Monday

Spiritual Abuse...The Modern Day Pharisee

“Spiritual Abuse”, a catch phrase coined in recent years by Author’s David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, is as old as organized religion itself. For most, the historical events which best portray spiritual abuse include the Holy Wars, The Inquisition, the persecution of many eastern Europeans at the hands of the Orthodox church. While many would consider spiritual abuse to be a seldom occurring event today, truthfully, it is very prevalent in the Christian Church, including mainline evangelical churches.

Spiritual abuse is the misuse of an office or position of power, leadership, lay leadership, or influence to further the wishes or directives of an organization or individual against the will of another party. Spiritual abuse is not always subtle in appearance, and more often, like many other forms of abuse in today’s society, relishes on the secrecy provided by implementing it’s power over another in privacy. Spiritual manipulation, mental manipulation, manipulation of events as well as facts, and false spiritual authority are often the classic markers of true spiritual abuse. Certainly, in a religious setting, it’s possible to be so dogmatic in your belief system, that as a leader, in defending your beliefs you wound or abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn’t behave spiritually the way you want them to.

In the years following 300 A.D. a great transition came to the Christian church as an organization. A hierarchal style of church leadership came into being, creating a top down management or governmental structure. This change was very different from the early Christian church as it existed in the first century after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. With this new style of church governance came the power struggles common to levels of authority.

In recent years after questioning the directives of how church leaders were responding to a matter, a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church Chairman of the Board, approached a man whose wife had recently abandoned the home, and in privacy quietly told the man, “We can’t tell you what to do, but whether you want us to or not, we can suggest what you should do.” There begins the mental manipulation of spiritual abuse. An authority figure, trying to manipulate a person into doing their bidding, when their opinion was not sought or wanted. While it is most definitely healthy to seek the opinion and suggestions of others in times of need, when you do not seek it, and leadership personally imposes or continually dispenses it upon you against your wishes, it is hurtful, wounding, mentally undermining, and confusing. In other words, a form of mental manipulation. Spiritual abuse.

In a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, the Senior Pastor pulled the same man aside and informed him shortly after this man’s marriage failed, “ We will do whatever we think needs to be done to keep you single and available to reunite you with your wife, whether it takes 7 years or 11 years.” While the intent and desire of the heart of this leader may genuinely have been grieving the break-up of a marriage in his congregation, his response and choice in handling the matter was clearly against the wishes of the couple. It was a clear, and resulted in being a very destructive form of spiritual abuse.

In a meeting with a Reform Church Pastor, while researching the subject of divorce in the church, one pastor informed this writer that as a denomination, from their head office, when a marriage fails in a church, they have many tools at their disposal to drive the couple back together whether it was wanted by the couple or not. If not wanted by both former marriage partners then it’s spiritual abuse.

In Baptist, as well as Christian and Missionary Alliance Church settings, this writer has observed pastors mis-using church discipline committees to try and force their way of thinking on church members, only to discover the Pastor was involved in an act of dishonesty. The Pastor then tired to conceal his act of dishonesty by using a discipline committee to maintain power over the one who could reveal “the skeleton in the closet”, making the innocent look like the guilty party, or a party of questionable reputation. Definite spiritual abuse.

The practice of “shunning” by the Mennonite community is a passive aggressive form of manipulating a person into correction, a form of spiritual abuse. Churches that are a part of “shepherding” movements; or off-shoots of the Mennonite movement such as Mennonite Brethren; or “covenant” style of churches often struggle at the local level with issues of spiritual abuse.

In today’s local church, be it Baptist, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican, Pentecostal, Dutch Reform, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Presbyterian, etc., there is the real opportunity for the existence of spiritual abuse. Most often it is at the local church level and unknown to the senior denominational leaders. At the root of spiritual abuse there is one common factor, the corrupt nature of man in authority.

When one looks at the life of Jesus Christ, you witnessed a religious leader who lived his life totally in the open, even to his death, with nothing to hide. He was not a manipulator. He did not impose his wishes or suggestions on anyone, he simply taught, and in it’s right place, debated. Jesus Christ was less concerned with rules and regulations, and more concerned with human suffering. He was not image conscious. He associated with the drunks, prostitutes, cheating tax collectors, and often accused the legalistic church Pharisees (many who were the church leaders of the day) of “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9)

Of the Pharisees (the temple or church leaders of Jesus Christ's day), quintessential spiritually abusive leaders, Jesus Christ likened their showy, hypocritical outward righteousness to “whitened sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

Many consider the world of Pharisees to be something of an ancient concept. Pharisees still exist today in the hearts, minds and actions of spiritual leaders, and lay leaders who abuse.


About the Author
James C. Tanner of http://www.silent-wonder.com and of http://whats-he-like.com, is a retired entrepreneur, a former special investigator, and a published writer who's articles and written comments are enjoyed by 12.5 million readers monthly.

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God didn't put you with an abusive mate. Your flesh did.

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