the rampant normalization and acceptance of spiritual abuse

"Church Abuse" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Church Abuse” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

(I want to make clear from the start that these poor people aren’t wearing the dunce caps by choice, but because the church is attempting to shame them.)

I have many people private message me to ask why I’m so concerned about the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church fiasco. They say things like, “Who cares?”

I care! Here’s why:

It’s a litmus test on how the church handles abuse.

I keep getting driven to the same conclusion: The church doesn’t understand abuse, abusers, or victims.

When I read Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll in Christianity Today, a magazine devoted to Christianity and the church, this only confirmed my conclusion.

Of course this doesn’t apply to all churches. But it does to the church generally.

The church’s abuse of its members is not only hurting people, but hurting itself.

We might question the theology of atonement. But we can agree on its core meaning that where there is sin, someone dies. In other words, we can’t get away with injustice even for a seemingly noble cause. We are to be held accountable for our transgressions. This is how justice works. Even if forgiveness is the end result, the brutal path towards it is an honest admission of guilt, true contrition and repentance, and then hopefully reparation and restoration.

We’re not saying someone should die. But we must acknowledge that where there is transgression, someone does indeed suffer.

Right now it looks like the victim pays. Not the perpetrator.

The abuse must die!

The church mistakenly delights in sinning then leaping straight to restoration, bypassing the painful humiliation of accountability and rehabilitation.

If the church would deal with the abuse honestly, not only would it help its victims, but it would help its own credibility and send a message that it promises, intends, and strives to create safe spaces for people to gather.

But at this point, it seems the church is more interested in:

  1. its continued adoration of strong leaders;
  2. its perpetuation of its disdain for weakness;
  3. its confusing the gospel as message rather than practice.

There are safe spaces for you! Here’s one at The Lasting Supper.
Read about Sophia who made her own safe space.


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13 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    Do synagogues, mosques and temples have these same issues? Or is just a side-effect of Protestant theology?

  2. I think most organizations and institutions are prone to this actually.

  3. Jarred H says:

    Personally, I think a lot of this ties into the tendency in some Christian circles to reduce morality to a system of laws that people must follow (“It’s wrong because God says it’s wrong”) rather than an empathy-based system (“This is wrong because it harms other people”). You see this in all kinds of places. You see it in the Christian churches and schools where rape victims are forced to repent of “having sex” (or “tempting their rapist” or some other such harmful garbage). You see it in those Christians who argue that if you don’t hold a strong stance against homosexuality, you no longer have any grounds for arguing against pedophilia or other things that actually do victimize and harm others.

    So you’re right the Church doesn’t understand abuse, abusers, or victims. And it’s a big problem that rears its ugly head in many different ways.

  4. albert coburn says:

    some of the problem is that people put blinders on what some are doing and then shine unnecessary light on others.Sin is sin is sin,we are all suppose to be brothers and sisters in Christ. In my Church it is all about “how we are spending money”,”i will just quit giving until you realize i am something and you are nothing. The people with money can and do hold a heavy hand. Some can live with their girlfriends and only “get married” when the gets become pregnant. A deacon gets multiple DUI’s nothing is said nor done,and then some poor smoe gets one and is told not to come back till he learns to behave. Any discipline problem needs to be should be done in love.

  5. Deanna D says:

    I, for one, sincerely appreciate that you are following the Mars Hill situation. We tend to look the other way when abuse occurs and we leave the victims stranded and unsupported. Who cares? Everyone should care. Abuse done in the name of God changes the way that God is represented.

  6. kris799 says:

    You should have put “sheep” on the dunce caps considering it has the same connotation in the Bible.

  7. Caryn LeMur says:

    Many years ago, I attended my first sexual harassment class. At the very beginning, the instructor asked, “Class: How many men are here?” We looked at each other, “15”, almost everyone replied.

    The instructor asked, “Men: How many girls are here?” And the men confidently replied, “12!”

    And then, the instructor said, “The right answer is ‘zero’…. they are not girls, they are women.”

    I was shocked … because I had called women ‘girls’ multiple times. Thus began my education into sexual prejudice and sexual harassment many years ago.

    That was long ago, and laws have advanced and changed…. sexual prejudice and sexual harassment have been in many training films in industry.

    I know of no church institution ‘training films’ showing what is spiritual abuse or spiritual ‘criminal’ manipulation. I think we need them. For example, imagine actors showing a man behind a pulpit saying:

    “I ask you to trust me, your pastor during this difficult time in our church.”
    “You should trust your leadership – they are anointed by God. Why rebel against God?! Why rebel during this difficult time in our church?!?”

    I think then, suddenly, we can help people realize opinions versus spiritual prejudice that leads to spiritual abuse… and what is just stating an opinion versus invoking guilt or revenge by God.

    Film time?

  8. Father Tim says:


    I would like to recommend the following book: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen

  9. jeannie says:

    The fallout from situations like those at Mars Hill can last for a lifetime. It is worthy of paying a lot of attention to it.

  10. Yes, they bypass a lot and in the end nothing changes. However, I do find it interesting to see how they are conducting themselves with Mark’s issues in contrast to how they (and Mark) dealt with Andrew

    Do as I say, not as I do?

    I would venture to say that most congregations have no idea how true justice works.

  11. sharonleepeters says:

    Buckle your seat belts its going to be a bumpy night.

  12. Jan says:

    Years ago I left an abusive Church. Control was the issue. My “lack” of understanding the authority issue…my bad. Since leaving that situation after 11 yrs. I can tell you, I am not messed up or a victim, I am free. Whom Jesus sets free, they are free indeed! It took praying through, forgiving, and releasing the bitterness that bound me up. The church still remains…God is God, I belong to Him. I live for Christ, not the pastors! If you find yourself in thst situation, run back to your first Love. We love Jesus because He first loved us!!!

  1. September 5, 2014

    […] My concern is that we, as an evangelical community, have adopted business processes inconsistent with the life of Jesus. Lying is not mismanagement. It is a violation of one of the direct commandments at Sinai. And a Christian leader with a habit of doing it needs to be called into question and rehabilitated.  Or as the Naked Pastor calls it, “The rampant normalization and acceptance of spiritual abuse.” […]