Thursday, December 17, 2009

Detailed compendium of spiritual abuse resources

Here is an annotated list of the top sites available on spiritual abuse.
(If you find a useful site, send a link and I'll see about adding it.) The following post is divided into seven sections: Resources for determining how healthy or unhealthy a church is; resources on the actual mechanics of spiritual abuse, how it commonly works; resources that focus on the spiritual aspects of spiritual abuse; resources that deal with recovery from spiritual abuse; best books on spiritual abuse; best blogs on spiritual abuse; video resources.

If you want to browse through spiritual abuse resources or search for something specific, you should visit the Searchable Provender. On searchable Provender, the most recent articles are at the top.

Resources on determining how healthy or unhealthy a church or group is:

From Spotlight Ministries, Are You the Victim of Mind Control? contains a useful checklist to see if your group is exhibiting characteristics of a cult:

  • Do you feel that no matter how hard you try, the ‘good deeds’ you perform for your group or pastor are never quite enough? As a result of this do you often feel plagued with feelings of guilt?
  • What are you motivated by? Is it genuine love for God and the group etc., or is it fear of not meeting the desired standards.
  • Is questioning the group, or the group leaders, discouraged or frowned upon? Does the group you belong to believe that it is an elite and exclusive organisation which alone has ‘the truth’ and answers to life’s questions?
  • Does the pastor pour scorn upon, attack, and mock other Christian churches and their interpretation of the Bible?
  • Is reading any literature critical of the group discouraged? Many cults will warn members not to read anything critical of the group, especially if written by an ex-member (who are called names by the cult such as “apostate”, “hardened”, or “of the devil” etc.). This is a well known information control technique to stop the member from discovering the clear and documented errors of the cult. Members' abilities to think for themselves is effectively disarmed in this way. Instead, they will think more and more as the rest of the group thinks.
  • Take a look at the way the group looks and acts. Does everyone dress more or less the same, act the same, and talk the same? One observer, speaking of his particular involvement with a cult, said that the group encouraged its members “to do everything in exactly the same way - to pray the same, to look the same, to talk the same. This in psychology is a classic example of group conformity. Its purpose is to ensure that no-one tries to act differently or become dissident, thus nobody questions the status quo.” (Andrew Hart, Jan. 1999).
  • Does the group discourage association with non-members (except, maybe, for the possibility of converting them to the group)?
  • Does the pastor give you ‘black and white answers’? What the pastor agrees with is right and what the pastor disagrees with is wrong.
  • Does everyone in the group believe exactly the same things (i.e. what the group leaders tell them to believe)?
  • Is there no room for individual belief, or opinion even in minor areas?
  • Does the group wear ‘two faces’? On the one hand, does it attempt to present itself, to potential converts and the public at large, as a group of people who are like one large family, who have love among themselves, where everyone is equal? But on the other hand, the reality is, that many members inwardly feel unfulfilled and emotionally exhausted?
  • Have you attempted to disable your own God-given critical thinking abilities by ‘shelving’ various doubts about the pastor or group’s teachings etc.
  • Are others in the group, who do not conform to the requirements of the movement’s teaching, treated with suspicion, and treated like second class members?
  • Does the group tend to withhold certain information from the potential convert? Are the more unusual doctrines of the group not discussed until an individual is more deeply involved in the movement?
  • Do you feel fearful of leaving the group? Many cults use subtle fear tactics to stop members from leaving. For example, the group may imply that those who leave will be attacked by the Devil, have a nasty accident, or at least not prosper because they have left ‘the truth’.

Is your church healthy or unhealthy? Battered Sheep credits a Control Techniques pamphlet with this decent overview.

A list of warning signs from I am Listening. The first four are especially insightful:
1. “Hears” God for you. God apparently “goes through” him/her to speak to you.
2. Alienates (shuns, ignores) you if you do not adhere to his/her guidance, leadership, or authority.
3. Suggests that rejection of his/her “higher understanding” is done so at your spiritual or even physical peril.
4. Rewards your obedience with inclusion, and punishes your questioning or resistance with withdrawal.

Church features a short checklist to help you determine whether your group or church is abusive or not. There are many such checklists online and they are all a little different. Some emphasize certain abusive behaviors and not others, while others will emphasize a different set of abusive traits. Abusive churches come in many varieties and will not likely match up exactly to any of these checklists. Still, they are helpful because they show that these behaviors are common.

Thugs in the Pulpit Are you, yourself, an abusive pastor or church leader?

This article by Richard Dobbins in includes a list of indicators that one might be a spiritually abusive pastor. Scroll down to the Looking Inside section. Some items include the following:
  • I see myself as someone "special" who can only be understood by other "special" or high-status people.
  • I require excessive admiration and feel entitled to special treatment.
  • Others are expected to automatically comply with my expectations.
  • I am preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends and associates.
  • I fear confiding in people since they may maliciously use any information I give them to do me harm.
  • I read demeaning or threatening meanings into innocent remarks.
  • I bear grudges and am unforgiving of others I feel have harmed me.
  • I am quick to perceive attacks on my character or reputation that are not apparent to others and react angrily or counterattack.
  • I am uncomfortable in situations where I am not the center of attention.
Scroll to the bottom of this site for an article on 9 Characteristics of Control Freak Pastors

Although specifically for Reformed Baptists, some of these traits of abuse may seem familiar to others as well. From the Wicked Shepherds site is this checklist of spiritually abusive acts. Included are these items:
•Does your church tightly control the flow of information within its ranks?
•Does the head of your church, along with the other “leaders”, use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers?
•Does the head of your church and his “fellow elders” appear to be intolerant or consider it evil persecution when criticized or questioned?
•Are you discouraged to associate with former members, being warned that they are "evil" or "defiling"; a “danger to your spiritual welfare”?
•Is leaving your church to join another church that “is not approved by your elders” equal to leaving God?
•Do you fear being rebuked, shunned, or ignored for expressing a different opinion?
•Is there a relentless obsession of reminding the sheep of “who’s in authority”?
There are many more questions in the survey, and you may want to check it out.

Is your pastor a serial bully? A long checklist is available at Because It Matters blog. An excerpt:
•is self-opinionated and displays arrogance, audacity, a superior sense of entitlement and sense of invulnerability and untouchability
•has a deep-seated *contempt of clients* in contrast to his or her professed compassion
•is a *control freak* and has a *compulsive need to control everyone and everything you say, do, think and believe; for example, will launch an immediate personal attack attempting to restrict what you are permitted to say if you start talking knowledgeably about psychopathic personality or antisocial personality disorder in their presence - but aggressively maintains the right to talk (usually unknowledgeably) about anything they choose; serial bullies despise anyone who enables others to see through their deception and their mask of sanity
•displays a *compulsive need to criticise* whilst simultaneously refusing to value, praise and acknowledge others, their achievements, or their existence
• shows a lack of joined-up thinking with conversation that doesn’t flow and arguments that don’t hold water
•flits from topic to topic so that you come away feeling you’ve never had a proper conversation
Resources that explore the mechanism of spiritual abuse:

Warning Signs is cult expert Rick Ross's list of things to look for, not just in a potential cult leader, but in those who are followers of cult leaders -- and also what to look for in a safe group. This is an essential list for anyone looking to attend a new church because you never know at first what kind of group you may be joining. At first, spiritually abusive groups often bombard new members or attendees with love and care. Some warning signs of abusive leaders:
  • Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability
  • no tolerance for questions or critical inquiry
  • unrealistic fears about the outside world
  • the leader always needing to be right.
Some warning signs of cult followers:
  • Leader criticism is characterized as "persecution"
  • extreme obsessiveness toward leader or group, resulting in the exclusion of every practical concern
  • a dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor
  • former followers are, at best, considered negatively, and at worst considered evil
  • anything the leader does can be justified, no matter how harsh or harmful.
Barnabas Ministry offers a well-organized site that helps someone in a questionable church decide if their church is leaning toward the unhealthy or dangerous. It summarizes traits from different sources on the subject of spiritual abuse, then gives a list of things to watch for, and then asks some questions that should help anyone who is confused about the direction their church is going. The one problem with the site, however, is that for part of the site, you have to scroll sideways for a long time in order to read each line. Very annoying. Some of the evaluation questions:
What did you spend your time on this week with regards to the group?
Did you really want to do it, or did you do it only because you were told to do it?
Did you "filter" anything from a higher-up to a subordinate?
Do you see problems with the system?
Do you have any way to bring these up and have them taken seriously?
Do you find yourself making statements and positions of the leadership more palatable for others?
Do you really want others to have what you have concerning your church?

On another page of Barnabas Ministry , called Uncovering and Facing Spiritual Abuse, is an account of an abusive situation that may not at first be recognized as abusive.

Battered Sheep Ministries: This page provides links to various articles on the topic of spiritual abuse. Titles include these and many more: Abuse of Authority in the Church; The Bible and Spiritual Abuse; Is Your Church Free from Cultic Tendencies? and many other great resources.

For the most extreme groups, this site might be helpful. Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire lists so many extreme behaviors that the group would have to be off the charts if it had all these problems. A church could display a tenth of these and still be very abusive. If you find yourself answering YES to many of these, you might want to make a dash for the hills.

Rest Ministries Unfortunately, this site died when Geocities closed in October. This was a sad development. I have preserved some of what was there on this link. It's too bad the site disappeared, though, because the pages on manipulation and authoritarianism were excellent. Ron Henzel is still around and writing on other topics, but maybe he will post his great insights on spiritual abuse on another site and oblige those who profited from his analysis on spiritual abuse.

Voices from the Fringe is a good place to see what kinds of extremes spiritual abuse can lead to. Ron Enroth, author of Churches that Abuse (see below in book section) writes about different techniques abusive groups use and what the result is. Enroth lists the common threads he finds in these groups:
  • An emphasis on spiritual experiences
  • An increased focus on the role of demons
  • A large proportion of members with personal, emotional, and dependency needs
  • A teaching emphasis on attitudinal sins (such as rebelliousness, lack of submission, pride, and self-centeredness)
  • An unhealthy dependence on those in authority
  • Few checks and balances
  • Minimal leadership accountability
  • A defensiveness that results in intolerance of member-critics
Also describing "fringe" groups is the New England Institute of Religious Research with Eight Signs of an Aberrational Christian or Bible-based Group:
  • Scripture twisting
  • Controlling leader or leadership
  • Separation or isolation of members
  • The chosen few (spiritual elitism)
  • Uniformity of lifestyle
  • No dissent
  • Traumatic departure
  • In transition (to a less healthy system)
Aberrant Christianity: What is it? This web resource includes several beneficial articles and a case history (linked in the case history section of Provender). The articles draw on some dated material but are still relevant. One source is a chart or list of characteristics of cults, both theological and sociological. Among the sociological red flags are these:
  • Deceptive recruiting practices.
  • Dynamic and authoritarian leadership.
  • Elitism.
  • Alienation from family and friends.
  • Legalism.
  • Induced fatigue.
  • Sanction oriented.
  • Anti-intellectual.
  • Doctrine in flux/ false prophesies.
  • Mind control.
Abusive Churches by Pat Zukeran is based on Ron Enroth's book, Churches that Abuse. It details abusive techniques without the stories of abuse and is more description than narration. A quick reference. Some of the items Zukeran lists are these: Control-oriented leadership; manipulation of members; rigid, legalistic lifestyle; frequent changing of group/church name; denouncing of all other churches; painful exit process; targeting young adults. A more readable version is HERE.

A review of the book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich includes some interesing headings: The Master Manipulator, Demystifying the Guru's power (why do we assign such power to these mere men and women?) and The Authoritarian Power Dynamic

Spiritual Abuse by Scott Nicloy, a Salvation Army counselor. This article explores reasons behind spiritual abuse and the sometimes unintended nature of it. It also includes something on former alcoholics who become spiritually abusive pastors, an angle I had not seen before. Nicloy talks about black and white thinking, zealotry, power hunger, perfectionism, isolationism and other signs of an abusive church.

Narcissism in the Pulpit, includes a wealth of good information about what's behind a leader's need to control abusively. (The spooky, medieval background template behind this page is annoying as anything, but I found that cutting and pasting into a Word file is helpful, and the information is worth the trouble.)

The site uses a World Health Organization definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: “Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a disorder in which a person has a grandiose self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, a driven desire for attention and admiration, an intolerance of criticism, and disturbed self-centered interpersonal relations..."

Authoritarian pastors may be driven by a personality disorder like this one. Knowing what to expect and how manipulation works can be quite helpful, especially for those still enmeshed in an abusive situation. Five of nine listed criteria must be met for someone to be categorized as a clinical narcissist. Among them: obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, interpersonally exploitive, sense of entitlement, firmly convinced of own uniqueness and specialness...

As long as we're talking psychology, another site mentions the covert-aggressive personality. Off a link at Under Much Grace blog is this article from a book called In Sheep's Clothing by George Simon, Jr. on tactics of manipulation. The excerpt is on Abusive, Manipulative Relationships and includes tactics such as these: evasion, covert intimidation, projecting blame, minimalization, vilifying the victim, playing the servant role, brandishing anger and more. Well worth investigating if it sounds like your pastor.

An Australian site called Clare's Blog: Clergy Abuse Australia, (also drawing on The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse) sums up spiritual abuse nicely for any spiritually abusive situation, in Australia or anywhere else.

Many abusive pastors use flattery to manipulate. This article from Wittenberg Gate explores the danger of flattery.

What god are you worshiping in a spiritually abusive church? That is the question Dale Ryan seeks to answer in his article: If your god is not God, fire him. Highlights:
Let me be clear about this. The god who is quick to anger and slow to forgive is not a “distorted image of God.” It is the opposite of God. It’s the wrong god. It’s not God at all. It’s not that I was looking in the right direction but just couldn’t see clearly. I was looking in the wrong direction entirely. It was the wrong god. There is, of course, a whole pantheon of not-Gods. Take your pick:
The angry, abusive god
The abandoning god
The inattentive god
The impotent god
The shaming god

This brief and clearly organized article from Australia in pdf format called The Insidious Harm of Spiritual Abuse cuts to the heart of the matter and discusses the four "rules" of spiritual abuse: Don't trust, Don't think, Don't talk and Don't question. Graham Barker, the author, also provides several short case studies.

Does your pastor pretend he "knows your heart"? This article, by, shows that the little mind tricks your pastor plays on you are not much different from occultic practices. Divination - Is it Real or Fake? shows how easy it is not to let abusive pastors have power over you in this way.

Common Characteristics of How Cults Operate: Decent list that pinpoints techniques that cults, and controlling churches, use to capture and keep followers. Here is a sample: Intimidation and accusation are the most often used. For example, any questioning of authority is treated as rebellion, and not trusting. They suppress questions and conform to the group’s behavior. They Discourage Critical or Rational Thought and Questions. They will reply with comments like, "Satan is the cause of all doubt; he is keeping you from the Truth," or it will take time to understand the deep things of God. Critical thinking is discouraged being called prideful or sinful or rebellious. No independent thinking is encouraged.

Con Artist Pastors? The Persecutors is a series on the African Bereans blog (see below in blog section). It looks at many different aspects of abusive leaders and their helpers. In Part 12 of the series, blogger and minister Chris Efinda explores the covetous abusive leader. Here are some excerpts:
Con artists share these traits:
  • tend to be excellent conversationalists
  • exploit our human weaknesses like greed, dishonesty, vanity, compassion or just a na├»ve expectation of good faith
  • are psychopaths with antisocial personality disorder, or ASP, that begins in early childhood or adolescence.
  • are often witty and articulate. When they get to the pulpits, they can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming, but in relationships they are very controlling, self-serving, and irresponsible.
  • look good on the outside, but an ulterior motive lurks on the inside.
  • see themselves as victims rather than those they hurt.
  • claim a special anointing. They believe they are special and entitled to special behavior; rules that apply to others do not apply to them.
  • display their own brand of logic and an excuse for everything.
  • appear to be very giving, but there is always a price to pay for their attention.
  • can apologize easily, but there is no sign of true repentance.
  • don't feel love or guilt; tend to minimize the pain of those they have hurt.
  • discredit their accusers when they are confronted.
  • cope by making themselves the hero in the worst situations.
  • are clever, and often able to keep from being caught.
  • have extreme shifts in personality, may be kind and sarcastic in the same instant.
  • are very needy, and blame others for not being able to meet their needs.
The purpose of this article is to learn the modus operandi of the con artists in our churches, then to resort to stay very far away from them, avoid them at all costs.
Here are some disturbing patterns that believers will also do good to watch for:
  • Con artists, in the clergy, play with our inner beliefs or ignorance.
  • Con artist pastors focus on mind control. They want to create “dumb sheep”. They specialize in teaching people what to think. They condemn, ridicule, or get rid of those who have an “independent spirit”. They label or use character assassination on those who refuse to go along.
  • Con artists pastors don’t operate alone, they hide behind “shills” or “co-conspirators”. They usually find someone that the members know and respect for his/her integrity to give their message a high level of credibility. By so doing, the credibility of the speaker will dispel any hidden agenda.
  • Con artists pastors ask for trust just because “I am the pastor”. They just adore their titles of “pastors”. Jesus said about them: “They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi (Mat 23:7). Most church goers will not question the credibility of a “mfundisi” or pastor.
  • Con artists pastors tend to ignore the evidence by simply discarding the truth as “a devil scheme”.
  • Con artists pastors create a problem, and then pursue (refuse?) to offer a solution. By so doing, chaos, confusion, grief, misery and all the related negative emotions, conditions and circumstances are at play to manipulate people to make choices that under other circumstances they would never consider.
  • Con artists pastors use guilt projection and condemnation to induce “spiritual conversion”.
  • Con artists pastors set up a secret language. They use “hinting” to manipulate people into giving them their resources; they give ambiguous orders so that if anything backfires they could safely deny it, then reject the responsibility and the blame on some one else.
  • Con artists pastors are easily offended. When they are caught in an unethical action, they often feign offence, or become dramatic. This tactic will often put the accuser on the defensive and derail the confrontation.
  • Con artists pastors are capable of the unthinkable to muzzle the truth.“But evil people and phony preachers will go from bad to worse as they mislead people and are themselves misled.” [2Ti 3:13]
When a believer finally discovers that he/she has been victim of a con artist pastor, guilt and shame ensue. But anyone can be a victim, even a person who is considered too intelligent or too spiritual can be conned.
There is a simple way to prevent self from being a victim: “Ask questions, ask the “pastor” to show you his claims in the scripture, then get another opinion and/or search for yourself.”
Any good pastor will welcome reasonable questions or bona fide fact finding, and will not urge anyone to take a quick decision.

Con artist pastors just hate confrontation; they will get rid of you as soon as you become too inquisitive. If you have fallen prey to a con artist pastor, don’t let the guilt and the shame overpower you. Rather run to the cross, plead the blood of Christ, repent and receive His grace, forgive the persecutor to kill any root of bitterness, revoke and cancel any allegiance you pledge with the persecutor and then cast out the devil and his hosts in the name of Jesus Christ.

It might also be useful to seek counseling and deliverance from a reputable ministry or therapist.
The con artists in the clergy are usually "too smart by half." Eventually, their lies catch up with them. They are forced to cover lies with more lies. When it gets to be too much to believe, others begin to feel betrayed, or used.“Make no mistake about this: You can never make a fool out of God. Whatever you plant is what you'll harvest.” [Gal 6:7]

Another site that shows the techniques abusers use, and compares them to mind control techniques used on prisoners of war is this from Margaret Singer's 6 Conditions for Thought Reform listed on the web site Refocus.

When has Authority Gone Too Far? This article, also a Battered Sheep contribution, highlights the unhealthy way we've turned pastors to gods. It includes a list of 11 marks of perverted authority:
  • The claim of direct authority from God, rather than testing things by the Word
  • The command is to "submit to me," rather than "I will serve you"
  • The method of leadership is to "order" people around, rather than to appeal for them to do the right things
  • There is a dominating, "pushy" drive instead of a dependence on God to direct
  • There is a sense of control, rather than a sense of support
  • A gift is exploited so that others are made to feel dependent on it
  • There is an inflexibility--"don't question me"--"don't touch the Lord's anointed"
  • There is unapproachability and intimidation--the "aura" around the leader keeps the followers in "awe"
  • There emerges an organization built around a man and his peculiar emphases instead of around Christ and His Word
  • There will be cyclical challenges to the authority figure (which are immediately and forcefully purged)
  • There is more concern for maintaining the authoritarian structure than there is for caring about the people in it.
Unfortunately, not always open to public view Characteristics of a Sociopath, quoted in a brave blog of survivors from a cult-like fellowship in Australia, Tales from the Crypt. By viewing a list of traits associated with sociopaths, you can get a feel for things to watch out for if your group leader or pastor seems to be leading in an abusive direction. Gives a very detailed description of how abusive people manipulate followers.
Also, on that site was this very insightful list of common excuses people give for their abusive pastors and church leaders:
  • a) They aren’t like that all the time
  • b) They are only like that with you
  • c) They didn’t really mean it
  • d) You don’t really understand them
  • e) You are just being difficult
  • f) You must have a problem with them (do you think?)
  • g) That’s just the way they are
  • h) They are just very passionate about their work
From the same site, an interesting discussion of the molding that takes place under the influence of narcissists called Human Chameleons and Brain Plasticity. Some examples:
  • will often manipulate minor bullies... into acting as agents of harassment and as unwitting or unwilling conductors of vendettas
  • is adept at placing people in situations where the sociopath can tap into each person's instinctive urge to retaliate in order to use them as his or her instruments or agents of harassment
  • gains gratification from provoking others into engaging in adversarial conflict
  • once conflict has been initiated, the sociopath gains increased gratification by exploiting human beings' instinctive need to retaliate - this is achieved by encouraging and escalating peoples' adversarial conflicts into mutually assured destruction
  • revels in the gratification gained from seeing or causing other people's distress
  • when faced with accountability or unwelcome attention which might lead to others discerning the sociopath's true nature, responds with repeated and escalating attempts to control, manipulate and punish
  • is adept at reflecting all accusations and attempts at accountability back onto accusers
  • is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about the sociopath
Another site on sociopathic pastors is this from Leadership. Kinnon draws on several sources to examine what happens when leaders, especially church leaders, with sociopathic tendencies, rise to positions of authority. Sample quote: I live in shock at the apparent lack of fear of a just God, when I read the fountain of words that some supposed leaders are willing to spew to cover their own misdeeds. Good analysis, and he concludes with the observation that these types are wolves in sheep's clothing.

Resources that focus on the spiritual side of abuse:
The Bible and Spiritual Abuse is helpful for those so convinced their abusive leader or group is true to scripture that they won't listen to their own conscience or pleadings of concerned friends and relatives. For those suspicious of human reason alone, this combines reason with a healthy dose of scripture that points out that today's abusers are more like Pharisees than like Jesus. Those who won't listen to "worldly" articles might take a look at this because it is grounded in scripture. Henzel is very convincing in his Bible-based reasoning.

Antidotes to Spiritual Abuse This site offers a list of common statements found in spiritually abusive groups and confronts each of them with a scripture or two very apt for rebuttal. A nice, clearly organized post.

Stop Spiritual Abuse contains an abundance of articles that challenge abusive systems. Are pastors more anointed? This article by John R. Anderson corrects a basic misunderstanding and reminds readers of the "priesthood of all believers" mentioned in Revelation 1:6. After reading this, you'll realize how absurd it is to take certain Biblical passages the way abusive pastors use them.Other headings include these: Christians criticizing Christians: Is it biblical?; Unlimited authority from Twisted Scriptures by Mary Alice Chrnalogar; Beyond Accountibility from the same author; and a whole lot of others.

Matthew 18: What does it really say? This article, Principles not Procedure: How to Deal with Corrupt Church Leadership, by Kevin Johnson on a site called Prophezei, looks at the context of Matthew 18 and makes the case that sometimes, the best option is to simply leave.

If people are saved at my church, how can it be spiritually abusive? This article from points out that God can work in the darkest places, and that just because God works somewhere doesn't mean it has His stamp of approval.

Wicked Shepherds site chronicles the particular abuse pertaining to Reformed Baptists. In this group, elders sometimes pit spouses against each other to make the "rebellious" one submit to the leadership. The interference by church leaders into the marriage relationship is horrendous. Some of the spiritual advice on this site -- although tailored to Reformed Baptists -- is helpful for other groups as well.

Also from Wicked Shepherds is this article entitled: When Should a Christian Leave a Church? Again, this analysis is tailored to Reformed Baptists, but many points in the article could apply to people in other groups as well. Some excerpts:

     There are only two options for you if you are sitting under a ministry like that ... One, you can stay in that church. However, you will have to shut up and obey the "duly authorized eldership" and totally dry up spiritually. You will be sinning against Christ by allowing your pastor to be the Lord of your conscience -- and believe me, that is a grave sin!
     If you stay under such a ministry very long you cannot help but yield your conscience to the leader.
     However, the moment you do that you will begin to live in fear of that leader and his authority over your soul. When you reach that point, you are actually part of a cult and you have totally given up your true liberty in Christ. You will be afraid to even think for yourself, let alone speak and act that way.

     Unfortunately, there are some churches that actually demand that kind of submission from you in order for you to be a member in their church, or cult, as the case may be.
     They will bounce you in and out of membership according to your "rebellion" (questioning anything the elder says or does) or "repentance" (treating the pastor like a pope). Some poor souls have been in and out of church membership many times at the whim of the preacher.
     These kind of churches use the office of elder and deacon as a carrot stick to award the "really loyal devotees."

Attacking Men of God? is an article listing the main arguments of abusive leaders when they are under attack. If you have ever questioned an abusive leader, you have probably already heard these questions, as they turn the tables against you.

Accountability in the Bible Abusive churches and leaders often have a skewed view of accountability. While the peons (you) are held accountable to a human shepherd (them) often they are not held accountable to anyone. How did authority and accountability work in the New Testament?

This site from ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) lays out the scriptural framework and points out the trouble with churches and groups that abuse people's willingness to be held accountable. Another work bu the same author is this one on why Evangelicals are vulnerable to cultic influence.

Is submission to church leaders necessary for spiritual protection? This site, part of a larger site called Covering and Authority, provides a very clear response to the issue of "covering" in churches. It shows how recent a doctrine this is and points out the logical fallacies of the practice.

A brief reminder of what the Bible says about spiritual abuse I Peter 5:3: a page full of this verse in different translations, as well as commentary excerpts.

If you don't like it, why don't you just leave? This question is addressed by a group of former SGM members (SGM Survivors) who get that question frequently, as do many who point out spiritually abusive practices in other denominations or movements.

Resources that deal with recovery from spiritual abuse:

Walking Away from Spiritual Abuse, also by, discusses the difficulties of leaving and of not leaving abusive groups. To someone never involved with cult-like churches, it might seem like a no-brainer. You just leave! But anyone even peripherally involved with such a group, and all the manipulative tactics used to get you deep into the tentacles of the organization, knows it's not that easy. You might have friends and family still in it, you've associated your walk with God with the group so much that sometimes it seems that walking away is the same as walking away from God. This resource is helpful not only for those needing to find a way out, but for anyone who suspects their group might be an abusive one.

Abusive Churches: Leaving them Behind Also from Battered Sheep, this article not only describes the painful exit process worshipers endure, but it also includes a good list of traits to look for in a church to indicate an abusive or healthy nature. Under the header Discerning Good from Abusive, Pat Zukeran includes these things to look for:
  • Does the leadership invite dialogue, advice, evaluation, and questions?
  • Is there a system of accountability or does the pastor keep full control?
  • Does a member's personality generally become stronger, happier, and more confident as a result of being with the group?
  • Are family commitments strengthened? Or are church obligations valued more than family ones?
  • Does the group encourage independent thinking, development of discernment skills, and creation of new ideas?
  • Is the group preoccupied with maintaining a good public image that does not match the inner circle experience?
  • Does the leadership encourage members to foster relations and connections with the larger society that are more than self-serving?
  • Is there a high rate of burnout among the members?
Common aftereffects of involvement in spiritually abusive churches and cults can be found listed on this site called Cult Awareness and Information Centre. Some highlights:
  • flashbacks to cult life
  • disassociation (spacing out) feeling “out of it”
  • “Stockholm Syndrome”: knee-jerk impulses to defend the cult when it is criticized, even if the cult hurt the person
  • difficulty concentrating
  • hostility reactions, either toward anyone who criticizes the cult, or the cult itself
  • dread of running into a current cult-member by mistake loss of a sense of how to carry out simple tasks
  • dread of being cursed or condemned by the cult hang-overs of habitual cult behaviors like chanting
  • trouble holding down a job
Kira Love Counseling Services Kira, a former spiritual abuse victim and now a counselor, will provide counseling sessions, in some cases by telephone.
Kira has a Masters of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University, with a focus on individual and couples’ work. She also earned a B.S. in Organizational Behavior at Seattle Pacific University. She is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), and she is accountable to the ethical codes of both the AACC and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). This information was taken from her site. She also says this:

I counsel individuals, couples and families from a systemic, holistic lens, treating many disorders, issues, and life struggles, with a focus on: ~ complex and/or post traumatic stress disorders ~ childhood neglect and abandonment ~ insecure attachment styles and reparation ~ trauma and abuse (including spiritual/clergy and professional abuse) ~ grief and loss ~ depression and anxiety ~ relationship betrayal and crisis ~ pre-marital ~ drug, alcohol and food addictions ~ life transition and personal growth. You can find more information on her site linked above.

Also at Barnabas Ministry is a book review of Ken Blue's Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experiences. Though I haven't yet read the book, it looks like a fabulous resource. One passage quoted in the review is this:
The second classic type of spiritual abuser is the heroic, grandiose or messianic narcissist who is obsessed by a desire to be someone great or to do something unprecedented for God. Carrying out this fantasy requires the cooperation of others and access to their money. Like the first type, this leader may not consciously wish to hurt anyone; but others are hurt as they are used for the leader's and God's "higher purposes (p. 111)." In order to achieve the public support they need, these leaders make extraordinary claims for themselves or have others make them in their behalf. Such claims may include a special anointing, unusual personal sacrifice, unprecedented encounters with God, unique training, a singular teaching or leadership gift, a revelation of truth that is not available to others, or secret knowledge of God's end-times purposes. These and other claims imply that God has a special calling on this leader, and so it is the "unspecial" people's duty to admire and follow him, which they often do in droves (p. 113).

Recovery from Spiritual Abuse is one of the few sites I've seen that directly address how to treat someone newly out of a spiritually abusive group. Though the site stresses recovery, its list of statements (for reconciling "outcasts" to God's people) is helpful even for grappling with the whole spiritual abuse issue. It kind of reminds the deceived of things they used to know but may have been brainwashed to forget:
  • Leaders are not more favored by God over others in the church.
  • All struggle spiritually, even leaders.
  • All are in various stages of growth (no instant spirituality).
  • All make mistakes, none is infallible.
  • All can learn to hear God’s voice for themselves - no need to remain spiritual children who must submit to parental leaders.
  • All need each other - none is needless.
  • All have something to give and are valuable to God.
  • All leaders and lay persons—are called to live by the same standards.
  • All need to have their own relationship with God apart from the involvement of other believers—including spouses.
  • The church is not just one building or one gathering, but believers everywhere.
Freedom in Jesus For those who have managed to leave a controlling group or cult-like church, Freedom in Jesus provides a 12-step plan for recovery, as well as some descriptions of cultish behaviors.

Being told to just get over it and move on? This article, by, is helpful for those under condemnation for not recovering fast enough. Being Told to "Get Over It and Just Move On" is concise but useful. You had enough shame dumped on you by your abuser. You don't need more from your friends.

Ten Characteristics of Abused and Wounded Christians, from Restoring the Heart blog, summarizes aftereffects of spiritual abuse mentioned in VanVonderan and Johnson's The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

Best books on spiritual abuse:
The Heresy of Mind Control is a free online book that offers THE most detailed treatment of the subject of spiritual abuse available online, as far as I know. The author, Stephen Martin, goes into great detail and provides cogent analysis of the methods abusers use to control the flock. It is in a PDF format and is 167 pages, but it's well worth reading every page. Some of the chapter titles include the following: Milieu Control, Mystical Manipulation, The Demand for Purity, The Cult of Confession, (Thou shalt not Question) The Sacred Silence, Loading the Language, Doctrine over Person, Dispensing of Existence, From Control to Freedom. To open the book, you need to click the link at the bottom of the page. For a nice, clear table of contents, you can take a preview on the Freedom4captives site.

Churches that Abuse This is now an online book (free), and it is the standard, the classic, on spiritual abuse. Ron Enroth, a California sociologist, examines in detail different traits of abuse and gives examples of some individual cases of Bible-believing churches exhibiting each trait. For those who think cultish practices only exist when non-trinitarian doctrine is present, this book should present a challenge. Churches that Abuse is important because Enroth shows that the distinction between cults (that many define as groups having serious doctrinal error) and spiritually abusive groups (holding an orthodox belief system) is minimal. Is it that big a deal that the doctrine is OK if the behavior is abusive? It isn't really out-of-line to view abusive groups, even with spotless statements of faith, as you would cults.

Many sources on spiritual abuse cite Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson's book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. It is a groundbreaking work and is still popular today. Some say that these authors were the first to coin the term "spiritual abuse." This review provides a detached, analytical view of some kinds of spiritual abuse. The most helpful parts to me are those discussing the abusive pastor's emphasis on his own authority - called here "power posturing" - and on the Can't Talk rule. A more inclusive summary of the book, and very good checklist is here.
Some highlights:
Spiritual abuse occurs when shame is “used in an attempt to get someone to support a belief, or…to fend off legitimate questions”. (p.22) “In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy ‘us’. This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave—because they will be outsiders, too.” (p.73)

This review of the book Toxic Faith (by Stephen Arteburn and Jack Felton) is worth a look. Heavy on psychological theory, it still contains some valuable insights.

You can always find groups and individuals trying to benefit from the misfortunes of others and even on this topic you will find folks promoting products, techniques and teachings for sale to help you in one way or another. Even so, sometimes their materials are insightful.

Many readers will no doubt shrink from the anti-Charismatic nature of a book by a Steven Lambert, ThD, mentioned on a site called "Real Truth" (Can there be a fake truth?) Nevertheless, some of the items Lambert provides on his site called Signs of Spiritual Abuse are worth considering. He lists 33 signs on his site, but I'll just list a handful:
  • Apotheosis of the leadership — exalting them to God-like status in and over the group
  • absolute authority of the leadership
  • No real accountability of the leadership to the corporate body
  • Pervasive abuse and misuse of authority in personal dealings with members
  • Paranoia and insecurity by the leaders
  • Abuse, misuse, and inordinate incidence of "church discipline"
  • Doctrinal demeanment and devaluation — the requisite of espousing and teaching "sound doctrine" is demeaned and devalued
  • Theological incompetency by the leadership, especially with respect to the rules of hermeneutics and Bible exegesis employed in the formulation of doctrine, giving license to twisting and adulteration of Scripture in order to provide proof-texts for unorthodox and invented doctrines
  • Spiritualism, mysticism, and unproven doctrines
  • De facto legalism, or works mentality, and its resulting loss of the "joy of salvation," though "freedom" is forever preached from the pulpit and the church is constantly touted as being a "safe church" by the leadership
  • Isolationism — corporate and individual, especially with respect to exposure to outside ministry sources
  • Devaluation, suppression, and non-recognition of members' bona fide God-given talents, abilities, gifts, callings, and anointing, as a means of subjugation
  • Constant indoctrination with a "group" or "family" mentality that impels members to exalt the corporate "life" and goals of the church-group over their personal goals, callings, and objectives
  • Members are psychologically traumatized and indoctrinated with numerous improper fears and phobias aimed at keeping them reeling in diffidence and an over-dependence or co-dependence on their leaders and the corporate group
  • Corporately, there eventually develops an inordinately high incidence of financial, marital, moral, psychological, mental, emotional, and medical problems, including sudden deaths and contraction of "incurable" and "unknown" diseases
  • Lack of true personal spiritual growth and development, especially in terms of genuine faith and experiencing the abounding grace, forgiveness, goodness, blessings, kindness, and agape-love of God
  • Members departing without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership leave the group under a cloud of manufactured suspicion, shame, and slander
  • Horror stories frequently told by leaders about individuals or families who left the group without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership, and the terrible consequences and curses they suffered as a result
  • Departing members often suffer from various psychological problems and display the classic symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult is Wendy Duncan's tale of life in a Bible-based cult and her struggle to recover from its effects.

Not of My Making by Margaret Jones tells of a woman who endured a series of abusive situations including those in two churches. The author's interview with Provender is here.

People of the Lie, by Scott Peck includes helpful insights on different aspects of "evil people" including those responsible for spiritual abuse.
Best blogs on spiritual abuse:
A well-designed and aesthetically creative blog on the topic is this one, called The Cult Next Door: Spiritual Abuse in Plain Sight. The blogger came from an extremely controlling church and her story will chill you to the bone.

Another blog with a panoply of resources
Under Much Grace is frequently updated and lists many helpful observations about spiritual abuse. Some of the articles it links to include titles such as these: Why doctrinal statements tell you nothing of the unwritten rules of manipulative groups; Thought reform and Lifton 101; The elements of spiritual abuse; cult leaders and con artists; Why it's so hard to leave an abusive situation. The analysis in some of these articles is very enlightening and helpful. Also, it now lists clear links to good sources. Information in the sidebar is often even more engaging than information in the main posts. It is a must-read site.

One of the best restatements of the thought of a person tempted to get involved in an authoritarian church is this from Spiritual Authority Weirdness on Thinking about it all blog: Hmm, God is really big on authority. I better really submit to Spiritual Leader X. There might be some times where I want more clarification... or even disagree, but I don’t want to even approach rebellion. I don’t want to rock the boat, I think I’ll just keep it to myself. It’s probably better that way because God will bless me if I submit to a leader, even if they are wrong or being abusive to me. I mean, look at Saul and David. Saul was trying to kill David and David submitted. I love God and I better submit, too. That really is how it happens. You want to do the right thing but fall into the poisonous thing.

From Set Free on What Really Matters blog is this perspective on the gains you can experience if you leave an abusive group: Here are some strengths I have noticed that develop in people when they leave controlling churches:
  • Greater compassion and empathy towards others
  • Analytical thinking (You think deeply about core concerns. From this point forward you will exercise keen judgment and discernment so you will never find yourself in the same situation again.)
  • Greater level of honesty and trustworthiness (You are so disgusted at the lies, fraud, dishonesty, and even criminality that went on, it makes you resolve yourself to live in a higher degree of honor and trustworthiness. You don’t want to be anything like your former leaders.)
  • Social/community activism (You are so tired of looking inward and catering to the needs of selfish leaders, you become extremely enthusiastic about reaching out and serving others.)
  • Fearlessness (You have given into a bully for so long, it’s time to stand up for yourself and take a new direction. You decide no one is going to control you or stand in your way! You also decide to step out and go after your dreams.)
  • Courage
  • Gratitude (You are so glad to be free from the control, manipulation, and harsh judgment you were under, you become more thankful even for the little things in life.)
  • Inquisitiveness and curiosity (You realize it’s okay to question anything!)
  • Sense of direction and purpose
  • Flexibility
  • Openness
  • Ability to show emotion
  • Ability to be yourself
  • Ability to find meaning in adversity
  • Ability to cope with difficulties (After all that you experienced and dealt with in a controlling church, handling the normal strains of everyday life seem like nothing. If you have survived a controlling, abusive situation, you can survive just about anything!)
When women are primary targets of a spiritually abusive system, it helps to have support from other women. From a distinctly female perspective, Quivering Daughters blog provides support for women abuse victims and links to many good resources on spiritual abuse and victimhood.

A good blog on cult involvement is VM Life Resources. This one emphasizes recovery and is directed at the hardcore cult experience. It includes resources for identifying spiritual abuse and articles on cults. The blogger also has written a book entitled I Can't Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult that chronicles her time with an organization that seemed healthy but wasn't. Not sure what the VM stands for, but the site provides lots of good information, both for escapees and the curious.

For something a little different, the Wartburg Watch is a new site that chronicles spiritually abusive situations in churches, with an emphasis on warnings against bloggers.

A blog with tremendously astute insights into spiritual abuse called The Bereans discusses many aspects of church leaders gone wrong. A post called The Enablers or the Persecutor's Last Line of Defense looks at those middle men or yes-men, the defenders of abusive pastors and their role in the church. Very eye-opening. I believe this blog may be from South Africa.

God and Family: Exploring the Dynamics of Family Cults This site examines experiences of people who grew up in a family operating under the apparatus of spiritual abuse and other kinds of abuses. Though it is unique because it focuses not on church groups but family cults, it has excellent links and lists of spiritual abuse characteristics. In fact, it includes more of these spiritual abuse checklists or trait lists than I have seen before in one place. Well worth visiting.

The Word on The Word of Faith. This is somewhat dated, from 1991, but spiritual abuse doesn't change all that much, does it?

Messy Christian is an interesting blog from Malaysia with keen understanding of injury to abusers and spiritual recovery.

These links are to video presentations by Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of the groundbreaking work The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Titles include these: The Abusive Religious System and How We Get Hooked. These videos are hosted on the National Association for Christian Recovery site.

Silly Women: This is more audio than visual, but a different take on women victims of spiritual abusers - abusers who creep into houses and take silly women captive through spiritually abusive practices.

Toxic Faith: Surviving Spiritual Abuse. Dr. Stephen Arteburn provides a 2-part series on spiritual abuse on the blog

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Newspaper in California covers spiritual abuse

The Sacramento Bee, a major California newspaper, examined the issue of spiritual abuse in a story titled Some Sacramento-area faithful turn backs on pastors, 'spiritual abuse' published today. At least 20 pages of comments followed the story, some revealing other incidents of abuse.

Spiritual abuse is a topic that churches neglect and that secular sources often don't care about or understand.

It is a hopeful development for a major media source like the Bee to take notice and investigate this issue. Spiritual abuse devastates families, destroys faith, hurts other churches that are tainted by neighboring church mistreatment and scandal, and leaves a lot of people disillusioned and lost.

The Bee should be commended for covering the topic. I hope this story opens up an interest by other media. Once the practice is in the open, it may be that churches, most of which are healthy and non-abusive, will stop being afraid to broach the subject, so that church-goers will be prepared if they should ever come across signs of abuse.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The importance of sharing abusive church experiences

I found these comments on a site called Messy Christian, and they make a lot of sense. On a post called The Loveliness of God Amidst Pain the blogger writes:

When it comes to people who’ve been spiritually abused/been through a bad church experience, it really helps if we talk about what has happened. It’s an act of affirmation; when you listen without interrupting with platitudes like “You must forgive” or scold her for her sharing, you’re indirectly saying: “I share your pain, I allow you to feel them.”

Kari said something that I totally relate to: “It really helps to talk to someone who has been there. They at least understand where you’re coming from.”

Messy Christian is right. People who haven't gone through spiritual abuse try to find good on both sides and bad on both. They can't see a church leader acting out of pure evil or being sociopathic or narcissistic. If you haven't run across such a leader before, it makes sense that you expect a little error here or a problem there. The trouble is, when you start loading blame on innocents because you assume there must be some fault there, it adds to the suffering and helps nothing. Messy Christian also writes:

The things that happened! If I told you the full sordid details of what we both went through, your toes will curl! [Or maybe not, knowing how prevalent stories like ours are, sadly.]

Yet, we still smile and laugh despite these painful memories. And most amazingly, despite having given up on the once-pristine vision of the church and her people, our love for God has increased.

This is a hopeful message. Too often you see people soured not only on church but on the loving Savior also. You understand their hurt and their revulsion for anything of their previous life, but it's painful to see them give up on the one great physician when they are in such need of healing.

On another post, Messy Christian writes: It’s such a “top secret”, “underground” subject in Christian circles that those who’ve been spiritually abused have nowhere to go - unless they’re pointed at the right direction.

That is a very apt characterization. Top secret. Underground. Churches DON'T talk about spiritual abuse. Maybe they don't want members falsely diagnosing spiritual abuse where there isn't any. Whatever the cause, it's a sad reality that those most in need of information have few resources in the church to discover it.

Thanks, Messy Christian, for your words of hope!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spiritually abused woman in need

Leonna Obbrace commented on a blog post once and I have since spoken with her by instant messaging. Her situation - being on an island where the churches and government work together in a corrupt fashion, where sexual harrassment in her church was expected and excused, where someone like Leonna can object to sin and be blacklisted from all churches on the island and suddenly find herself shunned and out of work and unable to find employment - is appalling.

I am publishing her comments in a more prominent place on the blog so that those who care to pray for her situation can do so. I asked how else people could help and she mentioned contacting your denominational headquarters. Most people who come to this blog have either left a church, though, or are considering leaving a church. Contacting denominational headquarters of an abusive church may not help. In any case, you can pray and to show support, you can email Leonna at

Leonna has a great faith in God and has endured patiently more than many believers will ever face.

Here are her earlier comments:

I attended BFM where the pastor is Dr. Myles Munroe for over 15 years. I worked there for the last 2 years. I think my situation is different here corruption is endemic & justice rare. People protect their leaders. Leaving the church did not solve the problem. It is a small community.The members have friends, money & influence everywhere. Myles is a member of the Hospital Authority Board. I am not welcomed in any church.

He was the first TBN.

I was in love with & proud of my church.

The first criticism against me was that I did not dance vigorously enough in worship service. I had to put my foot down & tell them I was not dancing for them, I was praising God.

The message from Myles talked of my being accepted & valuable. Whiles I was volunteering behind the scenes I ignored the groping that went on between unmarried men & women.

The pressure was constant to give into these men. I was troubled by this.

I asked questions about the money that was donated every year. I kept stating what the bible said whenever Myles said something contradictory.He called those who excelled in business ‘higher quality people’. That infuriated me!

Everyone got angry with me, they wanted to think they were getting ‘new revelation’ as Gods’ chosen people. I was told angrily that Myles was the leader.

I started working with some school girls , I became very upset with the married men who began touching them. I reported it but Myles preached men needed sex like a car needed gas, it was not merely something they wanted. If a married man looked outside the home you have to check with the wife because she is not satisfying him. I was their supervisor they were told to complain about me & not to do what I asked. All the pastors began throwing remarks at me. Whiles I was working in the sanctuary they heckled me.

They spread the message I was a lesbian & that is why I was celibate. They brought in a psychologist to walk through the building & tell them that I was mentally retarded that was why I did not have a mature relationship.

Pastor Debbie Bartlette slapped me when I went up for prayers. I started to fall apart emotionally. When I went home I tried to commit suicide. Debbie was standing there when the ambulance arrived. The same lies were spread at the hospital to explain why I tried to kill myself. I felt God had abandoned me.

The story is today that I fought against pastor Myles. That I am therefore cursed. I heard he has said I will die on the streets. I have been homeless twice. I have been harassed off jobs with similar treatment that I got at BFM. I have been harassed out of efficiencies & my families’ homes.

The police surrounded me when I was trying to ask for help to get something to eat one evening & one threatened to shoot me if resisted arrest for soliciting. He said by doing so he would solve Myles problems.

Two years after trying to take a landlord to court after going through the same ridiculous treatment repeatedly; meeting the room door open, my clothes cut up, belongings missing; the police picked me up a week before the trial to carry me to the hospital to verify me as a mental patient. The doctor asked if I thought people who did not believe like me were going to hell. They carried me there saying I had a visit from a nurse who used to give me a shot & I beat her up. They said I was violent. This never happened. The landlords’ daughter is a member of BFM.

I could not get one lawyer nor the man from amnesty to help me. When I was on the street the police walked around telling people I was a prostitute. Now they tell people I have not worked for 3 years because I do not want to work. So the story is I’m a lazy woman. I have been described on the talk shows so people could be warned about giving me money to help me. I know or have met most of the talk show personalities. It is a small island.

This community depends on pastors for references for jobs, especially government jobs ;letters to banks for approval for loans & pastors help offenders of serious crimes to get their records expunged. They are known to be corrupt but since calvinism what most people adhere to in this very immoral society this only serves to make the drug pusher, liars & sexually immoral comfortable in their sins. Therefore most still regard all who are religious leaders as Gods' anointed & it is wrong to 'touch' them. Every single pastor I've talked to have told me that my problems will go away once I forgive Myles, refuse to say anything negative about him & go back & submit. "God will lift you up & deliver you", they say.

I was feeling sort of shaky & your info & others that I've found on the web has strengthened me. I only use to see sites about cults.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red Flags

No one ever wakes up one day and says, “Hey, you know? I think I’ll shame and abuse the flock today,” or "I think I'll become a cult leader." Instead, gradual changes take place, usually involving the lure of power that slowly takes hold.

If you study spiritual abuse, you can get a feel for how this happens: Despite differing manifestations of abuse in churches, there are common denominators. Several sources cited on this site point out the following traits and show just how it is a church can move from a healthy body to a dangerous one.


One common finding in cults and spiritually abusive groups is something called “elitism.” It’s a feeling that your vision for the church is superior to that of others. Though most churches  and leaders, feel that they are on the right path, that their doctrines or practices are what God wants, that alone isn’t elitism. Elitism happens when you look at other churches or individuals and believe that your vision or your practices are among the very few that really please God. It is comparative. It is a superiority complex. This initial pride and puffing up – that can begin so very subtly -- ends up justifying any abusive behavior that follows.
Information control
Another common denominator in cults and abusive groups is something called milieu control. It is an attempt to control the environment of members, and especially the information members are exposed to. This may start out as an innocent desire not to have heretical teachings invade the body. But this control becomes deadly in abusive groups. Before long, only those things approved by church leaders, and only material that portrays the church or leaders in a good light are encouraged. Information is censored. Everything concerning the church must go through the leader to make sure it is "appropriate," "healthy" or “not divisive.” Material brought in from outside is frowned on and sometimes actively condemned.
In the worst cases, such material is simply not allowed.
This discouraging or forbidding of outside sources can lead to tight control of information and eventually isolation from society at large, as much information is deemed unholy or worldly and a danger.
Anything the leadership wants you to believe is allowed. Anything that doesn't support the leader's position or perspective is discouraged or banned. If it is something harmful to the image of the church, no matter how accurate or useful, it is kept from members. In some cults, only certain translations of the Bible are allowed. In others, only “correct” interpretations of scripture are tolerated. In some groups any information not originating from the headquarters is deemed unsafe.

When you hear pastors or leaders complaining about "murmuring" or "gossip" in an abusive church, it can sometimes be nothing more than fear that reliable information unfavorable to the leadership is leaking out. Some leaders will actually use the pulpit to denounce the free flow of information, but they will call it something negative and preach against it.
How does this start? How does this control over others’ lives and minds begin?
With a desire to control. It may perhaps at first be only a healthy desire to keep doctrine pure – but control over information and thoughts escalates and gets out of hand.
Sometimes it begins as a shortcut to keep the hassles from members to a minimum. Innocent beginnings, but they can lead to tragic endings.

Image, image, image

Milieu Control is strongly related to another red flag: Image Consciousness. Abusive churches are concerned about image. Sometimes, image is everything. This church has a vision superior to other churches. To preserve that lofty status, anything negative must be quashed immediately, even if it is true. If a leader is caught in sin, the sin is quickly swept under the rug. If many members have left, no one is allowed to talk about it. The church “represents Christ to the community” and you can’t let the public know that the church has a problem or people will think Christ does. This is COMMON practice in abusive churches and is close to idolatry, equating the church, or church leaders, to Christ himself.

Shame, flattery and manipulation

Image Consciousness, in many abusive churches, leads to harsh treatment and manipulation of members. To keep negative information from leaking out of the body, members are sometimes shamed or spoken against -- sometimes from the pulpit. Ministries are whisked away from those who begin to ask questions, and ministries are used as rewards to “loyal” members who know how to keep quiet about the misdeeds of leaders, or who prove useful through slavish work or flattery of leaders. And in abusive groups, flattery goes both ways. Leaders know how to flatter selectively. They flatter those they can use. But they also shame. They will use flattery and shame very deftly to keep the image of the church polished and gleaming and to keep in total control.

Authoritarianism: I'm in control; You shut up

Another red flag is authoritarianism, the concentration of power in the hands of a few or sometimes even one person. That power can start out used well. The maxim “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” is especially true in churches. It corrupts leaders in different ways.

Two kinds of corruption

Some are lured by the financial aspects of power and begin to lavish on themselves gifts and luxuries. How does this happen? Possibly, these once godly leaders have sacrificed much over the course of their lives while watching other Christians live luxuriant lives. When the church begins to do well, they see this as a sign that it’s “their turn now,” that they deserve some blessings because they have served so long and so hard for very little. Soon, that feeling of dessert takes over and they feel entitled to more and more. Eventually some may even feel they deserve other men’s wives or multiple wives.

More dangerous, though, than leaders who fall to hedonistic ways are those who believe that because their vision for the church is unique, superior and direct from God that God’s mind and their mind are becoming fused. They soon begin to see their own actions as God’s. Anyone who opposes them is opposing God. When this happens, watch out! They won’t phrase it that way. They may not even realize what they are doing. They feel they have a special place as God’s best spokesperson. Because they are so special, they will steamroll over anyone in their way. Because they are anointed, they soon feel they have a role in rooting out imperfections among lesser Christians, and they can do it with gusto. 
Excellence, or legalism?

These leaders can become more than just haughty; they can become harsh and demanding. They look down on others around them and puff themselves up, all the while stressing the need for humility. They begin to practice a perfectionism that kills. It won’t be called perfectionism. It might be called “striving for excellence” or “pursuing a holy life” or “giving God His due.” It becomes legalism and it drains the life out of individuals and churches, as members try harder and harder to meet standards that become out-of-reach. While members are whipping themselves for failing to perform, the preaching will be on grace. While members are burdened and shackled to legalistic aims, the sermons will be on freedom. But members are not feeling free or forgiven. They are loaded down with guilt and work and feelings of failure.

Calling concern "divisiveness"

Another red flag is a false call to unity. When authoritarian pastors want to quell dissent, they label even legitimate questions “divisive.” You are interfering with the unity of the brethren if you raise issues of concern. This tactic ensures a lockstep, zombie-like following and cements the cult leader or abusive pastor into his place at the top. Who wants to be divisive? Who wants to cause trouble? Who wants to be spreading heresy or harboring a critical spirit or injecting division? (These are common phrases used against those expressing concerns about abusive leadership, and they serve as giant, fluttering red flags.) Most humble, sincere Christians concerned about wayward leadership will be cowed by such tactics. The abuses of the leader will continue unchecked.

When people slink out

The final red flag in this short overview is the telltale indication of trouble signaled by people leaving a congregation. If spiritual abuse is taking place, you might not catch on right away. People in manipulative groups will have been warned – subtly or otherwise – not to talk about church problems. They will be called weak or gossipers or immature if they mention why someone left. Those who leave also may suffer residual effects of controlling mechanisms in the church and say little about why they left.

If you notice an exodus of people from a congregation, it’s a sign to dig further and check for other signs of spiritual abuse.

These are just some of the roots of spiritual sickness to watch for in your congregation, but they seem the most common.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Provender search feature

Now, Provender has a search page that almost works. Because the main Provender site features a single blog post, listing all sources on spiritual abuse, it is hard to search for individual terms and items. Now, you can go to a page that has each, individual item as a separate post.CLICK HERE

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Model of Spiritually Abusive Language

If you could watch in slow motion and analyze how abusers manipulate, it would be enlightening. But when you are smack dab in a spiritually manipulative situation, sometimes the abuse happens so quickly that you don’t know what hit you. Every once in a while you catch a frozen glimpse of spiritual abuse in action. When it's in writing, it's easier to analyze. When it's in writing, it is inscribed in cement. You can take your time and actually see how the abuser is abusing.

The blog comments below (in bolded type) - from a few web sites I’ve been following - serve as freeze-frame examples of typical spiritually abusive techniques, so I thought I’d use them as an analytical tool. (My observations are in green type.)

The following comments were posted on a blog that tries to shed light on questionable practices in a large, influential church in Florida. Below the first set of comments are comments from a blog giving the story of a member hurt by a church/Bible college fiefdom in Canada.

In the first case, a blogger pointed out suspect practices and was kicked out of church. I am not so much concerned with the case itself as with the language used in these blog comments.

The writers of the comments may have no clue that the arguments they use are right out of the spiritual abuse playbook. They may think they are doing service to God. In any case, the arguments are a handy tool for those interested in examining the topic of spiritual abuse because they reflect so many spiritually abusive tactics, all in one place:

Well, there you go again, attacking an honest God-fearing, God-anointed, and God-appointed minister of the Gospel.

Notice the characterizing of what is said in opposition to a church leader as an “attack.” This is common with spiritual abusers and their helpers. The leader elicits sympathy by characterizing criticism as an attack. By drawing followers into a circle-the-wagons mentality, the persecution complex these leaders often exhibit can spread to the whole congregation.. Soon, it’s not just the leader, but the whole group that feels "under attack." (See Rick Ross, 10 signs regarding people in a relationship with a potentially unsafe group leader)
Also, the writer assumes without question that ministers are automatically “God-appointed.” We are to believe this without hesitation because title alone is what gives a church leader authority.
The commenter implies that ministers should never be contradicted, and this is an indication of authoritarianism, where position alone equals authority and authority is not to be questioned.
Click here for a discussion on authoritarianism in the church. Also check out cult expert Rick Ross’s list of what makes an unsafe group leader. Look at the first two items especially.

Yes, I now know your argument quite well and have read enough of your other posts to have the clear picture of you as somebody that just wants to spread fear and doubt

When abusive leaders or their followers are confronted with legitimate questions about their actions, they quickly turn to ad hominem. They will start listing your faults so that you will be too busy defending yourself to remember what you were saying about their actions.
Abusive pastors and their henchmen also like to pretend they can know your heart and motives. By pretending this, they wrap themselves in a robe of power and mystery.

and not accept the fact that God is in control and has the ultimate authority over all church matters. If God is giving Dr. ___________ such a message to seminary students there must be a reason for it, such as the real existence of antagonism and dissent based on an uncooperative spirit

Simply delivering a sermon does not mean God is behind it. Abusers want you to believe that the leader is a spokesman for God at all times.
Uncooperative spirit, critical spirit, unteachable spirit: these are all names that spiritual abusers call those who stand up to abuse. We have seen this many times in various cases of

that determines to undermine God's will and disrupt His work by focusing on trivial things.

Undermining the pastor’s will is equated to undermining God’s will in abusive churches.

In a world of many unsaved people that need the Gospel, where there are diseases, famines, natural disasters, abortions, and unspeakable crimes, do you think that God is concerned about the size of the office suite that our Pastor has?

God has the number of hairs on our head counted. He cares about every bird that falls. He cares about everything. He especially cares about those who are prey to the powerful. Supporters of abusive pastors like to divert attention AWAY from abusive behavior.
Uncovering and Facing Spiritual Abuse by Barnabas Ministry lists several ways supporters do this. Look especially at the section called Diverting Attention. In this case, the commenter took one portion of the blogger’s concerns and magnified it out of proportion, then tried to knock down that “straw man” argument, among other tactics.

Do you truly believe that God would consider it wrong for a pastor to warn future pastors about the high probability of enduring persecution?

Many abusive pastors will contact the new pastor of an expelled victim to slander him or give a negative report. Here, the supporter excuses this behavior at the same time charging persecution. Here is the very favorite P word, “persecution.” Spiritual abusers and their Yes-men resort to this charge constantly when facing scrutiny. Anything that might call them to account is automatically labeled “persecution.” Check out Persecution Complex in the article Abusive Churches by Pat Zukeran

In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul wrote, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." I believe this verse proves that Dr. __________ is on the right track and in God's will,

Using this verse in a such a twisted way upholds a common fallacy: Cats are soft. My slipper is soft. My slipper must be a cat. That is the logic used here. The Bible says godly people suffer persecution. The abusive pastor suffers “persecution.” Therefore, the abusive pastor is godly. Invalid syllogysm.

for he is obviously facing persecution. It's very dismaying to know that it's coming from within the church and that it has no substantial basis on which to defend itself. Oh, go ahead, call me naive and gullible again for thinking that way. If believing in the Bible and trusting in God's sovereignty is naive and gullible, I'll be happy to be those things.

Two manipulative tactics here. One, becoming the "suffering servant," defenders of abusive groups portray themselves as suffering, or hardworking or unloved. Supporters view their abusive pastors in that way and present them that way. It is an attempt to elicit sympathy and support for their leader. Another common attribute of spiritually abusive churches is scripture twisting. Torturing the scriptures to support your view, and especially to negate someone else’s view, can seem noble and holy, but it is a dreadful thing to do with scripture. Check out the article, Twisting Scriptures a sample chapter from Mary Alice Chrnalogar’s book Twisted Scriptures from the site Stop Spiritual Abuse.

Don't you think that questioning the man of God and hence, God's wisdom and providence, fall into the category of dangerous ground?

This question alone reeks of spiritually abusive practice. First, the writer assumes the abusive pastor is a man of God and the blogger isn’t. Second, the writer deifies the pastor by equating questioning him to questioning God. Third, the writer includes a veiled threat: You’re on dangerous ground questioning the pastor.

It reminds me of the phrase, "play with fire and get burned." Who are we to question our Almighty God who, as I said before, could and would bring about change if He deemed it necessary?

Everything that happens, even spiritual abuse, must be God’s will because if it wasn’t, He would change it. Misuse of logic. Under this principle, God must wish for elderly women to get mugged and African babies to starve, simply because it happens and God is in charge of everything.

Your complaints and those of your band of anonymous supporters are based on things that wouldn't be seen by looking at the big picture.

Another spiritual abuse tactic is to let victims know that they don’t have the big picture like the abuser does. They must trust in their abusive leader to have the correct view of things. (See p. 113 of Ken Blue’s Healing Spiritual Abuse)

They especially wouldn't be seen if we had our focus on the up-look and not on what's around us. As Hebrews 12:2 suggests, we need to keep our focus on Jesus! That's the main point!

While no one would dispute that the focus should be on Jesus, many would disagree on where the distraction is coming from. “Move along, don’t look too closely. The problem is YOU.” That is a common ploy of spiritually abusive leaders. It’s called “turning the tables”) See Rest Ministries’ article on Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse: Manipulation and read the “Turning the Tables” section.

If and when we wander away from that, we will certainly stumble and yield to the devil.

Confronting abuse in the church is now equated to “yielding to the devil.” One hallmark of spiritually abusive groups is a preoccupation with Satan and his work, according to Ron Enroth in this article on Apologetics Index.

Getting stressed out about the size of our Pastor's house and how he acquired land is not the result of staying focused on Jesus.

If you’re focused on Jesus you won’t care about corruption in the church, I guess. You can only do one: Focus on Jesus or question corrupt practices. You can’t do both. This is called “false dichotomy” and is another logical fallacy.

Neither is complaining about what he says about his church when preaching to other groups. Pastors have been known to use examples in their sermons. That is all he is doing. Perhaps, sad as it may in fact be, there is truth in what he says. Maybe our church has gotten more legalistic and needs to amend its ways. On his mission trips, the Apostle Paul certainly talked to one church about the issues and ways of other churches. It's obviously not wrong for a pastor to refer to his church when preaching elsewhere.

Deliberately mischaracterizing the statements of another is dishonest. The blogger was not complaining that the pastor addressed another church or used examples. Here, the dishonest characterization is used to shame the blogger. Using shame to silence critics is a hallmark of abusive churches and cults. (See the Watchman Expositor’s Elements of Spiritual Abuse.)

If there had been computers and blogs in Old Testament times, I think people would have complained about Joshua and his command to march around the walls of Jericho for seven days!

That some people in the past might have complained about righteous biblical leaders says nothing about whether a current leader is right or wrong, abusive or healthy. The attempt to condemn those who bring concerns about present abuse and compare them to murmurers in Old Testament times is a common abusive tactic. (See Scripture Twisting in Manipulation on Rest Ministries web site.) Whistleblowers are sometimes charged with "undermining the pastor," "Absalom syndrome," or "Jezebel syndrome."

There must have been some serious murmuring and doubt on display. Good thing it didn't stop Joshua. Moses encountered plenty of friction from his followers, yet he was still blessed by God and able to do great things!

Equating the authority of Moses to pastors is another common manipulative technique used by spiritual abusers. Moses was called to lead the Israelites, and God gave miracles through him to stamp His approval on him. Abusive leaders today often want to dress themselves in the authority of Moses without any sign of God’s approval. (See the Authoritarianism section in the article The Bible and Spiritual Abuse.)

Let's keep our focus on Jesus

No one on the blog was saying to stop looking on Jesus. I can certainly see the Pharisees telling Jesus to stop overturning tables and “Focus on God.” Again, this is simply a call for the blogger to stop looking at troubles and voicing concerns. Move on. Look the other way. It’s not godly to pay attention. (See Stephen Martin’s The Heresy of Mind Control, p. 92 in a section called Creating Guilt to Suppress Thought. To access the book you must click on the link at the bottom of Martin's page where it says: To read more about this subject ….)

and not allow circumstantial things to bother us and slow us down in our quest to bring honor to Him and be more like Him! Let's pray for our pastor

Another false dichotomy. The commenter suggests you can’t bring up concerns with the church and pray for the pastor at the same time. Who says the blogger isn’t already praying for the pastor?

and offer encouragement,
If corruption is involved, encouragement is not what the blogger should be doing,

help, and a positive attitude that promotes unity

another common manipulative technique seen in spiritually abusive situations is to equate unity with going along with the abuser’s agenda. Oppose the abuser and you are causing “disunity.” See the Group Leveraging section of Manipulation on Rest Ministries.

and preparation to achieve things for God and His Kingdom!

Purifying the church from abusive or corrupting influences and authoritarianism might very well be achieving things for God. Abusive pastors believe that the only godly achievements are those done for the glory of pastor or group. See Narcissism in the Pulpit.

Another blog I’ve been following more recently deals with spiritually abusive behavior at a church and Bible college in Canada. Comments defending abuse and abusers are very telling and many fit right into the same patterns mentioned in the first part of this post. Others reveal techniques not mentioned above. Again, the comments from the blog are in bolded type; my comments are in green.

You can't leave people alone can you? The Bible has allot to say about people like you.(gossips busybodies, etc.)

Here, you see the technique of “turning the tables,” pointing to the sins or crimes of the victim rather than dealing with the abuse as a topic. Notice the “gossip” charge, such a common charge used in abusive churches against those raising questions and issues.

The (church) must be doing something Great for the LORD. Because that the only reason Satan would be attacking the Church and it's leadership. this hard.

It's just Sad to see all these so called "Christians" leading the attack. I think Laura And all her Supporters will hang their heads in Shame at the judgment.

Another faulty syllogism. The commenter believes that the church is being attacked by Satan. (See "Common Threads", The second item is an increased emphasis on the role of demons in Ron Enroth's "Voices from the Fringe") 

The commenter states it as fact that Satan is attacking this particular church. He does not allow any other possibility to explain the discomfort of the leadership.  Then, he posits that because Satan is attacking the church it is proof that the church is doing great things for God.  
   Although all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, it doesn’t follow that all who suffer persecution are living godly in Christ Jesus. Further, there is a threat at the end: If you support the victim, you will be shamed at the Judgment.

It was never about her telling her "story"
it was about her getting back at her father.
she's not reaching out, she's lashing out.
It all makes sense now.

Spiritual abusers and their henchmen often impute motives onto victims to explain away honest questions regarding abusive leadership. “Revenge” is one motive of many. Bitterness is another common motive. Anger another. Rather than a true evaluation of the behavior of leadership, something that a healthy church would initiate after hearing of dissatisfaction among the faithful, abusers turn outward and invent motives to justify the continued abuse.

If everything you said against (the church) were true, you are still GRAVELY WRONG in your attitude and wisdom in handling it. You have every rite to take all your DEFINATE PROOF to be heard by the deacons                   

Sometimes spiritual abusers detour around the issue itself and attack the means of bringing matters up for consideration. The abuser will claim that victims didn’t go in an orderly fashion along all the steps of Matthew 18, or that they didn’t do A, B or C. Often, victims do try to confront a leader personally but get nowhere. When victims are told to “see the elders,” frequently the elders are spiritual snipers, bouncers, or personal body guards of the pastor and not functioning in a true elder role in a church. Their job is to make sure that no unpleasantness comes before the big cheese.
    When a sincere member comes with his list of questions, he quickly is made into a villain or sent on a longer detour or told to pray about the matter. He won’t be allowed to advance along the Matthew 18 route or any other route.    Later, when he tries to “tell it to the church” because he has been deflected a number of times from the proper paths, he is accused of going about things the wrong way.
    Sometimes, the pastor will meet with the victim but only in a room bulging with yes-men supporters who will come down like a hammer on the head of anyone bringing to the light of day questionable, unbiblical or unethical behaviors of the leadership.
    Frequently, victims who have watched as others are deflected or crushed, know that it is fruitless to even attempt a personal encounter with the pastor because the system is set up to prevent accountability. These victims learn vicariously that they cannot engage the non-engageable and they thus slink out or try other equally fruitless methods.
    After being ejected, deflected or rejected by church leadership, victims are further insulted by being blamed for going about things the wrong way!
Sounds like you have an issue with submission

    Of all the techniques spiritual abusers use, blaming the victim for being “unsubmissive” is one of the most ironic. Christians are to submit one to another, and to submit to secular authorities rather than cause trouble in the empire. But spiritual abusers turn these passages into a peons-will-submit-to-the-high-pastor command. Rarely is the pastor in submission to anyone other than himself.
    Sometimes, he will surround himself with sychophants whose positions and income depend on his pleasure and who cannot hold him accountable without endangering their livelihood.
    Occasionally, he will purposely use men too afraid to oppose him when he is unbiblical or unethical, though they do not depend on him financially. They know the power he holds and have seen him destroy others. They are not about to speak up and bring his wrath on their own heads. 

       So these abusive pastors are largely lone rangers, accountable to no one, yet they accuse their victims of being unsubmissive. They can get away with it because most of their victims ARE the submissive, humble kind who don’t speak up until they absolutely must. Often, they have served and served and served, sacrificially and at great cost, with very little thank or reward except for occasional scraps of flattery. So a charge of being unsubmissive hurts them deeply, and the pastor knows it.

bitter people anonymously gathering in large masses on the web, hiding behind their own presumptuous little hurt feelings trying to salve their stinky consciences.

The bitterness charge is so common that there are few abusive church leaders who don’t use this word in describing their victims. No one wants to be called bitter, so it’s an effective label. It is like the bully who kicks the kid with glasses, and when he cries in pain calls him a “crybaby.” It is a thin membrane between church-inflicted pain and bitterness, and pain can indeed become bitterness under the right conditions. You will find many anti-Christian web sites started by those damaged in abusive churches. So those using broad brushes can inflict more pain by deliberately confusing the two concepts.

One thing abusive church leaders hate is anonymity of those who expose their practices. Abusers sometimes go to great lengths to expose anonymous critics. The Internet helps churches call to account malevolent leaders who, in an earlier day, would have been able to maim and destroy families without any check at all on their abuses. You can see how this new element of constraint irritates would-be dictators by comments such as those above. Characterizing members who have been trampled as presumptuous and trivializing their victims’ reaction to spiritual tyranny as “hurt feelings” shows a pitiable lack of empathy so characteristic of abusive church leaders, especially those suffering from NPD.

The methods in these comments are used to shame and humiliate, to divert attention from the leader and onto the questioner, to confuse and silence critics with convoluted logic. These methods are common. You will see them in most spiritually abusive churches and groups. At the very least, this exercise gets you more familiar with many great sources on spiritual abuse.


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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse. It can happen in big churches and small. It can happen in churches that at first seem sound, biblical or healthy. Certain signatures define spiritual abuse: authoritarian leadership, claims that the group or leaders have a special calling or gifts, inability of leaders to handle criticism, harsh treatment of those who question or try to leave. These are just a few. Though the manifestation of abuse differs in externals, underneath are similar traits, repeated in abusive groups. Become familiar with spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and you will soon see how these leaders manipulate and control.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

What's happening to my church?

A message to culty group defenders

Cult Next Door posted this excellent response to those culty-group defenders -- who lambaste victims on blogs exposing spiritual abuse. These folks see nothing wrong with the abusive leader, defend the hurtful practices and blame the one exposing the tactics. They needle victims, and pile on blame. They excuse the harm of abusers, and belittle the pain of victims. Provender wishes every blog on spiritual abuse would have a little message like this for these folks.

Sometimes, they apologize

Every once in a while, church leaders in these situations apologize. A Florida blogger, FBCWatchdog, was kicked out of church and given trespass warning documents after being outed as a church blogger critic, and later was branded a "sociopath" by the pastor of his large, Florida church, in the local paper. The blogger eventually brought suit. After the ruling (and likely as part of the settlement), the pastor publicly apologized. There is much more to the story, but these are the highlights.

Using words to manipulate

It can be subtle, or it can hit you head on. When spiritual abusers are cornered, certain techniques crop up again and again. Here are some samples.

What does elitism have to do with spiritual abuse?

Does your church think it's special? What does it think of other churches? Elitism is a big sign your church or group could be spiritually dangerous. CLICK HERE for more

Misusing Scripture to Abuse

Check out The Cult Next Door's interview with Provender on twisting scriptures.

Stories of abuse and survival

Links to stories of spiritual abuse:

She had to choose between church or daughter

When he wanted to move out of state, the pastor of this Kansas UPC church said he'd be going "down, down, down."

This cult church made a virtual slave of one blogger -- 15 years of misery

What is it like to lose your son to a spiritually abusive church? One mother's story.

Her husband gave up law practice to give his all to church, and the whole family ended up shunned by order of the leadership.

Cruel stepfather is also pastor of a California "Bible-based" church (a Calvary Chapel). His children suffered beatings meted out by this pastor/stepdad. Church leaders would not disassociate themselves, only minimize and cover up the pastor/dad's violence.

This pastor said God gave instructions on how to roll and fold toilet paper properly. Soon the TP police were on the job Also, edicts on not smashing pennies!

They told her terrible things would happen if she left, and no other church would help her.

The man behind the curtain

Church blogger critic experiences wrath of abusers (including fake letter-of-resignation sent to employer) and major harassment with few attempts by church leaders to stop the abuse.

Caught in a Bible-based cult for 13 years

Holey coverups

Abusive voices remained in her head after she left the cultish group

A good blog on spiritual abuse, and some great links in the sidebar also.

This sad story includes 15 signs of abuse

This woman left the frying pan of one cult for the fire of another

Parents of woman who cut off baby's arms blame pastor 's influence for taking her to the edge

College senior trapped in abusive group for years finally escapes

Many, many stories mostly from UPC members

An SGM pastoral intern finds leaving isn't all that easy

When husband beat her after worship service, this mom sought help from church only to be abused further

Hedged in at her Canadian Baptist college, this young women had few places to turn, but managed to survive.

When humility is not humility

After divorcing for verbal abuse, this woman was disfellowshiped from a Baptist church with a message on a large screen in front of the church that read: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A CHILD OF GOD

His family chose the elders and shunned him

"Untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone"

Abusive pastor destroys congregation he was "called" to serve

Check main site

Make sure to check out the main Provender site

Contact Provender

If you have found an especially helpful site on spiritual abuse, please email Provender and we'll see about adding it. If you need to tell your story, you can also email Provender. We'll always keep your story confidential unless you wish to post it in the case studies section.

Also, if you notice broken links on this site, please contact Provender: Click Here

Featured link: The Web of Narcissism

Provender's guest posts

A Sense of Futility on Quivering Daughters blog

Spiritual Abuse is Hidden Trauma on The Cult Next Door blog

Are you covering your pastor's nakedness?

In Predators in the Pulpit, Chris Efinda discusses the covering nakedness doctrine. Enablers of spiritual abuse justify cover-ups of abusive pastors using this pseudo-scriptural approach. Efinda says that the spiritual "sons" of abusive leaders feel that hiding the wrongdoing of abusive pastors becomes a divine test of their own faithfulness. If you are acting as a go-between, or "filtering" what comes from your pastor and to make it seem more acceptable to others, are you trying to cover your pastor's nakedness? It's very likely.

Also see, Are You Covering for a Spiritually Abusive Pastor

A word from Ezekiel

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."

Ezekiel 34:1-6

A message to abusive pastors from Jeremiah 23

Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD. ...

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the LORD.

... for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

They say still to those who despise me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

...I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

...I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the LORD.

Is not my word like as a fire? says the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jeremiah 23

Tell your story

The Cult Next Door blog invites those who have been spiritually abused to tell their stories. This can be a healthy exercise for victims of abuse, especially those living under a "can't talk" rule.

Follow the leader, but with care

An editorial on how easy it is to fall into the trap of following dangerous leaders.

Search Here

To search Provender (or to see the latest additions to Provender), CLICK HERE

Order of Posts

I like to keep the list of helpful sites on Spiritual Abuse at or near the top because providing links to the best resources on this topic is the main purpose of this blog. If a post seems to disappear, you can usually find it below the first post.

Psalms for the Oppressed

A glimpse into life under the thumb of controlling church

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel by Shari Howerton details life under the thumb of an oppressive church.

Spiritually abused woman needs prayer, help

How they use words to manipulate and abuse

Spiritual Abuse Quote of the Month

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning...Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology. -- Step 5 of MargaretSinger's Six Conditions for Thought Reform, found on ICSA

Covering and Manipulation

Two sites I want to emphasize:
The site Covering and Authority ends up buried and hard to find because it was a late discovery, so I thought I'd make a handy sidebar link to this page on the concept of covering or theology of covering. This site includes many scriptural references refuting the idea of human responsibility for the sins and behavior of others.

Also, a Rest Ministries page on manipulation and spiritual abuse disappeared when Geocities closed its sites in October. Before it disappeared, I preserved part of it and now have it linked HERE. This site exposed, in vivid detail, techniques abusers use to get followers to do their bidding. Very insightful

Additional resources

Dr. Barb Orlowski has provided these additional resources she came across in the course of her research. Thanks, Dr. Orlowski.


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