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24 Sep '12

Signs of spiritual abuse

Posted by T.J. Addington in abuse, spiritual abuse
There are church leaders who engage in spiritual abuse to keep people in line with their culture, ethos and expectations. It is wrong, violates Biblical teaching and is deeply dysfunctional. This behavior has a cult like feel to it because it elevates spiritual leaders as those who we need to listen to and obey on issues of personal preference, conscience or decision making.

 Here are some signs of spiritual abuse to be sensitive to.

1. When there is a personal disagreement and church leadership ask for repentance on the part of the individual who disagreed. Repentance is called for when we have wronged another or committed an offense against another. Disagreeing with someone else does not constitute sin. It is simply exercising our right to be self defined and a healthy individual. When one is pressured to repent over a disagreement, beware.

2. When you feel pressured to take an action because a church leader or someone else is is telling you should do so based on what "God told them." If God wants to talk to us he is perfectly able to do so. It is fair for others to talk to us about issues they might be concerned about but it is not OK for them to pressure us to take action they think we should take. Using the God card to force others to take action violates individual freedom to listen to their conscience and be sensitive to God themselves.

3. When you are told you are likely in sin because you made a decision that others disagree with. Unless that sin is obvious and clearly in violation of Biblical principles, this is blatent manipulation but of a powerful kind when it comes from a church leader. The mantra is, "I fear you have some deep hidden sin in your life because of the decisions you are making." Don't fall for it.

4. When a church leader tells you what you should do with your life. No one can tell us what to do with our lives except for God and our own desire to follow Him. Many people have a plan for our lives but only we can discern what God wants for our lives.

5. When there is an inordinate focus on "church unity" as a theme that stifles dissenting voices or the ability to speak one's opinion freely. Church unity should never be used to stifle discussions, dialogue or opinions that might differ from those of a church leader or pastor. 

The priesthood of all believers means that the Holy Spirit and truth are not the exclusive purview of church leadership. Of course, we need to be respectful and loving when sharing our views but in the absence of truly causing division or heretical teaching, we should be able to do so without recrimination. 

Independent thought is a threat in dysfunctional churches because it encourages others to think for themselves. When one takes an alternate view from leaders or the common line, it is a threat to the control of those leaders and is often resisted.

6. When church discipline is threatened for non ongoing egregiousness sin - beware!  Church discipline should be a rare event, and the last in a series of steps where there is heresy, division or ongoing egregiousness sin.  It should never be threatened or used to bring people into line.

7. When you are pressured to remain in the church if you start to pull away and desire a different fellowship. Cult like organizations like to control and they don't like it when people leave. It is a threat to them because they fear others will take note and consider the same thing. They will do everything they can to bring one back into the fold and may use both woo and threat in the process.

Here is the bottom line. If you feel that your leaders seek to control, to stifle honest dialogue, to manipulate with the God card or make you agree with their point of view, beware. Spiritual abuse is subtle but it is real. Just as abused spouses are duped into thinking the abuser is right so are those abused by those in church leadership positions. The book of Galatians is a good one to read if you feel others are trying to force you into their mold and to live by their rules. There are cults inside the church as well as outside the church.