[Below is an excerpt from my more detailed post defining spiritual abuse. If you are a survivor looking for a safe, healing community, click here.]

Spiritual abuse is misusing God’s name. It is claiming the intentions and character of God are behind the thing that men and women are wrongly doing.

Physical abuse involves hurting the body of another without just cause. Emotional abuse involves manipulating the emotional life of another without just cause. Spiritual abuse can involve both of these. But the ingredient necessary for spiritual abuse is that God is evoked as the reason for the abuse.

When a pastor emotionally manipulates people into volunteering with a passive aggressive attitude, this is emotional abuse. When he implies that this volunteering is a spiritual thing, that God is pleased with it, then this is spiritual abuse.

When a parent uses force to punish their child in an abusive way, that is physical abuse. When the parent claims God wants it that way, or recites bible verses while doing it, that is spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse shows up in all shapes and sizes, in subtle and overt ways. It may silence women on one hand and give to abnormal spanking on the other. Or it may simply erode a faith with disapprovals, requirements, and shame from “God’s community.”

Jeanne au bûcherWhen Catholics or Protestants were burned at the stake in the name of protestantism and catholicism, this was spiritual abuse of the highest order.

Persecution from secular authorities is not spiritual abuse. Persecution from religious authorities is.

Whenever anyone is dehumanized, it is abuse. Whenever anyone is dehumanized in the name of God, it is spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is crafty. Sometimes the spiritual abuser knows he’s abusing. He’s manipulating to keep his power. He is using God’s name to control people for his own ends. European kings were often guilty of this, using God for their political edge. A friend’s church has recently taken a pastor to court because the pastor, after embezzling, was trying to sell the church building to cover his debts. The courts have now frozen the assets to investigate.

Other times the spiritual abuser does not know he’s abusing. Just like a deeply co-depenendent spouse or a passive-aggressive parent does not know they are manipulating and functioning in unhealthy ways, so many spiritual abusers have no clue they are hurting others in God’s name.

Not all spiritual abusers are bad people. They believe, promote, and practice detrimental lies they believe to be true.

The most devastating ways spiritual abuse takes place is in twisting one’s views of God, his love and holiness, and of who we are as humans–without knowing it is happening!

When these are twisted, even if the user has the most sincerest intentions, even if he or she rises at 4am every morning to pray for three hours, even if this person scatters bible verses through his sermon and bible studies like a sower over fresh dirt, twisted doctrines produce twisted seeds of spiritual abuse.

What makes spiritual abuse so deadly? Because it obscures who God is and who we are. When someone is physically abused, they may have God to cry out to, like Jenny in Forrest Gump. But when someone has sufffered the abuse as if it were from God himself, where do they go? Who do they pray to? What higher power is available to help them? The Bible they read has been re-interpreted and poisoned against them. They cannot see the loving God. They see only a evil twisted view of him through the lens of an abused scripture and abusive community. Where do they go then? Like Huckleberry Finn, they may simply decide the only way up is down. Hell is perceived as the only relief. Spiritual abuse is damned and seeks to damn the image of God.

 If you are a survivor looking for a safe, healing community, click here.

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