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I've been doing a lot of reading about how power affects empathy and makes it difficult to be good humans. While I'm not quite ready to speak on that (can't wait? Have some links:, I have thoughts on why Evangelicalism is flawed.
According to research ( there is a way to combat the damage of power - making sure to feel not powerful now and again. They suggest having people around you who are able to speak truthfully to you, and don't treat you like a Wise Old One.
At first glance, Evangelical Christianity (EC) ought to have this in the bag. Supposedly, one of their focus points is that ALL of us are fallen, ALL of us are sinful, and ALL of us are powerless, dependent on God for every good thing. Without Him, we can do (and are) nothing.
Furthermore, it's a regular part of EC teaching that one ought to have accountability partners, confession buddies, and unburden one another through prayer. The wisdom and spirit of God ought to fall upon those around you to ensure that you get Godly council, and stay humble.
And yet, time and time and time again, we see EC leaders and pastors falling prey to hubris as power grinds away their empathy, leaving them vulnerable to the very sins they spend a great deal of time preaching about.
Why is that? Why don't EC leaders have better resilience to this problem when their belief system should guard against it?

I can think of three reasons:
1) Unhealthy power & Hate;
2) Forced Intimacy with threats to Status;
3) Value Swapping prevents real change and healing.
1) Unhealthy Power & Hate.

Shortly, American White Evangelicalism is rooted in slavery, white supremacy, and a powerful need for an enemy to "other" in order to hold onto its status. I don't need to rewrite all of this - others have done that far better than me.
@SlacktivistFred writes about it extensively, such as this:
@C_Stroop does excellent work as well, such as here:
@NateSparks130 is also great, on twitter and his blog, such as this:
Curious readers can also do their own looking, listening to a spectrum of voices talking about the same thing. The whole #Exvangelical movement is basically calling out all of the problematic expressions of power - @brchastain @ToriGlass @charlotteirene8 @sparkle_heretic
Or, go for books!,

And articles!…,,

The point is that there's a lot of information out there on this.
Why it matters in terms of our discussion today is that systems with this much hatred fueled power baked into them put tremendous pressure on the humans within them to conform to the natural conclusion: being a bad human.
Define your terms!

A Good Human = A compassionate person that treats themself and those around them with loving-kindness, and enables and empowers others.

A Bad Human = A person that uses others as things, willing to put hatred, self, and power above alleviation of suffering.
Those definitions will serve us for now. As I've discussed elsewhere (,, we as humans are incredibly prone to the pressure of the people and beliefs around us. They shape, mold, and push us into their natural end results.
So, existing within the EC system already places a great deal of pressure on a human. Not great if your goal is to avoid being a horrible person.
2. Forced Intimacy with threats to Status.

As the previously linked article suggests, surrounding yourself with people that can keep you grounded is important. Being reminded that we're fallible humans without all the answers is a good thing,so is being told that we're loved.
An artifact of EC is the elevation of Humility and the intense pressure to Confess.

To everyone.

It's not uncommon to go to a Bible Study or a worship service and find people confessing their sins.
It's encouraged to not hold back, and in many ways, people feel entitled to your story. They want to know about your struggle, about how "God has worked in your life", about how you were saved. These are extremely personal stories, but it's usually used as a sort of icebreaker.
This is how Humility is elevated in casual circles. The problem is that you're telling these stories to people you don't know. People you have no reason to trust, no common ground with, nothing to bind you together or build community.
So that feeling of Togetherness that develops is artificially manufactured by the sharing of trauma, pain, and struggle. A person's status and identity is then defined by these things. The narrative can take two shapes: 1) Open; 2) Closed.
An Open narrative means that your trauma, pain, and struggle are ongoing. You can struggle with abuse, self-hatred, lust, fear, doubt - anything will do. And people will know that God hasn't healed you, or fixed you, or intervened yet. That'll be your story, your identity.
A Closed narrative means that God has already fixed and saved you from your problem. This ties it up in a neat package, makes it a testimony... and means you can't ever struggle with it again. Well, you can, but it changes your narrative.
For reasons we'll talk about in #3, Sins become labels that you hang on yourself. "I'm Erik, and I struggle with Pride." There was never a point in my EC life where Pride wasn't part of my core identity - that sin helped define me, shape me, and control me.
This is often how relationships in EC start, which creates a baseline for those relationships.

What happens when someone has a reason to be less than honest during these first introductions? Remember, we're establishing intimacy quickly, before it would organically occur.
Well, then we've created a narrative that's disconnected with our actual experience. A persona that gets repeated - the disclosure process isn't a one time thing. You'll repeat your story again and again, with mixed groups. Each time, there'll be pressure to repeat and expand.
This witness teaches ECs to be faithful to narratives more than people, and to create a separation between the two of them.

Let's return to our EC leader. He's risen to power, created a narrative that everyone knows, and has powerful reasons to maintain his image.
What are our chances that he's allowed himself to be open, genuine, and humble with those around him? Not great, particularly if he's chosen to make his narrative a Closed one. He's not expected to be perfect, but there are large parts of his experience that are Sealed.
Where he should be receiving strength from those around him, he's instead committed to maintain his narrative. And those people who should be holding him accountable? They have their own narratives that they're maintaining, stories they're invested in telling.
So, why do they get trapped in these stories? Why don't they grow and change?

That brings us to 3) Value Swapping prevents real change and healing.
I think one of the reasons ECs are awful at dealing with trauma and change is that their belief system robs them of the agency and (ironically) power to change.

"Our righteousness is like soiled rags before God."
"The heart is desperately wicked, who can trust it?"
"Every good thing comes from the Father above."

All of these things center everything Good with God, and everything Bad with Us. Thanks to the awful belief in Original Sin, humans are wicked, evil, fallen, ugly, and doomed to that state unless God saves them.
Only in accepting Jesus will they be granted a "new heart, one of flesh and not of stone". Change isn't something that someone does; change is something that happens to them.
Psychologists have a lot of different thoughts about what enables people to grow and change, what allows us to break destructive patterns and cycles and embrace more healthy productive ones.

But this agency, this feeling empowered to change, is important.
What's more, we have to feel responsible, not only for the problem, but to find and move toward the solution.

Within the EC worldview framework, we're only ever responsible for the problem, the sin. The change, the new heart, is always outside of us. A gift, not a process.
Let's make this practical - let's deal with the sin of anger, of lashing out.

Pretend I get irritable and angry easily, and let's say someone calls me on it. "Erik, Christians ought to have a peaceful loving attitude. You're sinning when you yell at your wife about the dishes."
True, that's a shitty thing for me to do. Ideally, I would sit down and try and figure out what about dirty dishes made me feel angry. Do I feel that their presence shows me disrespect, suggesting that I'm not valued and loved, which makes me afraid and so I lash out?
Or am I upset because they make me feel undervalued, and that I'm owed equal labor when I provide other services, which suggests that I have entitlement and other insecurity issues?

Either way, these are productive inquiries that will lead me (hopefully) to a root cause.
Then, I can seek forgiveness from my wife for my anger and temper, and break the cycle. I can repent, confess, and seek redemption. I can change.
Within EC, however, I would ask my wife to forgive my "sin". I would pray to Jesus to take away my "sin". I would meditate on peacefulness. On the love of Christ.

Whenever I relapsed, I'd repeat the cycle. Beg Jesus to take away my anger.
As the cycle continued, people around me would tell me to focus on how much I loved my wife. Loved my God. Did I love them enough to let Jesus take away my anger? Of course I do - my narrative tells me that I do. So, I let go, and let God.
But sadly, change is something we have to work at. It's something we have to do, not something we experience.

These are the values we swap and, if you pay attention, you'll notice that in the EC circle, change isn't ever really expected.
People struggle with sin, but they never overcome it. They might change, but often, that's just the area of weakness covered up. Fortresses, as they say, are never built in a place of strength, but in an area of weakness. And sooner or later, that flaw will come back.
And so it comes full circle. The EC worldview tells itself that it can keep its members safe from power because they're already powerless (denying the power and privilege they have), they confess to others (building dual narrative experiences), and they overcome sin.
All of that it built upon passive actions that reinforce the system of power that elevates and empowers the worst impulses in its members, and saps those within of the ability to change.

Some manage to break out.

Some manage to escape.

Some manage to burn it to the ground.
There will always be exceptions to the rule, but this, I think, helps explain the cycle we see of why EC leaders are helpless to resist power's toxic effects.

They're only human, after all. They just have a narrative that tells them that humans means something else.
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