A site visitor recently wrote to me and described what she was experiencing as “Toxic Religion”. As I considered this terminology I thought it would be beneficial for readers to consider the difference between toxic religion and spiritual abuse. This may seem like a game of semantics on the surface, however, it reflects a fundamental distinction that can’t be ignored with these issues.
First, I want you to know that most of the work I personally do as a counselor in this area of spiritual abuse is limited to Christianity. I don’t have experience or knowledge about the other religions of the world. So I’m looking through that lens when I’m answering these types of questions. I don’t think that spiritual abuse is limited to Christianity and I believe that spiritual abuse and/or toxic religion happens in all religious belief systems.
Second, I think this issue is much more broad than the “misuse” of religion, scripture, etc. I think religion can be toxic when people have good intentions about teaching what they believe to be the truth when it may not be. There are a lot of unanswered questions we still have about our faith. People still heavily debate such topics as the perseverance of the saints and works based righteousness. I would add to the definition of spiritual abuse that spiritual abuse AND toxic religion is also a dogmatic, closed minded approach to faith that leaves little room for individual experiences and beliefs.
There’s no cookie cutter approach to religion and faith. It’s about as unique as our fingerprints. There are absolutes of each faith that can’t be altered without effecting the foundation of the belief system, but beyond that, all that’s left are personal convictions and personal preferences based on our own understanding of what the Bible tells us and how the Holy Spirit convict us. We often find that in our churches we are told what convictions and what preferences we should have, but that’s not how it’s supposed to be and that’s abusive.