US VERSUS THEM!

By dogcatcher on May 10th, 2016

 

A Chicago attorney recently emailed us an article addressing a common unhealthy phenomenon spreading not only in our Orthodox Church, but also in other Christian denominations. The email brought to the forefront a familiar problem addressed on many occasions, the “Us versus Them” mentality which is now commonplace within the Greek Orthodox Church and is consistently used by the Ephraimites. Many see this as a tool used to divide and conquer.

This social identity theory was developed by Henri Tajfel and considered his greatest contribution to psychology. The in-group (us or Ephraimites) will discriminate against the out-group (them or non-Ephraimites) to enhance their own self-image. McLeod, S. A. (2008). Social Identity Theory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html. The theory is one of the most common techniques used by the Ephraimites to maintain its membership and to bind the self-esteem of its members with that membership. The Ephraimites then convince its members that they are better than the members of the other group (non-Ephraimites) perpetuating an unhealthy rivalry encouraging hostility and competition becoming fertile ground for prejudice. This practice is destructive and that is why you often hear members of the Greek Orthodox Church saying that our institution is being attacked from within.

The email’s author tells us that at his old Parish, a woman who revered her Ephraimite Priest verbally attacked a long-time Parish Board member because he questioned this Ephraimite Priest’s work ethic for failing to work set hours at the church. She incited many parishioners to turn against this member and his family, dividing the Parish, because he dared to question the actions of the Priest. The conflict then degenerated to those who supported the Parishioner and those who supported the Priest. Protecting the Priest was tied to preserving her own self-worth. The Us versus Them mentality provided a common enemy and united the identity of this group providing emotional support within the “Us” group to face the “Them” group.

In the Metropolis of Chicago and in other Metropolises, we have witnessed the “Us versus Them” mentality take hold and divide many Parishes. What usually ensues is akin to a civil war, where the passions of the moment often lead to irreversible and sometimes catastrophic consequences. Since there is a vacuum of leadership in the Church to bring some equanimity to such situations, the wounds from these wars cannot heal. This phenomenon is occurring at an alarming rate; we fear these wounds will never heal because they are never addressed and new wounds are constantly being generated. Our Hierarchs either do not know how to or do not care to lead our Church; they fail to take any action to curtail the implementation of the harmful Ephraimite social identity movement occurring within our Greek Orthodox Churches. Many of our lay leaders have become fed up and have left the Church. Our Hierarchs must protect the body of Christ, our Church, by fighting this type of Ephraimite attack keeping whole the Body of Christ.

The Ephraimites have created a civil war and one of their major weapons has been the use of Social Identity Theory. The church cannot begin to heal until our Hierarchs take action. But as we have seen time and time again, they are not leaders. They do not have the capacity or wherewithal to take on this battle. The definition of “healing” is “a process of the restoration of health to an unbalanced disease or damaged organism.” Our church is diseased. We are pleading with our Hierarchs to take some action. Stop doing nothing. The Attorney’s email was so very appropriate to understand this problem. The email was direct and to the point.
Here it is:

“Friends,

I have long been looking at the Greek Orthodox Church and why we have declining stewardship/membership. I came across this article and it addresses one issue in particular that has crept into Parish life. This is true where there is a controversy within a Parish. Something, unfortunately I have great experience with. This article, while written by a former Bishop of the United Methodist Church is universal in its application. I really hope the Clergymen I am sending this to take the Author’s guidance to heart.

The Author gave me a better understanding of failure within a Parish environment. Many lessons can be learned here. Here is a little of his personal background:

“William Henry Willimon (born May 15, 1946) is an American theologian and bishop in the United Methodist Church, who served the North Alabama Conference. He is currently Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School. He is former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and is considered by many as one of America’s best-known and most influential preachers. A Pulpit & Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership survey determined that he was one of the two most frequently read writers by pastors in mainline Protestantism alongside Henri Nouwen. His books have sold over a million copies. He is also Editor-At-Large of The Christian Century.

Bishop Willimon, originally from South Carolina and raised at Buncombe Street UMC in Greenville, SC, received a B.A. from Wofford College in 1968 where he become a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, an M. Div. from Yale Divinity School in 1971, and an S.T.D. from Emory University in 1973. He has also received several honorary doctorates. Willimon is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.”

Many carefully read the article and saw tremendous value in it. We recognize that the author of the article is not Greek Orthodox. We know that those who follow the “theology” of the Ephraimite movement will dismiss this article for that reason alone. Again, another example of Us vs. Them. This type of criticism is a form of prejudice and should be recognized as such. Realize that dismissing learned treatises for this reason is further proof of a rampant cult mentality at work by this hurtful movement. But an even more telling reason is that because the Ephraimites do not acknowledge the problem, they divert attention away from the symptom (declining stewardship) and to a different cause (lack of adherence to their understanding of the “true faith”), the Us versus Them problem at work.

We decided to look beyond “our borders”, so to speak and see if other Christians had addressed the Willimon article. There were many but let’s focus on one, that of Rev. Dr. Kevin Gregory, a former Chicagoan. In addressing the issue of dealing with Parish controversies, here are his thoughts, as expressed in his Parish bulletin:

“I just finished reading an article by Will Willimon. He’s a former bishop in the United Methodist Church and now a professor at Duke Divinity School. Baylor University named him one of the twelve best preachers in the English-speaking world (alongside Billy Graham). The article focused on pastoral leadership in the church. Willimon notes that the church finds itself in a peculiar situation that it has not experienced for over a century. He claims that our churches need a pastor who is willing to be a leader, more so than a caregiver. Unfortunately, though, our congregations have grown accustom to pastors who were compassionate caregivers, but not necessarily leaders. Thus, the pastors of today are being compared to the pastoral counselors from yesteryear. And what worked decades ago – pastor as caregiver – doesn’t work in providing the necessary leadership for 2016.”

 

Rev. Dr. Gregory goes on to say in the bulletin:

“Ron Heifetz shared in his book on leadership: “A real leader induces pain – the pain the organization has been avoiding. The pain is induced with the confidence that the organization has the resources to shape its future.” True pastoral leadership will guide a congregation into the gritty, painful reality of church in order to come out on the other side stronger and healthier. That requires telling people the truth, being prophetic, and challenging members – it’s tense. Too often pastors choose the path of least resistance, the status quo, because risk-taking is hard work. Let’s be honest our congregations would rather avoid the pain and challenge of addressing issues, as well.”

Rev. Dr. Gregory goes on to lament:

“I regret reading the article by Willimon. When I woke up today, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Now, I feel as though I’ve let my Lord down as a pastor because, based on this message, I haven’t been a faithful leader in the church. (Heavy sigh) I should have been an accountant!” The Friendly Call April 2016, St. John United Church of Christ, Manchester Mo.

In the Christian sense, the process of healing needs to pass through different stages. First honesty, then confession, followed by repentance. The healing will require one to go through the pain of truth-telling, followed by more hard work. To our beloved Clergy of normal sensibilities [i.e. non-Ephraimites], keep in mind that there is no real leadership without pain; there is no easy answer here. Sometimes it is going to be painful for you! Please ask yourself, and be honest, are you really leading?

With the onset of this “Us Versus Them” war, critical and objective thought is handicapped by a hyper-defensiveness that engenders one of two possible responses; either denying the validity of any issue or attacking the person or group who dares raise any question or issue. Our Church has suffered because of these numerous and vicious attacks. Ephraimite proxies damage the church with impunity because our Leaders have not shown us that they can lead.

It would be nice if those involved put aside their emotion and engaged their sense of logical and objective reasoning. But to do that, one must be willing to set aside ego, arrogance and one’s own self-esteem. The future of our church as we knew it depends on us, the laity, and our Hierarchs.

According to the emails we receive, the Editors believe that the Greek Orthodox Church in America is in a state of severe decline. The Monasteries of Ephraim are only making this worse by creating an Us vs. Them environment. Our leader’s actions reflect those of caregivers. What the GOA needs today are leaders. Truly, great leaders set an example and a tone for those who follow them. We are seeking a few great leaders to lead the GOA to reverse this state of declining stewardships and set a course for the future of the GOA. Is there anyone willing and able to step up and lead?