Jesus was a really nice guy who gave us lots of inspirational things to do to improve our relationship with God. That’s the really short story about Jesus. The longer story is that he was also sort of a political anarchist, socialist, Rabbi, religious-questioning, upheaval causing, strong willed, strong tempered, advocating, free-health-care giving, free-food-giving, carpenter from a quiet family of carpenters and Rabbis whose mom had to marry a cousin from the other side of the family so she wouldn’t be stoned to death for carrying the Son of God.
Being the kind of guy Jesus was, I think that even though he “handed the keys” over to St. Peter I often wonder if he has questioned that decision every day since.
Oh don’t worry, people, I’m still a devout Catholic. But I tow the more tolerant Catholic line. I believe in what feels more Catholic than what the common traditional misinterpretations of the Bible tout. I love gays and lesbians. I’m a registered Democrat. I’m liberal with some conservative leanings. I think the current Republican ideology is repugnant and morally corrupt.
Due to some issues that have cropped up in the past few years, this is an issue I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and research on. I don’t have all of my sources handy but most of them overlap. I’m borrowing a lot of phrases from a lot of different sources because I just don’t have the links any longer. Spiritual abuse. Abuse by church leaders and other people of faith. It’s actually a huge issue. It’s a painful issue. It’s damaging to one’s soul, heart, and relationships. Unfortunately, most people that engage in the abusing don’t even realize that they’re being abusive. Often times they’re even abusing themselves. The saddest part is that it’s often inflicted on children and other family members. Therefore, the abuse is overlooked or downplayed or simply not recognized because hey, they’re behaving the way they are out of love, right? And besides that, when claiming that what they’re doing is for God that justifies a whole lot of sins.
Spiritual abuse isn’t usually intended to hurt other people. Many people do it and, as mentioned, they don’t even realize what they’re doing as being harmful. After all how can one claim an expression of a relationship with God to be wrong? How can one claim that a system set up to help people spiritually might be harmful?
Do you know how to tell when someone is spiritually abusing someone else? These are some signs as agreed upon in the Catholic Church and across Christian denominations. There are certain people who need to pay attention to this and check their own attitudes and behaviors to figure out if they’re perpetuating spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, those who need to see this and see themselves in this post the most won’t.
- When you believe that a church leader’s words have such great weight that you make yourself vulnerable to them and believe that the leader is more knowledgeable in the faith than you are then you might also believe that the church leader is more important and their words carry more weight, their opinions carry more weight, and therefore what they say is taken as gospel (so to speak). A loss of your own willingness and ability to think for yourself and utter submissiveness to a church leader rather than to the true gospel, rather than to God, is a sign of being spiritually abused. Willingly giving in and giving yourself up to this knowingly… is willful ignorance. It goes against Jesus’ direct teachings.
- When the focus gets subtly changed from being about someone’s emotions to being about the person or their state of being it’s abusive. When the “point” is about having to live up to some standard or else be labeled negatively and even being told that their spiritual relationship with God is being questioned, that’s spiritual abuse. For instance, to tell someone that they’re “not Catholic enough” or “a cafeteria Catholic” is spiritual abuse because you’re telling that person that they’re not living up to some standard set of beliefs and behaviors established by other humans rather than focusing on their feelings about God and their relationship with God. So if you hear someone say, “If you don’t attend church every single week and attend Reconciliation every month, then you’re not a true Catholic” that’s spiritual abuse. If you someone tells you, “If you don’t believe that gay marriage is wrong then you’re going against God” then that’s spiritual abuse.
- When one is told that it’s unacceptable to question an “authority” (either a church leader or someone who considers themselves educated in the church or a theologian) because somehow, that person is above questioning. People or that person being held in high esteem may even be believed to be “above error.” Questioning church authorities labels you as wrong and rebellious and sinful. This goes against Jesus’ very own teachings directly from the Bible. He taught us to question EVERYTHING including and especially so-called church authorities. Questioning church leaders and supposed authorities and supposed educated religious people of faith should not and does not make you wrong. A leader’s position does not make their opinions on spirituality superior. People are not to ever neglect their own needs in favor of what the supposed authority states is more important. To inform others otherwise and insist upon it is spiritual abuse. Church leaders ARE FALLIBLE.
- If a spiritual leader tells you to treat what he has said “as if Christ himself said it” then it’s spiritual abuse. NO MAN ON EARTH ought to be treated as if he were Jesus Christ speaking. So the Pope is supposed to be infallible when he’s on the chair as the Holy See. That’s not very often when he’s on that special chair, by the way. When you’re Catholic, that’s the one exception. When he’s not on that throne thing? The Pope is fallible, every word. He is not Jesus nor is he God incarnate. He’s a religious leader and a pretty darned important one. He’s the head Bishop. But even a good pope, one who is not corrupt, will never say to treat his words as if Christ himself said it. A good pope is humble.
- When someone is being told by church leaders and others in their own faith that they MUST live a specific way under a specific set of rules that include affiliating with a specific political party, voting a specific way on certain issues, voting for particular candidates and threatening that there will be “spiritual consequences” if they don’t do as they’re told… that’s spiritual abuse. There are in fact a set of rules to live by in Christianity. They’re called the Ten Commandments. Jesus himself supplemented the Ten Commandments. We call Jesus’ own commandments The Golden Rule.
- Being encouraged to engage in compliant self seeking (which focuses on seemingly obedient actions) rather than on the actual relationship with God and true obedience is spiritual abuse. In other words, keeping a score card detracts from the relationship with God. True humility and true giving does not keep track. Someone who gives of the heart never remembers… someone who receives never forgets.
- When a church you attend has “unspoken rules” that you dare not break or you risk being shunned, that’s spiritual abuse. Especially when it means that your loyalty and faith will be called into question.
- When the wants of the church leader and even the church are put above the needs of the faithful, that’s spiritual abuse. Just think about various denominations where illegal actions of priests are not reported to police so that they can be “handled from within.” The needs of the victims are ignored and made insignificant. The supposed doctrine is even put above victims’ needs at times. That’s also spiritual abuse.
- When there is a lack of balance in daily life and lack of balance in the approach to living, and that imbalance is encouraged and enforced, that is spiritual abuse. When it’s self-encouraged, that’s another problem. When literally every single aspect of life is about religion, God, and living and breathing religion without any sort of balance…. even the Church recognizes that that’s not healthy. A good pastor will advise his flock to live a balanced life that includes God, but not one where there is exclusion of normal, healthy activities and interactions. For example, a priest that tells his flock to avoid all medical intervention, even those that could be life saving, and to instead devote all time to prayer is spiritually abusive AND giving bad advice. A priest that tells his flock that even recreational sex between married spouses is wrong unless the entire purpose is to procreate is being spiritually abusive and setting that marriage up for failure. A priest that tells his flock that the only healthy and acceptable social activities are church based or church approved is being spiritually abusive. A priest telling a married couple that going on birth control is wrong even if getting pregnant could kill her and she wouldn’t survive a pregnancy and/or a resulting baby wouldn’t make it to term without severe deformities and premature birth and being incompatible with life … that’s spiritually abusive. And anyone that would encourage and spread these ideas is being spiritually abusive.
- It’s a stereotype to believe that Christians believe they’ll be persecuted for their beliefs, but there’s a basis in that stereotype. When this particular paranoia does exist, the paranoia that the faithful of the Christian faith are more enlightened but hated for it and everyone else will therefore try and persecute and destroy the faithful… it’s harmful and abusive. It’s abusive to those who are not Christian but it’s also harmful to those who ARE Christian. It creates an Us Versus Them mentality that’s pervasive and unjustified and automatically creates Insiders and Outsiders. It pushes people away from the faith who might otherwise have given it a chance. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Creating human agendas that are not Christ-like, but selfish agendas that go against what Christ taught, are spiritually abusive. Believing and encouraging others to believe that one and only one faith/denomination/system/ideology/idea is right and threatening that believing otherwise is going to have a spiritual consequence is abusive. Jesus never once said, “If you don’t believe in me or God you will go to hell.” What he said was he would show us the path to God and all we had to do was choose to follow him.
- Using scare tactics and the threat of humiliation are spiritually abusive. Period. Full stop.
- True faith is not secretive. You should not ever have to hide your faith no matter what it is. If you are Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Hindi, Buddhist, Taoist, Wicca, Animist, Spiritualist, Pagan, Humanist, Secularist, etc. If you have to hide your feelings and your faith or feel that you risk punishment from someone else, that’s spiritual abuse.
- Abusive thought patterns: black/white, this/that, either/or, us/them, good/bad. This is call Dichotomous thinking patterns. People who believe this way believe that their interpretations are the only right way and all others are wrong and there’s no room for error. Anyone who disagrees is wrong. If you disagree with them, you’re not “enough.” Again… abusive.
- Evangelistic zealotry that is myopic.
So what do you do about this? How do you deal with it? Recognizing the signs are the first step. I’m sure I’m missing many signs but these are the ones that have stuck out the most and the ones that seem to be the most agreed upon that occur not just among some religious leaders but in families and with individuals. They were the ones I was also able to recall most easily.
I’ll spare you as to why I was inspired to post this now, tonight.
- Do you enable spiritual abuse? (wisecounsel.wordpress.com)
- Spirtual abuse from Church leaders, is the worst abuse. It is evil, pure evil. (healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com)
- Crosspost: When Spiritual Abuse Comes From The Home (homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com)
- Preventing spiritual abuse? Listen to that little voice plus… (wisecounsel.wordpress.com)