What is Spiritual Abuse?

"Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to 'come underneath' and serve, build, equip and make God's people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God's people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own."      Jeff VanVonderen


When Dee and I launched The Wartburg Watch, our goal was to discuss "faith issues".  As we began to investigate trends within Christendom, two problems came to the fore — spiritual abuse and hyper-authoritarianism.  We have discussed these problems before; however, since our readership has grown quite a bit, we feel obligated to cover these issues again, this time in greater depth.  PATRIARCHS BEWARE!  You will be learning from women.  Read at your own risk . . 


According to the Wikipedia article on Spiritual abuse, the term was not coined until the latter part of the twentieth century.  It certainly appears that this form of abuse in on the rise and is causing great harm to the body of Christ.      


Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse identifies five categories of characteristics that describe Spiritual Abuse (listed in the Wiki article):


1. Authority and Power – abusive groups misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.


2. Manipulation and Control – abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader's decisions control and usurp the disciple's right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.


3. Elitism and Persecution – abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart.

4. Life-style and Experience – abusive groups foster rigidity in behavior and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group's ideals and social mores.

5. Dissent and Discipline – abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.


In the Wiki article on Spiritual Abuse, Agnes and John Lawless argue in The Drift into Deception that there are EIGHT characteristics of spiritual abuse, and some of these clearly overlap with Enroth's criteria listed above.


They list the eight marks of spiritual abuse as comprising:

1. charisma and pride,

2. anger and intimidation,

3. greed and fraud,

4. immorality,

5. Enslaving authoritarian structure,

6. Exclusivity,

7. Demanding loyalty and honor,

8. New revelation.

According to the above article, "The basis of spiritual abuse is when these characteristics are overstretched to achieve a desired goal that is neither supported by spiritual reality nor by the human conscience."


One of the signs of spiritual abuse is FEAR, and intimidation is often the tactic used by spiritual leaders who try to control, manipulate, or dominate their followers.


There is so much more information to share on Spiritual Abuse, and we will pick up with this topic tomorrow.     






What is Spiritual Abuse? — 7 Comments

  1. Abused

    I wish I could say I am shocked but I am not. I am discouraged that it involves such a well known pastor.

    I would like to do a couple of posts on this. We will review all of this and look for a post in the near future. Please contact me at dee@thewartburgwatch if there is any further information but you have given us a lot to start with.

    How in the world did he get a $3.8 million house out of working with poor people?!!!!! This is disgusting and should be questioned.

    I think your points regarding race are spot on and need to be highlighted. Thank you for alerting us to this issue.

  2. Abused: be careful – in some states and counties, publishing information about a pastor’s residence including values, sizes, square footage, links to deeds and property appraisor’s information that contains the address – and daring to call for a financial boycott…this can lead to subpoenas being issued to out you, and then the information of your identity given to the pastor.

  3. Dee and the BT poster – again, I say be careful what you post. Posting pictures of the house, links that contain the address, it can give law enforcement the predicate for criminal investigations, if the pastor knows the right people. Subpoenas can be obtained identifying anonymous posters, using the excuse that the person might be a threat, they are obsessed with the pastor, etc. etc. And you will never know about the subpoena, because they can keep it very well hidden. Subpoenas can be pulled from ISPs and blog hosters, and law enforcement can even look into private information of other bloggers with the excuse they might be aliases for the person they are going after. I’m not kidding, it happens. And then if they are investigating a “threat”, they have to go to the pastor and say “Do you know this person”…and boom…you’re outted, and they have your private information.

    That’s how it happens these days, if you go against a pastor and a church that has connections. And buddy, you better believe BT has connections.

  4. Ask the Everson’s and those within the Baptist Mafia as they do the spiritual abuse tactic well, Very Well..indeed.

  5. I would assume that Cymbala got rich off the sales of his books, rather than his church salary per se.

  6. I could care less if they know what I say. That is why I sign my name to everything I post….

    Need my phone number, just ask