Orthodox America

The Bookshelf - Antagonists in the Church

Review by Alexey Young

Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict, by Kenneth C. Haugk, PhD; Augsburg Publishing House, 1988; 189 pp., paper, $9.95.

DEFINITION: "Antagonists are individuals who...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." Antagonists are everywhere in life. We find them on the job, in the neighborhood, and even in our own families. Perhaps even some of US qualify, in the eyes of others, as "antagonists": human nature being what it is, we certainly also encounter antagonists in church life from time to time.

Dr. Kenneth Haugk, the author of this insightful book, is himself a pastor (non-Orthodox) as well as a clinical psychologist. Thus, he brings to his subject a healthy balance of personal experience as well as theory. This accounts for his book's practical realism and readability.

After explaining that "antagonism should not be confused with mere criticism or healthy conflict [i.e., problem-solving] in the church," Dr. Haugk says that "conflict as such is not necessarily a problem," AS LONG AS "those involved value one another as human beings, put forth the effort required to understand opposing points of view, and mutually agree that the good of the congregation is paramount." The antagonist, on the other hand, is never concerned about the good of the congregation (although he protests that this is his "only motive") but is really only interested in getting his own way and imposing his own view of how things should be done. (Within Orthodoxy the antagonist sometimes invokes and hides behind rules and regulations, canons and traditions-not, however, out of love for Christ's Church but out of self-aggrandizement.)

The antagonist in a parish typically will exaggerate or misrepresent the views of others; he is aggressive and sometimes harsh, he interprets the words and actions of others as an attack on him, and actively "looks for" things to be upset about or to criticize. Because of his insatiable demands, he cannot be appeased, and generally does not offer constructive criticism. A sense of spiritual "heaviness" goes with him everywhere. The author covers four areas in depth:

1. Why churches make "particularly good breeding grounds for antagonists," and what are the Biblical and ethical issues that must be understood in this context. Dr. Haugk is blunt: "Antagonists are not new phenomena. The Bible speaks straightforwardly about their existence, their motivations, their effects, and the necessary treatment."

2. The characteristics, behaviors, and warning signals of an antagonist: "Is his or her behavior disruptive?...Is the attack irrational?...Does the person's motivation appear selfish?" etc., and what is the basic psychological/psychiatric profile of the antagonistic personality? What are the early and later "warning signs" that an antagonist is "in our midst"?

3. The third section deals with "how to create an environment and a support structure that will minimize the likelihood of antagonism rearing its head in your congregation." An "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," as the old saw has it; or, in Dr. Haugk's words, "It's hard to drain a swamp once you are face-to-face with an alligator. Draining the swamp and keeping it drained are the subjects of this chapter."

4. Finally, the author takes us step by step through the strategies, skills, and techniques that are necessary to cope with antagonism, should it rear its ugly head in the parish.

Leadership issues, communication in a parish, strategies for meetings with antagonists, educating the leaders of the parish, etc.-these are among the important subsidiary areas that Dr. Haugk also covers.

This book, however, is not just for pastors. (In fact, antagonists can sometimes also be found in positions of leadership!) It should be read by all laymen who are in positions of leadership in a parish, as well as by all concerned laymen and women who want to support their rector and parish council in building on-going and harmonious parish life. I strongly recommend Kenneth Haugk's Antagonists in the Church.