Church, Spiritual Abuse and How to Smell a Rat

church, spiritual abuse and how to smell a rat cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

I love the graffiti artist Banksy. My cartoon today is inspired by his stenciled rats found on city streets. They are amazing. They usually symbolize the undermining of the government’s abuse of power because rats have a way of undermining beautiful facades. I’m not talking about these rats.

I’m also not talking about domesticated rats. Apparently, rats make wonderful pets. They are intelligent, playful, and bring endless enjoyment to their owners. I will never own one. But these aren’t the kind of rats I’m talking about today. I’m talking about the bad rats.

Bad rats are not good for you or your home. They will scare you, bring in dangerous, life-threatening germs, eat your wiring, rob your insulation, steal your food, and make a mess of your house. They will take over. They are extremely difficult to get rid of and it takes diligence to keep them out once you do.

The expression “I smell a rat!” means that you sense something is wrong, especially when someone is being dishonest. So I want to use this expression to talk about how to detect when something is wrong with your spiritual and church situation or when you are being treated wrongly and dishonestly.

As in a house, there are signs that there are rats in it. It might take you a while to finally recognize the signs of a rat, but once you do know the signs, it’s easy. You have to recognize what a rat smells like. The next step is admitting, “We have rats!” The next step is removing them. The final step is keeping them out.


Many people have difficulty recognizing when they are being abused. We justifiably believe that because we are in a church being cared for by the leader(s), we cannot possibly be treated wrongly or dishonestly. But just like rats in your house, there are definite signs that you are being abused. You feel restricted, controlled, manipulated, coerced, shamed, afraid, etcetera.

It only takes a little bit of intelligence to recognize abuse. You have to know the signs! If you weren’t taught these things growing up, you need to learn them now. Read books on abuse. Watch documentaries or films where the issue of abuse is treated. Talk to people who know. Find out what the signs of abuse are. Google “signs of spiritual abuse” or “signs of emotional abuse”. Eventually, after you’ve been educated, you will know exactly what it sounds and looks like. You will be able to detect it in the tone of someone’s voice, the words they use, the way they look at you, and more importantly, the way you feel. I promise that when you educate yourself on the signs of abuse, you will be able to smell a rat a mile away. You will be able to trust your developed instincts that something is wrong.


Once you recognize the signs of abuse, then you have to make the step of admitting that you are a victim of it. I’ve had rodents invade my house before, and there’s something embarrassing about admitting it. Rodents in your house are sometimes associated with dirt, squalor, shame, poverty, uncleanliness, and neglect. The same with church and spiritual abuse… there’s something embarrassing about admitting you’ve been living with it. Church and spiritual abuse is wrongly associated with things like weakness, gullibility, cults, naivete, and delayed development.

Therefore it takes some honesty to admit you’re being abused. You’ve learned the signs. Now you’ve learned that you are experiencing the signs. Somehow you have to stir up the honesty to admit it. Don’t listen to the voices telling you that you are an idiot, a hopeless, helpless victim, naive, gullible and stupid. You have to disregard the huge feeling inside that you ought to be ashamed of yourself that you let it come to this.

Lisa and I were dining at a very fancy restaurant. Very fancy, late-night dining. It was magical, romantic and wonderful… until we saw a mouse scurrying around beneath our table. So don’t let yourself be overcome with shame. Even the best people and places get rats. It just happens. Like all rodents, they sneak up on you and they’re there before you know it. Like the humble home-owner has to finally admit, “We’ve got rats!”, just humbly admit to yourself, “I smell a rat. I’m being abused!”


Okay, so you’ve recognized the smell of a rat. You admit you smell a rat. Now it’s time to remove it or remove yourself. Like rats who’ve found a home in yours, the abuse isn’t just going to go away. You have to take measures. You must take steps. You either remove the rat or remove yourself. There’s really no other solution. Extermination! Immediately!

This is not to say there can’t be reconciliation or restoration or repair later. But the immediate thing to do is make your home safe. Make yourself safe. Then, if the rat is taken care of, perhaps you can return.

This takes a good dose of courage to do. It’s one thing to learn the signs. It’s one thing to admit it. But this all takes place in the mind. Removing the problem takes place with your mouth and your feet. “I’m being abused! You’re leaving or I am!” That takes guts. It means implementing what you mean. It means manifesting your intentions to take care of yourself. It means taking your ideas of what self-health looks like out of your head and concretely realizing them in your body. It means taking care of yourself with certain actions.


Finally, it takes diligence to keep the rats out. They will do everything in their cunning power to return to the sweet spot where they got free room and board. But it is possible to do it. You remove all temptations that attracted them before, block the holes they already made, and bolster up any other possible place of weakness where they could chew their way back in. After a while they will give up and move on to other victims.

It takes a good dose of diligence to protect yourself. Because rats are always on the alert for prey, you must always be on the alert to keep them out. I know many people, including myself, who have done so effectively and permanently. For a time you will be hyper-paranoid, and any little sign that even resembles the smell of a rat will freak you out. But after a while, once you realize that you are now rat-proof, you will relax and enjoy your living space. In fact, you will become a sort of expert in smelling rats and become a source encouragement, advice and help for others invaded by rats. That’s where I’m at. I know many others who are as well. My friends in my online community, The Lasting Supper, are just this kind of people. They have super-sensitive noses that can smell abuse a mile off! It’s an invaluable talent.

There! That’s it. That’s all it takes. When it comes to smelling a rat, you just need to recognize the smell, admit it, remove it and protect yourself. It will become second-nature.

Having said all that, if you can make your church or find a church that is free of the smell of a rat, stay! These are rare and wonderful places. And safe. Enjoy it.

I hope this helps.

From your friendly expert rat-smeller and exterminator, David.

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