Don’t Minimize Spiritual Abuse

minimizing-abuseThis is the fourth post in my blog series on Spiritual Abuse. Be sure to track back to read the full series.

I will soon post how a church can take steps to recover from their spiritually abusive past. That is, once spiritual abuse has been uncovered, what steps need to be taken to get the church back on track?

But before I list out what that means, I want to discuss two concerns I have about how a church might mishandle spiritual abuse. I’ll discuss one concern today and another one on Wednesday.

Concern One: People will minimize the abuse and explain it away.

The problem with abuse is that not everyone sees it. If everyone saw it, it would be obvious and people would take bold steps to eradicate it. What typically happens is only a few people see it full blown. A few more people see a little here and there.  They are concerned, but not enough to “make waves” and say something. Most people don’t see it at all. They aren’t close enough to the source so it’s easily missed or explained away.

When stories of abuse come out, they are so easy to deny. There are usually many more people who haven’t seen it. They outnumber those that have seen it. Those who haven’t seen it talk about all the good that is happening. No one wants to think their leaders have gone rogue. They shut down concerns by warning people about being rebellious, or gossips, or negative, etc. The abused either shut up or walk away. 

…don’t let people talk you out of the fact that spiritual abuse happened or convince you that, if it happened, it wasn’t “that bad” because good things happened too.

One abuse survivor said she hesitated to say anything about her spiritual abuse because: She felt dramatic and whiny for mentioning spiritual abuse, like she was overstating what happened. DAYNA DRUM, OCTOBER 27, 2014, Relevant Magazine

As a pastor myself, I’m all for supporting your pastor! But I’m surprised how many people blindly support and protect their pastor even when there is strong evidence about their misbehavior. It’s important to give someone the benefit of the doubt (especially when I’m the one being doubted) but questionable behavior warrants questioning, especially when there are ongoing concerns by a variety of people over time.

Other people will justify abuse by saying the “end justifies the means.” That is, if someone made spiritual progress, by so-called “spiritual abuse,” can it really be abuse if they were helped? Yes it can. And I question if they really were helped, in the long run.

Learning from Sexual Abuse

Comparing spiritual abuse to sexual abuse might bring some clarity. Let’s say an adult coerces a minor to have sex. The minor is willing. They even enjoy it. Is it abuse? Yes it is. The fact that it is consensual and enjoyable has no bearing on whether it’s abuse.

What makes it abuse is that the adult violated the innocence of the minor. Just because the minor didn’t feel violated, or understand they were violated, means nothing. A violation still occurred. Something was taken from the minor that can never be recovered. That’s abuse.

The same is true with spiritual abuse. People can testify to the amazing power of a pastor’s ministry. They can have multiple people stand up and tell their story of how they came to God and were set free. But if their will was violated in any way…if the pastor crossed the line of respecting their right to choose, redirected the person to rely on the pastor and not God, or manipulated their choice through intimidating them in any way, it’s still abuse.

It’s often easy for people to misinterpret any change or impact as the work of God. When someone is under the mind-control of a persuasive abuser, they are easily manipulated into thinking that God is doing something in their lives when it is, in fact, the abuser.

My point here: don’t let people talk you out of the fact that spiritual abuse happened or convince you that, if it happened, it wasn’t “that bad” because good things happened too. When you minimize spiritual abuse you are telling the abused a number of lies:

  • You weren’t violated in any way, so get over it.
  • You don’t know what it means to be spiritual.
  • We aren’t concerned about what happened to you if it didn’t happen to us.
  • You are expendable. We don’t need to “stop the train” just because you were hurt.
  • You are overreacting.
  • You don’t have the right to question authority.

When people hear these things subtly implied, they are revictimized. I’ll talk more about this on Wednesday. The answer to spiritual abuse is to not minimize in hope of it quickly going away. The answer is to fully expose it and take responsibility for it.

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How have you seen a church minimize abuse?

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