Why Churches Can Get Away with Spiritual Abuse

"Sweeping Spiritual Abuse Under the Carpet" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward


In spite of the protests I get nearly every day that my focus on abuse in the church is unbalanced and unnecessary because it is 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 credentials for three reasons: I delivered spiritual abuse as a pastor; I was a recipient of spiritual abuse; and I care about the victims and do what I can to help. I claim that institutions of any kind are breeding grounds for abuse and that 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 ignore it, just let it happen, or use it. The immediate rewards of spiritual abuse for the church are often desired. The church is the perfect culture for spiritual abuse to sprout and spawn. So I made a list explaining the reasons why churches can get away with spiritual abuse:
  1. The church silences abuse in order to protect their ministries.
  2. Parents entrust their children to church leaders without question.
  3. The church nurtures a victim-blaming culture.
  4. Christians tend to trust their leaders, even to their own peril.
  5. Church leaders enjoy an incredible lack of accountability.
  6. The church ghettoizes itself and presumes immunity from its critics.
  7. The church prefers forgive and forget over restitution and reparation.
  8. Criticizing and judging is explicitly unchristian and implicitly forbidden.
  9. Appealing to the secular courts is categorically unbiblical.
  10. Many Christians can't believe a spiritual leader would harm someone.
I know this is a sensitive and triggering issue. I myself acknowledge, with sorrow, the years I practiced the spiritual abuse the system stimulates. I also regret the years I received spiritual abuse and now recognize my complicity in it. I'm not blaming myself for the abuse, but I do recognize 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, and other things. Now I realize it was outright abuse. Are you experiencing this? You can escape, you can be free, and you can be healed.
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