Click Here for a quick list of some of the signs of Spiritual Abuse.
Just like physical abuse is the abuse of a person’s physical body by way of hitting, kicking, biting, etc. and emotional abuse is the abuse of a person’s mind/emotions via name calling, derogatory remarks, put downs, etc. spiritual abuse is the abuse of a person’s spirituality. Spiritual abuse is similar to emotional abuse because the emotions are very intertwined to a person’s spirituality. Spiritual abuse, however, goes beyond the emotions and hits hard at the spiritual well being of the individual. It is the taking advantage of vulnerable and impressionable people looking for spiritual guidance and acceptance.
Since much of our spirituality is involved in churches or religious organizations, I like the term “Bad Church Experiences” because it gives a good word picture of how spiritual abuse often occurs. We see spiritual abuse happen when the leaders of a church or religious organization use their power and position to manipulate, control and/or coerce their congregation/followers/members, whether on purpose or with good intentions.
Spiritual abuse is a multifaceted and complex issue and often occurs in a very subtle manner. As a result, it is often difficult to define spiritual abuse in simplistic form. Sometimes it’s important to define what spiritual abuse is by looking at how it occurs and what the symptoms are.
As spiritual beings we are ever searching for truth to our spirituality. Our spirituality gives us hope as we rely on the teachings of our church to develop our belief system about our lives and the world around us. We also look to spiritual guidance to help us through life, especially during life’s trials and struggles. We often cling to the teachings of a church leader or particular religion because he/she/it offer’s answers to our struggles and questions. When we find spiritual connections we make ourselves very vulnerable to what we are being taught because we trust the church and leaders. After all they are supposed to be living what they are teaching and preaching.
There are spiritual leaders who mean well, but unfortunately perpetuate the abuse that they themselves receive. They think they are sharing the truth for the right reasons, but abuse doesn’t necessarily have to be done on purpose to be abusive. Many well intentioned church leaders have abused because they think they are doing the right thing. These leaders think that they are proclaiming the truth when in actuality they are simply passing along the abusive teachings that they have been deceived into thinking. As a result they think they are helping when in actuality they are doing harm.
There are also people who blatantly abuse, manipulate and mislead for their own personal self interests. This is an overt and blatant abuse for outright selfish financial, emotional or physical gain.
Spiritual abuse includes, but is not limited to mind-control, thought reform, coercion, manipulation, deception, legalism, authoritarianism, guilt trips, judgementalism/”Phariseeism”, holier-than-thou attitude, and a “we are right and everyone else is wrong” attitude.
Click Here for a quick list of some of the signs of Spiritual Abuse.
Spritual Abuse has turned Christianity into ‘Churchianity’ where the church and its particular traditions have become more important than or at least equal to, the Scriptures. ‘Denominationalism’ and ‘traditionalism’ find their way into the teachings and become enmeshed so that no one can tell where Christianity ends and the traditions begin.
One of the biggest problems with spiritual abuse is that it is VERY subtle. Think of the abuser as a con artist. Pastors and other spiritual leaders become adept at using Scripture to back up their subtle manipulation and control. Leaders often find ways to control, not only what happens in their churches, but also what happens in your personal life. For example, leaders in the a particular denomination of Christianity frequently communicate the need for the congregation to consult with a disciple or leader before a decision is made especially if it is a major decisions, and then expected that person to follow through with what they said as if what they say is directly from God. It’s as if their advice is equal to God’s.
Another very important factor in spiritual abuse is the issue of seclusion or us vs. them mentality. It’s communicated in manipulative ways that a particular church, denomination, religion, etc. has the truth and all others are in error. Maintaining relationships with people who have left a particular church, denomination, religion, etc. is strictly forbidden.
Spiritual abuse often leads people to question their status with God and even their spirituality. Victims become absorbed in the behavior of judging others in the church and watching them to try and find people who might not be living up to the leader’s guidelines on living. In what appears to them to be well intentioned but perpetuate the abuse by becoming obsessed with man-made rules, standards and traditions that are taught as absolute truth.
Churches that abuse promote these extra-biblical rules and standards in a legalistic fashion and equate them as doctrine or at least as absolutes of the bible, coming directly from God, with salvation and/or spirituality in jeopardy if they aren’t followed. Trivial matters are brought to attention such as the way one dressed or styles his/her hair, the music one listens to, the clothes one wears, etc. and what are supposed to be personal preferences and convictions end up being law/commands that will bring judgment from God if not follow.
Spiritual abuse victims are often depressed about their inability to live up to those rules and standards, worried that they aren’t pleasing the Lord and frustrated that they keep “sinning”. Victims often feel that they aren’t good enough and not able to live up to the expectations. The joy of a relationship with God is replaces with a fear of God as the “Cosmic Killjoy”. The unspoken requirement of perfection is unatainable and therefore the victim feels a continued sense of inadequacy. This inadequacy keeps the victim under the power of the church leaders for more teaching and discipline.
Churches that abuse often focus on the penalty for sin. They communicate the Lord as a cosmic dictator or harsh tyrant intensely waiting for you to make a mistake so that he can “chasten” or correct you. Any form of questioning the leadership is considered an act of rebellion and the person is punished for it. This “guilt trip” suppresses the normal God given intuition that something doesn’t quite feel right about the church. The leaders take advantage of this by preaching a sermon on how the authority of the leaders shouldn’t be questioned and the cycle of abuse continues as the person is reluctant to even consider that their intuition is correct. Thus the person is stuck at the abusive church, ensnared in the web of manipulation and lies. Members are taught that only God is to handle situations in which leadership may have done wrong leaving the leadership unaccountable.
So we can also glean from the above that spiritual abuse is also the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence. Again this may be overt or covert, but it’s abuse all the same.