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 Even defining spiritual abuse can be a minefield - which is perhaps why this post has sat unpublished on my blog for a week or more, despite the prompting in my spirit to write it.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?