Passive-Aggression is not Cruciformity

A few weeks ago I wrote about how we often confuse or pervert Christian relational postures and character traits.  I noted that self-loathing is often regarded as humility.

There are many other examples of this, I’m sure, but one that has occupied my mind for some time now is how passive-aggression or self-pity is mistaken for cruciformity.

It seems to me that upon first encountering the notion of cruciformity (having one’s life shaped by the cross), many people assume that it refers to relational postures of passivity.  If someone mistreats you, you’re supposed to “just suck it up.”  If someone insults you or hurts you, you need to “just take it.”

Such responses to provocation are not embodiments of cruciformity, but are precisely the sort of passive reactions that fuel passive-aggression, a self-regard and posture toward others that is both very ugly and utterly pervasive in American middle-class culture.

In my opinion, it’s among the most common relational dynamics of suburban, middle-class churches in America.

It’s a bit slippery to get hold of, so I want to take a few days to articulate things carefully.  If you know of any good resources or web-sites with careful or thoughtful analyses of passive-aggression, please point me to them.  Or, if you’ve discovered hopeful ways beyond passive-aggression through your own reflection, I’d love to hear about it.

10 thoughts on “Passive-Aggression is not Cruciformity

  1. Jordan Wood (@JordanWood)

    Passive aggression is the ever present enemy of direct, loving communication. In my experience, a person who adopts a posture of passive aggression shifts the burden of relational extension from themselves onto those around them. An atmosphere of passive aggression removes the possibility of honest, incarnational relationship by pitting one against another in quiet, unenunciated hostility. It seems to me that only an unwavering commitment to mutual love that springs into respect and trustworthy communication can overcome the poison of passive aggression.

    I look forward to your upcoming posts, Tim :).

  2. Linda

    I have admired at church (Midtown) the way you have handled/defused situations that could have become tense due to passive-aggression. Churches are no place for this kind of behavior as it does nothing but create a sense of Us-Them and I-it-ness, when we should be simply We, the Beloved of God.

    1. timgombis

      That’s just it, Linda–I think everyone would agree that it shouldn’t be in our churches, families, etc., but it’s just so darn subtle! I know that for me, some of my relationships tend toward those postures and I have to resist it with all my might. It’s just one way we’re broken–and by “we” I’m thinking of especially white, middle-class suburbanite Christians. Certainly at Midtown many of us spent our work-week in a culture dominated by such relational dynamics!

  3. Dave Livermore

    As usual, you’ve raised a thoughtful, interesting topic Tim. Have you encountered the idea of “double voiced discourse”? One of the things I have a hard time getting a handle on is when is behavior “passive-agressive” and when is it an appropriate, culturally constructed way of communicating?

    You appropriately focused your post on U.S. suburban, middle-class churches. But as you know (that’s ‘double voiced discourse by the way), when we move into other cultural contexts, what may appear to be “passive aggressive” or “manipulate” may actually be something else entirely.

    Just a thought…

    1. timgombis

      Great point, Dave. Perhaps even Paul’s “speech-in-character” in Romans 7 is an example.

      I’ll have to give that some thought, since the surface phenomenon may be somewhat similar (“you know that . . .”) to passive-aggression, but the relational dynamic and the social impact will be quite different. It’ll be helpful to parse out that distinction a bit more, though . . .

  4. Sharad Yadav

    I like a lot of the stuff Dan Allender writes in a book called “The Healing Path”, which really nails this kind of pain-avoidance strategy of emotional numbing that is often construed as “trusting God”. Sometimes the prose is a bit cheesy, but very good stuff.

  5. Dan Jr.

    I echo the Dan Allender resource. I’ve used his cues for years in community. A new resource I’ve been using is the “Virtue of Dialogue in Conversation” by Christopher Smith. Christine Pohl’s new book “Living into Community” indirectly speaks to this as well.


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