It’s Narcissist Friday!
President Teddy Roosevelt was amazed at how people listened to him when he became president. Simply because he was president, his words were important and his opinion mattered. He considered the presidency a “bully pulpit.” “Bully,” to Roosevelt, was a way of saying something was great or special or superior. He thought the presidential platform was a wonderful way to get people to listen to him.
As the meaning of “bully” changed to that of a person who exerted superiority over others, the meaning of bully pulpit changed in much the same way. Some people think that a pulpit or podium or position gives them or others a right to force their opinions on others. The person in the pulpit, or up front, feels superior and the crowd accepts his superiority. He is the expert; the rest are the uninformed. He is the professor; the rest are the students. He is the preacher; the rest are the congregants. The pulpit infers and confers the superior position.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that narcissists would find their way into pulpits and podiums in our culture. What better place for their image to be enhanced and honored than in front of a crowd? Politicians, preachers, community organizers—all are positions narcissists find useful.
And using the pulpit for manipulation and influence just comes with the opportunity. Not only does the person in the pulpit look and feel superior, but he understands Roosevelt’s assessment. This is a great way to force people to hear and honor your ideas. So the preacher/politician/narcissist uses the pulpit/podium to control.
I knew a pastor, many years ago, who brought every new couple into his office for counseling. He would learn their secrets and then use that information in the pulpit. He would say things like, “There’s someone here this morning whose marriage is on the rocks because of pornography.” He never pointed to the people or said their names, but he didn’t have to. Some folks left quietly, and the church attendance suffered. But many stayed because they were afraid of what he might say about them. He would use the information he gathered to humiliate them if they dared to disagree or stand against him.
I have known pastors who used the pulpit as their own political propaganda microphone. Not only did you know how they were going to vote on issues, you were made to feel unspiritual if you didn’t agree with them. Contrary to what some people think, using the pulpit to promote the preacher’s political opinion is not against the law unless that position is officially adopted by the church and endorses a candidate. But in some churches the preacher’s opinion is difficult to separate from the church’s official position.
I have known preachers who used the pulpit to rail against people who disagreed with them on some church issue. There was no opportunity for a challenge, no counterpoint. This unfair method of “discussion” is perfect for narcissists, because they don’t value the input of others and don’t want to hear the voices of those who disagree. Not only can the narcissist speak without objection, but he can make his opinion sound superior or more spiritual. After all, he’s the one in the pulpit.
I have known preachers who used the pulpit to scold wandering children, disobedient wives, and uncooperative husbands. They say they take advantage of the platform to “counsel” from the pulpit, but they are really just scolding and abusing their place. They alienate people who come to hear words of encouragement and love. They see themselves in the position of God’s prophets to challenge and judge.
I have known preachers who seemed to believe that their strong “moral” positions in the pulpit somehow covered their immoral activities elsewhere. They could lie, steal, cheat, fornicate, and abuse without feeling conflicted because the pulpit allowed them to sound and look better than they were. Nor did they worry about the normal consequences of their behavior because of their superior position. After all, everyone should be careful about making accusations toward the “anointed” one.
Yes, the pulpit, in many churches and many political organizations, confers an anointing on its resident. Others may try to challenge the position, but the one in the pulpit is clearly the one chosen. To challenge the chosen one takes both courage and power.
So the pulpit enables the bullies. Some were bullies before they found the pulpit. Others became bullies once they achieved the pulpit.
The preacher is called to teach what the Word says. To do anything else is to step beyond the role of the preacher to the role of spiritual bully. And, in a day when the people have easy access to the same Bible the preacher has, the people must be free to disagree or challenge the pastor’s interpretation. There is a place for higher learning or advanced study, but the preacher’s role is not to dictate or pontificate, but to reveal the simple truths that all can see in the Scriptures.
The role of the politician, at least in the US, is to represent the people, not tell them what to think. He/she should share information so that the people can be better educated, but not in a way that makes the politician seem superior. But the podium also creates bullies.
Why are there more narcissists among the preachers and politicians?
Because pulpit bullies enjoy the bully pulpit.