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Why Do People Like Harsh Leaders?

The Roys Report
El Informe Roys
Why Do People Like Harsh Leaders?

Why are Christians drawn to abusive celebrity pastors? And why do appeals to love and serve often gain less traction than condemnation and harshness?

In this edition of The Roys Report, Julie explores explore these questions with Dr. Raymond Chiu, a business professor at Redeemer University in Ontario, Canada.

Along with two colleagues, Dr. Chiu has done extensive research on why we like our leaders to be rough and tyrannical. What they found is that the appeal of tyrants is not an aberration, but a phenomenon tied to how our minds work.

Because these leaders, like megachurch pastors, are distant and unknown, we don’t really know them. And in the absence of any real knowledge of who they are, we look for certain defining characteristics that we associate with leadership.

But what’s scary is that those characteristics—or “defining features”—are extremely toxic. They’re features like domineering, pushy, manipulative, conceited and loud.

In this podcast, Dr. Chiu will unpack why we do this—and how we can combat this tendency. He also addresses how this dynamic plays out in church contexts and what we can do about it.

Tune in to our fascinating discussion, which has practical application for your life and ministry.

Raymond B. Chiu

Raymond B. Chiu teaches leadership and nonprofit management at Redeemer University, a Canadian institution rooted in a Christian Reformed tradition for over 40 years. Together with Agata Mirowska and Rick D. Hackett, their leadership research has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, and other national media. As a business professor with training in theology and ethics, he takes special interest in understanding the expression of faith in the public sphere, especially among workplaces, religious refugees, and charities. Raymond celebrates a 25-year marriage to his wife Lesley and enjoys walking alongside his three young-adult children.
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Why are Christians drawn to abusive celebrity pastors? And why do appeals to love and serve often gain less traction than condemnation and harshness? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today I’m going to explore these questions with Dr. Raymond Chiu, a business professor at Redeemer University in Ontario, Canada. Along with two colleagues, Dr. Chiu has done extensive research on why we like our leaders to be rough and tyrannical. What they found is that the appeal of tyrants is not an aberration, but it’s a phenomenon tied to how our minds work. Because these leaders like megachurch pastors are distant, we don’t really know them. And in the absence of any real knowledge of who they are, we look for certain defining characteristics that we associate with leadership. But what’s scary is that those characteristics or defining features are extremely toxic. They’re features like domineering, pushy, manipulative, conceited and loud. In this podcast, Dr. Chiu will unpack why we do this, and how we can combat this destructive tendency. He also addresses how this dynamic plays out in church context and what we can do about it. I’m so excited to delve into this fascinating topic with Dr. Chiu.


But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Accord Analytics and Marquardt of Barrington. In your ministry or business your reputation is your most valuable asset. But what do you do when you suspect misconduct? Hopefully you do the opposite of many of the organizations I report on. Instead of covering up wrongdoing, you investigate it, and Accord Analytics can help. In just 72 hours, their team of experts can scour emails, call logs and other records to produce usable evidence. They also can analyze your organization to identify specific threats and to suggest best practices. For free consultation go to ACCORDANALYTICS.COM. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are men of integrity. To check them out just go to BUYACAR123.COM.


 Well again joining me is Dr. Raymond Chiu, a business professor with training in theology and ethics at Redeemer University in Ontario, Canada. He’s also a leadership researcher whose work with colleagues Agata Mirowska and Rick Hackett has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today and other national publications. So, Dr. Chiu, welcome. I’m looking so forward to our conversation today.



I am too and thank you so much for focusing on all of God’s children that are in churches today, especially those who are hurting or neglected in some way and don’t have a voice. So thank you for doing that work and helping me to understand leadership as well.



Well, and I can tell just in your work, that your heart is for the vulnerable and those in our churches who are hurting, and I’m looking forward to diving into our topic, which again, deals with tyrannical leaders, authoritarian leaders, but I’m really curious, how is it that you got interested in this topic of research and looking into why we tend to prefer some of these leaders? You’re right that there are various terms that are used for that you’ve mentioned tyrannical, authoritarian, domineering, aggressive, they’re all in the same area. And I’ve worked in nonprofit management for a while and being concerned about social ills. Of course, the ethical failure and success of leaders is always an interest given the challenges that we face in our communities and the world today. And as I came out of seminary and into doctoral studies, I discovered that my supervisor and I both had an interest in leadership and ethics. And he invited me on to a team that had just started looking at the relationship between morality or what we call moral foundations and people’s leadership preferences because we want to know if there’s something deeper they’re causing the troubles we’re seeing in the world today. And that led to about a decade of groundbreaking research.


So that brings us to what I think is one of the most maddening topics in our church today, one of these dynamics where we seem to prefer these tyrannical leaders or these authoritarian leaders. You know, we have someone like John MacArthur, who tells Beth Moore to go home, and people cheer him for that, right? We’ve got a Mark Driscoll who’s been shown through all the research and the reporting, definitely a bully type leader. And yet, you know, I was in Phoenix not that long ago, and his parking lots full at his new church, people are going to it’s a mega church. Again, he knows how to grow these. So, what is your research shown as far as why we seem to prefer these kinds of leaders?



So we did a study of 1147 North American participants, and we look specifically at elements such as fear, such as their deep moral convictions, and try to see how they related to their preference for tyrannical leaders. And it turned out there was a relationship between a person’s fear of a dangerous world and their propensity to adopt conservative or traditional moral values. And those values or morals or intuitions, which is what we call them, are also related to a preference for a domineering leader.


So that would be the impression or the perception that these leaders are truly effective. And so we have this chain reaction that is happening, it’s psychological. It’s not just sort of a feeling in the moment, but it’s something that occurs among individuals and groups. We focus on a tyrannical leader what we call a tyrannical leader, because we’re really focusing on the traits, the fact that these people exhibit things that are clearly destructive and dysfunctional, but somehow, people seem to gravitate towards them. So we have these three things: fear, morality, and these impressions that we have of leaders is usually in the context of a lack of information as well. But these things are causing this perception that this kind of leader is a good thing.



So you mentioned that fear tends to move people towards conservative or traditional values. Now, I tend to be pretty conservative myself. I like to think that my values and my beliefs are rooted in truth, and that’s why I’m choosing them. But help me understand this fear and how fear might move us in that direction. And are you saying that the Conservatives are more fear based than liberals? I mean, is that what you’re saying? Because it kind of sounds a little bit that way.



Yeah, that might be the implication. It makes me think of the question, do we follow Jesus because we love him? Or do we follow Him because we fear condemnation, or we fear eternal damnation? Fear is always part of our human experience. If I were to give examples, you can see how fear mongering is actually something that is often part of the political discourse. It’s an intentional political strategy. Social media and conservative media especially has a lot of doomsday language saying our country is under crisis. Certain groups, gays, Muslims, migrants are threatening our country. This is part of the language of conservatism and it’s part of our daily human experience. And you know, when you think about it, it gets down to the core of our frailties as human beings. Just think about the times when your mom told you not to stay out at night or to be careful with strangers. And these reactions to threat, to danger are manifest in many different ways. There’s decades of studies showing that they relate to things like becoming more prejudiced, wanting to have more children, wanting to punish social deviance. It even reduces men’s desire for attractive women. It does as well, for example, fear of disease, which is related to fear of a dangerous world. And we’ve seen that and experienced that with the pandemic. It leads us to become politically and socially more conservative, to conform to the majority to become less extroverted, less open, less liberal in our sexuality. So, these are effects that pervade in our day to day lives, and experience and you think about all the things that we are even more afraid of now post pandemic. And so it’s understandable to perhaps suggest that, you know, some of these fears that we walk around with every day are going to affect the moral and social values that we adopt in churches in society.



Coleman Luck and I did some podcasts together. And he wrote a book on the curse of conservatism. Not saying that conservative ism is wrong. Well, being conservative isn’t wrong, maybe the ISM, here’s where you get into problems, because that’s where it becomes an ideology, right? But there is definitely a politics of panic going on.


Interestingly, you bring up like COVID, it almost seemed like the Conservatives were more on the non-fear side saying, well, we don’t need all these restrictions, why is everybody living by fear? And then you had liberals wanting to have more of the restrictions. But I also see your point in that, to conserve it means that you want to protect something right? You think there is something worth conserving or protecting? And fear isn’t always bad, either. I mean, we have it’s one thing when I look at some of these bully types, you know, Christian leaders, and I wonder to myself with the way they’re behaving, do they have a fear of God, the way they behave? Like it seems to me, they really don’t fear God and I legitimately fear God. Like, I legitimately know that someday I’m going to give an account to someone to whom I’m morally responsible. And I’m going to have to say and justify what I did, although, thanks to what Christ did on the cross, I’m forgiven, but still I have that idea that I’m going to be held accountable. And I do wonder whether some of these folks have that.


But you mentioned this idea of, sometimes we have love and fear in conflict, right? And you know, as Christians, we are to be driven by love, and certainly not fear of protecting ourselves. We’re to give up ourselves, right? So, talk to me a little bit about this moral response, and even as Christians, how we should be thinking about things when fear and love might be in conflict.



You know, I think we all care about ourselves and each other as well. And we all have good intentions. And that’s something that is reflected in moral foundations theory and our understanding of morality in general, we want all people to have well-being. The question is, is how that well-being is achieved. For some, it’s through caring directly for people and their rights, and for others is by, as you say, conserving or protecting the group. And so while the Conservatives may not be so concerned about fearing the disease within, their fear that disease without, from the outside the China virus, right? You know, what are other countries, you know, what conspiracies are going to be attacking and compromising our country. So it’s not that they don’t care, but they care in a different way. And they care from a group perspective. And so, it’s that group perspective that allows a certain kind of leadership a kind of social authoritarian values having to do with, you know, how one should behave in a group. That’s the kind of conditions that allows that to happen.


And so we had discovered, in fact, there is a relationship between that fear and that sort of group focused morality, which focuses on specifically three types of conservative or traditional morality: authority, the belief in strong authority, a belief and strong loyalty to the group, and a preservation of a kind of purity or sanctity in a group that’s often used to define a group.



I want to hone in on that. So how does our want to conserve something, to protect something, to what I’m hearing you say, protect a group, right? How does that move us towards being predisposed to liking more of your strong, even heavy handed leader?



So we have impressions in our mind, about what a leader looks like, or should look like, and we call these prototypes, right? So we have stereotypes, prototypes of men and women, you know, fathers and mothers. And in the same way, we have these prototypes in our mind if we see someone who matches that prototype, alpha male, you know, athletic, student, Council, President, whatever it is, but you know, those people who seem to be popular and get a following, those people match the prototypes. And there are a number of prototypes, most of them are good.


We have your sensitive leader, you’re intelligent, dedicated or dynamic leader. These are all proven by social science to be things that people have in their mind.


But there’s also what we call this tyrannical prototype that authoritarian, domineering, aggressive leader. And the specific traits that have been identified are these; there are six of them. And you can think about how they play out in your own experience perhaps. Domineering, pushy, manipulative, loud, conceited, and selfish. When you think about these, some of these are clearly ungodly. But if we were to sort of be in Sunday school, we would obviously say these are not godly or good things. But we’re talking about the average person out there and even a Christian who’s back at home watching movies or playing video games, right? The things that they react to that draw their attention that they find to be impressive, you know, are not necessarily the quiet demure soft spoken pastor. That doesn’t draw anyone’s attention. It’s the rich televangelists. It’s the preachers in sneakers, right? It’s the prosperity gospel, these are the things that signal to people, oh, they’re up on a stage, they must be successful, they must have something right, even though they’re displaying these dysfunctional traits. And, you know, it makes me think about I don’t know about you or your listeners, those times when we listen to this really domineering preacher on Sunday morning, and thought to ourselves for a moment, you know, if that person behaved that way in normal society, that wouldn’t really be acceptable. But somehow there’s this feeling that we’re really impressed that they got away with it, that people are in the audience, as you say, are laughing and that, you know, there’s this sort of group reaction that man, this guy can pull it off, and they are somehow better for it. It’s incredible.



If I’m understanding you correctly, and tell me if I am. What you’re saying is when we have these fears, and we see a world that’s dangerous and out of control, which there’s no doubt there’s that element throughout conservative Christianity where the world is bad and it’s scary and it’s changing. You know there’s truth in that. But that we’re tending to want this leader that doesn’t look anything like Jesus. Right? I mean, this leader who maybe has these negative characteristics, yeah, we think, Wow, that guy may be a jerk, but he can, he can be my champion. Is that what you’re saying?



Yes, he can be our champion, he can do what we go to leaders every day for, and that is to get the job done. I think it’s fair to say that we all have an agenda. It’s not surprising to say that certain religious groups that are allied with political movements have an agenda. That could be even perhaps a cultural mandate, I think it varies depending on you know, which part of the world you’re in. And so, if that’s your agenda, to protect society from crisis to save our country from degradation, then who can get it done? It’s more likely the person who’s going to ram it through, you know, to the extent there who are, you know, greedy and selfish ourselves, after thinking about it not surprising that we would just buy into a leader that we feel will do our dirty work, so to speak.



Well, I mean, that dynamic is definitely there. I mean, I don’t get it on a certain level, because I remember when Donald Trump was running, and I was like, wow, he’s such a jerk, like he won’t get anywhere. That’s my thinking. Like, I’m immediately repulsed by bullies. I always have been. It’s probably why I’m in the line of work that I am. But I was shocked. I mean, absolutely shocked with how the Christian community got behind him. And then was like, well, you know, sometimes you and what you just said, sometimes we need the bad guy to do our dirty work, was essentially the argument I got from other Christians. Sometimes we need a bad guy to do our dirty work. And so a perfectly you know, almost like, well, Jesus couldn’t get us out of this mess. So, we can’t really act like Jesus. I mean, really? Bottom line. That’s, what I’m hearing some Christians say.


But then to see this come into because there was an argument with Trump. Well, he’s not a pastor, right? People are like, well, he’s not a pastor. Let’s not expect him to be one. But we’re talking about pastors in a lot of these situations, we’re talking about, and this is what’s been shocking to me. And there needs to be a good study on this because there was a study and it turned out it was very flawed, but it was on narcissist pastors. And, and it showed that there tended to be a preference, like Christians were preferring these narcissists in these positions. And it’s no wonder that we’re getting so many narcissists in these mega churches. But it seems like there’s a curated image, which is kind of like maybe a tough guy. But we’ve made the tough guy acceptable, like somehow we’ve Christianized the tough guy. And so we’ve got these mega church pastors with curated images, because they’re on social media. And I think this is one of the problems. And I talked to Caitlyn Beatty about this when we’re talking about celebrities for Jesus. This goes back pretty far for evangelicals, you know? Even the Great Awakenings and Jonathan Edwards, who would get up and preach and would go to different towns, and people didn’t necessarily know him very well. And so we have these leaders, and there’s a lack of information, we don’t really know, for example, how does he treat his wife? Have we seen him with his kids? You know, it used to be the pastor stayed in the community for a very, very long time, would live there, maybe his whole life pastor, the same church, and he lived there, and people knew they would know if he had rough edges, and I would think there would be a certain amount of positive pressure on the pastor to conform his image to Christ, because everybody’s seeing it. But now it’s almost the opposite way. So, talk a little bit about how this lack of information and what your research found how this contributes to promoting these people with very poor character, but do have a really flashy image.



A different way that leadership scholars study leadership, which is to look at the actual behavior. So when we are able to research people who do know their leaders, then we asked specifically, about, you know, whether or not they are ethical, whether or not they you know, consider the needs of their followers, whether or not they, you know, communicate well and exhibit certain virtues. So, you’re absolutely right that there is this difference between the everyday pastor that we know. Like my pastor who has been pastoring for 35 years and is very soft spoken, but you know, such an excellent, genuine person. A difference between that person and someone that we hardly know and, you know, social media makes it a lot worse. Obviously, probably one of the most important articles I’ve read in a long time, by Jonathan Hight in the Atlantic highlighted the fact that social media really only serves to be a platform for the most extreme views to stand out and gain traction.


And so if I’m a tyrant, and I’m able to work that type of social media through Tweets and Instagram, and then also do things that attract the attention of media outlets, and they themselves amplify and repeat those traits, we’re essentially feeding to the base exactly those things that got them attracted to that tyrant in the first place. So, it’s a kind of self-perpetuating mechanism that we have. Now it’s a perfect storm. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter the substance of what the leader says anymore, because if they already identified now, because it’s about groups, it’s about identity, if they already identify with the leader, and what they say or how good they are, probably doesn’t matter anymore. It’s really sort of how they feel. It’s again that impression they get that, oh, this person is really going to take it to those other people. And if they can feel that this leader will continue to advance their agenda, continue to be aggressive, domineering, selfish, and in whatever way in order to achieve the group’s goals, then that’s all they need to know. They don’t need to know the details. They don’t want to know the details. You know, it’s interesting that more or sorry, less conservative media will have quite a preoccupation with tracking all the intrusive of people like Donald Trump, but when in fact, you know, there’s followers of him and you know, similar leaders who really don’t care about that kind of thing.



Let’s talk about toxic masculinity because in my reporting, I’ve seen an awful lot of this, sadly, within conservative Christianity. We mentioned Driscoll, and I remember talking to the head of his security who talked about being in a staff meeting and Driscoll turning around and just berating his associate pastor, you know, and berating his masculinity. Tough guy, right, but very toxic, toxic form of masculinity, or, you know, the whole patriarchy movement, where we see men encouraged to rule their homes, not serve their wives and children, but to rule over them. And that somehow this is a good. So, what did your research show about this kind of toxic masculinity and why it’s happening?



In fact, it wasn’t a primary focus of our study. And really interesting link emerged in that that relationship between traditional morality and preference for tyranny turned out to be stronger among males, which reinforces this idea that there’s this association between leadership and masculinity. I think Kristin Dumas from Calvin University addresses this much better in her book called Jesus and John Wayne. But that particular angle taken in this book is, you know, we have this problem with evangelicalism and masculinity, and our research would offer something to embellish or maybe expand on that. And that’s a fact that most leadership researchers understand based on decades of research, that basically there’s this think-leader, think-male principle, that whenever we think about leadership, we think about masculinity, we expect leaders to be male, we expect leaders to have male traits, as well, which are more agentic more aggressive. And so because, you know, even subconsciously, people associate leadership with masculinity, you can think about what effect that has on leaders, especially male leaders, who are looking to fortify their own sense of masculinity.


Now, we didn’t, you know, this is not something that can be conclusive from the research, but it’s understandable to see how males especially because the leaders are male, and because many leaders are strong, that, you know, males could be trying to actualize themselves through the type of leader that is before them. And hence, we have, of course, hyper masculine groups like the Proud Boys, like the Oath keepers, who, of course, were part of the disruptive and violent movements that we’ve seen in in recent years. But they are also fashioned around this idea of the toxic male leader.



You said something that was very curious to me and something that I’ve sort of had a theory about myself, where you said that, that some of these men were trying to actualize themselves in the leader, which says to me, these are men that are actually weaker in their masculinity, who tend to prefer these hyper masculine leaders. In other words, it’s not the strong man who is going after this kind of leader, not the man who’s secure in himself. But it’s more a man that’s insecure in that, who is, I mean, almost compensating by attaching to this toxic leader. What I found is that a lot of these churches that when I, you know, begin investigating, I will find that a lot of the men that gravitate around these really bully type leaders, a lot of them are not alpha males, they’re beta males, right? I mean, I hate to use those terms. And so that alpha male, I mean, the men that have stayed with, for example, Mark Driscoll for 30 years, you have to be I mean, you’re berated on a regular basis. So, you kind of have to be to put up with that. And then you’ll see the men who are strong in their masculinity, they’ll be the ones that call them out. So they’re not going to last that long, because they’re going to be calling out this leader for their behavior. But yeah, it’s just really, really fascinating to me. There’s so much in there that I’m sure you could research for a long time, and still have more.



Yeah, I have actually come across research that talks about it, the fact that it’s more insecure males that would follow after a dominant leader. So, there’s research done in a different way that corroborates with what you say. And it certainly is understandable that yes, it’s going to be those so called weaker males that are going to be able to put up under those environments. And even the fact that I used the word weaker, I mean, you know, weak implies, you know, less valuable, less worthy, but, you know, there are other forms of masculinity that are valuable. And, yeah, it’s unfortunate that our cultures, religious or not, are feeding into this idea that to be masculine, you need to be having these sort of even destructive qualities.



Well, and Jesus was the strongest leader that there was, and his strength enabled him to lay himself down and to sacrifice himself for us and, every time we talk about leadership, I always, you know, go back to wow, Jesus didn’t talk that much about leadership. He talked a lot about servanthood. And yet we you know, in this culture very obsessed with leadership. Judson University is a top-ranked Christian University, providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to JUDSONU.EDU. I want to pivot talking about how in these hyper masculinized cultures, that abuse seems to so often thrive. And I know that’s something that you did look into in your research. What did you find out between the connection between abuse and masculinity?



I think the answer to the question really can be imagined by thinking about what would happen if a stranger came up to you on the street and tried to bully or coerce you? I mean, of course, you know, who is this person, you’d have nothing to do with it, you’d have your guard up right away. And you probably wouldn’t feel much pressure, hopefully not. But you know, everything changes, when you’re in an environment where you have this kind of tyrannical leader, where not only does the organization and its legitimacy, endorse this leader, which means that he is automatically afforded trust. But this leader also embodies all of those things that address those fears and insecurities, those priorities, those convictions that we talked about before; that this leader fights to overcome our uncertainties and our threats and our fears, that he fights to protect the group, he leads people to God even, he presents a father figure, you know, we’re thinking about the masculine aspect, and, you know, provide spiritual insight, spiritual guidance, of course, in a religious context. You know, when that happens, then you have this entire environment and this entire organizational structure that then provides an opportunity for abuse.


Another way to think about it is this; one thing that leadership scholars often think about and ask themselves is, do leaders lead by behaving in ideal ways such that followers followi it? Like, are leaders just sort of trying to do the sort of servant leadership thing and transformational leadership thing? Or do they lead based on what works? Do they just kind of behave how they think they should behave or how they see other leaders behave? And you know, if it works, it works. You know, God must be blessing me. I must be a good leader. It’s more likely the latter, in many cases, as we’re kind of fumbling through leadership than the first. If a preacher has experienced sort of domineering, vindictive, disciplinary preaching in the past, and, you know, uses it, and find it works, and find that people come and say that they’ve been transformed, and they’re awestruck. I mean, they’re going to keep on doing that thing. And so if that environment that I talked about before is also an effect, and they’re finding that these things work, why would they not have a propensity or at least an enticement to use that power for their own needs and for their own gain? Right, because, you know, so far, they’ve really been doing it, supposedly, for the good of the congregation, and it works. But the problem is, it fosters some of these destructive traits that are really not kind to other people. And that’s the unfortunate thing.



So, help me understand how did you research that? I mean, did you find, did you ask leaders, for example, whether they do, they tend to just do what works, or whether they move towards their ideal of what they want, or their followers, which whether they’re going from a pragmatic point of view.



Some people think that leadership is just a question of just, you know, being good, and then people follow you. But people follow bad leaders, too. So, part of it is understanding how this leadership can translate into specific situations. And I think it’s more of the kind of research that you’re doing, and that, you know, the historical research that Kristin Dumas is doing, and others that put color and explanation, you know, put the real stories and the narratives to these broader phenomena that we see. I mean, the data that you have is actually really, really rich data to recall that qualitative data. And it’s the combination of this quantitative research with this qualitative research. As scholars, we often remark that journalists often do excellent, excellent qualitative research, you know, case studies and investigations into how an entire organization works and functions. And oftentimes these case studies are used by academics as case studies. So I think brought together that, you know, the data is there, the research is there sort of as a whole.



I know we’ve talked a lot about academic theories and your academic research. But this isn’t just academic for you. You were in a church, I understand that had been planted by an American mega church movement. And that did not end well for the church. And I’m guessing there was a lot of hurt as the fallout of what happened there. But would you speak to some of that, and the dynamics, when we see this tend or preference for authoritarian leaders, how that does play out specifically in the church context.



And this particular church just happened to be much more on the authority-based, top-down approach. And the important thing is that it really plays out in how people do church, how the church is structured. So, this particular church really prided itself on the fact that only the elder board had authority for all decisions. And the organizational structure did not have any space for accountability to members or accountability to any other body. So, it’s only that sometimes very small group of elders who would be vested with all the responsibility and authority to make all decisions.


And so when trouble happens, it was literally impossible for the membership to do anything to raise the issue to call a vote because there were no members; members were the elders and you know, this kind of sort of top down structure would be reflected in the fact that everything was quite tightly controlled. Lay and youth leadership was genuinely de-emphasized, there was little grassroots initiative. You know, this eventually led to a power struggle because you know, when you have this situation you also have a context within which the leaders themselves believe that they are capable of leading without incident, right? So if you’re in this small group, and you’re saying to yourself, we don’t need accountability to anyone else, you’re also saying to yourself, we can handle it, like we can decide on everything. And I’ve also heard people within the denomination, and leaders within a denomination saying that, you know, all we need in this church or all we need in churches like this is a godly leader. We don’t need to deal with organizational structure, we don’t need to do with deal with culture, we don’t need to deal with our norms and systems and how we make decisions here. All we need is a godly leader. That’s why we’re having problems. And so that kind of mentality signals the fact that authoritarianism is really linked to a whole set of interconnected beliefs. And it’s very unfortunate this happened, you know, I pray for them. Those people are very dear to me. But, you know, I generally would not recommend that kind of approach for our church.



I think you’re touching on some really big dynamics within the church right now and things that I think we need to wrestle with. And if we are leaning more towards authoritarianism, it would make sense that we’re also becoming more mega church, right? And would you say that if we’re going to reverse this trend, obviously, we need to look at things in ourselves, because we’ve talked about that. And I want to talk about that, but just on a structural level, do we need to move towards something that’s smaller, so that more people can be involved, that every person gets a voice?



I would concur with that. And I currently attend the opposite of that kind of more authority-based church that I went to before, where you can see the difference. And I think, in my case, the leaders are relatively hands off. They’re very trusting of the laity who are organized very effectively into lay-led committees, there’s a tremendous mind initiative, there’s quite a few kind of mature Christians that are stepping out into the different areas of ministry, the youth are highly, highly engaged, and involved in leadership, it’s a totally different experience. But you know, as you said, you know, if the belief is that we want this church to operate efficiently, and we prefer expediency over the process, then the result is going to be what you’re going to get, you reap what you sow, essentially.



That’s something I learned, I was a history major in college and dictatorships are extremely efficient, extremely efficient, at least in the short run. Now, they tend to in the long run, not to be so efficient, because people get trampled on, and then you get a big mess when there’s an uprising. But in the short run, they’re very efficient. But more if leadership and the governing of something, the running of something is more spread out between a lot of people, it’s going to be a little bit messier. It’s going to take more time, but then you also have people growing up, you know. I mean, you can go to a mega church and just sit there and have everybody do something for you. And you never have to do anything. And if you’re in a church, like you’re describing, which is a lot like, we’re in a house church now and like if we don’t step up, then we just don’t have church on Sunday, right? I mean, either we do it or it doesn’t happen, which I think is not too far away from the New Testament model. Again, this gets back to what do we want? Do we want to be involved? Or do we want to go to the show? Do we want someone who will do all the work for us and all the protecting of the, you know, the evils out there for us? Or do we want to be involved, and, you know, trusting God for those things, and really seeking his leadership in those things?


So we’re talking about a lot of root problems, which really get down to who we are, and how we think, as human beings. And so if we’re going to change, you’re talking about some pretty fundamental changes in our thinking, but also in our actions. And I know that that could feel pretty overwhelming for folks. So what kind of hope can you offer in our current climate?



I think we can offer hope. And I think you alluded to some of these things already when you talked about sort of coming back to what you think is sort of the root of doing church and doing church in a good way in a godly way. And I truly do believe the answer comes from returning to the Bible and to Christ. I mean, it’s really interesting to read the Bible again, for what it’s saying about leadership about how leaders emerge, and not necessarily in good ways. It’s often that you see in the Bible that there’s these perceptions or assumptions about physical prowess or seemingly redemptive violence that you know, qualifies someone to be a leader, if I use the term from Walter Wink.

There’s many stories in the Bible where leaders emerge through some of these kinds of tyrannical kind of behaviors. Prime example is Abimelech, son of Gideon, by a concubine, actually. And he used racial politics to gain a following and then killed seven of his brothers, as some of you might know, to gain the throne.


And so, we need to be looking at these stories as well as you know, many other stories in Jesus time where people had all sorts of expectations about what kind of king or ruler, or insurrectionists, that Jesus would be. All kinds of insights in terms of what people are looking at. While at the same time, God was always saying, well, you don’t need a leader, you don’t need a king, you just need to follow me, right. And so, reading the Bible in that way, just returning to the word, and then also looking at Christ, and not putting him in a box. Just realizing that he really reflects, you know, as someone who is a leadership scholar and professor, he really reflects one of the most diverse expressions of leadership I can think of. And it’s not just servant leadership, it’s also transformational leadership, in the way that he deals with people. It’s a deep sense of stewardship of his mission, and his flock, and the time and the resources that he has. It’s also a diverse set of moral virtues that exhibits in his character that come out at various times whether its courage or humility or empathy or justice. And of course, he also exhibits almost a subversive form of leadership, where he’s trying to say, yes, you know, follow me, but I’m gonna do whatever I can to subvert your perceptions of what a leader should be. I’m going to subvert sort of your reliance on the idol of leadership and bring you back to the gospel bring, you back to the true source, which is grace. And so yeah, I think I think there’s a lot that we can learn by just going back to square one.



We could talk for a very long time about these things. But we have run out of time. But I want to thank you so much. And I’m guessing your research will continue along these lines, and you’ll have some more research coming before long  am I right? Are you working on something now?



Yes, we are. We’re working on trying to study this from a different angle, using scenarios of tyrannical leaders in real life contexts and then seeing whether or not people’s moral intuitions as well as the gender of the leader. So, our prior study did not look at the gender of the leader. So looking at whether the gender of a leader has Ian effect on whether or not these moral intuitions result in preference. And we know from prior research that women do not do well trying to emulate men.



Fascinating. Well, I look forward to that and look forward to maybe having you on again to talk about that. But thank you so much, Doctor Chiu. I appreciate you appreciate your work, and for taking the time.



Thank you for having me on. It’s been a privilege.



Again, thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And just a reminder that we’re able to do this podcast and all of our investigative work at The Roys Report because of support from people like you. So, if you appreciate our work, would you please consider giving a gift to support us to donate just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcasts or Spotify. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you were blessed and encouraged.

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13 pensamientos sobre “Why Do People Like Harsh Leaders?”

  1. Jesus:

    25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.

    26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

    27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

    Sorry, forgot to remember the NT book and chapter this is.

  2. I usually track with your podcasts and guests, but when Chiu started to make the point that fear mongering is found primarily amongst conservatives, I couldn’t listen any longer. Both sides of the spectrum are equally adept at this contemptible practice.

    1. I did push back on that. Yet, apparently, that’s what the study indicated. I don’t see why it matters which side is the worst offender, though. I’m most concerned with how my own tribe behaves. And there’s no doubt conservatives peddle in the politics of panic. It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and unhelpful.

    2. True that fear mongering comes from both “sides”, because we’re fearful as a species. People have been using fear to manipulate since the dawn of man, regardless of which side of the political/religious fence they sit.

      But… I think I get what Chiu saying. Conservatives are, by definition, wanting to conserve systems the way they are. That’s not a result of fear per se – there are very valid non-fear related reasons to embrace conservatism – but humans fear the unknown, and fear change. Conservatism is a natural fit for someone who is primarily driven by fear, as it offers the security of upholding the known. Even if the status quo isn’t ideal, you know what to expect (like that saying, the devil you know). Conversely, progressives by definition want to change things, which raises alarms for anyone who already feels embattled and uncertain. Progressives, for that reason, are less likely to be driven by fear. at least until reactionaries who want to roll back the clock to a time when they felt more secure threaten to undo progress – then you see fear mongering on the left come out. Ironically enough, in that situation arguably the progressives are trying to conserve the new status quo.

  3. gayle richardson

    This was excellent, I had to listen twice. It’s packed and really requires many follow up episodes. Julie may I request just that!

  4. Thanks for this very timely podcast on an important subject. I liked Dr. Chiu’s manner and approach to leadership.

    I was surprised that psychopathology was not mentioned. Many of the behaviours and personality traits described a characteristic of an individual who would score on a psychopathology test.

    Such individuals are in the population and in the pulpit. A good book on this (albeit now old) is “Snakes in Suits” which focusses on the business world (from my memory last name Hare).

    1. Now appearing in a church near you: Napoleon-esque syndrome-ridden and DSM-5 classified narcissistic male surrounding himself with the breathlessly vulnerable and/or those actually exhibiting the Fruits of the Spirit, sporting a tight shirt (especially when physically holding high God’s Word from the pulpit), who skewers anyone that dare question his authority or behavior while proclaiming, “Toucheth not the Lord’s anointed.”
      Surely. Heaven. Weeps.

  5. Rabindranath y Ramcharan

    I wouldn’t discount the fact that, if you look for it, you can find verses in the Bible that make Christianity a pretty harsh religion. See, for example, Matthew 19:9, Matthew 19:12, James 5:1, Luke 18:22 and Matthew 7:23 in the New Testament. Not everybody insists on a harsh interpretation, but it’s there if you’re looking for it.
    As to why some people prefer the authoritarian style of leadership, there are some clues outside the Bible. Unless they were actually in the Gulag, most of the citizens of the old Soviet Union loved Stalin at a level beyond the capabilities of any secret police or ministry of propaganda to fabricate. And until he started blowing up the country, Hitler managed to convince most of his people that he was the bee’s knees. Some of this was identifying the people as a cohesive in-group being threatened by a hostile out-group bent on their destruction. But it also seems to be true that when Jesus said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” it turned out to be too much for some people. (John 8:36) It may make some of us uncomfortable, but whether they stay or go is up to themm.

  6. The one thing these control freaks have in common is their obsession with money, sex, power, and ego-gratification, ‘
    In the case of “sex”, they either seduce women, like Hybels and others , or they treat women like dirt, in the case of MacArthur.
    Ego gratification must have hit an all-time high for MacArthur at the Shepherds conference when Steve Lawson made his “5%” comment about MacArthur. ( Do some people view MacA as a demigod? Was he born saved? This is getting really blasphemous the way the “Evangelical Pope” is idolized.)
    As far as money and power: They hardly make any effort to conceal it any more.

    1. Rabindranath y Ramcharan

      If I understand John MacArthur’s brand of Calvinistic predestination correctly, not only was he born saved (Ephesians 1:4-50, but he is able to tell that you weren’t (if there’s a Bible verse supporting this notion, I haven’t been able to find it). That’s why most of his sermons take up the theme of “You may think you’re a Christian, but you’re not, really.” I consider him a prophet of despair, but there does seem to be a demand for that kind of thing. 2Timothy 4:3.

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