By Rev. Roy G. Gomez
The definition of Religious and Spiritual Abuse.
Religious abuse refers to abuse administered under the guise (concealing the true nature of something) of religion including harassment or humiliation, possibly resulting in psychological trauma. Religious abuse may also include misuse of religion for selfish, secular, or ideological ends such as the abuse of a clerical position. Wikipedia.org
Spiritual abuse just as emotional abuse affects one emotionally, while physical abuse inflicts pain and bodily injury on its victim, spiritual abuse affects one spiritually. It is the result of a spiritual leader or system that tries to control, manipulate, or dominate a person. This control is often in the form of fear. This is considered a major factor in mind control/coercive (relating to or using force or threats) persuasion or thought reform. There are those who feel the latter comes into play in cases such as these, while others feel the thinking is in error. Regardless of where one stands on this, it does not lessen the effects of spiritual abuse.
David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen, co-authors of “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” describe the action: “It’s possible to become so determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine or a way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn’t ‘behave’ spiritually the way you want them to. When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person’s standing as a Christian- to gratify you, your position or your beliefs while at the same time weakening or harming another- that is spiritual abuse.”
Does leadership in the church demand you consult with them (or your discipler) before making major decisions or any decisions at all? Has leadership forbidden you to go on vacation or spend time with someone (particularly one who has left the church group)?
Do you find yourself periodically questioning your spirituality or standing with God? Have you been preoccupied with checking out others in the congregation to see who is living up to the rules and who isn’t?
Are extra-biblical rules and standards equated as coming from God, with your salvation or spirituality linked to following them? Do you find that cutting or not cutting your hair has now become an indicator of your spirituality and a means of protection for your family?
Has the initial joy you felt when first coming to know the Lord been replaced with worry? Do you feel you’re not doing enough or are not good enough and can’t live up to what is expected? Are you worried God has sent you a spirit of delusion?
Do services uplift and give strength or do you feel sad, beaten down, or depressed afterward? Has your view of God changed to where he is seen as a harsh taskmaster, eagerly waiting for you to mess up so he can chastise you or leave you behind? © 1997 – presented by Lois E. Gibson
Who are the people who tend to fall victims to this?
I was not able to find in the area of race, class or gender; as to who falls as victims to Religious or Spiritual Abuse. In my years of ministry I could not say that there is an economic, social, race, or gender group – but from each group they are mistreatment to someone who is in the dire need of spiritual help out of his or her unbearable and bitter life experiences.
Normally we tend to seek help from God when we are in difficulty. In a search of God, we reach to religious places like temples, churches or mutts where -few times- we come across real unscrupulous (dubious) elements, those disguised themselves as the representative of God. They emotionally blackmail the needy by misusing of a position of power (like pontiff), leadership, or influence to foster the selfish interests of someone else other than the individual who needs help.
Such mischievous elements prey upon needy person’s genuine intension of seeking help from God or the almighty power. They purport their advice to be the ‘most appropriate’ advice in that critical life situation. Abuse occurs because of legitimate personal needs that are being met by illegitimate means. Spiritually abusive religious systems are sometimes pretended as legalistic, mind controlling, spiritual healing systems and religiously helpful to work out solution in your life problem.
Why are they more susceptible to this malady (1. a disease or disorder of the animal body; 2. an unwholesome or disordered condition) than other people?)
Abuse is a complicated affliction, affecting people of all ages, intelligence levels, and backgrounds. It’s hard to tell what causes some people to be more prone to abuse than others; it’s usually a mix of many factors, from family background, genetics, and environment, stress, and personality traits.
People who were abused or picked on are prone to suffer more as they lose all their self-confidence and esteem in that grueling bullying. Bullying is the most damaging strategy after torture.
You don’t only use knives and daggers only to kill someone, just demean and harass, and you might end up killing an innocent.
Bullying that happens early on, leaves an indelible mark on the child’s brain. He starts to feel useless, incompetent and victimized, losing all strength of bouncing back. If anyone gets in that rut, how do you expect them to construct their life back?
Life for normal people is so complicated and full of challenges let alone for someone who has been dished out the most damaging attitude of being a loser. This is an ongoing issue in the church as a whole. It’s a worldwide problem and across all religious denominations.
What are the symptoms of these victims?
Salvation Redefined – Spiritually abusive ministries continually redefine salvation. This keeps the bar moving higher and higher so that followers must stay dependent on the intercession, wisdom, and power of the leader. Healthy leaders, on the other hand, communicate a clear biblical gospel of salvation by grace through faith. God’s plan of salvation never changes.
Deification of Leaders – While few spiritually abusive leaders overtly claim divinity, in practice they act as if they are godlike. For example, the leader may say that he or she speaks for God. That God works exclusively through his or her ministry, or that followers can please God by pleasing the leader. Healthy leaders, however, avoid putting themselves in the place of God.
Exhaustion – Spiritually abusive ministries exhaust their followers through high commitment and endless demands on time and service. If you always feel exhausted after church—or if your church life seems one continuous demand on your time with never a chance to rest—you may live in a spiritually abusive system. Healthy churches and leaders understand the need for rest and personal time. After all, even God rested on the seventh day.
Sacrificial” Giving – Spiritually abusive ministries regularly call for sacrificial giving of time, talents, and treasure. The Bible knows little of this. Instead, the New Testament calls for generous and cheerful giving (2 Cor. 8 and 9). While God does sometimes call us to give sacrificially, this is between us and the Holy Spirit. For example, the Philippians gave sacrificially and amazed even the Apostle Paul. But no person can demand such sacrifice, and certainly not on an ongoing basis. Healthy churches teach biblical giving which is based on generosity and freewill, not coercion or guilt.
Punishment – Spiritually abusive groups use church discipline passages as an excuse to punish current members or to shun ex-members. They use church discipline to keep people in line, to quell disagreement (which they call “rebellion”), and as a threat against critical thinking (which they call “pride”). They also overreact to small sins or minor behavioral issues and bring the full weight of church discipline against people who actually just need time to mature. Leaders of these groups misunderstand the purpose of church discipline, which is restorative, not punitive. Spiritually abusive groups also misinterpret the warning passages in the book of Hebrews—they claim that people who leave their select group have left the faith. In contrast, healthy leaders use church discipline only in serious matters of major unrepentant sin. And they understand that the goal of such corrective measures is restoration, not punishment.
Who are the typical abusers of this malady?
I have found that it is an out of control problem cause by adult – males, females. In over 30 years of ministry and innumerable counseling sessions I have dealt with similar situations.
Often, people — especially church goers — Religious and Spiritual Abuse does not happen within committed Christian. But nothing could be further from the truth. After observing destructive relationships, being involved and being a victim. I have discovered these several characteristics traits, actions – that are most often exhibited by abusers. Remember that males can be abused by females, but the victims are predominately female.
Charming, Jealous, Manipulative, Controlling, Narcissistic – He/she is the master, Inconsistent, Critical, and Disconnected – isolate his victim from family and friends so that you are totally dependent on him. Hypersensitive – flies off the handle for the slightest infraction, vicious and cruel.
What drives the abusers?
Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help. Sometimes abuse arises out of a doctrinal position.
At other times it occurs because of legitimate personal needs of a leader that are being met by illegitimate means. Spiritually abusive religious systems are sometimes described as legalistic, mind controlling, religiously addictive, and authoritarian. Freddie Garcia – Victory Outreach Inc.
What are the stats of religious abuse in the United States?
I was not able to obtain a clear answer to the Religious/ Spiritual Abuse Question. Research seem to avoid the question.
Most churches in the United States have an average church attendance of around 500 adults, 125 children. Most congregations are dominated by married adults, so in this “average church,” there are 200 married couples, 275 women and 225 men, 64 girls and 61 boys. This means that in this church:
At least 40 marriages are abusive. Studies show that anywhere from 20%-35% of all intimate relationships are abusive, and many are physically violent. Physical abuse is not the only form abuse can take, and other types of abuse are just as damaging.
As many as 20 women are being consistently raped by their husbands. Studies performed by Susan Estrech and Diana Russel indicate that 10% of married women describe most of their sexual encounters with their husbands as non-consensual.
- 38 of the men were sexually abused as children.
- 68 of the women were sexually abused as children.
- Another 55 women have been raped, probably in college.
- 7 men have been raped as adults, although if you are near a military base that number is probably higher.
- 16 of the girls will experience sexual abuse.
- 10 of the boys will experience sexual abuse.
- 1 or 2of these children are being physically abused by their parents.
It is possible that there are 9 child sexual abuse perpetrators in this church, since 30% of all child sexual abuse perpetrators are close family relatives– usually male relatives, although in 9%-14% of cases the pedophile is a woman. Another 30% of the time the perpetrator is another, older, minor.
That’s a possible 256 people– 40% of this “average” congregation— who have been violently wounded by some kind of horrific abuse.
Rev. Roy Gomez is a state licensed counselor, as well as a certified Faith-Based Christian Counselor. Rev. Gomez has worked in the field as a mentor and counselor for drug addicts for many years. He works as a