Good Christian Narcissists

It’s Narcissist Friday!

A week or so ago, Amy Dickinson, the writer/counselor/columnist of “Ask Amy,” answered a reader who sent an update to a terrible family situation. Apparently the reader had shared the situation two years prior, and Amy had encouraged her to go to the authorities. She had been abused by her grandfather throughout her childhood, beginning about six years old. Her mother would not believe her and, in fact, punished her for telling her story.

The reader did go to authorities, who listened and acted. The grandfather admitted his actions, saying that he thought the child was “enjoying it.” Eventually, he received a sentence of six to eighteen years in prison.

But the mother has not forgiven the daughter (the reader) for disrupting the family. The mother says that the daughter is to blame for the whole situation. And then this:

“She and her sisters talk about how they’re all ‘strong, true Christians,” and I should be ashamed of myself because THEY have forgiven him.”

The image of the “good Christian” is so important in some circles that anyone who challenges it can be sacrificed. I wish I could say that it is hard for us to imagine something like this, but many of us have lived through it. Rather than confront sin, these churches, families, and individuals would deny its presence. “Good Christians” wouldn’t do such things. Since they must maintain the image of the “good Christian,” something has to give. Sometimes, those who sin are just cast aside. But if they can’t be separated completely, like a grandfather, the sin is denied. So, an unmarried girl who gets pregnant isn’t welcome in the church, while an abusive elder continues to lead. The girl can be sent away. Dealing with the elder would reveal the scandal.

Over the years, I have met “Christians” who lied to make themselves look more spiritual. Despite the obvious hypocrisy, they somehow convinced themselves that they must look good at any cost. I have known “Christians” who were quick to depersonalize anyone who disagreed with them or who didn’t meet their standards of behavior, even family members. Admitting sin or scandal would damage the image, so others are sacrificed.

Whether these folks are narcissists really doesn’t matter. They are acting out of a narcissistic mindset. Their image is more important than the real suffering of others. In my book, Narcissism in the Church, I outlined three characteristics of narcissistic behavior for individuals or organizations.

  1. The superior image
  2. Depersonalization of others
  3. Use and abuse of others to serve the image

This simple outline explains the thinking, the message, behind the abuse. As long as the image is most important, everything less can be used to support it. So, “good Christians” can lie, cheat, abuse, reject, and whatever else they can justify. Denominations, schools, mission organizations, churches, service organizations—all may have leaders who will reject anyone who challenges the good image.

Notice that these organizations are not above sin. They are only above the “appearance” of sin. When the “godly leader” touches the young girls inappropriately, the truth of the charge is not the issue. The issue is what the public (or the supporters) will think. “We can’t let this get out! It would ruin us.” The ruling board gathers to discern how to deal with the charges in a way that will make the organization look good. They may have to censure the leader or even dissociate from him. They may have to challenge the accusers in court. But they must save the ministry!

Of course, a family is a type of organization. The “Ask Amy” reader revealed the heart of her family. Grandfather was a disgusting pervert who used a little girl to satisfy himself, probably while staying active in the church and portraying himself as a “good Christian.” His daughters (including the reader’s mom) supported him and believed themselves to be “good Christians.” The daughter’s heart could be sacrificed so that the family could considered themselves to be as spiritual or more spiritual than others.

Now, I don’t have to say that this has nothing to do with Jesus or even the Christian faith. Yet, a lot of people will read the “Ask Amy” column and use this misrepresentation as the basis for denying Jesus and anything to do with the church. I understand. I really do. I just don’t see Jesus anywhere near the grandfather or the mom. The people who are willing to sacrifice others to satisfy their own need to see themselves as better do not represent Jesus in any way. To make themselves look good, they are willing to make Jesus look bad in the eyes of those they hurt.

Narcissism is contrary to Christian faith and values. Sadly, the church has yet to understand that.

Here’s the link to the “Ask Amy” article:


Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Good Christian Narcissists

  1. Mark

    I think Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs” for that very reason.

  2. This is an excellent post. I have shared on twitter.

  3. “Narcissistic mindset” is such a good term! It’s all about the image, not about the truth and not about Jesus in any way. This was my father. This is what I grew up with. And this is why most churches will not apply Biblical church discipline to sinning spouses. They want to keep the false image of “we don’t have that kind of thing in OUR church!” Oh, but we do!

  4. karebrad

    I have tried to post on here twice so if this shows up a third time please bear with me!🥴
    I had this scenario happen with my husband’s very large Christian family that cares about image more than standing up for what is right.
    I stood up & exposed his uncle & the repercussion is hurtful. I am shunned, shamed, left out of family things, you name it, I pay the price. The price I pay is for the safety of my grandkids & other little kids in the family & to me it’s worth it. To stand up to the evils of this world sometimes there is a price to be paid. It shouldn’t be this way and it sickens me to see people compromise the safety of children, but if we don’t stand up for those little ones, who will?

  5. Adele

    Thank you for addressing this problem.

  6. carrie

    excellant article. I can completely relate!

  7. Singing Eagle

    OMG!!!! How totally true!!!! I have dealt with this for many years. Even on the rare occasions, I tried to expose the abuse privately or to a few close friends who knew I was telling the truth. Yet, the “image” that they saw was always the convincing factor. Especially at church, he knew all the right words to say and correct behavior to perform for others. On one special occasion, his true inner self came out and even then, they could not believe what they were seeing and hearing. It didn’t help when pastors or church leadership arrogantly believed that they were too “biblically” educated to be fooled by such a person. Unfortunately, the “wolf” effortlessly proved them wrong ….. again!
    I had a home church meet in our house for about 2 years and he seemed to enjoy it for a while until he decided not to attend any more. Apparently, having to perform every week became rather exhausting after a while.
    What is interesting to me is that even after a stroke, though parts of his personality changed, the narc mindset and the need to portray a “good Christian” image never left him.
    Sadly, I consider how he grew up and the possibility that he was never given the chance to find out who he really was. The need to behave in a way to please mom & dad and the strict religious upbringing, was the ultimate goal to get the needs met for survival. Almost all his family perform the same way. “Image” is everything!
    Even still, the damage that it did to our adult children almost caused them to reject Christianity and church environment altogether when they saw the hypocritical way he was. Thankfully, they are aware that his behavior does not reflect all those who call themselves Christians.

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