This is part five in a six part series on Spiritual Abuse. Track back to read all the posts so far.
I left off on my last post talking about the dangers of minimizing spiritual abuse. If spiritual abuse is minimized, a church will be quick to move on and not give abuse victims the care they need to heal.
Victims will be made to feel like they are the ones at fault. They overreacted. They are overly sensitive, etc. This subjects them to abuse…again. This is equal to throwing salt on an open wound.
Don’t Create a Cover Up
I understand that it’s very hard to fully own something as ugly as spiritual abuse. No one wants to admit the depth of it. No one wants to own that it happened in their church. But if you don’t admit it – fully – you will only add to the tragedy. A church that is quick to move on chooses to sacrifice the abused for the sake of their own reputation. They mistakenly think that, by not admitting the abuse, they will be saved from the pain and shame of fully disclosing it. In their mind, it’s for “the greater good” that they minimize what took place and move on.
But creating a cover-up is a very sad legacy to afflict on your church. A few years back I took a team of people to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Houses were flooded up to two stories. The only solution to save these houses was to gut them, stripping them down to the studs. Once the houses were stripped, they needed to be sprayed down with an antibacterial solution, left to dry, and then rebuilt.
A church that is quick to move on chooses to sacrifice the abused for the sake of their own reputation.
It felt terrible to throw out totally new appliances and woodwork. But trying to save them would have allowed the bacteria to grow and would cause the ultimate demise and destruction of the houses. It was better to gut them and start over.
This is a perfect example for what needs to take place after abuse has “flooded” a church community. You can’t soft-sell what happened. You have to own it and clean house.
You Can Smell Spiritual Abuse a Mile Away
What people don’t understand is how sensitive and perceptive survivors of abuse are. They can “smell” abuse a mile away, even when others can’t. They hear it in the teaching, the tone of people’s voice, the subtle manipulations used, and by what’s said and not said.
Let me use another analogy from my past. When my wife and I were first married, we lived in married student housing at the University of Minnesota. Before living there, I had never seen a cockroach. After living there I became very familiar with them! The roach population got so bad that the University resorted to monthly fumigation. All the residence would have to leave for the day while they set off a fumigation “bomb.”
That insecticide has a very unique smell. The smell is permanently etched in my brain. I smell it sometimes when I’m in apartment buildings and occasionally in restaurants. I’ll often mention it to whomever I’m with, “Can you smell the insecticide?” I’ll ask. They never can. I’m just super sensitive to it. But when I smell it in a restaurant, it’s a warning sign that the restaurant has a roach problem, not some place I want to eat!
It’s the same way with abuse. Once you’ve been abused, once someone had forced themselves into your personal space without your permission, you never forget it. Not everyone will see what you see or hear what you hear. They might call you oversensitive and diminish what you sense. But you know you are right. No one can tell you differently.
If you’ve suffered spiritual abuse in a church, you can’t go to that church if there is the slightest scent of abuse in the air. You know what others don’t: they haven’t fully rooted out the last vestiges of abuse. Instead of getting the abused to be quiet, they should be sought out and used as a “Geiger counter” to detect and eradicate any traces of abuse in the church.
Eliminating Every Trace of Abuse
The false teaching used to control people needs to be actively rooted out and corrected, not merely downplayed or ignored. Respected teachers from outside the church should be brought in to reset the biblical compass in the church. The errors that were used to perpetrate the abuse need to be spelled out and fully exposed so people understand the threat they are to God’s glory and the purpose for his church.
Bold action should be taken to get a church back on track. Spiritual abuse introduces a toxin to the lifeblood of the church and needs to be removed before it causes any more damage. I’ll talk about some possible steps a church might take in my next post.
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