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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Written on:March 18, 2014
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Just as emotional abuse affects one emotionally, while physical abuse inflicts pain and bodily injury on its victim, spiritual abuse affects one spiritually. It is the result of a spiritual leader or system that tries to control, manipulate, or dominate a person. This control is often in the form of fear. This is considered a major factor in mind control or thought reform. There are those who feel the latter comes into play in cases such as these, while others feel the thinking is in error. No matter where one stands, it does not lessen the affects of spiritual abuse.

David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen in The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse describe the action: “It’s possible to become so determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine or a way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn’t ‘behave’ spiritually the way you want them to. When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person’s standing as a Christian- to gratify you, your position or your beliefs while at the same time weakening or harming another- that is spiritual abuse.”

Does leadership in your church demand you consult with them (or your discipler) before making major decisions or any decisions at all? Has leadership forbidden you to go on vacation or spend time with someone (particularly one who has left the church group)?

Do you find yourself periodically questioning your spirituality or standing with God? Have you been preoccupied with checking out others in the congregation to see who is living up to the rules and who isn’t?

Are extra-biblical rules and standards equated as coming from God, with your salvation or spirituality linked to following them? Do you find that cutting or not cutting your hair has now become an indicator of your spirituality?

Has the initial joy you felt when first coming to know the Lord been replaced with worry? Do you feel you’re not doing enough or are not good enough and can’t live up to what is expected?

Do services uplift and give strength or do you feel sad, beaten down, or depressed afterward? Has your view of God changed to where he is seen as a harsh taskmaster, eagerly waiting for you to mess up so he can chastise you or leave you behind?

If you have experienced any of these, or similar, you may be a victim of spiritual abuse.

Abusive churches are often performance oriented, with an “us verses them” or elitist mentality. Questioning is often discouraged, forbidden, or branded as a sign of rebellion or lack of spirituality, though this may not be said directly. Those who do not follow the rules may be labeled, shunned, shamed, or removed from church positions or even disfellowshipped.

You may not be allowed to confront or question those in leadership as they are “God’s anointed”. Members are taught that only God is to handle situations in which leadership may have done wrong.

Please keep in mind that it is not the church you are attending that saves or delivers from things which are wrong in your life. It is God and God alone. Do not give any organization, church, fellowship, or person the praise and glory that belongs only to God.

Some may proclaim good things that are being done in their church group, but this good does not dismiss or excuse anything bad. It is wrong- and dangerous- to ignore abuses simply because good may also be found.

Certainly there are countless groups which can speak of good they have accomplished or which has happened during their meetings, even groups whose main purpose is to push the agenda of its leader(s) despite who they hurt or use in the process. Does this in turn validate that everything they do is proper and of God? Does this diminish the damage inflicted to others? Certainly not!

If we turn our heads and allow abuse to continue, pretend it never happens, or excuse it because it also occurs outside of our group, we may later find ourselves the victim of such abuse. How many must be hurt before it is addressed and seen for what it is?

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