Spiritual AbusePart I: Its characteristics and methods Presented by Bob Munson, ThD Administrator, Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center
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 Tillichs view of spirit as power combined with meaning.
For the most part, this presentation will focus on spiritual abuse that is tied to the religious... particularly as related to church, parachurch, and discipling relationships. In other words, abusive religious systems.However, it is good to note that spiritual abuse of one form or another is common in many settings and forms.
NOTE1. Most if not all spiritual abusers do not see themselves as abusers.2. Most who are spiritually abused do not see themselves as being abused... at least at first.
NOTE1. Spiritual Abuse has been with us for a long, long time (see Ezekiel 34, Matthew 23, III John).2. Few groups or leaders really start out as abusive.... it develops gradually over time. Commonly, the seed of the problem was there in the beginning, but it took awhile for that seed to bear its destructive fruit.
5 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
4 “Rules” of Spiritual AbuseList by Dr. Graham Barker or the “School of Counseling at the Wesley Institute of Drummoyne”“Spiritual abuse shares many common features with other abusive systems. The most identifiable are the unspoken rules: Don’t trust, don’t talk, don’t think and don’t question.”
#1. Dont Trust “The power wielded by abusive leadership is generated from the double premise that they alone are God’s“anointed” and that their biblical interpretations alone are to be trusted. Any interpretation or information that does not receive their endorsement is untrustworthy.”
#1. Dont Trust“The “don’t trust” rule squashes the individual’s confidence in their ownjudgment and their ability to make decisions for themselves. Any personal experience that contradicts the leadership’steachings is also deemed untrustworthy and an indicator of spiritual immaturity.”
#2. Dont Think“Leaders of closed systems do not tolerate the study and consideration of alternative interpretations of Scripture. Their viewpoints are considered unquestionable truth. This closed mindset often extends to edicts on personal life; clothing, occupation, ministry location and even marital choices may be prescribed.”
#2. Dont Think “Independent thinking,particularly any close analysis of the group’s belief system, is considered a sign of dissention and disloyalty.”
#3. Dont Talk“In abusive systems any discussion of group issues with nonmembers is discouraged. The leadership will not tolerate outside consultation since it could expose the membership to alternative solutions and undermine the leadership’s authority.”
#4. Dont Question“Abusive leadership will not tolerate challenges to its authority. “Don’t question” is a powerful rule. The member who questions the decisions or standards of the leadership is usually ostracised, humiliated or excluded from ministry opportunity.”
8 Methods for Mind Control“Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” by Robert J. Lifton describes 8 methods used in organizations that seek to mind/thought control.Quotes in this section are excerpts of this book as listed in:http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashin g/brainwashing19.html
1. Milieu Control“Establish domain over not only the individuals communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.”
2. Mystical Manipulation“Higher Purpose” or “Special Revelation” is used as justification for requiring TOTAL FAITH. The purpose supercedes all other purposes.The mystical imperative suggests that ANY questioning or reflection not in line with the beliefs of the group is from the “dark side” (the enemy, from Satan, etc.).
3. Demand for Purity“The experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure.”
4. Cult of Confession“Confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal, and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed. Such demands are made possible not only by the ubiquitous human tendencies toward guilt and shame but also by the need to give expression to these tendencies. In totalist hands, confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for, these vulnerabilities. “
5. The Sacred Science“The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself.”
6. Loading the Language“The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”“For an individual person, the effect of the language of ideological totalism can be summed up in one word: constriction.”
7. Doctrine over Person“The underlying assumption is that the doctrine - including its mythological elements - is ultimately more valid, true, and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience. … Rather than modify the myth in accordance with experience, the will to orthodoxy requires instead that men be modified in order to reaffirm the myth.”
8. The Dispensing of Existence“The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right. … Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false.”
Some Characteristics of a Spiritual Abuser-Need to control others-Authoritative style-Commanding personality-Inability to tolerate criticism/dissension-Surrounds with a small, exclusive clique-Self-proclaimed expert, “anointed”-Secretive about “private” life
Many religious traditions have components that make them susceptible to spiritual abuse-Separatist traditions can drift into an abusive isolationist structure.-Hierarchal or apostolic structures can lead to unthinking obedience.-Prophetic groups open the door to secret revelation that quashes critical thinking.-Holiness movements can drive towards a perfectionistic mindset.-Apocalytic groups can reject the value of structures and relationships in the here and now.
Signs to Look Out For-Are the leaders open and accountable?-Do they encourage critical thinking?-Are they willing to consider new ideas and initiatives?-Are they open to a diversity of opinion and interpretation?
Correcting Myths About the Abused (From Stephen Martin)People do not normally choose to be part of an spiritually abusive group. The group appears to be a sheep, yet is a “wolf in sheeps clothing.”People are not fools, crazy, or “unspiritual” for getting into such a group. Often they are very moral and are idealistic, unhappy with other groups they have seen. Abusive groups, in fact, often seek out “the best and the brightest.”Just leaving an abusive group is not necessarily enough. The abused are now wary and mistrusting of others who appear to be kind and helpful (their old group appeared that way as well). They need special care in recovery.
TThe word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesyagainst the shepherds of Israel … This is what the SovereignLORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care ofthemselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … Youhave not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound upthe injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched forthe lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they werescattered because there was no shepherd … Therefore, youshepherds, hear the word of the LORD … because my shepherdsdid not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than formy flock … I am against the shepherds and will hold themaccountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock… I myself will search for my sheep and look after them … I willbind up the injured and strengthen the weak … I will shepherd theflock with justice … I will save my flock, and they will no longer beplundered … You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people,and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD." (Excerptsfrom Ezekiel 34)
References Enroth, Ronald M. “Churches that Abuse.” Zondervan. The Watchmen Fellowship http://www.rickross.com Barker, Graham. “The Insidious Harm of Spiritual Abuse” Alive Magazine Lifton, Robert J. “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Martin, Stephen. “Wolves in Sheeps Clothing” www.wellspringretreat.org.