The following is adapted from:
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse
by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
As Summarized by Clete Hux
There are seven characteristics which can be found in most spiritually abusive systems:
The leaders spend a lot of time focusing on their own authority and reminding others of it as well. This is a necessary trait in such a system because their spiritual authority isn’t real or genuine so it has to be postured if there is to be any. The leader subtly replaces Christ or God over one’s conscience. A church leader or pastor might say: “In this flock, I’m the chief shepherd!” Such an attitude really assumes the place reserved only for the King of Kings. Christ is the Chief Shepherd and the head of the church. Unhealthy, authoritative leadership encourages people to put their leaders on a pedestal. This type of leader is eager to place people under them and under their word, under their authority.
In an abusive spiritual system, those running such a system will be preoccupied with the performance of their members: worthiness = performance (often perfectionism).This system doesn’t really foster holiness or obedience to God, it merely accommodates the leaders’ interpretation of spirituality and his/her need for control. “Out of context, obedience to leaders looks like good theology. Add the larger context and you will see that it is only appropriate to obey and submit to leadership when their authority is from God and their stance is consistent with His” (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, p. 66). It is not to be lorded over them.
These are rules which govern unhealthy churches or families but are not formally stated or written. Since they are not spoken verbally, you do not find out that the rule(s) exist until you have broken one.The unspoken rule may come across like this: Do not disagree with the church authorities, especially the pastor, or your loyalty will be suspect. Silence becomes the fortress wall of protection, shielding the pastor’s power position from scrutiny or challenge. Of the unspoken rules, the “can’t talk” rule is probably the most powerful. The thinking of this rule is: The real problem can not be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change, so it must be protected behind walls or silence (neglect or by assault, legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated. A good example of this “can’t talk” rule would be the phrase, “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” According to John Avanzini, Dr. Walter Martin (a cult apologetic expert) died because he spoke out against some of the Word-Faith teachers and their messages (John Avanzini with Paul Crouch, Spring 1990 Praise-a-thon, broadcast on Trinity Broadcast Network).Speaking up or against spiritual abuse is not the problem. The real problem is if a Christian who feels violated stops talking, then the perpetrator will never be held accountable for his behavior.
Lack of Balance
Many times this characteristic shows up in one extreme or another in trying to live out the truth of Christian life. The first extreme is that of extreme objectivism, which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. This can be seen in those whose religious systems theologically acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s work but on a practical level appears to ignore Him. All too often this type of extreme limits God to act only those ways we can explain or understand. The second extreme is that of extreme subjectivism, which is deciding what is true based upon feelings and experiences rather than what the Bible teaches. In such a system, people are led to believe that they cannot understand Scriptural truths until the leaders receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord and impart them to the people.
When the church or family is spiritually abusive, there will be a sense (spoken or unspoken) that “others will not understand what we’re about so let’s not let them know, that way they won’t be able to ridicule or persecute us.”In such a system persecution-sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. The reason is that the evil, dangerous or unspiritual people outside the system are trying to weaken or destroy “us.” They go on to say, “This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, making it more difficult for people to leave because they will then be outside too.”
In a spiritually abusive system, a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded, loyalty, not to Christ but to an organization, church or leader. Because authority is assumed or legislated, and therefore not real, following must be legislated as well. Included in this is the attitude that “we alone are right,” something the leadership projects. So many groups have this in common. When Hobart Freeman began Faith Assembly (not associated with the Assemblies of God) loyalty to him and his teachings were to be accepted without question.
In such a spiritually abusive system, manipulation certainly takes place, especially in the area of dating and marriage. [Some] leaders of groups keep members in check by forbidding them to date [or controlling whom they may date and when and for how long, and whom they may marry].
There is no reason to hide what is appropriate, only what is inappropriate. When you see people in a religious system being secretive, WATCH OUT!Perhaps one reason spiritually abusive families and churches are secretive is because they are so image conscious. People in these systems cannot even live up to their own performance standards so they have to hide what is real.
Taken from Clete Hux’s adaptation, Posted on: 05/01/2003
Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics