Spiritual Abuse and Shamed into Silence


When it comes to victims being heard, the tactics being used to keep them silent continues to be used as a controlling tool. If so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ in any Christian organization can keep the voices of those who have been harmed from being heard, then their work is done.

If victims are told that no one will believe their story–that may be enough to squelch any initiative on their part to bring the evil perpetrated against them into the light. Shaming victims is a strategic method to keep truth from being brought forward as well as to make victims to wallow in a sea of imposed guilt.

There are many offenses which have been kept under wraps by the tactics of unscrupulous leaders who try to keep institutions free from charge and deflect the blame onto the victims. Whether it is sexual abuse of children or adults, domestic violence, or spiritual abuse–deflecting from those severely wounded towards the perceived merits of spiritual leaders and/or spiritual institutions–is something that Christians need to be made aware.

Continuing with the ‘ideal’ that Christian leaders are without blame and that victims are simply troublemakers intent on bringing an institution down–is far from the biblical ideal of allowing the light to shine in dark places in order to ferret out what has gone on in the darkness. Shame, instead, belongs where individuals and institutions use their power to make a mockery of the truth.


Speaking Out

Rebuking and trying to silence people is a theme that can be found in the Gospel stories. A few key passages regarding this urge to keep certain people silent can be found in a number of NT passages. A few have been selected to illustrate this point.

Parents Bring Their Young Children to Jesus

In the following passages we see that ‘people’ brought their little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them—BUT, the disciples rebuked them! This may have been typical behavior in the Jewish culture and the disciples may have been doing just what was expected in this public setting. If we think about it, we could probably imagine that it was mainly the mothers who were bringing their children to Jesus. Maybe the dads were involved too, but most likely, the greater number were the moms who were coming to Jesus for his ‘blessing’ on their wee children.

Matt. 19:13-15

“13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

Mark 10:13-16

“13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

Luke 18:15-17

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

A Blind Beggar Receives His Sight

Jesus was approaching Jericho. A blind man wondered what all the commotion was about. People near him told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Immediately this man took action. He started calling out.

But, those who led the way promptly rebuked him and told him to just ‘be quiet’. Apparently it wasn’t very cool to be shouting out in public in that society. And more so, if you happened to be so unfortunate to be sightless.

Didn’t this man know his lot in life—possibly to be seen, but definitely not to be heard! This just wasn’t socially acceptable. The crowd was intent on stifling the boisterous and ‘overexcited’ behavior of this blind beggar.

This did not deter him; in fact, it seemed to motivate him all the more to be heard! We read: “but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” His lively actions were rewarded.

We can read this story found in Luke 18:35-43:

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”

This account is also found in Mark 10:46-52. In Mark’s account the man’s name is given: ‘Bartimaeus’.

“46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

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These accounts of Jesus being angry with his disciples for their rebuking the parents who brought their young children and the blind beggar who was rebuked by the people around him for shouting out when Jesus was walking near him, indicate that stifling of the marginalized is not a Kingdom principle.

The idea of speaking out about so much that is called Christian is thought to be brash and unsophisticated.  The thinking may be that in order to be a good Christian, one should be: easy to get along with, not one who rocks the boat, and people who mind their own business.  In many situations, this would be acceptable.  What is not acceptable is when injustice and harm have been perpetrated on the vulnerable and when the ‘system’ favors the authorities and their image, while little attention is paid to those who have been deeply wounded!

There seems to be confusion when it comes to what Jesus taught, what the Apostles affirmed, and what is acceptable to be challenged in Christian settings.

The internet has provided a level playing field. People with no voice can now be heard. Issues and concerns can be investigated in the public square–rather than pushed to the back room.

Another Tactic: Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

A verse of Scripture, both in 1 Chron. 16:22 and Psalm 105:15, has found its way into ecclesial vocabulary in some places. This is another passage that has been used countless times to silence people. Church leaders have conveniently used the phrase from these verses: “Touch not my anointed!” and so many have been intimidated by it.

Many Christians are afraid that it is biblically wrong to speak up or confront a church leader. One thing is certain; this passage is always used to silence criticism.  It just comes in handy for unscrupulous leaders to elevate this passage to their own interpretation—which is: I am NOT to be criticized, since I am an anointed and ordained church leader!

Unfortunately, many folks do not have the understanding to counter their ridiculous claim. A quick look at this verse in Psalm 105 gives a context for what is being talked about here.

First, it must be noticed that it refers to “mine anointed” and is plural.

“Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

Psalm 105:15


Second, this expression is so often taken out of context.  The context here refers to God’s protection of His ‘anointed people’ Israel from the hostile nations during the time of the Exodus and their settlement in Canaan.  What is significant is that the Old Testament context shows that this phrase–‘not to touch the Lord’s anointed’–consistently refers to protection from physical harm and NEVER implies freedom from criticism or accountability.

Third, when David was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet, for his hidden sins, Nathan was NOT challenged for criticizing the king.  In fact, since it could be very hazardous to their health–a faithful prophet needed to be extremely careful when and how they might expose the hidden secrets of a king!!  Yet, King David received the ‘word of the Lord’ from Nathan, which was in the form of strong rebuke.

David was now in a position to begin to seriously wrestle with all the wrong that he had committed. He was now getting a picture of how Yahweh saw his behaviors and was deeply grieved about his wrong choices! It was David’s turn to be deeply grieved by his actions.

The full account of this story can be found in 2 Samuel 12:1-15.


The Psm. 105 and 1 Chron. 16 passages talk about when the nation was in its infancy and they wandered throughout the land as strangers, since it was not theirs yet.

We read from Psalm 105:12-15:

When they were but few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in it,
13 they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
14 He allowed no one to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings:
15 “Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

The actual context referred to the personal encounters of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca in Egypt, the land of Pharaoh and Abimelech, in the land of the Philistines.  The ‘touching’ referenced here seems to speak directly to sexual touching in marriage.  These kings wanted these beautiful women to become one of their wives, but they were already the wives of these patriarchs of Israel. This presented a dilemma.

In Abraham’s time, Yahweh stopped the Pharaoh’s action by a disease among his people and later stopped Abimelech by speaking to him in a dream. In Isaac’s time, the king of Gerar of the Philistines noticed from his window the caress of Isaac to his wife Rebecca. Isaac was called in to be questioned and then was strongly reproved by this king.

All of the accounts pointed to the fact that both Abraham and this son, Isaac, did not fully trust Yahweh to protect them while they wandered among these nations.  It is also curious that there is a reference to ‘prophets’ in the plural.  Could Sarah and Rebecca be included in this main thought: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”? Just a thought.

To Summarize

To summarize this section, we can conclude that it is wrong and unkind for Christians to criticize their leaders for no reason.  On the other hand, if there is a cause, then there should be appropriate action taken and with the right attitude in approaching a church leader.

Further, it is wrong for clergy to put themselves above criticism.  There should be a healthy give and take of congregants with leaders and vice versa.  Church leaders need the checks and balances of peer groups who challenge their thinking and their behavior.  They also need to be open to constructive criticism–that may come from anyone in their church family.  This can be a positive, rather than a negative, experience and be of benefit to everyone concerned.  Leaders, who put themselves above criticism and stifle others by using this passage incorrectly, need to be put on alert. 

Many Voices Needed

Since fear and shame have been tools that have been used over time with immediate results, there are numbers of people who are taking a stand against fear and shame tactics.  After a post on a popular blog there were a few comments that were pertinent to this subject.

This commenter highlights the fact that shame is why many comment ‘anonymously’ on various blog sites.  The following commenter also notes that no single one of us has the resources, etc., but throws out the idea that it is going to take each of us supporting one another that will make the difference.  My response to this person’s idea follows afterward. 

Been There Done That

February 1, 2013 @ 3:05 PM

I suspect this shame is why many of us, myself included, comment anonymously here and elsewhere. That, to me, should speak loud and clear about the “church” organizations many of us fear. It’s more reminiscent of an organized crime syndicate than the body of Christ. (Julie Anne, it’s funny you should post this article on the same day that someone on TWW [The Wartburg Watch] told of their harassment after leaving a comment on a blog.  These go hand in glove.  “Shamed into Silence” indeed!)

The fear is real, because, unfortunately, the repercussions have often been far too real. And no single one of us has the resources, finances, or fortitude to push back. It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.

My comment response: Yes, BTDT, I agree: “It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.” I have been saying this for a long while now.

I happened to see a TV advert about SpongeBob and its creator, who chose the name: “United Plankton Pictures, Inc.” for their logo.  From the picture, you see cartoon plankton holding hands with one another. Now that got me thinking. According to a definition of plankton, these organisms are “so numerous and productive that they are responsible for generating more oxygen than all other plants on Earth combined.”

So, there in a nutshell is our picture—all those concerned, including the nobodies, the nones, the dones, and the eliminated, joining together, hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder like the plankton. You never know what might happen when, like the plankton, many individuals unite! What could this do in the murky waters of the ‘church’ ocean—much more spiritual oxygen maybe?!!

Here is a look at the logo that I was describing:


With Thanks to United Plankton Pictures Inc.

Link to blog article: http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2013/02/01/shamed-into-silence/#more-3730


It is important for those who have been harmed in the church not to be shamed into silence. Each voice needs to be heard.

If this describes you, you might ask yourself: Are you tired of being intimidated? Use your voice when you are strong enough to be heard and when you can face any backlash that might come against you.

For those of you who have found your voice–check up on all your facts, be clear, be fair, and know that what you have to say needs to be said.

Use a pseudonym, if that works for you, but get your thoughts out there where they can be heard.  You are one of many who have experienced harm in the church and by trusted church leaders.  It is important for you to share your personal story—you are not alone!

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For Further Reflection


“Let me not be put to shame, LORD,

for I have cried out to you . . .”

Psalm 31:17a


I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

 Psalm 25:2

Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame,     

for I take refuge in you.

 Psalm 25:20


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© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Spiritual Abuse and Where Is God Now?

I am delighted to be able to share and promote this excellent article by my colleague, Brad Sargent. Brad has been blogging about spiritual abuse and recovery and related topics for a number of years. He has a keen sense of what has, is, and may be unfolding in the future regarding the Christian landscape.

You can check out Brad’s blog at: https://futuristguy.wordpress.com  

Brad seeks to provide some answers to the pressing questions that spiritual abuse survivors have. Questions such as:

* Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?

* Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?

* Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

When distress happens in our lives, one of our first questions, that is, our first ‘reaction’ is: Is God still in control? We each must wrestle with this one.

I am grateful for Brad’s permission to re-post this article on my website. I believe that this article is informative and should be helpful to many.

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January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month 

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January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness month, and this article on the bigger picture of God’s grace is the last that I plan on posting in my series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse, which I started on my futuristguy blog in 2008 (see the link for an index of all posts).

Summary. It is January 31st – last day of “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month” for 2011 – and I finally finished the last projected post in my series on recovery from spiritual abuse. It deals with our wrestling with the bigger picture of God’s providence and with what may be our biggest questions as survivors:

        * Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?

        * Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?

        * Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me    everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

This is my best attempt to tease out some of the perplexities and complexities of trusting that God is truly in control, even over situations where spiritual power mongers do their thing and it SEEMS like they face no consequences.

Still, God is at work both behind the scenes and on the front stage to benefit each individual involved and the community as a whole, to bring them all to wholeness. He is keeping the entire system of both individuals and community in mind, doing what is best for everyone and not only any particular one.

The past few years, I have written extensively on the subject of spiritual abuse. The topics I’ve addressed include:

  • Personal lessons I’ve learned from surviving toxic leaders in all kinds of community-and ministry-related settings: church and parachurch, university and seminary, non-profit agency and for-profit business.
  • Practicing a process of discernment and applying it to situations that apparently are abusive.
  • Toxic versus healthy organizational dynamics.
  • Identifying different kinds of abusive leaders, and what might make particular people the most susceptible to falling into the traps of specific types of abusers.
  • Specific strategies and tactics that various kinds of abusive leaders use to gain and maintain control over their “subjects.”
  • Power dynamics and what drives most perpetrators of spiritual abuse.
  • Recovery and restoration processes.

These issues are not theory for me. They are based in multiple gut-wrenching experiences, processed over many, many, years. So, what knowledge and wisdom I have gained has come out of great personal cost through suffering and healing.

And yet, today’s post may be the most difficult one I’ve written on the subject to date–not because it will necessarily be so controversial. Instead, it is difficult because it deals with a cluster of complexities and perplexities that we who have survived abuse may be the most reluctant or ill-equipped to consider. And that revolves around issues of “theodicy”–God justifying His character when things in the world don’t seem to mesh with who He says He is:

  • Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?
  • Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?
  • Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?


Perhaps these questions represent the pinnacle of:

  • Our anger and frustration about the abuse we endured.
  • Our secret revengeful hopes at times for punishment on those who abused us and those who enabled the abusers through their active complicity or their enabling passivity.
  • Our exasperation at a God who let this happen and seems to have done nothing about it.

We hurt. Others hurt for us. We hurt others because we hurt. And often, it looks like those who violated us through their false authority are doing just fine, thank you very much. But let me suggest that all is not necessarily as it appears with perpetrators of spiritual abuse.

Every person will be held accountable to God for every word and every deed. That’s future.

Whatever was hidden in the darkness will be revealed in the light. No one can escape that revealed reality, even when it looks like misdeeds are staying hidden. (Matthew 10:26, Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, 4:5.)

So, a time of judgment is coming. But that’s in the far-away future. So, … what about now? What about right now and in the very near future?

I know this is speculative, but my gut intuition is that God is actually holding the larger situation in check, even while a toxic leader seemingly gets to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing. Spiritually abusive leaders typically have a deep lust for power–to exercise control over others and over circumstances. Is it possibly the case that God has cornered them into situations that actually prevent them from achieving the full level of what their lust would drive them toward? Yes, some people are still being hurt thereby. But is it possible that God has providentially arranged to limit the destructive impact of a toxic leader so it is far less than it would be otherwise?

From my experiences I would suggest this:

Every perpetrator has likely already done some kind of irrevocable, irrefutable deed or patchwork of problems that reveals who they really are. The documentation, the depositions, the details on the internet–sooner or later, the evidences of their ill-done deeds will eventually catch up with them–perhaps far sooner than they, or we, expect. Not only that, but those who reinforced the perpetrator, either as an active protector or a passive bystander, likewise, often get found out.

I have known spiritual abusers in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Each and every single one of them did something that cannot be taken back … only covered up, or explained away, or met with a false apology that is not sustained by real repentance. The abuser’s attempt to retrench and retake their position of power does not remove the event, or the witnesses, or the damage, or the consequences. Their track record of lacking integrity will eventually catch up with them. For instance, here is what happened with some of those I know who perpetrated spiritual abuse:

  • Their toxic organization imploded and they lost their job.
  • They were asked to leave, were fired, or were forced out.
  • They succumbed to severe mental illness when they could no longer cope with or control their situation through manipulating others, and required psychiatric intervention.
  • They had to continue worrying about whether lawsuits, IRS investigations, or even criminal charges would be launched against them for malfeasance, misuse of non-profit resources, harassment, etc.
  • They wanted to become a “big fish in a big pond” and have great influence, and instead got stuck in a role as a minor celebrity–a small fish in a pond that is/was/will be evaporated.
  • They suffered from serious physical symptoms and health problems due to stress as their tactics began to fail and their façade of power began to crumble.
  • They became isolated from roles of influence as people heard stories of their toxicity. They eventually lost project partners, service opportunities, friends, co-workers, endorsers, etc.
  • Details and questions about abusive actions and unresolved indiscretions remain posted on the internet as permanent reminders of what they did and/or what they failed to do; like one’s credit rating, their internet reputation now follows them wherever on earth they go, from that day of posting forward.

Perpetrators are not happy people, regardless of how they appear on the surface and regardless of the adrenaline “rush” they get from exercising their addiction to power. Their ruse of spirituality will not remain intact forever, and the consequences and accountability for their masquerade of meanness will dog them. And perhaps that is exactly what must happen–the collapse of their illusion of control–for God’s grace and mercy to break through in their life in order for the Holy Spirit to bring in transformation. God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of a spiritual bully as He does about anyone and everyone else.

And here is what happened with some of those who protected, supported, and covered up for the perpetrators of spiritual abuse:

  • In the process of supporting an abusive pastor/leader and perpetuating the related toxic system, they ended up losing thousands of dollars in funds and other assets that they had turned over to the church/organization. This was the reality, regardless of whether they ever repented of their involvement in perpetuating a toxic system. What they gave was gone.
  • They came to their senses when they realized they themselves had been victimized – deceived, manipulated, controlled – or when they experienced some kinds of losses – funds, fame, or “face” – that hit them in the heart and softened them to the truth.
  • They experienced guilt and shame and remorse, and sought to make things right with those who’d been hurt by the abuser they had protected, and therefore had been hurt by them as protectors. Some even attempted to confront the abuser(s).
  • They apologized, or at least acknowledged that I was not crazy but had actually identified rightly that there were abuses going on. They became open to me where previously they had closed their heart and mind to me as a person and to my perspective on the situation.
  • They sought me out to inform me about what had happened with the perpetrator(s), and sometimes to ask me to help them process their experiences and find peace, resolution, and recovery.

Protectors are not happy people either. Their foolishness will eventually come to light and they will not be able to hide in the shadow of the abuser whom they shielded. And still, God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of bystanders who let a spiritual bully do his/her thing as He does about anyone and everyone else, including the perpetrators of abuse.

But still, that all is tentative (even if probable) and it is still lurking in the future. What about NOW?

The present is perhaps the most vexing for we who are survivors, when abusive leaders continue their counterfeit ministry apparently unimpeded. But let me offer two radical suggestions: (1) This is not all about us as individuals, and  (2) The Holy Spirit is doing far more behind the scenes in our community or congregation than we realize.

Grace has often been described as “God loving us unconditionally and providing things we DON’T deserve,” while the complementary counter-concept of mercy is “God NOT giving us what we DO deserve.”

So, here is a question for us to consider:

If we received retribution for what we have done in our own life, would the consequences be any less dire than what we feel the abuse perpetrators and their protectors deserve?

I believe the concept of gestalt fits here. The Wikipedia article on gestalt defines this term as the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.” In my understanding, gestalt is about being holistic in our observations, processing, and interpretations. Using it as a verb, if we “gestalt” something, we take in what appears on the surface as well as intuit the interrelations among various things in the situation. For instance, if you watch the TV programs Lie to Me or Human Target or Castle, you see how characters who have a lot of “people smarts” or “street smarts” can walk into a room where there a party is going on and “read” the body language and expressions to gather information instantaneously on who appears to be there for what reasons and who looks suspicious and why.

My main point here is this: We as individuals are not the only ones hurt by a spiritual abuser. An entire system of people gets harmed by the actions of abusers and those who shield them. In other words, abuse harms an entire community as a whole, not just a number of isolated individuals. And so, recovery is not only about what I as an individual must go through to find healing and then ongoing health, but what this whole interconnected network of people–perpetrator, protectors, survivors who escaped, and victims still in the situation–must undergo in order to find healing and then ongoing health (if possible).

Also, to sustain health, the congregation must confront and revamp their entire system of organizational structures (such as constitution, by-laws, doctrinal statement, ministry structure, leadership selection process, process of documentation for decisions, etc.) that supported the perpetuation of abuse. If that is never addressed, you can expect another user to take advantage of both individuals and the community.

But we cannot do this except from a “gestalt of God’s grace” with the Holy Spirit surrounding us, empowering us, transforming us to become more Christlike. If we try this purely in our own personal power, we will fail–and in fact, may become like the very people we are so focused on stopping from further abuse.

What about now? Yes, if at all possible, abusers should be confronted and removed from ministry roles through a biblically appropriate process. Nowhere does the New Testament indicate that abusive leaders get a free pass to stay in their roles of power. But if they are not removed, then we need to persevere with God’s providence in the situation and allow things to continue unfolding.

That does not mean being silent or protecting toxic people or toxic organizations. It does mean letting God render grace and mercy for everyone in the entire community system, and not just deal with the responsible individuals and the recovering survivors as individuals. It also means giving up our demands to control their destiny and perhaps to require a specific form of consequence; to attempt to control them–isn’t that just reversing what they did to us?

From all the Scriptures I’ve reflected on for years about “New Testament leadership,” authority, trust, abuse of power, grace, mercy, transformation, etc., I’m fairly sure that what I’ve just said is accurate. I’m not so sure that I like it. I see power-mongers as so prevalent in the churches–preying on both the naive and the courageous–that I’d rather see them all swept out at once. There are days when I’d like to see a little bit of fire and brimstone reign right in on those in a “BULLY pulpit”!

However, on my better days, I do hope for a more gentle and humble and persevering approach to change for all of us. And I suspect we together will be far more amazed at God’s goodness, power, and love, when we perhaps get a greater glimpse of His multiplicity of purposes that were accomplished through His kindness [not “niceness”] which led to repentances and helping everyone involved deal with consequences of abuse. And won’t that make an even more dramatic ending for the plotline of our interwoven stories as a community?

May we experience God’s grace and mercy in our sufferings caused by spiritual abuser, and may we extend Christlike grace and mercy to everyone, both inside and outside our community of faith …

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With Special Thanks to Brad Sargent for this article.

Original Post January 31, 2011



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For Further Reflection

You might enjoy an article on this website that also asks this equally pressing question: “Why Are Toxic Leaders Allowed to Remain in Power So Long?” 

The following are some passages that remind us about God’s faithfulness:

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”    1 Corinthians 1:9

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33  

“Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”   Exodus 34:6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
     His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
   His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
   His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.”   Psalm 136:1-5

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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.



Women in the Church— American History, Slavery, and Feminism


Often we forget what was going on at various times in history. As we look at some American history and see how Christians were active in social issues at that time, we are reminded that not everyone believed the same way. It is, therefore, a good habit to look back at the historical record and grapple with what freedoms, or lack of freedoms, were experienced by people in their time.

I find that history is quite revealing. It allows us to better grasp how things really were, ponder the implications, and consider how we look at these things today. One topic that continues to draw my attention is how women were ‘considered and treated’ at various points in history! Let’s consider some of the implications of patriarchy found in the 19th century.

The following is an excerpt from a book detailing some history during that era.  I have taken these thoughts from historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. Her book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. This is an excellent book. It provides a keen historical overview as well as biblical and cultural insights. Rebecca clarifies much of the haze around these issues and provides excellent references for further study.

I invite you to consider ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to understand its solid Christian roots and then to recognize the impact that it has had on society as a whole. I ask you to reflect on what motivated people to change the way things were in favor of following Kingdom principles.

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“In the 19th century, the political ideas of classical liberalism interacted with the religious zeal of the Second Great Awakening to energize numerous social reform movements in the quest of a godly society of free individuals. Many of these reform efforts were led and supported by Christian women and men.”

Women and Slaves

“The ideology of anti-slavery was equality and independence for all human beings; many abolitionists became feminists when they realized that the principle that “all men are created equal” applied as well to women as it did to slaves.”

The following is a look at the legal rights of women then and how some godly people saw the need to take action and oppose what was an unjust and unreasonable reality regarding marriage laws at that time. From our perspective, their situations are often hard to fathom while living with the many freedoms in our day.

“The similar state of women and slaves prior to the reform movements is particularly notable. The 18th century English common law of William Blackstone—which early America inherited from England—upheld the “civil death” of women who married. Blackstone asserted in his Commentaries: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage, or at least, is consolidated into that of her husband under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Even as he owned his slaves, so a man owned his wife. Andrew Sinclair notes,

“Early American women were almost treated like Negro slaves, inside and outside the home. Both were expected to behave with deference and obedience towards owner or husband; both did not exist officially under the law; both had few rights and little education; both found it difficult to run away, both worked for their masters without pay; both had to breed on command, and to nurse the results.”

In early America, neither women nor slaves had rights as individuals. Both were under the legal cover and control of their male masters.

The early feminists’ objection to legalized domination of wives by husbands led some couples publicly to renounce such laws upon their marriage. Before John Stuart Mill married Harriet Taylor in 1851, “he wrote out a ‘formal protest against the law of marriage’ for conferring on the husband ‘legal powers and control over the person, property, and freedom of action of the wife’; and he made a ‘solemn promise never in any case or under any circumstances’ to use such powers.”

At the wedding ceremony of evangelical abolitionists Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke, Weld disclaimed any right that the law gave him to own and control his wife’s person or property. Their marriage of mutual love and equality served as an example to others, particularly to Henry Blackwell who diligently courted suffragist leader Lucy Stone for some time before she agreed to marry him. In his letters of persuasion to her, he wrote concerning Angelina and Theodore Weld, “If ever there was a true marriage it is theirs—Both preserve their separate individuality perfectly.”

Blackwell also wrote . . . The idea of equality and mutual submission is rarely considered as a possibility. Only two options are recognized: either a man dominates his wife, or he is dominated by his wife. Because the idea of a man being dominated by his wife is particularly repugnant to most people, his “right” to dominate her is retained. But Henry Blackwell saw through this false dilemma and promised Lucy that he would “repudiate the supremacy” of either woman or man in marriage. “Equality for me is a passion,” he wrote to Lucy. “I dislike equally to assume, or to endure authority.”

The minister who married Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone commented, “I never perform the marriage ceremony without a renewed sense of the iniquity of . . . a system by which ‘man and wife are one, and that one is the husband.’” . . .

Because of the blatant injustice of the law toward women, early feminist efforts were directed toward equalizing marriage and property laws. Also promoted, however, were women’s rights to education, to decent working conditions, and to public speaking and leadership. As American feminists were successful in legal reform, “it allowed American lawyers to boast of the superiority of their legal system to those of European countries, most of which now possessed a version of the Code Napoleon that was based on his dictum, ‘woman is given to man to bear children; she is therefore his property, as the tree is the gardener’s.’”

Women’s suffrage was slower in coming than other legal reforms. The idea of women having the right to vote struck at the very heart of male authority by presupposing that women had minds of their own, that they had thoughts and opinions independently of their husbands, and that the ideas of female minds should be counted equally with those of male minds in determining the laws and leaders of the country.

Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

The application of the principle of equal rights for all people—regardless of race, sex, or economic class—is characteristic of classical (pre-modern) liberalism. The legal rights that were traditionally granted only to free men began to be extended to slaves and women in the nineteenth century. This advocacy of the rights of the individual was part of a trend in Western society toward abandoning the traditional practice of ascribing roles to people solely on the basis of the circumstances of their birth—their sex, race, socioeconomic status, and father’s vocation. The pattern in Western society has been an increasing awareness that these characteristics ought not determine a person’s role in life and that the only valid determining factor should be each individual’s competence to perform a given role or job. . . .

Abolitionism and the Church

The anti-slavery impetus did not come only from 19th century political ideals. Christian abolitionists believed the abolition of slavery to be in obedience to biblical principles. Most of the exegetical arguments of northern Christian abolitionists went along the lines of Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes’s 1846 publication, An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery. He upheld that “The principles laid down by the Savior and his Apostles are such as are opposed to Slavery. . . . the spirit of the Christian religion is against it; . . . it is an evil and is displeasing to God.”

The pro-slavery faction in the church responded by firing a volley of proof texts against the abolitionist appeal to biblical principle. . . . But “Christian abolitionists rested their hermeneutical case not just on what decontextualized, individual passages of Scripture said but on their perceptions of where scriptural revelation in its entirety was heading.”

As theologian Cornelius Plantinga explains, “Despite what Paul says to slaves about obedience, despite what Peter says about obedience even to bad masters, the bigger historical-redemptive line of Scripture tells us that humans made in God’s image cannot be owned by anyone but their maker . . . and especially, that Jesus Christ came to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Those abolitionists who “learned to defend the egalitarian and liberationist ‘spirit’ of the Bible against status quo literal interpretations found that the same arguments could be used in support of the women’s movement. . . .

The pro-slavery proof text assault rested on the assumption that the apostles Paul and Peter simply accepted existing social institutions as God’s order for society.   Christian abolitionists, on the other hand, contended that, “for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom in a given time and place, temporary compromises can and often must be made with the societal status quo.”

Hence, a biblical command to cooperate with a particular cultural institution does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of that institution as God’s ultimate will for society. . . . Pro-slavery Christians had no patience with the notion that the Bible merely tolerated slavery rather than advocated it—any more than traditionalists accept the biblical feminist contention that biblical revelation accommodated itself to patriarchy but was not itself patriarchal.

Similar to the antifeminist of today, 19th century anti-abolitionists grounded the practice of slavery in order of creation, or the God-ordained order of things. African people were viewed as designated by God for poverty, hard labor, and subservience. Slavery was rationalized by the belief that the subjugation of certain classes of people to other classes of people is somehow built into the hierarchical order of the universe. . . . God, they said, had ordained slavery even as he had ordained the subordination of women.

In the biblical case for slavery, proof texts were exalted to the status of universal applicability, and fundamental biblical principles such as the equality of all believers in Christ were qualified and conditioned by cultural pre-under standing—the precise antithesis of the procedure that would normally occur in unprejudiced biblical interpretation.

In addition, anti-abolitionists claimed that because OT law allowed slavery and because people in both the OT (Abraham) and NT (Philemon) owned slaves and the Bible contained no specific rebuke of such activity, slavery was God-ordained. . . .

The assumption here is the same one that seems often to be made by antifeminists today: any aspect of the culture of biblical times that was not specifically condemned or prohibited in the Bible must be God-ordained. . . .

The correlation between the abolitionist cause and the feminist cause was not missed by the anti-abolitionists, who further defended their position by pointing out that if slaves were freed, women would most likely be next, and this, of course, would never do.

[T]he proof-text hermeneutic is still applied by evangelicals to the question of women’s roles but the broader hermeneutic of biblical principle is applied to the issue of slavery.

The traditionalist tendency is always to assume that tradition rests on Scripture and that any new or contrary idea is therefore a violation of biblical authority. Martin Luther exhibited this tendency when he wrote in support of slavery in his day, employing all four weapons of the anti-abolitionists: the example of the culture of biblical times, the proof texts commanding slaves’ obedience, emotional rhetoric, and an appeal to the God-ordained social hierarchy: “Did not Abraham (Gen. 17:3) and other patriarchs and prophets have slaves? Read what St. Paul teaches about servants, who, at that time, were all slaves.” The idea of freedom for slaves, therefore, “absolutely contradicts the gospel. It proposes robbery, for it suggests that every man should take his body away from his lord, even though his body is the lord’s property. . . . A worldly kingdom cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.”

In propounding the biblical doctrine of justification by faith, the Protestant Reformers were able to counter elements of false theology in church tradition. Nonetheless, they were blinded by tradition when it came to defending not only slavery, but male supremacy, the divine right of kings, and a geocentric universe.

When Copernicus advanced his theory of a heliocentric cosmology in the 16th century, Martin Luther found biblical grounds for disapproving of that “upstart astrologer” in the fact that “sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.” John Calvin demanded, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Puritan leader John Owen deemed the Copernican theory “a delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture.”

The lesson to be learned from such historical misuses of Scripture to support tradition is not that traditional biblical interpretation is always or even usually wrong, but that in some cases it can be wrong, and we ought not assume that the traditional is always the biblical. Neither may we assume that any traditional biblical teaching may be evaded simply by dismissing as proof texts those references which support that teaching, and by claiming allegiance instead to some overarching biblical theme or principles to the contrary.

In the first place, there are objective criteria for determining which texts are culturally specific (i.e., applicable primarily to biblical cultures) and which texts are universally applicable. These criteria must not be dismissed in favor of personal preference. In the second place, those texts which seem to contradict a clear biblical principle and are rightly deemed culturally specific nonetheless mean something for us today, and that meaning must be determined by understanding the biblical author’s reason for writing the passage to that specific culture.

Suffrage and Temperance

After the cause of abolition had been won in 1865, the cause of temperance drew the enthusiastic support and leadership of many Christians, including Jonathan Blanchard and A.J. Gordon, founders of Wheaton College and Gordon College, respectively. . . .

After women’s right to vote was legally acknowledged in 1920, traditionalist Christian leaders were obliged to regroup, they redoubled their efforts to keep women subservient in the spheres over which they still had control—a project which in some denominations extended even to denying women the right to vote in church elections.

Today, of course, few if any traditionalists believe that women ought not be granted the right to vote in public elections; it is assumed instead that the biblical texts are intended to place women under male authority only in the church and the home, and to silence women only in the public worship service. There are, however, some conservative denominations that even today prohibit women from voting on matters of church governance.

Evangelical Reform Movements

While abolition, suffrage, and temperance were broad movements that drew followers form both within and without the church, the extent to which these movements were fueled by the evangelistic and reformist zeal of the Second Great Awakening (1795-1840) should not be under-estimated. . . .

Charles Finney was a principal leader behind evangelical social concern. In an issue devoted to North American spiritual awakenings, Christian History magazine notes that when Finney “propelled the awakening onto center-stage in America” its “side-effects became more widespread than ever before: out of it came power for the antislavery crusade, women’s rights, prison reform, temperance, and much more.”

Although Finney did not identify himself as a feminist, his insistence on women’s freedom to testify and pray aloud in mixed gatherings flew in the face of the traditional silencing of women in church meetings. Bur Finney’s “new measures” regarding women were not without precedent. In 1825 Theodore Weld had urged women to speak and pray in public meetings, and a number of women had responded, confessing their sin of being “restrained by their sex.”

The refusal of revivalists such as Finney to consign women to silence and inactivity in church affairs served as an important first step for the 19th century evangelical women’s movement. Ahlstrom notes that “one breakthrough [for women’s rights] resulted from the revivals, especially in the West . . . notably by Charles G. Finney’s new measures.” . . . that women be encouraged to pray publicly in “promiscuous” or mixed meetings. “Traditionalists considered Finney’s practice of having women and men pray together the most dangerous of the new measures, for it implied new kinds of equality between the sexes. Indeed some harried husbands recognized the revival as subversive of their authority over their wives.”

Not only did Protestant church membership increase from one in fifteen Americans in 1800 to one in seven by 1850 as a result of the Second Great Awakening, but thousands of evangelical societies for social betterment were formed during this time—to which “the support of local women’s groups came gradually to be almost essential.” . . .

Finney and other revivalists and preachers helped women “to achieve an attitude of self-confidence and a sense of mission that infected many of their later activities. Surely it is no coincidence that the areas where Finney’s revivals and women’s religious education flourished . . . were early centers of women’s reform work and feminism.”

According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America, “The rise of American feminism had its roots in the Christian reform movements of the 1830s and 1840s that were in turn generated by the Second Great Awakening. Following the Civil War, as the women’s movement increasingly focused on the suffrage issue, the traditional link with Christian thought remained strong.” George Marsden notes that the “ministries [of prohibition and women’s rights] were a part of the wider holiness revival,” which followed the Second Awakening later in the 19th century.

As sociologist David Lyon points out, “A simple correlation of feminism with secularism is hard to square with 19th century evidence. . . .What may appear to some today as the permeation of ‘secular’ ideas into the churches as a 19th century precedent which was quite the other way round! The ‘secular’ movements were initiated or boosted by the ‘religious.’” Lyon notes, “Of course, these feminisms were pro-family—a far cry from some contemporary counterparts (not of Christian origin) which doubt the necessity of any form heterosexual relationship for the nurture of children.”

1920-1960s: The Decades Between

Feminism began to fall out of favor after 1920 as reformist zeal waned in both church and society. The slaves had been freed, women had gotten the vote, and prohibition was in full swing. Suffragists and other reformers believed there was nothing more to do after the legal battles had been won, so they gave up the fight for social reform. . . . Women, for their part, did not take advantage of the legal freedoms that had been won for them. Succumbing instead to the prevailing cultural climate, they retreated from the public arena and sank back into retiring domesticity.

Feminists had assumed that once women were granted equal opportunity under the law everything would turn out as it ought. But it did not. The hidden force of patriarchal social custom prompted a cultural return to female subservience. . . .

Traditionalists contend that women and men had been perfectly content with the gender role prescriptions of the 1950s until feminism came along to unsettle and disturb everyone. But there is evidence that change had been on the way for some time prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s. . . .

The groundswell that developed in the wake of The Feminine Mystique instigated a wide variety of feminist thought, from the revival of the evangelical and classical liberal ideas of early feminism to the fairly recent woman-centered ideology of radical feminism.

Comparing Early and Modern Feminism

Both early and modern feminism developed in a general cultural milieu of social discontent and reformist idealism. Social concern for the rights of African-Americans (the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1830s and the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1950s) served as a catalyst for both feminist movements. When women began to fight against racism, it did not take them long to become aware of the ways in which sexism violated their own civil rights.

Their awareness of discrimination against themselves was hastened by their systematic exclusion by the male leaders of the movements: in 1840 women were denied seats at the anti-slavery convention, and in the 1960s women who were active in the civil rights movement “increasingly became conscious that they were not included in any of the decision-making processes but were instead saddled with domestic and ancillary chores.

Although the women’s movements in both centuries have been diverse, with internal squabbles and factions, they hold in common an insistence upon the idea of woman as an individual, as her own person, who does not need to be dependent on a man for her value and identity. Fundamental to any feminist agenda, therefore, is that woman’s personhood and equality be established, verified, and protected through social change wherein inequitable laws and social customs are made equitable.

. . . There is a conviction that woman’s silence and subservience unfairly restricts her from important spheres of activities. Feminism has therefore encouraged qualified women to take part in political, social, or church leadership. . . .

Nineteenth-century feminism testifies to the fact that sexual license is not inherent to the idea of women’s rights. The accusation that evangelical feminism is an offshoot of modern feminism and therefore intrinsically endorses sexual immorality betrays historical and cultural ignorance.

The evangelical denominations at the turn of the century that were most committed to women’s equality were part of the holiness movement—which could hardly be said to be promoting sexual promiscuity. The only motivation of these groups to “liberate” women was the desire to open up all the channels through which God wanted to bless the church. The notion of using liberation to engage in a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility could not have been more alien to the convictions of early evangelical feminism.

. . . But early feminists campaigned to make home and family values central to the lives of both men and women in both the public and the private spheres. . . . Domesticating the marketplace, not commercializing the domestic realm, was the central focus of much early feminist thought. . . .

While 19th century feminism was not composed entirely of Christians or supported by the entire evangelical church, its goals and motives were in line with biblical principles. A significant percentage if not a majority of those involved in the suffrage movement were Christians or at least “God-fearing.” . . .

The anti-Christian element was a minority one in the 19th century, whereas today it characterizes the secular feminist movement. The evangelical support for women’s rights in the 19th century is apparent in the fact that a significant number of evangelical institutions encouraged women to be pastors and evangelists. This situation can hardly be said to prevail today!

Nineteenth-century feminists—both Christian and non-Christian—rightly viewed abortion as an instrument of male oppression rather than as a means of women’s liberation. Specifically, it was seen as an act that devalued women and enabled men to evade responsibility for the children they fathered. . . .

The roots of early feminism are in the evangelical efforts of social reform following the Second Great Awakening, as well as in the premise of classical liberalism that “all men [including women] are created equal.” Early feminists understood inequality as a function of inequitable laws, so the solution was perceived in legal terms.

. . . Observing that sexism remained even after most of the legal inequities had been removed, modern feminists have focused on the force of traditional social convention that views women as essentially—even if no longer legally—the property of men. In view of this vestigial patriarchy, feminists are now putting more energy into changing discriminatory social structures.

In this respect the feminist movement has seemed to follow a pattern roughly similar to that of the black civil rights movement. In the 19th century, the goal was to secure equal legal rights for both blacks and women.   . . . The 1960s saw blacks fighting to realize their constitutionally guaranteed legal equality by protesting the segregation customs of the South.

Following the inception of the civil rights movements by about a decade, women began to organize resistance to patriarchal custom. While legal reform continued as an element in both movements, both women and blacks were realizing that there was something deeper than law which accounted for their social subjugation. It was a deep-seated attitude, a cultural mindset that even new legislation would not budge. Members in both movements tended to respond with belligerence and anger to this intangible, ineluctable creation of culture called prejudice.”



History is a great teacher.  What we have learned about how things were and what people then did to change things, by the power of the Holy Spirit, along with a clear understanding of the biblical message of freedom for all, inspires us to seek justice—especially for women in the church and in the home.


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The quotations for this article are taken from Chapter 3 of the following book by historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Dr. Groothuis’ book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. Publisher: Baker Books, 1994.   Updated version:  Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997.

The excerpts from this chapter provide a small taste of the expertise that Dr. Groothuis has regarding the context of evangelical feminism in church history and invites the curious reader to explore her entire book for themselves.


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For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

    GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org


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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.



Spiritual Abuse and Hearing the Voices of Women in the Church


Being a woman in the Body of Christ can pose various challenges.  When it comes to spiritual abuse and women in the church, this issue just gets a lot more complex.  This article will allow a number of women to speak about their experience in the church, how they coped with spiritual abuse, and how they eventually recovered.               

So often, women have had to make the decision to leave something.  They have had to make the decision to leave their home church, to leave their denomination, and for some, to leave the institutional church altogether.  The woman’s issue in the church is serious and everyone needs to work to find solutions and to minister to women who have been wounded through senseless ways of ‘doing church.’

One pro-active thing that people can do is to listen to women’s voices and hear what they are saying.  Jesus led the way in honoring women.  The Apostle Paul valued the many contributions of women in the churches where he ministered. 

There is much that could be said about this topic, but for now, let us hear the voices of some women who have faced wounding by spiritual abuse in the places where they fellowshipped.  It is hard to fathom that in a place of worship, Word, and Christian fellowship that spiritual abuse would happen in the same location.  Unfortunately, that is the story of so many. 

The following are seven brief accounts of women and their church experiences.  Each of these stories highlights a different, but similar, aspect of disappointment and distress for women while in their home church.  These stories are representative of the countless stories that continue to be the experience of so many women.

  Speak, for we are listening  . . .

Hearing Women’s Voices

Story 1

“I came to a crisis of faith because I felt called to ministry, but “women couldn’t do that” in all the churches I was associated with at that point.  I thought, how could I follow a God who would set me up that way–by creating me with certain gifts, by calling me, and then not allowing me to live out my core sense of calling?  It really was a spiritual crisis for me.”


Story 2  

“I have mentioned my counselor . . . he was such a great minister.   The Lord gave me a ministry of intercession to help me when I couldn’t pray. (seriously!)    I wouldn’t keep my word to myself or bring myself to prayer or the Bible, but I WOULD keep my word to someone else.

I found people to pray for M-F and promised them I would pray and email them   to confirm it.  I would also send them anything the Lord gave me as I read and listened.  (That ministry has now grown to about 500 people each week and through it God has formed a sweet and humble spirit where a defensive and touchy one had been.)

I also was blessed with three women who have been my spiritual formation group.  

Finally, the reading and writing required for my D.Min. degree brought enormous healing and finally closure to things.  I have realized it wasn’t my fault.  God has even worked forgiveness into my heart for those who hurt us.”


Story 3

“I gave myself time to process and allowed myself to feel the emotions fully, I read a lot of books, anything I could find on the internet.  I built up a small group of friends who knew nothing about what had happened.  I occupied myself with activities that had nothing to do with church.

I made a list of the behavioral and doctrinal commands (whether taught or unspoken) and systematically and deliberately did them all (they were not sin, but were implicit rules in the church, like not being allowed to wear pants).  Eventually after 13 years I started speaking about my experiences within the church, which by this time I realized was cult-like.”


Story 4

“How did I process my feelings?  By this I am assuming you mean:  how did I come to understand them.  I was able to process my feelings by talking things through with my husband, my new pastor, (and my former pastor) and by finding others who were going through, or had gone through, similar experiences.       

I discovered Christians for Biblical Equality and the Priscilla Papers.   I read books by various authors including Katherine Clark-Kroeger, Faith Williams, and Craig Keener.  A book entitled Gender Matters, written by a group of professors from the King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, NY, also became important to me.  Most of the authors of this book (published in 1989) were friends and colleagues of my husband. 

I believe that God placed, and continues to place the right people on my path at just the right time.  God answers prayers.”


Story 5

“My main means of processing was in weekly sessions with a psychiatrist.  For a few months I also attended a Bible study for women who had difficulty with their image of God because of problems with previous authority figures –particularly male, run by a friend who was also the director of a safe house for battered women.  It was very, very helpful as it was a relatively safe place to honestly explore (vent!) how we really felt about God and then we contrasted that with what the Scripture actually said about the nature of God.”

“My new church was very affirming to me, both as a pastor and as a female.  I served as an associate alongside a female senior pastor who had never suffered such abuse, but was patient with me as I worked through my anger and sorrow and fear, and who reminded me that some people are just not worth the emotional expenditure.”


Story 6  

“First I interviewed the pastor, to see what his perspective on women’s leadership was.  (The denomination had mixed views.)  And he said, oh women can do anything here.  So I began to attend, and got involved in worship, in Bible study, in teaching, in outreach to students, and etc. 

About a year later, the church elders decided they had to “take a stand” about women’s roles.  They decided the church would explore the different views.  A male PhD in theology was invited to teach the “against” side, and I (27 yrs. old, informally discipled in Scripture) was invited to teach the “women can do anything” side.  Needless to say, I “lost” and found the experience crushing. 

Subsequently, I decided to join a denomination where women were ordained and that the national church had taken a position.   I found a local church in this denomination with a woman associate pastor.”


Story 7 

“I have a wider understanding of different interpretations and viewpoints, such as Paul’s instructions about women in the church–I now realize there are different beliefs about how these can be interpreted, about the local cultural settings, etc. 

I also am very aware of how Scripture can be misused and manipulated to control people.  I am conscious of how groups, particularly church leaders, use Scripture to justify their personal viewpoints and try to dominate people saying:  “We believe the scriptural view on this” when it is actually their narrow interpretations which they make fit their opinions. 

They arrogantly say they are right and use Scripture out of context and dismiss other churches with different viewpoints, which see the same Scripture in different ways.  I have been beaten over the head with Scripture used to dominate and control and have been told not to read any books that teach different views and doctrines.

One church leader, of a different church last year, told me I was very unusual, most people, especially women, simply accept what is taught, whereas I think about what is taught.  That was when he told me to either agree 100% with what their denomination taught or leave.  I left.”


In Response to my Question:  “Where are you at with Christ now?” these ladies responded this way:

“I am loved and cherished by Him and I feel it.  I used to feel like I was his “problem child.”  Now I know I am his Joseph and he’s made me a coat of many colors.  He revels in who I am.  His favor is on me, not his hand of wrath.”

“Abiding, loving, peaceful as the daughter of the King of Kings—a princess in His royal court, not the maid in the palace who can never rise above being called what I was before I was saved—a dirty rotten sinner deserving of Hell.”

“My home is in His bosom.”



Recognizing that men and women are not defined by gender in the Kingdom of God, but by gifting, is a place to start.

What is so encouraging is that many women have found a place of worship, service, and Christian fellowship as they have reflected on their past, processed their pain, and have trusted their destiny and calling to their Lord. 

Women have been greatly encouraged by their brothers and sisters in the faith to take faith steps and risks with God.  Women have persevered in discovering that they and their giftings could find a meaningful place in the Body of Christ. 

As the prophecy of the prophet Joel proclaimed the Promise of the Spirit, which plainly included women, we recognize that ancient promise still rings true today.  A growing number of women have discovered unique and satisfying places to serve.  They are also finding that serving Christ in these places was his idea all along.


“And afterward,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

    your old men will dream dreams,

    your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

                                                                                          Joel 2:28-29


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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

                                                                                                 Gal. 5:1


So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you  are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

                                                                                               Gal. 3: 26-29


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** If you have a story that you would like to share with me about your ministry experience in the church, whether good or bad, please feel free to contact me through my website email: 



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For Further Reflection

Read and reflect on the passages of Scripture that include women.  This is evident particularly in the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection story of Jesus and the birth of the Church.

Suggested passages: 

Matthew 27:57-66; Matthew 28;  Mark 16.

Luke 23:50-56; Luke 24;  John 20;  Acts 1 – 2.



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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Spiritual Abuse and How It Can Lead to Other Abuses

Spiritual Abuse and How It Can Lead to Other Abuses


When looking at spiritual abuse, you often find that there is relationship with other abuses—spiritual, physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual. Where you find at least one abuse in action, you frequently find all the rest lurking nearby.  As the old saying goes:  “To be forewarned, is to be forearmed.”

This article briefly looks at how spiritual abuse specifically ties in with some of these other forms of abuse.  In order to understand the relationship with other abuses we must first define what spiritual abuse is.  Here is my brief definition:

“Spiritual abuse involves using one’s spiritual authority inappropriately and

thereby violating the sacred trust of a spiritual shepherd.

The misuse of ecclesiastical power to control and manipulate congregants, ultimately results in damage.”

It is, therefore, imperative to understand what spiritual abuse is in order to make an appropriate assessment.


Brief Facts About Spiritual Abuse

  1. What are some Faulty Perceptions about spiritual abuse and why people leave their home church?

Misperception 1.  Isn’t spiritual abuse what happens to people in cult groups?  If people get caught up in groups that don’t preach the Gospel clearly, then they are bound to get sucked into a faulty belief system and experience being spiritually abused.  That’s to be expected.

Misperception 2.  It is widely felt that people who leave church must be ‘backsliding’ or just too busy for God.  People who enjoy attending church find it hard to grasp that there are valid reasons why people have faced the inevitable decision to leave their home church.

Misperception 3.  Some people think that it is a perception problem—meaning that vulnerable people seem to perceive that they have been spiritually abused.  Besides, there is too much being made out of the term abuse today anyway.  It is just a matter of perception, they conclude–after some minor incident that has happened in the church.  It could just be a matter of communication or it may simply be a personality conflict with a leader, or whatever.

A Better Response.  It is important to be diligent in trying to help church leaders and congregants to understand some of the valid reasons why people have made the decision to leave their home church.


  1. How prevalent is spiritual abuse?

There are numerous incidences of spiritual abuse happening in Christian churches today—maybe more than most church or denominational leaders would like to admit.

Since many people think that spiritual abuse is only found in cults or cult-like groups, it is a shocking reality to be informed that:  spiritual abuse can be found in many Bible-believing churches with orthodox doctrinal statements.  It is, therefore, not so much what people believe, but how they practice what they believe that is the issue.

More Christians are beginning to recognize the harmful effects of this leadership behavior on individuals, couples, and families.

Ronald Enroth concludes that:

“It [spiritual abuse] is far more prevalent and much closer to the evangelical mainstream than many are willing to admit.”

From the number of websites that have developed that directly address spiritual abuse and sites that include specific articles on this topic, it adds up to a host of people who are trying to draw this occurrence to the attention of church leaders and congregants in mainstream Christianity.

Furthermore, confidential family counselors are engaged by those wounded, in order to help them to process the feelings of loss and devastation.  Caring pastors are sought out to provide comfort and support to those bruised by church leaders. Researchers are faced with the mounting statistics related to this dysfunctional issue in the church. Yes, these observations point to the fact that:

Spiritual abuse needs to come to the


of clergy and congregant attention.


  1. Why don’t we hear much about spiritual abuse?

If it is supposed that it is the individual or a couple who ARE the PROBLEM, then this matter can be dealt with privately, behind closed doors.  The individual takes the brunt of the situation, but the church leadership is never called into question and is seldom held accountable in any way.  The organization and its leadership are rarely included as a factor that might need to be considered in these concealed situations.

Many times, others in their church have no clue what has just happened or why these members are no longer attending. When a tale is spun about the cause of the situation being some kind of sin (that no one talks about) and church members are warned not to associate with these people, then the issue cannot be discerned as being spiritual abuse, but is considered a matter of ‘church discipline’–though very little information seems to be available.  The facts are hidden from view and the situation is now considered dealt with.

After an individual or couple have experienced harsh treatment by their clergy, they are usually so devastated that they can hardly grasp what exactly has happened to them.  Their usual posture is to go into seclusion and to try to process the extreme grief and confusion that they are experiencing.  Little support seems to be available to congregants by denominational overseers.  Overseers tend to favor church leaders, while those wounded in the church are left to suffer in silence without any hope of remedy.


Linking Other Abuses

Many have factored in the obvious connection of spiritual abuse with other abuses.  The reason behind the direct linkage of various abuses is related to the thinking patterns of certain groups and specifically the church leadership in groups that call themselves Christian.  In church cultures where shame and silence are upheld, women particularly, especially younger women, are the most vulnerable to abuse of various kinds. These abuses include:  verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual abuse, child sexual abuse, sexual abuse, and clergy sexual abuse.

People’s theology, that is, their belief system shapes their behavior.  How church leaders and congregants view church leadership effects their expectations of leaders.  Where there is a feeling of entitlement among leadership, because of position, there may arise opportunities for unscrupulous leaders to take advantage of people by their spiritual leadership position and followers are harmed.

In contexts where patriarchy is valued or where certain aberrant teachings abound, spiritual abuse is evident.

When a culture puts greater value on males, as being:

Central, Superior, and Deserving,

the converse is that females are of lesser value in that society:

Peripheral, Inferior, and Servants.


In patriarchy, men are viewed as divinely mandated or authorized to hold power over women and children.  So, a misuse of position in this case is actually spiritual abuse.  This kind of bullying by hiding behind spiritual authority can occur in homes, churches, and ministries–wherever God is brought into the picture (rightly or wrongly) as the source of the leadership authority.  Thus, to go against the man in authority is to go against God Himself.  This faulty perception of entitlement can be used to manipulate and even beguile the unwary.

In thinking about spiritual abuse and the connection with other abuses, the word ‘violation’ comes to mind.  Something has been violated in each of these cases.  In fact, a number of things have been violated:  violation of trust, violation of the person’s dignity, a violation of the image of God, a violation of personal value and expected care for the individual, and so forth.  Something that is sacred has been treated with a gross lack of respect.  The person’s body, mind, and spirit have been violated and defiled by abuse.

Just as spiritual abuse is usually ‘dealt with’ behind closed doors, so also in some churches, when domestic violence, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, or clergy sexual abuse is identified by congregants as happening in the church, the first response is to keep these issues quiet. Whoever has brought the information forward is now marked and is usually cautioned not to divulge these facts to anyone.  Certain churches feel that they have a right to deal with human sin in-house and are not obligated to alert local authorities, though this is the law.

As stated above, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuses are repeatedly treated the same way:  “The individual takes the brunt of the situation, but the church leadership is never called into question and is seldom held accountable in any way.  The church organization and its leadership are rarely included as a factor that might need to be considered in these concealed situations.”



It is extremely grievous that these forms of abuse are linked and are found in the Christian church today.  You would think that after all that the Church has learned from the Scriptures about living a godly and healthy spiritual lives and being in a spiritual fellowship with others, that there would be robust spiritual life that would be manifested in a healthy approach to all of life.  Evidence of the reign of God should be found among the people of God.  This, unfortunately, is not always the case.

There is much injury that has been done in the name of the Church and scores of God’s people have been severely harmed.  Since abuse is kept hidden, abuse can thrive.  It is when flawed beliefs and abusive practices have been identified and exposed that there is some hope that this scourge on the Christian Church will be remedied.  It will take every serious Christian to make a difference by raising the awareness about these issues and dealing in sensible ways with those who have been harmed.


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Websites Resources

Over time, the internet has proven extremely helpful in providing information and resources suitable for this need.

The following are a sample of websites that can be accessed.


*Abuse Resource Network


• The Abuse Resource Network strives to raise awareness about abuse and help to motivate and train the church to respond to abuse in a biblical way.

• The Abuse Resource Network has been formed to provide a comprehensive hub of information with resources to help people find answers to questions about their own abuse and to help church leaders, workers, and counselors to find and share resources–in order to help people to properly grieve, to come to terms with what happened, to progress towards healing, and to help to find closure.

• The Abuse Resource Network has also been designed to provide interactive resources for support and healing.


*Faith Trust Institute


FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.

Founded in 1977, the FaithTrust Institute offers a wide range of services and resources, including training, consulting and educational materials.

We provide communities and advocates with the tools and knowledge they need to address the religious and cultural issues related to abuse. We work with many communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander, Buddhist, Jewish, Latino/a, Muslim, Black, Anglo, Indigenous, Protestant and Roman Catholic.


*Christians for Biblical Equality


Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is a non-profit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,

neither slave nor free,

neither male nor female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


*PASCH Peace and Safety in the Christian Home


Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH) is a loose coalition of academics, professionals, clergy and lay people who are alarmed by domestic violence in the Christian home and are interested in solving the problem of abuse in the Christian home. Our goal is to increase peace and safety in the Christian home, and in the world it serves, by addressing and decreasing all forms of abuse.


*RAVE Religion and Violence e-Learning


The RAVE Mission Statement:

“There is no place like home;

when abuse strikes,

there is no home.”

RAVE seeks to enable religious leaders to respond to domestic violence in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed by the latest research and best practices for professionals;

RAVE seeks to enable religious leaders to respond to domestic violence in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed by the latest research and best practices for professionals;

RAVE seeks to walk alongside victims and survivors on their journeys toward healing and wholeness;

RAVE seeks to forge pathways between the Steeple and the Shelter;

RAVE seeks to hold abusers accountable for their actions, while offering hope for a transformed life.


*Speaking Truth in Love Ministries


Speaking Truth in Love Ministries addresses the difficult issues of Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence within the Body of Christ.


*The Hope of Survivors


The Hope of Survivors provides support, hope, and healing for victims of pastoral sexual abuse.


*A Cry for Justice


Awakening the Evangelical Church to domestic violence       and abuse in its midst.


*SNAP—Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests


We are SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.  We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). We are an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials.


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For Further Reflection

Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

                                                                       Isaiah 1:17


“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

 and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

   and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

   and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;

   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

   and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

   like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

   and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

                                                              Isaiah 58:6-12



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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.