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So, What Are The Signs of Spiritual Abuse?

Author: Radonda Rowton, LPC


This blog…on this topic…is a subject I never wanted to write about. To be honest, I don’t like talking about spiritual abuse at all. I know some really good Pastors. I know Pastors and leadership who may not get it right all of the time, but they really do have a genuine love for people, and care for their congregations immensely. Their struggle is with boundaries and getting the rest they need because they do not want to see anyone suffer on their watch. They love and value their staff and would never even dream of hurting or causing pain to anyone in their care. They are true shepherds. I do not ever want to give the impression that all church leadership is abusive, because it isn’t true. I also know Pastors who started out with good intentions, but have been left wounded. Their perception became skewed and they are exhausted and disillusioned from dealing with people who do not care about the kingdom of God. They are exhausted from dealing with people whom only care about power, and will do and say anything to discredit the man of God because they feel that their agenda is more important.


But unfortunately, there is church leadership who for whatever reasons, are not self aware and have abused their power and hurt the people they are supposed to protect. As a therapist, part of my job is to recognize and call out abuse. Be it physical, emotional or spiritual, abuse is ugly and it’s reach is long. Abuse has the ability to literally change a person, and regardless of what has been communicated, that change is not for the good. My background in the church is extensive. My father was a Pastor, my grandfather was a Pastor, my brother is a Pastor, matter of fact, if you count everyone, including the first and second cousins, I have around 26 ministers on one side of my family. To say that I am “over churched” is an understatement. I have lived this life in the bubble of ministry. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.


So what about the ugliness inside the church? Isn’t it wrong to talk about the church? If you speak badly about church, aren’t you also speaking against God? Let me respond back with a question…don’t you think that God knows that the church is full of humans that are far from perfect, and that includes men and women who have been called by God to lead the church? It doesn’t matter how charismatic they seem, or how they try to pass for perfection, the truth is as humans, we deal with emotions and thoughts that are not always right or Godly. Meaning that God is not always pleased with the way that people are led. Scripture talks about how that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters. When we hurt those that God has created, there will be consequences for our bad behavior. God values and loves those that He has created more than any of us have the ability to understand. Which is why He appoints people to care (not judge…big difference) for those who feel angry and misunderstood and disappointed by leadership who were appointed to respond in love and empathy for those who God put in their care.


So, what are the signs of being abused spiritually? I’m going to list some of them and move rather quickly, because we will be addressing these in our workshop that we are offering September 24th and 25. By the way, everybody’s story is different. The abuse ranges from careless, self unaware behavior to trauma that takes years to recover from. The interesting thing about spiritual abuse is that the more subtle the abuse, the harder it is to identify. So, how do we know if we have been or are experiencing spiritual abuse? Here are just a few ways:


* When honest questioning is met with defensiveness and contempt.


* When you point to the problem, you suddenly become the problem


* Feelings of depression and anxiety are seen as a lack of faith


* Relaxation or a weekend off is seen as lazy


* You notice exclusive ‘us’ and ‘them’ language


* Full acceptance is withheld until the behavior is acceptable


* Only blind obedience is tolerated


* Contempt for those who leave the church…you are either for us, or you are against us.


* No longer attendees lose relationship with those still attending


* Leadership seems paranoid about controlling information and what is being said, however, any assumption they make about others is true


* Leadership does not care about any side of the story other than the one they are telling


However, I do want to announce that there is good news. Healing is possible. For those who have been abused and shamed for speaking up, know that God sees and He knows, and He will have the last word.

If you would like more information or would like to process this further, please join us on September 24t and 25th for our Post Traumatic Church Syndrome Workshop. For details, see the flyer below.







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