How Spiritual Abuse
I became convinced several years back that the true role of a Christian
was to become a professional lover.
What does "love" mean? It's more than the common concept of
and extends to the sacrifice and commitment required to keep a
alive. For further study, look at the Greek words for "love" used in
New Testament (there are many books on this topic).
What does "professional" mean? It means that loving
by God's definition
becomes our entire reason for being -- our profession, or trade, and
we need to keep our professional credentials alive by interacting with
other spiritually mature people in the same profession. In the case of
Christianity, part of the professional requirement is bringing other
into the business.
A major characteristic of "cults" is their
insistence on redefining
What is a Abusive
Countless books have been written on the topic of spiritual abuse. For
the purpose of this webpage, I'm choosing to draw from a book by David
Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen entitled The Subtle Power of
(Bethany House Publishers, 1991).
Spiritual abuse mixes our commitment with God with our
people (specifically religious people and religious organizations).
this alone helps us to be healthier and more loving people, individuals
who have the commitment hierarchy in order:
- First, commitment to the Lord
- Second, commitment to mate and family
Third, commitment to religious and other organizations
So the following chart shows in the left column what the
abusive point is, and the right column how it helps erode our
WARNING: If you are seriously looking and
studying this chart,
you may find some disturbing things about yourself and the people
you, and you may need to spend time in prayer or talking with mature
to have their input on whether or not your perception or interpretation
of situations is correct. Therefore, please do not make any hasty
based on initial emotions -- take time to think through whether or not
these qualities of spiritual abuse really do apply to your experiences,
and take time to interact with several spiritual mentors.
Spiritual Abuse Characteristic
Erosion to Our
Concept of Love
|"Shame-based Relationships" -- People learn to be or act
Shame is not the same as guilt, a constructive signal which is an
indication of wrong actions or attitudes. Shame is a destructive signal
about your personal worth, a belief or mindset that you are a bad and
person. (pp. 54-55) ||Shame induces feelings that
people are: |
Shame leads to spiritual isolation from what could be
spiritual interaction with other Christians.
not loved and accepted
not even lovable or acceptable
only loved and accepted if, when, or because they perform well
- not capable, valuable, or worthwhile
very alone, not really belonging anywhere, to anything, or with anyone
|"Performance Focus" -- With this focus, how people act is
than who they are or what is happening to them on the inside. (p. 56)
||Possible love damage: |
Perfectionism, or giving up without trying
Doing only those things you are good at (not trying new things)
- Failing to admit mistakes
Inability to have guilt-free fun
High need for approval by others
Living a double life
|"Idolatry" -- The "god" served by the shame-based
relationship is an
impossible-to-please judge, who obsesses on people's behavior from a
and is more concerned about appearance, how things look, what people
and where the power is. (p. 57) ||Possible love
Distortion of our relationship with the Lord
Inability to spiritually relate to true Christians
High anxiety built on other people's opinions
High need to control the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others in
order to gain a personal sense of peace.
|"Preoccupation with Fault and Blame"
-- Forgiveness and personal apology
are not enough when things go wrong -- people have to pay for their
and feel so defective and humiliated that they won't act that way
(p. 58) ||Possible love damage: |
Preoccupation with documenting past history and mistakes
Taking actions to be direct indicators of spiritual worth and value to
Need to be right
Difficulty forgiving self
Difficulty accepting grace and forgiveness from the Lord
|"Obscured Reality" --
In shame-based systems, members have to deny
any thought, opinion or feeling that is different than those of people
in authority. Interaction with people and places outside the system
the order of things -- the system (or organization) defines reality.
are denied or minimized, and therefore they remain (unless things
they remain the same). (p. 58) ||Possible love
Conditioned to be out-of-touch with feelings and emotions
Guessing at what is spiritually healthy
Threatened by opinions different than yours, especially from a
Suspicious or afraid of others not part of your system
Denial of reality
|"Centralized Teaching" -- What is true is decided on the
experiences of the religious leadership, giving more weight to them
to what the Bible says. People can't know or understand spiritual truth
until the leaders "receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord"
or "until the timing is right" or "until the people are ready", at
time the spiritual leaders "impart" these truths to the people. (p. 70)
||Possible love damage: |
Worshipping men more than God
Minimizing the miracle of the Holy Spirit in the converted Christian
- Doubting or questioning our individual responsibility to make
learn from them
Inability to accept grace
|"Image Management" -- Image managers are more
concerned with how they
look to other people, and in a shame-based system, religious leaders
loathe to admit error and slow to admit the truth. What counts less is
the substance of the spiritual material, and more on how it looks and
people feel. (pp. 131-136) ||Possible love damage: |
Managing the image which we make with our lives
Requiring recognition from others, under the claim of "respect"
- Wearing spirituality on the outside, but not believing it in
Making an Honest Assessment
I honestly find many areas on the above chart where I need to grow and
pursue the Lord more diligently (and ignore what people and
say). Most of these problems stem from confusing the role of the
with the role of the Lord. There are many benefits from having
churches and ministries -- but the bottom line always is our direct
with God and what he thinks about our lives.
Feedback from our friends and associates may provide little or
in uncovering real spiritual problems to overcome. What other people
will never amount to an assessment from the Lord, since God loves us
(Rom 5:8 NIV) But God demonstrates
his own love for us in
this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
5:9 NIV) Since we have now been justified by his blood, how
much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!
(Rom 5:10 NIV) For if, when we were God's enemies, we
to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been
shall we be saved through his life!
5:11 NIV) Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through
our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
(Rom 5:12 NIV) Therefore, just as sin
entered the world through one
man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men,
Relying on other people, even spiritually mature
religious leaders, to
make decisions for us is a formula for disaster. Spiritual leadership
about sharing principles of living -- the human experience of making
and living through the disasters and successes we create is part of
Christian growth. No church could hope to legislate all decisions which
have spiritual impact on our lives -- many have tried to do this but
failed. People who believe such could happen are denying the miracle of
the Holy Spirit.
God's solution involves accepting the fact that as humans, we
from perfection, and that by his grace, we are able to live day by day
and learn more about how to be like him. His covering of blood enables
us to have a direct relationship with him, and though we struggle with
sin, we are not beaten by the devil because he gives us new life
Satan (and perhaps other Christians) would have us
assume that our moral
failures (and those of others) amount to a break or separation in God's
love and mercy for us -- this is not true, and God is even more willing
to help the Christian who asks for it. The Lord expects us to rely on
for help and strength, and expects that he will to take the burden of
on himself through the Sacrifice.
For more study, it would be good to obtain a copy of
this book, and
read the text honestly (having of course the opportunity for spiritual
feedback from Christians).
Breaking free of spiritual abuse may seem difficult, and there are
difficulties involved with it, but it is not impossible. The difficult
part comes in when we attempt our own salvation -- the Lord has
his spirit to be the way out of spiritually abusive actions, and only
spirit can provide the lasting healing which we all need from sin. This
healing helps us to similarly make the church a place for collective
from the spiritual wounds and hurts from our past sins and experiences.
We can use God's offer of grace to cover up spiritual abuse in our own
past, and move forward to a more healthy concept of professional love.
©1997, Mark Tabladillo,
Page Created: October 18, 1997 by WCG.
The original page was linked to HarvestNETwebsite, until suddenly the
and website disappeared. Fortunately we had a mirror copy of it, and so
we used the e-mail address on that to contact the author, Mark
He said the website server was changed and was down right now for
as long as a month for an upgrade. The correct URL address for the
article was supposed to be:
However, that url is still not correct so we kept this
mirror of the article here.