Victims and survivors of spiritual abuse are found in every segment of society. Some attend worship regularly; sing in bands or choirs, lead missions, teach Sunday school and preach from our pulpits. And, so do their offenders.
Spiritual abuse is too often mislabelled as spiritual zeal, even spiritual maturity!
Below are behaviours of spiritual abuse that Christians can become aware of, to help them identify abuse and where abuse is likely to take place.
Common Grace reports spiritual abusers often:
Exploit the doctrine of fallenness to accuse, berate, critique, attack, belittle, condemn or produce guilt in the victim. They may cultivate or take advantage of their victim’s conscientiousness in regards to moral matters in order to make them feel like the real problem is the victim’s inferior spirituality. They may make the victim feel like the only reason things aren’t better is because the victim is immature.
Exploit the doctrine of fallenness to excuse or minimise the severity of their own behaviour. They may try to convince the victim that since everyone is sinful, their abuse is normal, and they shouldn’t expect anything different.
Exploit the doctrines of forgiveness and reconciliation to demand that a victim forgive the abuse, even if there has been no real repentance. They may pressure the victim to ‘move on’, as though any ongoing hurts are the result of ungodly bitterness or resentments. They may demand that forgiveness equate to the restoration of all the previous conditions of the relationship (including contact, communication and trust).
Use the busyness, stress, pressures or responsibilities of ministry to excuse abuse. Abusers may use ministry to excuse deliberate neglect of the victim. They may blame outbursts, aggression, physical violence, on the pressures of ministry, making the victim feel that they can’t critique the abuse without also critiquing a valuable ministry.
Use the Bible to justify abusive behaviour, and insinuate or explicitly state that if the victim understands the Bible differently, the difference of opinion is actually a product of sin.
Use their - apparently - sophisticated knowledge of the Bible to position themselves outside of the teaching and authority of church leaders.
Use the Christian community to protect the abuser, and isolate the victim. The abuser may make himself or herself vital to significant ministries, in turn making the victim feel responsible for their possible collapse if they revealed the abuse. They abuser may manipulate others so that they think highly of the abuser and think little of the victim, making the victim feel like they wouldn’t have any support if they did expose the abuse. The abuser might paint themselves as the long-suffering or patiently enduring partner of an erratic or dramatic or emotional woman (or child), undermining the victim’s credibility whilst underscoring theirs.
Appeal to the work of evil spirits as explanations for the victim’s accusations or behaviour.
Attribute accusations against them to the work of Satan.
Use Bible passages about generosity to justify controlling the victim’s access to money.
Use Bible passages about faithfulness in marriage to justify limiting the victim’s social life.
Use Bible passages about rebuking to justify verbal abuse.
Use Bible passages about sexuality to justify rape and sexual assault.
Use Bible passages about unity to justify silencing the victim.
Pastors and laity need to acknowledge that spiritual abuse tales place and acquire appropriate education and training in order to help address these behaviours that are devastating people and destroying communities and families.
The following Domestic and Family Violence support services are available:
National Helpline: 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour) crisis line: 131 114