Over the years, I've prayed with and for people struggling with addictions, suicidal tendencies, depression, sexual sin, you name it. But there is one dysfunction that I've become increasingly aware of, that people generally don't talk about: passive-aggressive behavior in the church.
Passive aggressive behavior is a mechanism for handling hostility or anger in an indirect way, often in an underhanded or devious way that is hard for others to recognize, let alone deal with. Sometimes the passive-aggressive is aware of what he or she is doing, and other times not.
In the church, people typically want to appear "nice," cooperative, loving, etc., because we all know that's how "good Christians" act...right? So a passive-aggressive strategy is a way to lash out or get even while still maintaining "plausible deniability." A skilled passive-aggressive person is slippery, hard to pin down, quick with excuses, justifications, or rationalizations for his or her behavior.
Some common examples of passive- aggressive behavior:
* Leaving out important information which gives the person I'm talking to the wrong impression about whoever I'm angry with.Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior is extremely challenging. The only way I know of to do it is to directly and repeatedly (and calmly and kindly) confront a person displaying such behavior. Be prepared for a show of innocence, hurt, or outrage, but simply communicate clearly and effectively about behavior you find objectionable and unacceptable. Do not blame or shame, but simply let the other person know in what way their behavior is unacceptable.
* Expressing "concern" and spreading rumors about someone, without going directly to that someone ("I'm just concerned, that's all.") Gossip is a big gun in the passive-aggressive's arsenal.
* Exaggerating a person's faults to others while maintaining an attitude of "sweetness" toward that person.
* Playing dumb or inadequate to frustrate someone or gain advantage. .
* Making offhand or under-the-breath comments about someone that are intended to express displeasure...but never directly.
* "Forgetting" things they have said, promises they've made, assignments given, etc., in all "innocence." "I don't remember saying (or doing) that," is a typical remark, intended to avoid all responsibility for past actions.
It will be difficult. And it may be fruitless. But Jesus gives us no alternative. In Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, Jesus endorses direct communication (not passive-aggressive behavior) as the way to reconciliation whenever conflict arises. He says, in Matthew 18,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV).And in Matthew 5, he says,
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV).In other words, to the passive-aggressive, Jesus says, "Stop! Deal directly with people. Go TO anyone you have a problem with...or anyone who has a problem with you." And to the passive-aggressive's victim, Jesus says, "Stop! Deal directly with people. Go TO anyone you have a problem with...or anyone who has a problem with you."
In this area as in many others, if I am a follower of Jesus, I must do what he says...or I should not call myself his follower. Though it may be difficult, and it may be a long, tough slog, it is the way of Jesus. And that means, one way or the other, it is the best way.