It’s hard to know and important to know.
Kenneth Haugk’s classic Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict gives us this guidepost:
What is church antagonism? It is that disruption in a congregation caused by an antagonist…
Antagonists are individuals who, on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity. (Emphasis Haugk’s in the original, with italics.)
Those are important phrases:
- nonsubstantive evidence
- go out of their way
- insatiable demands
- selfish in nature
- tearing down rather than building up
When you’ve checked three of those off, you’ve got an unhealthy situation. But what do you do about it?
Haugk explains tactics for dealing with a church antagonist. Many of them look a lot like how sophisticated, socially adept antagonists with power attack their victims. When you start stepping through the process of actually coping with someone using those means, which are at best only relatively kind and gentle, you start looking into the abyss of your own will and ability to impose something unpleasant on another person against their desire. Sometimes it may bring back memories of how and when it was done to you.
If you have to use the tactics of an antagonist against them, how are you different from that antagonist? How do you stay different? Are you the antagonist? Are you perceived as the antagonist? Do you function as an antagonist, whether you want to or not?
Haugk doesn’t throw the word “evil” around casually in his book, but it’s in there. I know the evil that breathes in your ear every time you fight fire with fire. I also know the evil that tells you to see no, hear no, and speak no, so someone can get away with murder.
I don’t have any wisdom (other than Haugk’s), except maybe you should be tough and strong both. I’m working on the strength part.