In spite of the protests I get nearly every day that my focus on abuse in the church is unbalanced and unnecessary because it’s so rare, I continue to address it because millions of people are recipients of spiritual abuse at the hands of their spiritual leaders and their churches. The amount of grateful messages I get far outweighs the naysaying ones, so I keep talking about it and helping those who want to escape and heal from it.
I address this topic with authority and credentials for three reasons:
I delivered spiritual abuse as a pastor;
I received spiritual abuse;
I care about victims and want to help.
Institutions of any kind are breeding grounds for abuse because the gravitational pull of organizations is toward the inhumane treatment of its members. Because preventing this tendency from occurring is such hard and relentless work, it’s much easier to just ignore it, just let it happen, or just use it to reach its goals. The immediate rewards of spiritual abuse for the church are often desired… rewards like obedience, complicity, control, and orderliness… never mind serving the pleasure of the perpetrators.
The church is the perfect culture for spiritual abuse to sprout and spawn.
So, I made a list explaining why the church is the perfect culture for abuse:
- The church silences abuse in order to protect their ministries.
- Parents entrust themselves and their children to leaders without question.
- The church nurtures a victim-blaming culture.
- Christians trust their leaders, even to their own peril.
- Church leaders enjoy an incredible lack of accountability.
- The church ghettoizes itself and presumes immunity from its critics.
- The church prefers forgive and forget over restitution and reparation.
- Criticizing and judging is explicitly unchristian and implicitly forbidden.
- Appealing to the secular courts is categorically unbiblical.
- Many Christians can’t believe their leaders would harm them.
I know this is sensitive and triggering. I myself acknowledge, with great sorrow, that I participated in the spiritual abuse the church system stimulates. Many churches and leaders are unaware of the systemic evil systems like the church contain.
I can also tell stories of the spiritual abuse I received, and now recognize my complicity in it. I’m not blaming myself for the abuse, but I do admit that I was in such a place that I received it as I thought I should.
Hence the ten points above. At the time, I erroneously called it spiritual discipline, submission to authority, obedience, loyalty, mentoring, persuasion, and other misnomers. Now I realize it was outright abuse.
Are you experiencing this? You can escape, you can be free, and you can be healed.