What is spiritual abuse?
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone makes promises or threats on behalf of God in order to influence your behaviour or attitude, to gain benefit for themselves or for a movement or organisation they represent.
The key phrase here is “on behalf of God”. The important caveat is “to gain benefit”.
A spiritual abuser will tell you something they want done, and will say God has something wonderful or beneficial in store for you if you do it.
A spiritual abuser uses stories about Gods protection, favour and blessing to coerce your decision making concerning the church, usually the localized organisation they are the leader of.
A spiritual abuser normalizes shame and uses it strategically to control and influence people to do what is needed to keep the organisation running, and their position secure.
A spiritual abuser is obsessed with concepts of submission and obedience. They speak, preach and perhaps even write about their ideas on submission and obedience widely mostly in relation to church membership and activity of members.
A spiritual abuser writes proverbial “merit slips” on behalf of God, rewarding individuals for certain behaviours and actions with position, recognition and approval, and writing “demerit slips” for undesirable behaviours, including but not limited to non- church attendance, non-tithing, dissent, non-submission and non-compliance.
Spiritual abusers use social exclusion (excommunication, asking a person to leave a church, shunning, withdrawal of position, withdrawal of social contact, ending friendships, social coldness and warning people about the person and their ideas) as management method.
Spiritual abusers use the power of “testimonies” of compliant subjects to reinforce their ideas and methods. They love stories of people who have espoused their ideas and made it work to theirs and the churches benefit. To these ones belongs the platform, fame and approval.
Spiritual abusers categorically belittle or minimize the damage they do. Critics or the damaged are belittled with the label “the offended”. Hurt and injury is dismissed, with blame and responsibility placed wholly on the victim.
Spiritual abusers interpret personal and organizational security and power, popularity, financial success, longevity and resilience against criticism as a sign of Gods protection, favour and approval of them and all their actions.
Spiritual abusers prefer the young, the emotionally and mentally vulnerable because they may be more easily influenced and controlled. The older and more experienced faithful in a spiritually abusive church may find themselves made redundant or transitioned out of leadership in preference for the young and relatively pliable.
Spiritual abusers always act from a position of behaving as if they deeply suspect you are less-than, have wrong or destructive motives, are not capable, cannot handle responsibility, will do the wrong thing if given responsibility, and are power hungry and filled with selfish ambition. They will treat you like this, and make you jump through various hoops to prove you are not, until they are sure you have submitted completely to their way if doing things, without question or qualms.
Spiritual abusers will discourage you from seeking direction, perspectives, permission, advice, support, counsel or insights of someone outside the organisation or pastoral relationship on matters concerning you and your relationship with the church. They will have special terms for these “outside” parties, like “the World”, and will actively set you up to view them as the enemy or “of the devil”, effectively cutting you off from any source of support, objectivity or counsel. This may include family, friends, members of the community, counsellors or health professionals, or persons affiliated with other faiths or denominations.
Spiritual abusers will abandon you if you leave the organisation, or if you call them out on their abuse or demand they answer to criticism, pretending you are the crazy one, and denying they ever said or did any of the things you claim.
If you suspect you have been or are being spiritually abused, please seek out professional help and support from a qualified counsellor, preferably one not affiliated with the organisation or person facilitating the abuse.
And if you or someone you know is suffering verbal, sexual or physical abuse of any kind, please contact the appropriate legal authorities immediately.