(Lisa Robinson)

Anyone who knows me, knows my disdain for spiritual abuse.  Unfortunately, it comes in many forms, ranging from subtle to severe.   Instead of nurturing the flock of God in a culture of grace, spiritual abuse involves control, manipulation, and victimization in a culture of shame and demands. It typically involves an us vs. them mentality that spurns those who are not “in”.   It exhausts wounded and worn out sheep under the guise of Christian solidarity instead of showing them to rest in Christ and his all sufficient sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10-14).  I am no psychologist, but I do wonder if spiritual abuse occurs because of deflected shame that demands perfection in external circumstances in order to compensate.  That can result in a prideful demand to satisfy unreasonable and self-focused lusts for power and external presentation.  It is the opposite of Jesus commands to Peter to feed His sheep and serve the body by example so that the body grows itself up in love (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Ephesians 4:11-16).  Spiritual abuse is not love or loving.

Fellow DTS Student Steve Smith has a wonderful blog, Liberty for Captives., which is devoted to addressing spiritual abuse. He is half-way through an 8 part series entitled Eight Ways to Identify Religious Brainwashing.

Part 1: Milieu Control

Part 2: Mystical Manipulation

Part 3: The Demand for Purity

Part 4:  The Cult of Confession

Part 5:  The “Sacred Science”

Part 6:  Loading the Language

Part 7: Doctrine Over Person

Part 8:  The Dispensing of Existence

So far it has been a rich series and I look forward to the rest. I highly recommend checking out this series and his site.

“Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

Follow me on Twitter @theochick



C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    10 replies to "Shedding Spiritual Abuse"

    • Susan

      I have seen a lot of spiritual abuse in the past couple of years but most of it was more subtle than what is described in his blogs, which are more about cults. It is interesting though to have witnessed a long-time fluid slide into the overt abuses of the past year. The thread running through it was deception/lying and despising on the part of leadership toward members who showed any sign of disagreement with the teaching. As you point out, there was an obvious lack of love and the ‘those who are IN and those who are OUT’ culture has been in place for a long time. Many found that it didn’t take much to go from being IN to suddenly finding oneself OUT. To even humbly ask the pastor a question about something he taught was to risk instant, complete shunning by him and those who surround him. I was one of many who were black-listed. An elder friend told us that all 35? elders (in a church of 800) were instructed to report back if they heard anyone express concern or disagreement with what was being taught. I now realize that that is why I noticed a marked change in attitude toward me by so many leading men at the church after I began to speak with top leaders about my concerns.

      Last year the abuses became much more open. Members were threatened with public discipline if they didn’t sign onto a list of twisted false accusations. These accusations were usually half-truths…which were ultimately lies. The pastors and executive elder board called this “Matt. 12 reconciliation”. If the named person did not sign on in agreement to their fabricated list of accusations they were defamed from the pulpit and excommunicated. The first woman this happened to was the long-time leader of the women’s Bible study. She had done no wrong, but after a number of people came to her and expressed concern about the pastor’s teaching she prayerfully went to an associate pastor to discuss it with him. She was marked from that day. The leadership was lying in wait…

    • dude abideth

      It really hurts to see the term “spiritual abuse” thrown around without being defined specifically or more importantly, being defined by Scripture (explicitly or implicitly with explanation).

      I have seen my old pastor hurt greatly by unfounded accusations, literally “diabolos” as Jesus used it.

      As anyone who has been falsely accused of something knows, false accusations are one of the most destructive things one can face, and bring oodles of (undeserved) shame. Even worse, when miscommunication or half-truths occur—nearly impossible to sort through with our own subjectivity intact.

      I plan on reading the links you sent, so thank you.

      But, please for the LOVE OF JESUS AND HIS BRIDE, let’s use these terms responsibly.

    • mbaker

      I would define spiritual abuse in person and on line as somewhat different, yet the same in some respects, that it involves ignoring the other person’s point of view. or demeaning it. In extreme cases it involves either punishment or ostracizing. On line, I would say that any disagreement from the author’s blog could be defined as that the author is super sensitive to any disagreement, and that the folks who gang up to support the author or pastor’s popular opinion themselves, out of personal loyalty, are perhaps the most guilty. This happens a lot unfortunately, and too often skews the real spiritual issues.

      So, I think we have to be careful in what we call ‘spiritual abuse’ as opposed to simply defending our friends, favorite teachers, or churches for that matter, that it just doesn’t have a hidden component out of personal loyalty on our part, but is genuinely real spiritual abuse in the eyes of the Lord. I think we so often miss that point whether in church or on-line.

    • Ed Kratz

      Mbaker, I didn’t even think about the on-line perspective. But I don’t think that is applicable to what I’m addressing here. I think spiritual abuse can really only happen in the context of church authority and the misuse of pastoral authority. I should have specified that.

    • mbaker

      Lisa, |

      I don’t fully agree but would be most open to hearing your reasons why.

      As I said, I do think there is a difference and to be totally fair, I do think we have more of a chance of avoiding it by avoiding the offending websites. Yet it still can be the same thing if the website has a one-sided opinion, where those who disagree are considered spiritual outcasts. I think we need to address both.

    • Ed Kratz

      Mbaker, I just don’t see where there can be spiritual abuse unless it involves authority. That’s what makes it “spiritual” abuse because it involves submitting to spiritual leadership who are responsible for feeding flock. There has to be some kind of requirement for submission, which doesn’t exist in on an on-line situation. Blogging is just blogging. Know one answers to anyone nor are they responsible for other people. While there may be verbal abuse from people who act like jerks, its not the same thing. There are some blogs I avoid for this very reason.

    • mbaker


      So you don’t think spiritual abuse can be in the form of Christian brothers and sisters who are not submitted to each other’s authority making life miserable for each other? I have seen this go on too many times in churches, Bible studies and other ministries where folks might disagree on doctrine or procedures and who turn on those who disagree with them or have others gang up against them to isolate them. Some of these people would never recover from the bullying, and so would never again volunteer for anything or otherwise participate in any kind of Christian group.

      I never allowed such abuse to go on very long in my prayer ministry, no matter who started it, but knew plenty of pastors, and leaders who wouldn’t get involved in such disputes at all. Thus there was a lot more spiritual abuse going on between the brothers and sisters than there should have been, had the authorities themselves chosen to intervene. From the tales I hear unfortunately that doesn’t seem to have changed much since I retired.

    • Kay

      I was experiencing spiritual abuse before I had a computer or even knew there was such a thing as spiritual abuse. I thought that I was possibly only one of the very few.

      However, I am now amazed by the number of people who have been affected. I would call it an epidemic.

      I have been gathering information for almost 40 years as I searched for a church to call home. I am now convinced that what we are seeing today is part of the end time apostasy Paul warned about in 2 Thess. 2. It is in fact an attack on the family and the Church…a form of Christian persecution.

      False doctrines regarding submission are conditioning church goers to get used to responding to man’s hierarchy instead of the preeminence of Jesus Christ and His Word.

      The attack is first focused on the most vulnerable and dependent–the women and children–as men are being seduced and taken captive through the idea of replacing responsibility with authority.

      Pornography is also playing a huge part in this.

    • Barb Orlowski

      Hi Everyone,

      You might be interested in my doctoral research on spiritual abuse and recovery. It is a dysfunction in the Body of Christ. Raising awareness is important.

      My website is: http://www.ChurchExiters.com

      My book is: Spiritual Abuse Recovery; Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness.

      An abuse resource website is: http://www.AbuseResourceNetwork.com

    • Margaret

      Unpacking the Web of the Sovereign Grace Ministries Scandal
      MAY 27, 2014 BY DALE FINCHER

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