In researching my new book on spiritual abuse (Broken Trust), I’m unearthing a number of good resources. The following is a recap of an article about the book, Churches That Abuse, by Dr. Ron Enroth. The book is currently out of print but this outline is still helpful.
Six Signs of Churches That Abuse
Spiritually abusive churches have many markers but here are six signs to help warn you of the presence of abuse:
- Dependency: The church fosters a dependence on its teaching and input from the leadership with what’s called “learned helplessness.” Members are instructed on every facet of life, who they can associate with, where they should work, how much they should volunteer, etc. The leaders imply that life is too complex for people to make it without the informed guidance of their spiritual wisdom. To operate without their input is to put your life and success at risk.
- Legalism: Legalism is the ladder that you climb in an attempt to reach God. The problem is that when you get to the top of the ladder, there is another ladder. You never get to where you hoped to be.
- Isolationism: this is where your church is insulated from outsiders. It’s a closed system. People within the church community are the only ones that can be trusted. People outside of the system are often spoken of in disparaging ways. Anyone that has left the church is belittled and cast as a threat to members. The church leader is often seen as the ultimate source of truth.
- Discipline: Abusive churches are obsessed with exposing detractors and publicly exposing them or excommunicating them. On the front side, the church might seem warm and accepting, but on the backside they can be incredibly cruel if you cross them in any way.
- Disrupted Family Relationships: A sign of a true believer is when they are willing to cut off ties with their family. Abusive churches often encourage this and discipline the people who refuse to do it.
- Surveillance: To keep people in line with the five areas above, surveillance is required. Church members are told to keep an eye out for how people behave under the guise of mutual accountability.
All of these attributes work in consort to control the person and develop strict allegiance to the church.
Jesus spoke of wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. There is no better disguise for falsehood than the church.
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