Test It

After reading a post on one of my favourite blogs recently, I spent a disturbing hour or two going from one link to another as I read blogs and articles online. Perhaps in my part of the world we are naturally sheltered or perhaps I am just naturally dense but I had no idea of the spiritual abuse abounding in Christian circles in parts of the world that consider themselves 'enlightened' from a Christian perspective.

I had heard the term spiritual abuse, certainly, and I knew of a few examples that would come under this heading and I had come across some dodgy theology and practices even in my sheltered existence, but my eyes were really opened after reading what I can only describe as 'cultist practices' in the guise of Christianity.

In fact, the expression, wolves in sheep's clothing comes to mind.

Now, it's not my intention to knock Christian denominations or ministries. There are many good ones out there whose theology I may not exactly agree with. That doesn't make them spiritual abusers in my opinion. Even defining spiritual abuse can be a minefield - which is perhaps why this post has sat unpublished on my blog for a week or more, despite the prompting in my spirit to write it.

Perhaps Wikipedia (of all sources!) has the best definition: Religious abuse refers to abuse administered under the guise of religion, including harassment or humiliation, possibly resulting in psychological trauma.

Other sites listed signs of spiritual abuse - usually from church leadership - but there are other ministries that exhibit many of the same signs and perhaps are even more dangerous because of their subtly. Perhaps the saddest and most dangerous of all are those ministries that have infiltrated the family and have allowed members of a family (particularly female members) to become prisoners of the very people who should protect and cherish them. That there are organisations and websites set up to help 'survivors' from some of these ministries shows just how damaging and invasive the practices are. But the sad thing - apart from the really sad thing which was the number of people who had lost their faith because of spiritual abuse - is that most of the abuse is being done in the name of Christianity and often described as 'Biblical' with verses to back up the practice.

My husband has a favourite phrase that he has used again and again over the years: Test it against Scripture. I suspect our sons heard it so many times growing up that they grew sick of it. But it wasn't an original thought. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians told them to "test everything" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and in other verses warns them not to be deceived by false teachings.

It's good advice especially these days when we are bombarded with so many books and articles and forums and seminars that all claim to be Christian and biblical. Just because someone can support their claims with a verse or two, we still need to check it out against Scripture. Is it really what Scripture is saying? Has the verse been used correctly or taken out of context? Is it supported by other passages of Scripture? Does it confirm to the principles of Scripture? Is it about showing love, respect and grace or is it about condemnation, judgement and punishment?

Now that my eyes have been opened, I'm not really sure what to do. As I've talked with my husband about the things that I read, I've been able to process some of the information I received, but I'm still in a quandary. What do I do now that I am no longer ignorant and can no longer ignore it?


Ohtawen said…
What an interesting post. A part of it struck a chord in me, although it generally raised quite a few questions in my mind. I'm probably the densest person here, but I didn't figure out what kind of ministries were you talking about. I too have heard about spiritual abuse and cults, but I don't think I know who and where it's practiced (in a legitimate ministry, that is). I guess I'm more sheltered here in my surrealistic piece of the world :)

But all jokes aside, spiritual abuse must be a horrible thing. My heart goes out to people who had to endure such an ordeal. However, I can understand why people can turn away from God when suffering or witnessing suffering. People experience things differently, and while some people turn away, some are brought even closer. I guess we have to be reminded that, unfortunately, dangers always lurk and that we have to careful what are we getting ourselves into... I probably sounded skeptical in my last sentence, but I actually think a dose of skepticism helps in grounding a person.

Anyway, I won't ramble anymore. I understand that you feel lots of negative emotions when you think about all you have found out, even though I don't know what is actually in question. I only hope that you will think and pray about it, so you will know what to do.
Jules said…
Ohtawen, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I realised that my post would raise more questions than it answered but I was reluctant to name ministries that I had only read about and had no personal experience with. Although I did check out their sites and in some cases had some real concerns (so perhaps it's irresponsible of me not to name names.)

My point was to test everything. You didn't sound sceptical - in fact, a good dose of scepticism is healthy. I think it's dangerous to swallow everything we're told. But the real danger in some of these ministries was the control they had over the family and especially over women and children.

I believe that children are under the authority of their parents and the wife is to submit to her husband, but I believe this can be taken too far. Children should not be punished for something that is simple childishness or the result of immaturity (an example could be an accident when toilet-training) nor should 'the church' condone abuse in marriages (which it seems some do when they tell a woman she should submit to her husband's violence because by doing so she may 'win' him over.) I don't think any woman should stay in an abusive relationship nor do I think a woman who seeks outside help when she is in such a marriage is 'gossiping'. These are some of the issues that I struggled with after my research and sadly there were many more.

Perhaps one day when I've processed all this information and had more time to think about it, I might do another post, but for the moment I just needed to voice some of my concern.
Ohtawen said…
Oh, I understand that you didn't want to name names, Jules... But I simply had no idea such things existed :( I didn't know that certain ministries advised women to take abuse etc. Perhaps it's because I come from a progressive family, but still, I can't believe that those kinds of things are happening in civilized world! I feel quite shocked right now...

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