the lens” that the role of pastor is often viewed through, to state clearly that there are men in the pulpit whose intent is self-serving, rather than God-serving.  Within this article, considerable detail has been provided regarding the tactics used by narcissists.  This “shatters the lens” of plausible deniability of the INTENT of these actions and allows the reader a clear view of what the behavior is and why it is done.

In the final installment of this series, with the reader well versed and now aware of the problem of narcissists in the pulpit and the tactics they use; some information and tools for introspection and recovery are provided. We will be addressing how the narcissist-pastor chooses his victims. We will also lay out a format for analyzing if the reader is a target and how one can prevent that from happening easily.

Bibliography:Chaves, Mark and Garland, Diane. 2008. “The Prevalence of Clergy Sexual Advances Toward Adults in their Congregations”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

13 thoughts on “The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 2

  1. Great post. So important for women to be aware of these disturbed personalities and behaviors before they are duped by them. Although I was not involved in a sexual relationship with the pastor, there was evidence of these grooming behaviors as a means of power and control, which led to him sexually harassing me. The manipulation is subtle and hard to see when you are in it because these wolves use your vulnerability and good intentions to suck you in. I believe the pastor used these tactics to try and gain control of me so that I would stay in line. He protected and covered for an abuser and actively maligned the abused wife. The pastor called me to tell me that I should no longer have a relationship with the wife. We didn’t listen to him and because of this I believe these were his attempts to bring me back into his web of deceit and control.

    In my situation he used the following tactics:

    Inflated credentials, the Reverend Doctor is what he would call himself during sermons.
    He would tell me I was like a daughter to him and he felt like he was my father.
    He would use examples of our personal lives in his sermons.
    He sought out a counselor of mine to ask questions about my past sin and abuse, trying to get her to break confidentiality.
    He would seek me out on Sundays saying he needed to talk to me.
    He would appear disappointed if I did not go out of my way to talk to him or engage him in his ego boosting sessions.
    He would say he was praying for me.
    He tried to control which friends and family I spent time with
    He would pretend to be interested in my life but now I can see it was all about him.
    The spotlight was always on him. He was the center of his sermons. One time he said that the elders should install a light behind the podium so it could shine out over his head like a halo. This was the same weekend that my husband and I confronted him.
    He prided himself on how well people liked him without them even knowing him, like it was a game to him.
    He would bash other churches and pastors and christians telling us we were special.
    He had an inner circle of congregants which he would gossip, lie and slander about others to. We were a part of that group so we thought we were special.
    He used scripture to manipulate people for his agenda
    He would make comments about how many children he thought my husband and I should have.
    He became pushy in forcing physical affection, hugs, kissing my forehead and head and angry when his requests were denied.
    He told me, in front of his wife, that I could not be alone with him because I couldn’t keep my hands off of him.
    He discarded me and turned others against me when my husband and I confronted him.
    He told us it was “his fricking church” and that he was “the Lord’s annointed”.
    He never repented for defending the abuser, lying or harassing me and we lost our our church, friendships and family relationships.
    He continues to serve in the church and as a professor at a Christian college
    Much of the church does not know what he did because the elder board was convinced to cover everything up
    He used triangulation and isolation to turn people against me
    He played the victim and persecution card very well. After being confronted with his sin, he said no one had ever verbally assaulted him like that. Narc injury at its finest.
    If we had not left the church when we first woke up to the narcissistic abuse, I believe the damage could have been much worse. We are thankful we left when we did.
    I pray that the Lord will use this article to open the eyes and hearts af women who are being abused by wolves like this one. It is not your fault. Thanks again Mike for writing this timely article.

    1. Thank you for allowing us to see how a predator can slowly break down someone’s will and boundaries. Though many of the things you describe him doing to you can perhaps be justified in isolation, when you take them together, they definitely add up to grooming behavior. I am thankful. You were able to get away from his clutches.

  2. Thank you for the information. I was in a church like that. First Baptist Church Hammond IN pastor Jack Hyles. I left in 1980’s.

  3. Mike and Julia – I study church history and this article reminded me of a man named Peter Damien. He lived 1,000 years ago and wrote his friend, who happened to be pope, about predatory behavior. One of his points was that if it’s unchecked, it will pervade the highest and lowest positions of the church. And if you look at the lives of popes for at least 600 years after Damien’s life (like this gem of a guy, Pope Julius III, you’d be hard pressed to argue that he wasn’t a prophet. But any of us who have seen people victimized will identify with Damien’s resolve to sound the alarm in order to protect the vulnerable.

    There are also very old records in church courts of how women were often abused in the context of the confessional. Not surprisingly, abusers used intimate confessions against their victims in cruel ways as you described in points 13 and 15 in particular. In fact, the reason the Roman Catholic Church uses a screen is because it became a very serious issue that threatened the use and credibility of the Church in certain areas of Europe. This was hundreds of years before the Reformation.

    In any event, your article is very instructive. Wanted to let you know that part of what makes your explanation plausible to me is that this is sadly not a new phenomenon. You *might* find it helpful in trying to convince people of this as a modern, but not new problem if you can point to some historical examples as well.

    1. Derek, thank you so much for this! I was not aware of these documents, but I want to incorporate them somewhere in my teaching. I appreciate it.

    2. I’ve been victimized in several churches and it’s very very sad 😞
      My most recent Pastor would use certain words to me in front of the congregation. I was so taken aback that I’d just look st his spouse like, “You permit this folly?”
      There were two things that really, really bothered me out of the many dumb things this pastor did, and they were the unwanted staring and frequent text messages about nothing.
      The “I missed you in church today,” or “I’m praying for you” with emojis attached were sad and annoying at the same time.
      I left the church because I found the last text weird and out of order! Fore, the pastor texted me five times in a row stating
      “I miss you!!”
      It was horrible to read as well as a mental travesty that’s too disturbingto dismantle.
      I didn’t respond because I knew I wouldn’t have a nice word to say, but I can’t say what my next response will be if he decides to send another text.

      1. If it were me, I would reply “Your comments about missing me are inappropriate. I have cc’d the chairman of the elders board, your wife and my friends so they can see what you’re texting and so you can see the consequences of unwanted attention”.

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