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Spiritual Abuse Part 4, Structures


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Continuation on series on spiritual (or religious) abuse. Focus here on the structures and classification of institutions (particularly religious institutions) that tend towards religious or ecclesiastical abuse of its members.

Published in: Spiritual, News & Politics
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Spiritual Abuse Part 4, Structures

  1. 1. Spiritual AbuseSpiritual Abuse Part 4: Structures Presented by Bob Munson, ThD Administrator, Bukal Life Care
  2. 2. Review: What is “spiritual abuse”? 2 definitions: “misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help.” “the manipulation and exploitation of others by the misuse of spiritual privilege and power.” The definitions recognize spiritual as greater than simply supernatural, but includes Tillich's view of spirit as power combined with meaning.
  3. 3. This presentation will focus on religious institutions. That is NOT to say that all spiritual abuse is religious. In fact, some of the greatest abusers spiritually (combining power with meaning to coerce and control) are done by secular entities... such as gangs, governments, and military/revolutionary organizations. It is hard to imagine a human organization that doesn't have the potential for spiritual abuse.
  4. 4. Major Question Many ask, “Can a 'good Christian church' be spiritually abusive, or is it only “cults.” The language is a bit loaded... What is a “good Christian church”? What is a “cult”? However, abusive leadership has been with the Church from the beginning (III John) so it is wise not to distance ourselves as Christians from this problem.
  5. 5. Cults When speaking of spiritual abuse, cults come up, because of famous groups that we would describe as cults that clearly abused (or still abuse) their membership. A problem we have is that there is no completely agreed upon definition for “cult.” The following slides will seek to come up with a description that may not be universally accepted, but is at least useful.
  6. 6. Common Ideas of Cults Some like to describe cults as “little unpopular religions.” It may be used ironically, but is still often believed. This isn't that useful since all religions typically start out small and unpopular (almost by definition). Additionally, Biblical scholars and theologians often use the term cult in a very technical way that may work for them, but is out of touch with the common usage of the term. So let's try two different views:
  7. 7. Common Ideas of Cults 1. Question of Orthodoxy. Some view religions that diverge considerably from an orthodox stance as being cults. 2. Question of Orthopraxy. Some view religions that diverge considerably from a “normative” understanding or appropriate religious behavior as being cults.
  8. 8. Defining Cults For the purposes of this presentation: 1. Question of Orthodoxy. Apply a test of adherence or divergence from historical Christian doctrine (Biblical standards and early church creeds) 2. Question of (Power) Orthopraxy. Apply a test of whether the group exercises power over its membership in a way that meets a common understanding of being abusive.
  9. 9. Review of Hallmarks of Abusive Religious Systems  Authoritarian: Unconditional obedience to the leadership.  Averse to Criticism: The person who dissents is a problem to fix-- not the issue brought up.  Image Conscious: Protecting the reputation of the leaders or church is more important than truth or justice.  Perfectionistic: Individual worth is determined by performance. No compassion for weakness/failure.  Unbalanced: Group distinguishes itself by overemphasizing a minor theological point.  -From The Watchmen Fellowship
  10. 10. Defining Cults One can develop quadrants. One axis separates based on orthodoxy. The other axis is based on orthopraxy (behaving in a manner that is abusive (“cultic”))
  11. 11. First Quadrant: Healthy Church Based on this chart, a religious group may be orthodox doctrinally (from a historical Christian perspective) and is not abusive in its exercise of ecclesiastical power. This could be described as a “Healthy Church.”
  12. 12. Second Quadrant: Non-Christian Group/Religion There are many groups who diverge considerably from historical Christian orthodoxy (some because they have no Christian roots, some because they have drifted away over time). Yet many are not abusive (“cultic”) in their behavior. These could be viewed simply as Non- Christian Groups or Religions.
  13. 13. Third Quadrant: “Cult” There are many groups who diverge considerably from historical Christianity (some having no roots in Christianity in the first place), and are abusive in their exercise of power over their memberships. It is probably appropriate to call such a group a “cult” (in the common use of the word).
  14. 14. Fourth Quadrant: “Unhealthy Church” There are many groups who essentially conform to historic Christian orthodoxy, but practice abusive control over their memberships. While such a group might be considered to be cultic in practice, it is probably more appropriate to call it an “Unhealthy Church” or “Unhealthy Group.”
  15. 15. The Ideal is a “Healthy Church”, but what is the worst?
  16. 16. What is the worst? (from a Christian perspective) A. For the individual, the worst is a cult. It does not provide a way to the truth, and abuses the person. B. For Christianity as a whole, the worst is an Unhealthy Church. Because it is still doctrinally Christian, it is hard to know how to deal with it, and it gives a “black eye” to Christianity as a whole in the way it treats its members.
  17. 17. Structure Some authoritarian groups (religious or otherwise) are highly structured while others have little structure. The structure (or lack thereof) typically reflects the personal style of the charismatic leader (or subsequent leadership after the founder is gone). What both share is a lack of mechanism to provide accountability or check-and-balance for the leadership.
  18. 18. Structure Some may be tempted to believe that a lack of structure would give more freedom. However, the lack of structure often forces greater reliance on one or a few. Even highly structured systems share this, since critical structural features are missing to limit abuse and work out grievances and concerns in a healthy manner.
  19. 19. Theology and Structure While the structure/culture of the group tends to reflect the style of the leader, a certain theology (for religious groups) or ideology (for “non-religious” groups) develops of necessity to support and justify the structure.
  20. 20. Theology and Structure 1. Minimization of the Theology of Mutuality. The Bible describes the church as being unified, and having specific roles. However, it also speaks of mutuality. Love one another, exhort one another, submit to one another, encourage one another. Bear one another's burdens. Submission, exhortation, and others become one-directional... non-mutual. Abusive groups give priority to roles and deprioritize mutuality.
  21. 21. Theology and Structure 2. Minimization of the Doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer. The priesthood of the believer suggests that each can approach God directly, not through a human intermediary. It also suggests that each member may have access to divine truth, not necessitating a human “prophet.” Abusive groups emphasize the inadequacy of members to have divine truth and grace without divinely appointed leaders.
  22. 22. Theology and Structure 3. Minimization of the Doctrine of Personal Stewardship. The Bible commends wise usage of one's assets for self, family, others, and God's work, recognizing that all things are ultimately God's and gifts from God. Abusive groups tend to confuse”all things are God's” with “all things are the church's.” As such, they tend to command and demand what members are to do with their assets.
  23. 23. Theology and Structure 4. Doctrine of Particularism. Who goes to heaven. Everyone? Most people? Few people? Abusive groups, in extreme form, may say that being a member of the group makes heaven a POSSIBILITY... being out of the group makes hell a CERTAINTY. In less extreme cases, that group is “correct and pure,” and those outside of the group are at risk of curse or damnation.
  24. 24. Theology and Structure So how do these theological characteristics support the structure of spiritual abuse? First, consider THREE ways a member can “vote” in church: -HAND (formal voting) -WALLET (donating/withholding assets) -FEET (staying or leaving)
  25. 25. Theology and Structure HAND While having no mechanism for voting takes away the legality of voting, removal/reduction of the theology of the priesthood of believers takes away its logic. If access to divine wisdom and blessing come from the leadership, then polling of the membership has no value and could, certainly, lead to error.
  26. 26. Theology and Structure WALLET Reduction of the doctrine of personal stewardship means that the church can and should guide/command its members how to use their resources. As such “voting with one's wallet” is disobedient/sinful. It could be a justification for removal from the group.
  27. 27. Theology and Structure FEET “Voting with one's feet” is a powerful method to point out disagreement. However, if the group teaches that doing so puts one's soul at risk (particularism), that method is negated (except when one is in the most desperate circumstances).
  28. 28. Theology and Structure Finally, giving priority of role over mutuality completes the structural justification. -Authority is limited to the role of leaders and directed downward, -Submission is limited to members and directed upward. -Exhortation is seen only in terms of authority (from leaders over members) and submission (of members to leaders).
  29. 29. NOTE Often the structure (at least of highly organized abusive groups) mimics a sort of degraded military chain-of-command structure. It is degraded since military structures provide mechanisms for grievances and place considerable limits on leaders to control inappropriately (“unlawful orders” versus “lawful orders”).
  30. 30. NOTE (cont) Military structures tend to work well in crises, but are rather inefficient and uncreative in peacetime. PERHAPS the tendency of many abusive groups to heavily rely on war and conflict metaphors is to justify, in part, their structure and hide their limitations. Perhaps it also is used to justify deprivations... necessary sacrifices in spiritual battle.
  31. 31. Positive Structures A healthy Christian church should: Have a healthy attitude about power and submission... setting up structures that promote mutuality, not just role. Have intentional structures in place to empower members, and hold leaders accountable internally. Have a theology that recognizes God's unique and valuable work in the lives of each member, and builds structures based on that theology.
  32. 32. References  Enroth, Ronald M. “Churches that Abuse.” Zondervan.  The Watchmen Fellowship  Zukeran, Patrick. “Abusive Churches: Leaving Them Behind - A Biblical Perspective”  Barker, Graham. “The Insidious Harm of Spiritual Abuse” Alive Magazine  Lifton, Robert J. “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.”  Martin, Stephen. “Wolves in Sheep's Clothing”  Russell, Colleen. “Groups Identified as High-Demand or Cults.”