Misuse and Abuse in Spirituality

by Rod Smith

Spiritual Abuse (always on a continuum) is occurring when a pastor, leader, or friend:

Hears God for you then alienates or punishes you if you do not adhere to his/her guidance, leadership, or authority. This is often subtle – so it is easy to deny.

Suggests that rejection of his/her higher understanding is done so at your peril. You will hear things like, “Be careful. You will move yourself from God’s protection if you ignore my guidance.”

Rewards your obedience with inclusion, and punishes your questioning with withdrawal. You’re stroked or struck!

Demands cathartic honesty. Unless you spew out every detail of your life you must be hiding something.

Lavishes you with praise, acceptance, and understanding when you are “good” and pushes you away when you are “bad.”

Such leaders leave a trail of cut-off relationships. Usually in the trail are those who refuse to submit to the will of the pastor, the leader or the friend. Such leaders live from a for me/or against me, black/white, all/or nothing platform of relationships. There are usually insiders and outsiders.

A healthy faith is about reconciliation, forgiveness, and freedom. It’s about “space” and room to move to respectfully disagree, there’s no trading in guilt or blame. Healthy leaders, friends increase your freedom, they do not try to restrict it.

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