A guide for pastors looking to split a church.
From the Editor: By popular demand from The Midway Guardian readers, the original three “Screwtape Letters to a Senior Pastor” from February of 2022 are compiled into a single volume below. Stay tuned for additions to this series.
C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece “The Screwtape Letters” was originally published in 1941 in The Guardian, a religious newspaper. In 1942, the letters were compiled and released as a book. Written as a defense of Christianity in a satirical format, the work contained 31 letters in which Screwtape, a seasoned devil, instructs a younger devil, Wormwood, on effective strategies for tempting humans and ensuring they remain on a path to eternal destruction. It would be fair to say Lewis’ Screwtape Letters characterize well the human tendency toward hypocrisy, a lack of self-awareness and introspection, and offers insights into what motivates people corrupted by sin.
What if such a letter was written to a pastor? Below is a compilation of letters obtained by The Midway Guardian. Stay tuned as the Editorial Board presents this and additional letters as a series.
My Dear Pastor,
I write to you now concerning a most audacious task – a task of critical importance to the One Below. He has urged me to impress upon you the seriousness of his desire to sift the people of the Holy One as wheat. The task to which I am referring is of course the urgent matter of dividing the people of the church. You, my dear pastor, must act to split the church. I will try to remain brief but do, my friend, pay close attention as there are many steps you must consider and follow explicitly or you may not succeed at the task.
Remember always that humans are most allured by the ordinary. The status quo. All of the steps I describe for you must be followed, but done so in a manner that keeps many unaware of what is happening to their church before it is too late. Until then, you must always preserve an aura that everything is normal, and you must dismiss those who express concerns with the ever comforting reminder to submit and simply trust the church leaders under your control… but I am getting ahead of myself.
To split the church successfully, one must begin with subtlety. Any large scale sudden moves will awaken the faithful to our plans. Remember, my dear pastor, big things have small beginnings. A small flame must be nurtured carefully if it is ever become a raging fire. So then, start with a small group of church officers. Let your efforts smolder underneath until it reaches critical mass. You have met this objective when you can safely and consistently hold meetings outside of the church, dinners and lunches – where I warn you please hear me on this point – flattery must be your primary weapon. Continued and steady flattery is how you lure these unsuspecting officers to support your cause. Who doesn’t want to be liked and favored by their pastor? Strive to build loyalty to yourself and not the “mission” of the church’s ministry. I don’t have to tell you that to focus there might achieve the opposite outcome of what we desire.
You will know you have succeeded at achieving critical mass of your supporters among the officers when you can safely assure yourself that you always have enough votes to win and pass any motion consistently – no matter how outlandish. Each measure passed must be promoted by you, but I beg you, never bring certain motions yourself openly in a meeting, you must use a middle man, or as I should say, a fall man. If our plot is discovered, how easy it is then, to just shift the blame to him. You must protect yourself at all costs. Each time those you control vote the way you prompt, it is an open manifestation of your power and control. Once you have obtained power and control – feed that flame. Let nothing inhibit it. Maintaining it at all costs is your primary directive.
I do not mean, my dear pastor, to make this sound easy. It will take years of hard work and dedication. You will spend countless hours grooming your officers over bourbon and cigars…But I know you are up to the task, or the One Below would not have sent me to you.
There will, of course, be those pesky “principled” ones that may oppose you. There is no need to challenge these fools openly. Rather smile at them and reaffirm to the leadership of the church that you are a strong leader. Maybe even find some church rule books, or better yet, your own books on church government to assert that you have been charged by the Holy One to lead as you see fit, and cannot be slowed down or troubled by achieving consensus. Twist the rules to essentially say you can do whatever you want. Make sure your controlled officers affirm this and repeat it often.
Hear me dear friend on this point, it matters not if there are those that oppose you as long as you know you have the majority voting for you. In this way, your supporting officers can police the troublemakers on your behalf, keeping your hands clean. This is best achieved when these other supporting officers think they are serving the Holy One as they dispense with the troublemakers who, need I remind you, oppose the status quo. Building this foundation is critical if any of the remaining steps are to be achieved with any success. Take your time, and get it right! You will need your supporters to discredit and push forward the remainder of our agenda. If that means “packing the court” locally – so be it.
Those who oppose you will likely be officers at first. Their discernment may prove to be your greatest obstacle as your supporters won’t have any, which is of course, why they are susceptible to supporting our cause in the first place. You must control the dialogue and processes to squelch the efforts of discerning pests. Jargon – not argument, parliamentary procedure – not discussion, is your path. Don’t ever argue with them. They have the truth on their side and that is the one thing that could undo us. If they ever do accuse you, shift the blame and change the subject.
Ensure your supporters are ready to gossip that the officers opposing you are trying to change the church (status quo). Appeal to the emotions of the well meaning conservatives in your midst. You may think that these conservative minded parishioners will oppose you on principle. Trust me, dear friend, experience has taught the One Below that the conservatives will fold if you appeal to their emotions with the crafty distraction of fear. These humans fear trendy ministry gimmicks, contemporary music, and homosexuality. Seed the idea that these officers want to introduce these things into the church, and you will find allies in the well meaning conservatives of the church. But, above all my dear pastor, you must apply the most damning term of all to these officers who will oppose you. Your supporters must condemn those who oppose you as having the character flaw of liberalism. You cannot apply the term “liberal” enough to these truth bearers.
Now, my dear pastor, that you have assassinated the character of your opposition, you must not stop meeting on the side with your supporters. Reward them. Appeal to their sense of serving the Holy One by supporting you. Keep your bourbon and cigar dates on the side and your private meetings before the actual meeting to keep your supporters in your corner. You are, after all, not wasting time. Please remember that you get your salary whether you spend time securing your political position or if you focus on the “mission” of the ministry. In fact, if you can find clever ways to profit financially from ministry speaking engagements, books, or conferences at the church – by all means. These actions not only enrich yourself, but enhance your brand as a pastor.
Please work diligently on these tasks just as I have instructed you. I must go for now, for I have many other letters to write to my numerous other friends who require my guidance. In the meantime, remember – subtlety and flattery, always flattery at this stage of the process. You will hear from me again very soon with further instructions.
Your Affectionate Counselor,
My Dear Pastor,
With a keen awareness for the urgency of your task of splitting the church, I have not delayed in writing to you this second time with additional instructions. You may remember in my previous letter I shared strategies for how you can rally your supporters and sideline your opposition among the church officers. I cannot stress enough the criticality of establishing this foundation for what is to come. If you are ready, do read on now for the next steps I have prepared for you. Let us begin with the the power and control you have arranged for yourself as a leader…
If you can maintain this arrangement long enough, with time, you may find that the discerning ones opposing you will get frustrated and leave the church. Driving away anyone or anything that threatens your power or the status quo must be a priority for you. To achieve this, use the unique weapon in your arsenal – your pulpit. Never underestimate the power of personality and influence you can assert from the pulpit. Let the people know who the liberals are, and reassure them that individuals leaving the church in frustration is a good thing. Appeal to the “Will of the Holy One” on this point. The people will support you if you appear strong and say it with conviction. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice and point at members of the church when you do. Condemn what they abhor – liberalism! Cry aloud how we must never compromise with their theologically errant perspectives. Remind the people that the liberals will never stop attacking the church and so you cannot, my dear pastor, relent on this rallying cry. Ever.
This takes pride. Most damnable pride. But you must not make it appear so – so far as you are able. The people will be drawn to how strong you appear and will think little about the logical or ethical inconsistencies in what you are preaching. Remind them that liberalism is from the Devil and if they listen to perspectives other than what it is you preach, then the people might become infected – poisoned by wrong think!
At this point you have achieved a great thing. The peace and unity of the church may be apparently strained. Most critically friend, you must explain this growing disunity away as the result of the liberals. It is always they who have disturbed the peace because it is they who have disagreed with you. Remind everyone these dissenters are fighting against the “Biblical form of government” you represent.
Some discerning members may challenge you – be prepared. They may say “But I have known so and so for sixty years, he is a good pious man and I see no cause for the label of liberalism to be applied to him.” Beware of these people and do your best to frustrate them into leaving the church. Insult them if necessary. Do whatever it takes to silence them. Meanwhile remind everyone that the officers of the church, and of course you too, have special insight and abilities. Much like the apostles, you can discern the character flaws that others cannot because you have been to seminary. Always, dear pastor, assert your ideological, mental, and theological dominance over the sheep – who most likely only speak one language.
But this is open arrogance you say – and yes dear friend, it is exactly that, but you will need such arrogance if you are to succeed at what is to come. The One Below expects nothing less. If you make it this far on your quest to split the church, you now have built a fully functioning kingdom for yourself. Relish it. Never mind the families or the people who were hurt getting you here. It is all a necessary part of the process. Those who cannot submit to you in your kingdom, must be dispensed with. By this time, even the surrounding community should be able to look at the church and see it has been factionalized. Well done my dear friend!
Once, as the One Below desires, you have established your kingdom, it is time to take your effort to the next level. The wedge is in place. You have taken years to get to this moment. Pick up your hammer and pound that wedge! Tell everyone that the drastic steps to come are for the peace and purity of the church – appealing of course, dear pastor, to your revered status as a minister of the Holy One. Those who have not left in frustration by now must be driven out by force. They have, after all, attempted to lecture you in your own kingdom! Surely they have committed some sort of offense you can exploit. If not – invent one. The pastor knows their sin. I do heartily recommend slander. This grievous sin can be applied to dissenters with great effect because their very disagreements can be characterized as such. Never mind, dear friend, if the statements they have made opposing you are true – point out the adjectives in the statements that you don’t like – declare the statements to be full of half truths because you don’t agree with their descriptive language.
Now friend, this is where it gets really fun. Draw the sword of church discipline and strike! You have slandering liberals among you! They have violated their church officer vows! They have violated the Ninth Commandment of the Holy One! Tell all that for the sake of peace and unity of the church we must strip such men of their office and possibly even excommunicate them. Preach sermons on the cancer that must be removed or it will kill the church – when you and I of course know, dear pastor, that it is your kingdom we are really protecting.
Sit back now for a moment. Consider what we have accomplished together! You have arranged affairs perfectly. The stage is set for moving toward the split. You have marshaled your allies – wound up and released the ire of well meaning parishioners against your opposition. The trials are underway and your pulpit is functioning exactly as intended. I must go now, but rest assured, I will not leave you to your own devices for long – you will again hear from me very soon.
Your Affectionate Counselor,
My Dear Pastor,
As you know, you have followed my guidance well – and the church is ready to split. Now, in my final letter to you, please consider – and I admonish you follow closely – these final steps. Your opposition is now perhaps buckling under the pressure of the church discipline you and your supporters have unleashed.
There is more do to, and now that the church discipline has begun – I must at this point warn you. Once you take this step, the factions opposing you, even the silent ones, may emerge with great fanfare. Complaints, accusations of spiritual abuse… You name it. Your actions may even draw the attention of higher courts to whom your are subject. Overcoming this obstacle could prove more challenging for you, but if you are careful to secure supporters at the higher court using the same methods you used to control your local church – I’m sure you will be fine. It may take some additional plotting on the side, but my friend, if you make it this far in the process I am sure you will be fine. Make sure to remind the higher courts of the favors you have done for them in the past. Always beware, dear pastor, there will always be a few immovable discerning types at the higher courts just like in your local church. Deploy the tactics I’m describing to them as well and I’m sure you will discredit them with ease.
Now that church discipline at the local church has begun, be sure to meet with your helpers and prosecutors to make sure they do it all right. If during a trial they need help, be sure to assist them by feeding them the right questions and interrupting the wrong ones. Never underestimate their ability to foil your plans unknowingly through an errant honest statement or action. Unify your supporting officers around a demand for your slandering opposition to repent. Announce it to the church so everyone knows they are guilty. Demand that they throw themselves at your feet, at the mercy of the court you control, the very same one bringing charges against them.
Above all, dear pastor, remind everyone that as divisive as it may seem – you have only done all of this – this “painful” and “difficult” act of church discipline, because you have an obligation to your “brothers” under discipline. Tell everyone that you have taken these actions to purify the church and it is good for the men charged as well as the mission of the Holy One. Be sure to charge them in the name of the Holy One so everyone won’t forget this.
Now, dear pastor, if you achieve all that I have instructed you, and you have done well to this point… it will be time to enter the last phase. The best phase of all. The One Below might even call it his favorite phase. Be sure the trials, communication, and all discussions of the specifics of the charges you have brought against the officers who have opposed you are done in secret. Let me be clear, very clear: everything I have told you only works if you conduct the trials of the men accused in secret. Repeat this to yourself if you must, lest you forget dear friend. Secrecy is one of your best weapons. A lack of transparency enables it all, as it allows you to remain prejudicial in private among your supporters, and yet pious externally to your church while you claim to be protecting the reputations of the very men you are destroying. Remember, Christians are inclined to trust their pastor. Despite what their doctrines may prescribe, they won’t hold you as a pastor to the same standard they will hold others. Use this friend, and use it well. Your credibility with many is a blank check. So spend freely.
The aforementioned secrecy will allow you to tell the church, now divided and concerned, maybe even questioning your actions, whatever you need to – whatever assuages their concerns. Incomplete information, half truths, or straight falsehoods are your friends. Ambiguous and confusing language will serve you well in this phase of your mission. Meanwhile, officers who may have served the church faithfully for decades, are now having their reputations slandered and maligned in the very same manner in which you have accused them! What beautiful irony. How the One Below relishes such a thing!
Now beware, dear friend, the accused officers may try to circumvent this. They may request public and “fair” trials. They may ask for accommodations – simple things such as proper videography and a court reporter. They may even offer to pay for such services. You must, I repeat, must not allow this to happen. Doing so shatters the secrecy you worked so hard to maintain and would only wake up additional discerning parishioners. No, no, no, my dear pastor. This will not do. The proceedings must be in secret. In the dead of night. Remember, darkness hates the light. Executive privilege is your right. It is your shield. Use it. This is also how you control the record should the accused officers appeal the judgments of your court.
The trials must be secret also so that the members of the congregation cannot see the evidence for themselves. They must never be allowed to see how their elected officers and pastors treat their brothers in the process.
While the secret tribunals occur, you must not neglect the previous principles I have instructed you to embody. Remember the pulpit. Always the pulpit. During this divisive time (your work nearly being complete!), use your pulpit. Continue with the messaging that the people must trust their officers. The selected passage of Scripture for the service does not matter – at this point you have mastered the talent of making the Scripture say whatever you need it to. With a little creativity, my friend, you will at this point have proven yourself capable of finding the themes of submission to one’s ordained betters in any passage.
Congratulations! You made it! The stage is now set for the church to split. Don’t stop now, friend, you are very close to meeting the objectives of the One Below. The factionalized church membership is likely to be in three separate camps – one supporting the accused, one supporting you and your controlled officers, and then one made up of the confused people in the middle wishing it would all just end. Perhaps we can celebrate some of them leaving in frustration.
You have turned the officers of the church of the Holy One against each other. You have built a house divided against itself! You have shattered relationships and best of all, my dear pastor, you have compromised truth! The final stages are in motion now. They may even be petitions to remove you as the pastor. The most motivated faction might attempt this. Be sure to counsel those who still trust you to avoid such members. Counsel your controlled officers to deny fellowship to those with whom they disagree.
This is failed leadership at its finest, and you dear pastor, should you reach this point, have accomplished what many have before you at the request of the One Below. Many may leave the church and go elsewhere…at which time I will guide others to attack them further, but the real accomplishment to be proud of is the harm done to the image of the Holy One’s church. Non-believers will see the dumpster fire you have created by following my steps and will harden their resolve to never set foot in such a place!
Whether you consciously intended this outcome or willfully embraced it – it matters not. All that matters to the One Below is that the church is split!
And now, my dear pastor, I must move on. There are politicians in the civil sphere that also need my guidance… as you may guess, the tactics for control and the means I have shared with you on how to suppress transparency are very similar to the methods they rely on to build their own authoritarian kingdoms.
In closing, my dear pastor, heed the instructions I have shared with you. Stay the course if you intend to split your church. Do all that I have instructed, and your reward on earth will be great.
Your Affectionate Counselor,