Posts Tagged ‘Discerning Religious Abuse’

Refer to STEP4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

One’s cruelty is one’s power and, when one parts with one’s cruelty, one parts with one’s power. When one has parted with that, I fancy one’s old and ugly.

 —William Congreve


For religious abuse to occur, an attitude of arrogance, entitlement, and pride is required by a religious leader. If such an attitude doesn’t exist, then most abuse is accidental—not malicious. To be certain what’s really happening, it’s always wise to take a good, hard look at every pastor and ministry leader. Try to discern telltale signs of spiritual superiority. If you spot any self-serving or narcissistic characteristics, move on. It doesn’t matter how profound the person’s teaching may be or how loving he or she appears to be, it’s an illusion. Those who recognize the problem and make a stand for what is right are the ones who will be abused.

Here’s the way it works. Although people have differences of opinion, when one person’s opinion is routinely elevated above others and positioned as “God’s will,” then abusiveness often follows. The person who doesn’t buy into the program is not only rebuked; but by holding his or her ground in opposition, that person’s relationship with God is inevitably called into question. To criticize the minister—”the anointed one”— is perceived as criticizing God, making the person who disagrees have flawed, “sinful” character qualities.

Routinely, those who are in opposition are depicted as “carnal”—as purposefully going against God’s will. This makes the questioning person’s walk with the Lord appear to be defective, which is exactly how it is positioned by the abusive leader. When the abuser says, “I’ll pray for you, brother,” it is usually accompanied by a syrupy smile. When this happens, you can be certain that no prayers will be forthcoming—only character assassination.

The person asking hard questions becomes an “untouchable”—rejected by those who were co-laborers just a short time earlier. This kind of treatment happens routinely in ministries and churches, wounding people beyond their capacity to cope with life afterwords. When the process is complete, there is another person added to the ranks of the religiously abused.

Your boasting is not good. Do you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:6-8)

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I don’t just think I’ve been mistreated,

I know I have been mistreated.

And You know I’ve been wronged as well.

I’ve told You what happened repeatedly.

Everybody in my life knows my story.

Now that it has been a while since my abuse,

Everybody else seems to have progressed

With their lives—except for me.

I remain stuck in my debilitating mindset,

Which has not changed appreciably,

Despite the passage of so much time.

It’s infuriating and unfair that I’m the one

Who continues to experience so much pain.

Those who used, abused, and discarded me

Should be the ones to pay, but they haven’t.

I’m the one that continues to languish.

By refusing to move on with my life,

I know that I’m not hurting them—not one bit.

I’m only hurting myself and those around me.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all,

But I can’t live like this any longer.

I don’t want to waste my future harboring resentment,

Rehashing my drama repeatedly in my mind,

But it’s going to be difficult to get back on track.

I didn’t realize I had drifted so far from You, Father.

I didn’t realize how willful I had become,

But now I do. It becomes clearer each day.

I have blamed others for my plight for so long,

That bitterness seems normal—even comfortable,

Which frightens me for what lies ahead.

Show me how to find my way back to You.

—Jack Watts

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let you mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

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As many as 40 million people have abandoned Christianity because of an unpleasant experience—much of it because of religious abuse, but what constitutes abuse? Here is the definition I use in Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom, recently published by Simon & Schuster:

Religious abuse is the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, resulting in diminishing that person’s sense of wellbeing and growth—both spiritually and emotionally.

Religious abuse is the use of spiritual authority, by words or actions, to manipulate someone for personal gain or to achieve a personal agenda, thereby harming that person’s walk with God.

Religious abuse can also be defined as any misuse of Scripture, which harms a person’s relationship with God—like the damage resulting from cult involvement.

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STEP4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

Not everybody who has been abused leaves quietly. Most bow their heads, tuck their tails, and withdraw to live out their days wounded and scorned, but not everybody is willing to be a martyr for the religious leader. Some, convinced that they are right and the narcissistic leader is wrong, refuse to walk away without a fight. Frequently, the position held by those in dissention is absolutely correct. Convinced they are right, these people are willing to go public to make their case.

When this happens, an interesting phenomenon occurs. When the abusee “has the goods” on a narcissistic leader and the ministry is forced to face an unpleasant truth, it’s never followed by an open act of open repentance. Genuine humility is never an option. The leader rarely comes forth publicly to admit how he or she has wronged another. That only occurs when they are forced to do so. It’s never their immediate reaction. Instead, like sleazy politicians and lascivious celebrities, they choose to cover up their wrongdoing.

Reasoning that an open admission of guilt would make too many followers “lose their faith in God,” leaders like these do everything in their power to hide the truth—to camouflage reality. This, of course, goes against core Christian teaching, which requires confession of wrongdoing by everyone, especially leaders.

The reason such leaders refuse to humble themselves in this way is because they don’t believe they need to follow the same rules as everybody else, which is how entitled people think. They are above mundane, petty acts of contrition, which impedes their noble, exalted purpose. This attitude of superiority—rather than of service—is a clear indication of someone who is capable of abusing those he or she has been called to serve.

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