Antagonists are like alligators,” my friend said. “There’s one in every pond.” All those in the room who had been pastors chuckled knowingly. The documentary film Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA claims that “clergy killers” are leading many clergy into depression, early retirement and even suicide.

Lloyd Rediger, a Presbyterian minister, coined the phrase “clergy killers” in a 1997 book, and he has gone on to produce a film. Betrayed is the first of a planned four-part series. I learned about it from a minister who has struggled with people in her parish seemingly put there by Beelzebub to torment her. While not exactly entertaining, the film is well made and features interviews with thoughtful people. The film is based on interviews with mainline pastors in many denominations, and Rediger has promoted his film with mainline bloggers and by showing the film at clergy conferences.

While the film creates an aura of paranoia, its claims are worth attending to: “50 percent of congregations worldwide are under attack,” the publicity materials say, and “1,500 ordained clergy leave active ministry every four weeks.” (The Barna Group is cited as a source.) The way to end this destruction, the film suggests, is by creating a union of ministers, like that in the United Church of Canada (as if that church is doing so well) or by using lawyers, who, we are assured, are ready to take on our cases.