What is spiritual abuse?

Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1).

Some believe “spiritual abuse” does not exist in the Church. It does. And just because you “say” it does not exist does not make it go away. I hope you are not in an abusive Church and never are. But please know it is very dangerous. Do you know the signs? Below, are some thoughts that can help. if you’re in an abusive environment chances are your’re in denial. So I’m asking you to pray and carefully consider these words.

Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.” Jeff Van Vonderen author of “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.”

What is Spiritual Abuse? (By Richard Damiani)

Spiritual abuse has been called “the rape of the soul” because of the devastation it causes to both the soul and the emotions. The body of Jesus is supposed to be a place of grace, love, acceptance, mutual ministry and growth. In a spiritually abusive, mind controlling church or group the church becomes the kingdom of the pastor who rules with authoritarianism. The members become extensions of the leadership, and the focus of the church is not mutual ministry, but becomes centered on the pastor/elder, or eldership. All revolves around the leader(s). You are there for their benefit, even while they claim to be serving you.

There is constant power posturing by the pastor, and he is deeply concerned with his image as “the anointed man of God.” Real questioning of his authority and interpretation of the Bible is not permitted. To question him is to question God, since he is “God’s mouthpiece” to you. Any disagreement brings a harsh response, even shunning, from the leaders and the other members. No discussion or independent thought is permitted, and no books, speakers, ministries, music, or style of life except those that the pastor approves of are allowed.

Rather than grace, a strict legalism is enforced in preaching and practice. Legalism does not refer to rules, but it is the false teaching that we earn God’s love and smile by what we do and do not do. God only loves those who perform just right, and he gives grace and blessing to you only if you follow the pastor’s teachings. Rather than resting in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the only basis for our acceptance and favor with God, legalistic ministries teach that you must be holy, even perfect, or God will not smile on you. The pastor defines holiness according to his personal convictions, and you are not free to have any convictions but his. God is seen as the great Judge, not as your loving Father who runs to you in passion, forgiveness and acceptance.

Instead of the church being a place of acceptance of God’s children where they are in their walk with God, the pastor and leadership impose their timetable for growth, and they criticize and shun any who don’t “grow as they should.” Instead of being a place of hope and peace, the church becomes a place of condemnation, as sermon after sermon is about God’s law, God’s holiness, and your failure to obey. Even the slightest “disobedience” is seen as great spiritual failure, and the membership becomes self-absorbed with their own lives and “failures” as the pastor defines them.

The same abuse dynamics as are found in sexual, physical and emotional abuse are used:

1. Powerlessness and Loss of Voice -The pastor or eldership holds all the power. To question them is to question God. Even the smallest words of disagreement are condemned as murmuring, gossip, slander, backbiting, whispering, and disaffection. It is to have the spirit of the sons of Korah who stood against Moses and were swallowed into the earth as punishment for questioning the “Lord’s anointed.” You cannot think for yourself, but must think as the pastor dictates. You cannot speak openly, or you will be condemned as sinful, and you cannot leave without cutting all ties to the only social contacts you have allowed yourself.

2. Loss of Dignity – Your individuality before God is lost, as you become a clone of the pastor or of the group. Your spirit, soul and emotions are made to conform to the group, and you feel only as the group dynamic allows. Rather than being a unique individual before God and man, you become a carbon copy like all the other carbon copies in the church; except for those who will “not grow” as the pastor or eldership dictate.

3. Loss of Relationship – Abusive churches isolate the member by subtle and overt means. Sinners are condemned rather than pitied and loved, so you isolate yourself from meaningful redemptive relationships outside of the church. Other ministries, books, etc. are condemned, and other churches are assailed as not having the truth that you possess. Slowly, the membership becomes self-contained, associating only with itself in any meaningful way.

4. Trauma – Fear of failure and condemnation, fear of leaving, loss of control of your ability to think and act for yourself without the eldership’s approval, and threat of expulsion and banishment are all components of abuse. If you finally leave, the extent of the trauma is overwhelming.

This is what I want to say to you, my brothers and sisters in Jesus. Leave off following a man and a church and follow Jesus alone; you haven’t seen anything yet!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
Plans to give you a hope and a future.

-Jeremiah 29:11

Your Brother in Jesus,
Richard Damiani

If you want to contact me you can do it by e-mail at [email protected]. All contacts will be kept in the strictest confidence.

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