What Is Spiritual Abuse In A Church

Spiritual abuse is any attempt to utilize religion, faith, or beliefs to exercise authority and control over someone. Spiritual abuse can occur in a religious setting or in a personal connection.

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Spiritual abuse affects people of all faiths, denominations, and ethnicities. It can occur in any religious organization as a kind of child or elder abuse, or as a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, affects people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic classes, ethnic groups, and geographical areas.

Abuse is a pattern in which one person (whether an intimate partner or someone in a position of authority) controls another by fear, intimidation, violence, or other means. Abuse can be traumatic and have a negative influence on your mental health. It's critical to keep in mind that abuse is never your fault.

What counts as religious abuse?

Religious abuse is any form of abuse perpetrated under the pretense of religion, such as harassment or humiliation, that causes psychological harm. Misuse of religion for selfish, secular, or ideological objectives, such as the abuse of a priestly position, is an example of religious abuse.

What are the 4 types of abuse?

Child maltreatment is defined as “any forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development, or dignity,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse are the four basic types of abuse. Abuse is defined as a deliberate act of commission, whereas neglect is defined as a deliberate act of omission in the care of another person that results in potential or actual injury. This activity examines the epidemiology, symptoms, and diagnosis of child abuse, as well as the interprofessional team's involvement in its management and prevention.

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How do you address spiritual abuse?

Serving as a leader is a fantastic honor that comes with a lot of responsibilities. Ministry leaders provide direction, assurance, encouragement, and hope to the people they serve. Ministry leaders wield a great deal of power, and they must use it wisely.

Crossing the line from leading with authority to acting in an authoritarian manner is one area where persons in significant ministry roles can cause harm. This is commonly referred to as “spiritual abuse” in ministry circles.

Here are three methods for recognizing and addressing this growing concern among ministry leaders.


First and foremost, it is critical to comprehend what spiritual abuse is not. The authoritative proclamation of Biblical truth, strategic management, and the enforcement of institutional ethical norms are examples of things that do not come under the rubric of spiritual abuse. Appropriate exhortation, rebuke, and punishment are also not considered “spiritual abuse.”

Having stated that, it is critical to have a working definition of the problem. Authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen write in their book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” that this type of abuse is “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support, or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment.”

When authoritarianism rises to the surface and leaders behave from a position of power rather than humble influence, spiritual abuse happens.

  • Without proper rationale and/or relationship, rules are accepted and implemented.
  • Unspiritual disagreement is labeled as such because it lacks a restorative spirit.
  • Substantive criticism and adequate reporting relationships are shielded from leaders.
  • The organization's and/or key leaders' public image is sanitized to an unhealthy degree.
  • When inquiries arise, side subjects are introduced to divert attention away from more pressing ones.
  • Select personnel have access to funds with no protections in place to ensure responsibility.


Leaders can be agents of change to counteract the detrimental consequences of spiritual abuse once an unhealthy dynamic has been detected. Managers who are wise create clear boundaries for personal accountability. Modeling prudent financial management and an open-door policy are other key traits to emulate.

Moreover, despite fears to the contrary, servant leadership demonstrated by individuals at the top of the org chart improves the work environment and can be suitably integrated into even high-output, strategic settings.


If you're dealing with spiritual abuse in your workplace, start with a grace-filled reaction. Even though it seems contradictory, when your leadership is questioned or criticized, take a step back and evaluate the purpose behind what is being stated.

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Rather than becoming bitter or spiteful while furious, try to de-escalate the situation. Make every effort to maintain open channels of contact with people at all levels of the organization, especially those with whom you disagree or with whom you lack chemistry.

Work hard to establish an environment where genuine communication may take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Consider verses like Romans 12:9-21 in the Bible. Consider the consequences for the glory of One in your life and ministry.


Our A.S. in Biblical Studies and B.S. in Ministry Leadership degree programs will give you the knowledge and skills to recognize spiritual abuse, lead with positive authority, and respond in grace and truth. To learn more about this intriguing program, contact an enrollment counselor.

What is spiritual trauma?

Spiritual trauma is the result of a person's reaction to a belief system that dismisses and degrades them on behalf of a deity or a set of deities. More information can be found here. Christians are frequently encouraged to recruit for their religion, and losing a Christian friend or family member can be devastating.

How is church worship abused today?

I Charging a fee for faith-healing or prayers. (ii) Dressing inappropriately for church services. (iii) Church quarrels and clashes between opposing groupings. (iii) Using the pulpit to advance a political agenda.

What are the 7 main types of abuse?

Elder abuse occurs when someone with control over an elderly person purposefully damages them or puts them in serious danger.

While some forms of elder abuse, such as physical abuse, are frequently regarded seriously, others are more difficult to spot. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, there are seven different categories of elder abuse.

Elder abuse, regardless of its form, can result in significant emotional distress, serious physical injury, and even death.

Elders and their loved ones must be able to recognize all forms of abuse in order to prevent, stop, or, if necessary, pursue legal justice against those who exploited people at their most vulnerable.

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Quick Facts About Elder Abuse

  • Harm of the elderly extends beyond physical and emotional abuse. There are seven major categories of abuse, including sexual and financial exploitation.
  • The majority of elder abuse is perpetrated by trusted others, however elders can sometimes mistreat themselves by neglecting their own needs.
  • Elders are more likely to self-report financial exploitation than emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

What are the 5 main types of abuses?

The widely regarded definition of abuse, which we utilize in all of our trainings, is as follows: “A behavior pattern employed by one person to establish and maintain power and control over another.” One thing to keep in mind about that description is that we're discussing a pattern of behavior, not just one instance. These behaviors might manifest themselves in a variety of ways. When many individuals hear the word, they immediately think of “When you hear the word “abuse,” you probably think of physical assault. It's crucial to remember that physical force is just one type of power and control; it's not the only one. It's not always the first option an abuser will try. The following are six main types of abuse that we discuss with new volunteers or staff throughout their training.

1. Physical fitness

When many people hear the word “abuse,” they immediately think of this form of abuse. Punching, beating, slapping, kicking, strangling, or physically restricting a spouse against their will are all examples of physical restraint. It can also involve driving carelessly, invading someone's personal space, or making someone feel physically uncomfortable in any other way.

2. Relationships

While sexual abuse can be considered a form of physical abuse, we separate it out because it can involve both physical and non-physical elements. Rape or other forced sexual actions, as well as withholding or using sex as a weapon, are examples. An abusive partner may also use sex to criticize and assign a value to their partner – for example, criticizing or suggesting that someone isn't good enough for sex, or that sex is the only thing they're good for. Because sex has so many emotional and cultural meanings, the sentiments associated with it can be used in a variety of ways for dominance and control. Because marital rape was not made illegal in all 50 states until 1993, some people may still believe that sex is something a partner is entitled to and fail to see it as part of a larger pattern of power and control.

3. Emotional/Verbal

One victim explains it this way: “My ex-husband used words like weapons, as if they were shards of glass, slashing and draining my life until I had almost none left. He didn't hit me, so I didn't think I was being abused… I'd started to accept his horrible lies about how useless, stupid, and ugly I was, and how no one would ever want me.” Other survivors have noted that whereas physical abuse may be obvious to a friend or family member, the effects of verbal/emotional abuse are more difficult to detect and prove. Emotional scars take longer to heal than physical ones.

4. Psychological/mental health

When one spouse wears away at the other's sense of mental well-being and health through a succession of behaviors or words, this is known as mental or psychological abuse. It frequently entails persuading the victim to doubt their own sanity. We've heard accounts of abusers purposefully shifting car keys (or, in one case, the entire car!) or a handbag, dimming the lights, and flatly denying that certain events occurred. The victim becomes increasingly reliant on the abuser as a result of this, especially over time – and sometimes in conjunction with the isolation that abusers frequently employ – because they don't trust their own judgment. They're also afraid of being believed if they inform someone about the abuse they're going through. Angela, a member of one of our Support Groups, expressed herself as follows: “I was concerned if anyone would ever believe me about the abuse because he had called me crazy so many times.”

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5. Economic/financial

Because abuse is about power and control, an abuser will use every means at his or her disposal to keep control, which frequently includes financial resources. Whether it's controlling the household budget and refusing to let the survivor have access to their own bank accounts or spend money, or opening credit cards and racking up debts in the survivor's name, or simply refusing to let the survivor have a job and earn their own money, this type of abuse is frequently a major reason why someone is unable to leave an abusive relationship. Because of their abuser's past actions, many of the survivors we work with have credit issues. A poor credit history might make it difficult to secure an apartment, a job, a vehicle loan, and other necessities of self-sufficiency. We work with survivors to overcome these challenges, but in the meanwhile, social safety nets like food stamps, financial assistance, and health insurance can provide a much-needed bridge.

6. Identity/Cultural

When abusers utilize components of a victim's cultural identity to inflict suffering or exert control, this is known as cultural abuse. Cultural abuse includes things like not allowing someone to follow their faith's food or dress practices, using racial insults, threatening to ‘out' someone as LGBQ/T if their friends and family don't know, and isolating someone who doesn't speak the main language where they reside.

What are examples of abuse?

Intentional bodily injury is defined as physical maltreatment. Slapping, pinching, choking, kicking, shoving, or utilizing medications or physical constraints inappropriately are just a few instances. Physical signs of maltreatment.

Nonconsensual sexual contact is referred to as sexual abuse (any unwanted sexual contact). Unwanted touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, and sexual graphic photography are examples. Sexual abuse warning signs.

Mental or emotional abuse is the intentional infliction of mental or emotional suffering. Intimidation, coercion, ridicule, harassment, treating an adult like a kid, isolating an adult from family, friends, or normal activities, using silence to regulate conduct, and yelling or swearing that causes emotional discomfort are examples of these tactics. Emotional abuse symptoms.

When a vulnerable adult's resources or income are illegally or unjustly used for another person's benefit or gain, this is known as exploitation. Illegally taking money from another person's account, forging checks, or stealing items from the vulnerable adult's home are all examples. Manifestations of exploitation.

Neglect happens when a person deprives a vulnerable adult of the care required to sustain the vulnerable adult's physical or mental health, either via action or inaction. Basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, a safe place to live, medicine, and health care are examples. Neglect is visible.

Self-neglect happens when a vulnerable adult fails to provide proper care for himself or herself, putting his or her health at risk. A vulnerable adult living in hazardous, unsafe, or unclean living conditions, or not having enough food or water, are just a few examples. Symptoms of self-absorption.

Abandonment happens when a vulnerable adult is unable to get basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment. For example, abandoning a vulnerable adult in a public area or leaving a vulnerable adult at home without access to essential life necessities are both examples. Abandonment signs.

What does religious trauma look like?

Confusion in thinking (black vs. white, right vs. wrong), conflicts with people in your community or religious teachings, inability to make judgments, inability to trust yourself, and a constant search for clarification

Isolation, relationship issues, sexual difficulties, socially stunted and awkward conduct, being hyper-aware of others' emotional state and emotions, being hyper-aware and feeling responsible for others' internal state and emotions

Symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also be present. This can include flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, restlessness, a lack of enjoyment in activities you used to like, hypervigilance, avoidance, and other symptoms.