Spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse

The term Spiritual abuse was coined in the late twentieth century to refer to alleged misuse of authority by church leaders. [Jeff VanVonderen: "Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to 'come underneath' and serve, build, equip and make God's people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God's people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own." [http://www.spiritualabuse.com/] ]

Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse

Researchers conceptualize a set of discernible characteristics of spiritual abuse.

Dr. Ronald Enroth in "Churches That Abuse" identifies five categories:

# Authority and Power - abusive groups misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.
# Manipulation and Control - abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader's decisions control and usurp the disciple's right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.
# Elitism and Persecution - abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart.
# Life-style and Experience - abusive groups foster rigidity in behavior and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group's ideals and social mores.
# Dissent and Discipline - abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.

Agnes and John Lawless argue in "The Drift into Deception" that there are eight characteristics of spiritual abuse, and some of these clearly overlap with Enroth's criteria. They list the eight marks of spiritual abuse as comprising:
#charisma and pride,
#anger and intimidation,
#greed and fraud,
#Enslaving authoritarian structure,
#Demanding loyalty and honor,
#New revelation.

Although some of these points form aspects of a strong and healthy society (e.g. respect for proper authority, loyalty and honor), the basis of spiritual abuse is when these characteristics are overstretched to achieve a desired goal that is neither supported by spiritual reality nor by the human conscience.Fact|date=May 2008

Research and Documented Examples

Flavil Yeakley's team of researchers conducted field-tests with members of the Boston Church of Christ using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. In The Discipling Dilemma Yeakley reports that the members tested "showed a high level of change in psychological type scores", with a "clear pattern of convergence in a single type". [Flavil Yeakley (ed.), "The Discipling Dilemma" (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1988), p. 39. [http://www.somis.org/TDD-01.html available online] ] The results indicated that those tested had shifted in their personality type with the tendency that all members were evidencing the same personality type.

Yeakley's research was not isolated to the Boston Church. The same tests were conducted on five mainline denominations and with six groups that are popularly labeled as cults or manipulative sects. Yeakley's test results showed that the pattern in the Boston Church "was not found among other churches of Christ or among members of five mainline denominations, but that it was found in studies of six manipulative sects." [Yeakley, "Discipling Dilemma", p. 39.] The research did "not" show that the Boston Church was "attracting people with a psychological need for high levels of control", but Yeakley concluded that "they are producing conformity in psychological type" which he deemed to be "unnatural, unhealthy, and dangerous." [Yeakley, "Discipling Dilemma", pp. 44, 46-47.]

Both Enroth and Agnes and John Lawless indicate that spiritual abuse often occurs and goes unquestioned as high respect is vested in the leaders' knowledge and ability to interpret passages in the Bible. Evangelical authorities on cults, like James Sire ("Scripture Twisting", InterVarsity Press, 1980) and H. Wayne House ("Doctrine Twisting", InterVarsity Press, 2003) indicate that there are a variety of technical errors when Biblical passages are read out of context, misread, and misinterpreted. The sorts of errors in interpretation that Sire and House adduce sometimes occur in groups that are deemed by critics to be spiritually abusive. It is important to note that both of these authors are from conservative, fundamentalist backgrounds themselves; many of their conclusions are seen as read out of context, misread, or misinterpreted by many from more theologically liberal backgrounds.Fact|date=May 2008

Evidence of Abuse

With Spiritual abuse it is often very difficult to find any evidence of abuse. Victims often fail to realize what is happening due to peer pressure or the use of guilt feelings in relation to obedience towards the leaders of a church/group/fellowship or cult, etc. which can be masked as obedience towards God.

As cited by Ronald Enroth in "Churches That Abuse", control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such religious groups. Additionally, as interpersonal relations in "spiritual government" environments are considered above the "worldly" need of documented accountability, rarely are conversations or spiritually abusive situations recorded for historical reference and archiving. The usual attitude of delegated "or deputy" authority in a spiritually abusive environment is such that the abusive one(s) consider their speaking to be absolute - fully expecting immediate submission and unquestioned obedience. Any reticence or hesitation is interpreted as hidden rebellion against the "deputy".

Generally, the attitude exists that if anyone has concerns or uneasy feelings about spiritually abusive activities, they are accused of not being in submission to authority and could even suffer from extreme character assination (both privately and publicly) in order to diminish the effect of any desire of clarification that could liberate themselves and/or others from a spiritually abusive person/situation.

Disengagement from Spiritual Abuse

Leaving an Abusive Church - Is normally a process which can take a few months or even years. Children in a spiritually abusive situation may be unable to leave. For those who are able to leave, it can be extremely difficult and painful both emotionally and psychologically. In certain cases, an individual who feels spiritually abused will have to leave immediate family and friends behind and even suffer rejection by them. It is important for such a person to get help, such as counseling from "outsiders", who are not a part of the spiritually abusive group. They also need support from new peers because of the effects of spiritual abuse that will continue to affect them. This victimized person needs to learn a new way of looking at the world so this process literally turns their world up-side-down; it would be impossible to walk this path alone.Fact|date=September 2007

Classes of Spiritual Abuse

Fundamentalist Abuse

Spiritual abuse is practiced in fundamental religious ideologies prominent in conservative religious people and can happen in any religion - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc.. (Fundamentalist means the individual/group does exactly what they think the text reads, including holding the idea that outsiders to their beliefs are damned to an eternal "hell", as in Christianity, Islam and Mormonism.Fact|date=May 2008)

Fundamentalists put their interpretation of an ancient holy book above any other group's interpretation of the same book and/or outsider's/nonbeliever's way of viewing the world including all areas of science and culture that is different from their ownFact|date=December 2007. What characterizes spiritual abuse is the instilling of fear upon individuals, especially from childhood, that if they do not follow the set rules of the group their assumed eternal soul is eternally damned to a treacherous existence for eternity after they die. People are so afraid of disobeying or breaking the rules that all outside information is rejected, even scientific discoveries.Fact|date=May 2008 This kind of teaching affects the well-being of the individuals taught this because it restricts their understanding of the world to fear and punishment.Fact|date=May 2008 It also harms society because groups exclude themselves from others by deeming themselves above the outsiders.Fact|date=May 2008

Spiritual abuse also carries over into society when ancient holy texts are used to restrict or oppress a specific race, sex or group from participating in various aspects of society.Fact|date=May 2008 Because this is the case spiritual abuse could be considered as severe, if not more, than physical abuse since it is the cause of all sorts of social problems and inequalitiesFact|date=December 2007. It is a form of mental abuse because it debilitates a person's reasoning and logic skills and restricts them to their group's understanding of the world, affecting their relationships with others who are not a part of the groupFact|date=December 2007.

Cultural and Nationalistic Abuse

In some Muslim countries, it is illegal for movements or individuals to speak out in ways that are perceived to insult the Qu'ran, Islam, Mohammad, Allah, or the leaders of the country, with penalties ranging from fines and imprisonment to death.Fact|date=May 2008


* Ken Blue, "Healing Spiritual Abuse", (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993). ISBN 0-8308-1660-7
* Ron & Vicki Burks, "Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). ISBN 0-310-57611-3
* Ronald M. Enroth, "Churches That Abuse" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). ISBN 0-310-53290-6
* Ronald M. Enroth, "Recovering from Churches That Abuse" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). ISBN 0-310-39877-0
* David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1991). ISBN 1-55661-160-9
* Agnes C. Lawless and John W. Lawless, "The Drift into Deception: The Eight Characteristics of Abusive Christianity" (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1995). ISBN 0-8254-3163-8
* Flavil Yeakley (ed.), "The Discipling Dilemma" (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1988). ISBN 0-89225-311-8

ee also

*Post-cult trauma


External links

Links to General Information Concerning Spiritual Abuse

* [http://sosa.org/index.asp S.O.S.A. —Survivors of Spiritual Abuse]
* [http://www.spiritualabuse.com/ Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources]
* [http://www.ccpas.co.uk/Articles/Spiritual%20Abuse.htm Spiritual Abuse - An Unsafe Safe Place (Spring 2005)] Article explaining various aspects of Spiritual Abuse.
* [http://www.safeinchurch.org Safe In Church] A UK based website designed to help people who have been hurt by church experiences or have experienced spiritual abuse or abusive church leadership.
* [http://www.innervention.com/dox/aboutjeff.htm The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse] The book by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen
* [http://www.powerabusedpowerhealed.com Healing Stories about the Abuse of Power] Book by Judith Barr
* [http://daviswiki.org/Recovering_From_Spiritual_Abuse Recovering From Spiritual Abuse] , page from the [http://daviswiki.org/Front_Page Davis Wiki]

Links to Information Concerning Spiritual Abuse in Specific Christian Denominations

* [http://www.spiritualabuse.org/ SpiritualAbuse.org] site "...focus [ing] on the issue of spiritual abuse in Bible based churches and have a secondary focus on the United Pentecostal Church," includes an online forum message-board-based support group for former and current apostolics.
* [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DepartingUPC/ Departing UPC] , Online support group for United Pentecostal Church members who have questions about doctrines taught by that organization, and/or who are considering leaving the UPC.
* [http://ex-pentecostals.org/ The Association of Former Pentecostals] A nonprofit organization uniting former Pentecostals and Charismatics worldwide.
* [http://www.ex-churchofchrist.com/ Ex-Church of Christ] Information and online support group for people who have left or are considering leaving the Church of Christ (non-institutional)

Links to Information Concerning Spiritual Abuse in Other Religious Communities

* [http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/spiritualabuse.html The Awareness Center: Jewish Survivors of Spiritual Abuse]

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