- Section 1 Website Links
- Section 2 Short Articles by Others
- How to Assess One’s Church by Considering: The Seven Symptoms of Abusive Religion according to Jesus.
- Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith
- The Nature of Mature Faith–Eight Core Dimensions
- Issues in Recovery
- Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot it
- Spiritual Abuse: 5 Characteristics
- Section 3 Counseling Information
2. Alan Jamieson and Paul Fromont
- Online Books and Articles:
- Prodigal Kiwis: http://prodigal.typepad.com
6. Emerging Grace–now Kingdom Grace
- Articles: Spiritual Abuse Part 1 – 7
9. www.SpiritualSoundingBoard.com Julie Anne Smith
11. Pure Provender
18. Spiritual Abuse Awareness – Lisa
How to Assess One’s Church by Considering
The Seven Symptoms of Abusive Religion
According to Jesus in Matthew 23.
by Ken Blue
- Abusive leaders base their spiritual authority on their position or office rather than on their service to the group. Their style of leadership is authoritarian.
- Leaders in abusive churches often say one thing but do another. Their words and deeds do not match.
- They manipulate people by making them feel guilty for not measuring up spiritually. They lay heavy religious loads on people and make no effort to lift those loads.
- Abusive leaders are preoccupied with looking good. They stifle any criticism that puts them in a bad light.
- They seek honorific titles and special privileges that elevate them above the group. They promote a class system with themselves at the top.
- Their communication is not straight. Their speech becomes especially vague and confusing when they are defending themselves.
- They major on minor issues to the neglect of the truly important ones. They are conscientious about religious details but neglect God’s larger agendas..
Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,1993), 134-135.
To aid in assessing one’s church Blue notes the symptoms of abusive religion according to Jesus in Mt. 23. He states: “If your church rates high on these negative indicators, it is significantly spiritually abusive”
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Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith
by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
- Focused on God.
- Growing faith.
- Respectful of others.
- Freedom to serve.
- Vulnerable–free to be real.
- Trusting–in God, in others, in oneself.
- Individualized–expressing faith as an individual, not merely as a conformist to a system.
- Relationship oriented–the more one loves God the more one will love/care for others.
- Personal–experience generated internally through trust in God.
- Balanced–all of life, not just faith.
- Nondefensive–healthy faith welcomes critical evaluation and tough questions as opportunities to learn and relate. Those who question their faith are not considered disobedient but rather are encouraged to explore their doubts.
- Reality based not a servant-God view to make life easy.
- Able to embrace one’s emotions.
- Able to embrace one’s humanity,
Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, Toxic Faith (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 1991), 247-262. Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith.
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The Nature of Mature Faith–
Eight Core Dimensions
by Peter L. Benson and Carolyn H. Eklin
A mature believer:
- Trusts in God’s saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
- Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace.
- Integrates faith and life, seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one’s religious life.
- Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, and discussion with others.
- Seeks to be part of a community of believers in which people give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
- Hold life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
- Advocates social and global change to bring about greater social justice.
- Serves humanity consistently and passionately through acts of love and justice.
From Peter L. Benson and Carolyn H. Eklin, Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations (Minneapolis: a research project of Search Institute, March 1990). The Nature of Mature Faith–eight core dimensions that indicate the maturity of one’s faith.
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Issues in Recovery
by Ronald M. Enroth
Many themes and issues have emerged from these [Enroth’s] stories of people recovering from churches that abuse. These are often more implicit than explicit. Thinking through these issues in the following terms may be helpful to victims of abuse and those who seek to counsel them.
WHY PEOPLE ARE DRAWN INTO ABUSIVE GROUPS
- Emotional needs
- The attraction of authority
- False expectations
- The deception of positive impressions and ready acceptance
- Vulnerability through inexperience with a healthy Christian faith and community
- Dependency needs
FACTORS THAT MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO LEAVE AND RECOVER
- A system that fosters dependence
- Members not encouraged to think for themselves
- The community emphasized rather than the individual
- Emphasis on uniformity and conformity
- Social skills undeveloped
- “Set up” to fail: self-fulfilling prophecy
- Feelings of being “orphaned” and rejected
- Culture shock
- Nowhere to turn for faith, because other churches discredited
- Ill-equipped for relationships
- Isolation from society
- Estrangement from family
- Loss of focus and purpose in life
- Feelings of shame and guilt
- “Victimization” syndrome
- Lack of trust in authority and/or intimacy
- Insufficient resources (financial, emotional, relational)
- Feelings of anger and bitterness impeding forgiveness
- Network of friends within the membership
FACTORS THAT MAY RETARD OR INTERFERE WITH RECOVERY
- Feelings about oneself: self-esteem
- Economic instability
- Caution about entering another Christian community or church
- Need for re-socialization
- Marital and family conditions
- Need for professional counseling
- Being viewed with distrust or skepticism by other Christians
- Lack of self-discipline
- Spiritual paralysis
SOME FEELINGS TO CONTEND WITH
- Low self-esteem
- Shame and guilt
- Regret for lost years
- Loss of identity
- Fear and confusion
Ronald M. Enroth, Recovering from Churches That Abuse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), Appendix, 72-73.
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Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways To Spot It
by Mary DeMuth
Certain Church Leaders:
- Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.
- Demand allegiance as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.
- Use exclusive language. “We’re the only ministry really following Jesus.” “We have all the right theology.” Believe their way of doing things, thinking theologically, or handling ministry and church is the only correct way. Everyone else is wrong, misguided, or stupidly naive.
- Create a culture of fear and shame. Often there is no grace for someone who fails to live up to the church’s or ministry’s expectation. And if someone steps outside of the often-unspoken rules, leaders shame them into compliance. Can’t admit failure but often searches out failure in others and uses that knowledge to hold others in fear and captivity. They often quote scriptures about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder. Yet they often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their circle of influence take on this task, silencing critics.
- Often have a charismatic leader at the helm who starts off well, but slips into arrogance, protectionism and pride. Where a leader might start off being personable and interested in others’ issues, he/she eventually withdraws to a small group of “yes people” and isolates from the needs of others. Harbors a cult of personality, meaning if the central figure of the ministry or church left, the entity would collapse, as it was entirely dependent on one person to hold the place together.
- Cultivate a dependence on one leader or leaders for spiritual information. Personal discipleship isn’t encouraged. Often the Bible gets pushed away to the fringes unless the main leader is teaching it.
- Demand servanthood of their followers, but live prestigious, privileged lives. They live aloof from their followers and justify their extravagance as God’s favor and approval on their ministry. Unlike Jesus’ instructions to take the last seat, they often take the first seat at events and court others to grant them privileges.
- Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.
- Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.
- Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.
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5 Characteristics of Church Leaders
by David Henke
Founding Date: Spiritual abuse is as old as false religion itself. While the practice is old, the term “spiritual abuse” may have been coined first by Jeff VanVonderen.
Organizational Structure: Can occur under virtually any organizational structure, but “top down” hierarchical structures are especially well suited to systemic spiritual abuse.
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.
The most distinctive characteristic of a spiritually abusive religious system, or leader, is the over-emphasis on authority. Because a group claims to have been established by God Himself the leaders in this system claim the right to command their followers.
This authority supposedly comes from the position they occupy. In Matthew 23:1-2 Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat,” a position of spiritual authority. Many names are used but in the abusive system this is a position of power, not moral authority. The assumption is that God operates among His people through a hierarchy, or “chain of command.” In this abusive system unconditional submission is often called a “covering,” or “umbrella of protection” which will provide some spiritual blessing to those who fully submit. Followers may be told that God will bless their submission even if the leadship is wrong. It is not their place to judge or correct the leadership – God will see to that.
#2) Image Conscious
The abusive religious system is scrupulous to maintain an image of righteousness. The organization’s history is often misrepresented in the effort to demonstrate the organization’s special relationship to God. The mistaken judgements and character flaws of its leaders are denied or covered up in order to validate their authority. Impossibly high legalistic standards of thought and behavior may be imposed on the members. Their failure to live up to these standards is a constant reminder of the follower’s inferiority to his leaders, and the necessity of submission to them. Abusive religion is, at heart, legalism.
Abusive religion is also paranoid. Because the truth about the abusive religious system would be quickly rejected if recognized, outsiders are shown only a positive image of the group. This is rationalized by assuming that the religion would not be understood by “worldly” people; therefore they have no right to know. This attitude leads to members being secretive about some doctrines and the inner policies and proceedures of the group. Leaders, especially, will keep secrets from their members. This secrecy is rooted in a basic distrust of others because the belief system is false and can not stand scrutiny.
#3) Suppresses Criticism
Because the religious system is not based on the truth it cannot allow questions, dissent, or open discussions about issues. The person who dissents becomes the problem rather than the issue he raised. The truth about any issue is settled and handed down from the top of the hierarchy. Questioning anything is considered a challenge to authority. Thinking for oneself is suppressed by pointing out that it leads to doubts. This is portrayed as unbelief in God and His anointed leaders. Thus the follower controls his own thoughts by fear of doubting God.
A most natural assumption is that a person does not get something for nothing. Apart from the express declarations of salvation by grace through faith God has given in the scriptures, it would be natural to think that one must earn salvation, or at least work to keep it. Thus, in abusive religions all blessings come through performance of spiritual requirements. Failure is strongly condemned so there is only one alternative, perfection. So long as he thinks he is succeeding in his observation of the rules, the follower typically exhibits pride, elitism, and arrogance. However, when reality and failure eventually set in, the result is the person experiences spiritual burnout, or even shipwreck of his faith. Those who fail in their efforts are labeled as apostates, weak, or some other such term so that they can be discarded by the system.
Abusive religions must distinguish themselves from all other religions so they can claim to be distinctive and therefore special to God. This is usually done by majoring on minor issues such as prophecy, carrying biblical law to extremes, or using strange methods of biblical interpretation. The imbalanced spiritual hobby-horse thus produced represents unique knowledge or practices which seem to validate the group’s claim to special status with God.
This is an excerpt from David Henke’s article found online.
Counseling Resources: B.C. and Canadian
If you become distressed or are in need of counselling services at any time, below is a list of different counselling agencies in the Lower Mainland.
- Abbotsford: Columbia Counseling Group. 604-852-2557.
- Langley: Fraser River Counselling. 604-513-2113.
- Surrey Community Services Society. 604-584-5811.
- New Westminster Counselling Centre. 604-525-6651.
- Burnaby Counselling Group. 604-430-1303.
Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list, and you are definitely welcomed to search for your own counsellor instead, if you prefer. Good places to begin such a search are:
Counselling Resources: American and International
If you become distressed or are in need of counselling services at any time, please check the list below of counselling agencies in your country.
- American Counselling Association
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
(They have a ‘Search for a Therapist’ in the U.S., Canada, or Overseas.)
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors
- Australian Guidance and Counselling Association
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