Spiritual abuse is the church's best-kept secret. It's usually subtle at first and gradually escalates into what makes headlines today. Caution is always needed when you see isolation, secrecy, care taking, and lack of accountability. These are the telltale signs that something unhealthy is happening. I know because I, too, have a church horror story to tell.
There are so many examples today of fallen church leaders and the victims they leave behind. Within a relatively short period of time, these do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do Religionists (I can't call them Christians) get transferred so their sins aren't exposed, or gather another flock around them and repeat the pattern with fresh followers. This time they are careful not to allow the kind of oversight that got them ousted in the first place.
HOW DOES SPIRITUAL ABUSE HAPPEN
Coming from a dysfunctional family system at home is the perfect setup for spiritual abuse. I was married with two very young children living in the suburbs of Las Vegas. I was starved for authenticity and connection. The church couldn't give me enough unconditional love and acceptance. The people were all so happy and they really seemed to like me! At first.
The burdens of my past lifted, shame fell away and a whole new world came into view. The promised land was here. I had freedom in Christ and the honeymoon was on. I learned solid bible teaching and couldn't get enough. I was thirsty for Living Water and came to the well frequently.
Subtly, however, I began to pick up on the unwritten rules and expectations that in THIS family, we were expected to be at every event. What started out as three times a week quickly extended to five. With two small children and husband who preferred to stay home, I sacrificed time normally spent with our extended family of origin to be with this new fellowship of people who 'got me'.
What I didn't know then but learned from "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen was the range of unhealthy behaviors in a church that begin with unspoken rules and misplaced loyalty. "The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem, you are the problem."
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Kim Halsey is a human resource professional and executive coach who helps people overcome life damaging habits, restore important relationships, and live their dreams without drama.