A few final characteristics associated with Spiritual Abuse (#10-13)
A series on Spiritual Abuse // PART EIGHT
I started writing a series on Spiritual Abuse on my ol’ blog a while back, and then, I shut down my ol’ blog, so I’m going to finish out the series through this newsletter. If you want to catch up on what you missed you can read all the posts in the archive here!
We’re working with Dr. Oakley’s definition of Spiritual Abuse,
“any form of abuse that is characterized by a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior in a religious context.” (Oakley, 2019)
So, what is “coercive or controlling behavior”. Like - what does it look like. So far we’ve broken down these characteristics, that Dr Oakley’s research found in cultures and contexts that resulted in spiritually abusive patterns:
Manipulation or pressure to serve or behave in a certain way
The last two we’re going to dig into are:
(10) Use of scripture to coerce and control - I talked about this a lot when we broke down “pressure to behave a certain way.” We're in 'misuse' territory when we use the Scripture to compel someone to do something they're not comfortable with.
The Bible is a powerful weapon, especially when the person you're wielding it against believes in it and trusts God to speak through it. We better be careful before we use it to tell someone what we think God wants them to do. I think a healthy culture will approach the scriptures with a sense of humility and an awareness of bias - both our own bias and that of the 'fathers of the faith' that have trained most of us. We have to concede that most of us have been taught to engage the Bible by a community that is predominantly white, male, heteronormative, married, European, and
achievement-oriented. All these filters bring with them their own bias.
(11) use of divine calling to coerce - Beware any culture that conflates trusting God with trusting them. Beware any culture that declares that their position is itself a sign that God appointed them. Phrases like “appointed by God” imply sovereignty equals endorsement. It does not. We don't look at Putin and say: ‘appointed by God’ so let’s do what he says. We say - remove him from power. We don't submit to sex traffickers because God ‘ordained their role’. We work to tear down their system.
There are leaders in this world who God does not endorse, and there are systems and structures He is calling us to dismantle rather than support.
Just because someone is a leader in a church does not mean God is asking you to 'trust' them.
(12) use of God's name or suggested will to coerce - Of course, we know better than to say we speak for God. So did Mark Driscoll. So instead of saying - “I am a messenger of God and this is what He told me to say”, he said things like - “if you don’t like what I’m saying, take it up with God! This is what HE says, not me!”
The implication is - “my interpretation of the Scripture is the same as God’s word." And boy oh boy. That's a tricky and slippery slope. A leader may say that without any intent to coerce, but if that kind of talk overlaps with the reality that they control people's salaries, belonging, community or qualifications - it's a troubling situation.
Another option could be: "When I read this Scripture, this is how I see it." If you're REALLY sure about it, you could even add "I can't think of any other way to view it!" (but see how I'm still keeping me and God separate. This is important - especially when my words are given weight).
(13) Threats of spiritual consequences - "if you believe differently than this church you're in danger; you're falling away."
This isn't about compromising your beliefs. It’s about (a) holding those beliefs with humility and (b) how you apply those beliefs.
First up - you can be confident in your beliefs, while still acknowledging, your church probably isn't the first church in history that just has happened upon perfect theology. It’s probably that you’re getting a few things wrong.
It’s also about how you use your beliefs. I went into this in more detail previously, but the problem is not having beliefs, it's using your beliefs to try to control or coerce others.