Growing up, I was always pretty unsettled by the story of Alice in Wonderland. My friends enjoyed reading the story and watching the movies about Alice’s unexpected trip into a strange land. They would talk about how fun it would be to fall down a rabbit hole. I thought it sounded terrible, and the story produced a lot of unease in me. Now, I still have anxieties about the story. I do not like the idea of falling into a world where everything is mad.
However, after reading Kets de Vries, and walking through the last few weeks in American ministry culture, I certainly feel a bit like Alice. Did I fall down the rabbit hole without realizing it? I certainly feel like I am at a never-ending tea party I did not RSVP for, with characters who seem to be full of endless contradiction.
This week, I met a bully. Not face-to-face, but his words have been repeated to me daily as I have tried to make sense of them for myself and the people I lead. I am sure others have mentioned this already, but John MacArthur’s comment to Beth Moore to “Go Home!” has created a ripple effect on both sides of the women in ministry issue.
This week, after arriving home from retreat with young women in our University’s program for women in ministry leadership, I realized Beth Moore is the designated target, but the shrapnel from MacArthur’s words (and the crowd’s response) is causing residual damage for men and women all over the nation who stand close to this issue. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time MacArthur has used words of hate to belittle women who preach the Gospel. His position is laid out clearly in the position of his church, Grace Community Church, where he asserts that women who are preaching or leading in any way are caught up in the chaos and confusion created by the feminist movement. There are others who share MacArthur’s opinion, but his anger and hateful behavior, coupled with his leadership of others in the organizations he belongs to into these same attitudes, makes his words even more difficult to receive.
According to Kets de Vries, “As bullying is learned behavior, it should be possible to unlearn it. However, changing bullies’ behavior isn’t easy given their love affair with power and domination. It is made more difficult by situations where bullying is an acceptable part of organizational culture.” De Vries goes on to discuss how difficult and damaging a bully can be for the sustainability of the organization. It seems that those who follow this type of behavior have fallen down an equally disturbing rabbit hole. The bully seems to hold the organization hostage.
I am grateful for many leaders who have come to the defense of Beth Moore and all women in ministry. The young women I’ve been spending time with are also grateful for the positive response that has been given. However, though these young women give me great hope for the future, I realize they have said “yes” to God in a time that requires them to live out their ministry in a very strange Wonderland full of contradictions. It is not just the controversial topic of women in ministry leadership that brings the bullies to the party, but many other issues as well. Ours is a controversial Gospel, but we do have an opportunity…now more than ever…to demonstrate love and grace as we navigate the landscape and journey back out of the rabbit hole.
Kets de Vries did not provide much hope for leadership in the current climate. I often wish we could wake up like Alice did, into a world where all is right…then, I am reminded that this will be our ultimate reality. However, it seems God has created each of us for this moment. He has invited us into the work to be done to bring the renewal of all things. God has plans for this world…even for bullies like MacArthur. So, I will journey home…back to Eden…back to God’s original design for all of us as bearers of His image. Along the way, I am sure we will encounter characters full of anger and shame, power-hungry narcissists, bullies, etc. However, I rest in a hope that is sure.
Let’s lead on, friends.
 Manfred Kets de Vries, Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership: Leadership Pathology in Everyday Life, 1st edn. (New York, NY: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2018), 58.