Editor’s note: content warning for references to childhood trauma
Recently, the leadership of the pagan group here at TRU, the “Squirrel Holler Circle” agreed to read a book recommended to us by one of our elders. He gave us the caveat that “yes it is a Christian based book, but it has good tools in it for dealing with difficult people.”
So I figured, all right, I’ll read it. Gods know we have more than our fair share of difficult people in prison. Here is my book review of Antagonist in the Church by Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph.D. Supporting citations listed at the end of essay.
The book begins with the assumption that some people are just evil and proceeds go teach the reader every low-down underhanded trick for playing at dominance and control within an organization. (pg. 24, 109-126).
When people act out selfish agendas, are disruptive, and/or do anything they can for attention, it’s not because they are “evil,” it is because they are obviously hurting. This book teaches the reader to how to identity someone in pain, then marginalize and dismiss their suffering “for the greater good.” (pg. 41-46, 46-50, 164)
I say NO!
According to this book I would have been an antagonist starting at the age of six, when my Gramma died and I wasn’t able to come to terms with her passing. Later, once I was carrying the traumas of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and psychological abuse, instead of having conversations with me about those traumas, they tried an exorcism and tossed me in the psych ward. Behold, the twin joys of PTSD and autism.
The reason I see for the existence of this book is because some Christian churches refuse to believe someone in their church could cause such harm to another person in their congregation. Or worse, they believe the Bible says their actions are righteous, that they are to have “dominion over the beasts of the field, and the fish of the waters,” that “a wife should serve her husband as her husband serves Christ,” and “spare the rod, spoil the child.” These are things I regularly heard in church as a child. The toxic scripts of this book advocates the exact toolbox used by clergy, priests, and pastors to cover up the harms caused to the children in their church.
However, if instead of playing power games, we make space for conversations about trauma and navigating the world with neurodivergence, then we can build healthy churches. I know this is true because there are already churches that put the needs of their congregation first and I would not have the PTSD that I do if I had grown up in one.
When we center conversations about trauma and what needs they have which are not being met they generally have one of two reactions. They either get on board with talking about their damage or they flee as if the Wild Hunt was nipping at their heels. This requires people to come together, create a safe space, and begin from a place of compassion and vulnerability.
As you will see from the following notes and exerpts, this is the exact opposite of the type of culture proposed by this book.
I give Antagonist in the Church zero stars.
pg 19, “antagonists are antagonistic by nature”
pg 24, First occurrence of the word “evil” in reference to antagonists.
pg 29-30, Describes a “three strikes, you’re out” approach of escalating conflict and consequence, this is a carceral logic.
pg 32, “The grim fact is most antagonists neither expect nor want forgiveness.”
pg 41-46, Every single “personality” trait listed as belonging to antagonists has nothing to do with a person’s personality and can be linked to to PTSD and neurodivergence.
pg 46-50, Weaponization of oppressive psychiatric frameworks against people identified as antagonists.
pg 53, 59, 61, 62, Red flags identifying antagonists include referencing nameless others (protecting other’s confidentiality), taking notes, situational loser (being willing to lose in a given situation), cause (taking up/championing a particular issue), school of hard knocks (learned through experience), are all presented as problems when they are actually negative framings of leadership qualities.
pg 109-126, This is possibly the most toxic part of the entire book. It describes how to intentionally leverage microaggressions and manipulate others through a leverage of power.
pg 113, “If possible, avoid meeting with an antagonist at all.”
pg 115, “The time for you to establish control is when you set up the meeting.”
pg 118, This page in summary: Always make the antagonist wait before a meeting.
pg 119, “Forego inviting the antagonist to sit.”
pg 119, “Sit around a table with the antagonist across from you.”
pg 119, “The height of your respective chairs is important. Sitting higher than another [person] can give a slight, but definite subliminal advantage in the situation.”
pg 120, “Offering a beverage can […] make a person feel comfortable, which you don’t want to do. […] Forego this gesture of hospitality.”
pg 164, “There is no such thing as a ‘former’ or ‘past’ antagonist […] relapse is extremely common with antagonists.”