emotional and spiritual abuse within the church

While common, spiritual abuse can be difficult to recognize. The line between abuse and dysfunction can sometimes be blurry. Spiritual abuse is not limited to a specific religion, denomination, or group and can be challenging to identify. Actually, abuse in a spiritual environment is more common than you would imagine. Many of the victims we talk to have had elements of spiritual abuse within their stories, either from a religious group or their own parents. To clarify, spiritual abuse is the act of manipulating or controlling an individual to adhere to a specific religion/leader/group/lifestyle/etc.

We Define Child Exploitation As

Using a Child for Another Person’s Gain or Benefit

We have purposefully used the word “exploitation” over many other more common descriptions for a purposeful reason. The phrase “child exploitation” helps us begin to dialogue about the macro connections between all the types of exploitation faced by children.

Red Flags of Spiritual Abuse

  • Intense shame from spiritual abuse becomes the primary red flag that it exists.
  • Being threatened or reprimanded for questioning the religion, group, or leader’s teachings.
  • Superiority (us vs. them mentality) when referring to those who do not adhere to or attend the same belief/practices. Saying what they have is exclusive and cannot be found anywhere else.
  • Forces/requires participation in certain rituals such as prayer, worship, communion, bowing, public displays of adherence, etc.
  • Scriptures, religious texts, or beliefs are used to justify harmful or abusive behaviors.
  • Will disregard or shame a victim’s negative experiences within the religious group.
  • No freedom of choice and any form of disagreement is condemned. Loyalty = not questioning.
  • There will often be a lack of accountability and transparency.
  • Also, releasing people to other works/groups/etc. is frowned upon. If people leave, they are shamed, ridiculed, mocked, and shunned by leaders and/or those who remain.

The Severe Damage of Spiritual Abuse

Remember, due to the intensely personal nature of spirituality, abuse in this area can be one of the most damaging and earth-shattering to victims. Also, those who have experienced previous trauma are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of spiritual abuse. Often, people find their hope in spirituality. So if spiritual abuse occurs, they lose all hope, and many walk away from their faith entirely.

Special Note from Frontline Professionals: In groups where accusations are surfacing be cautious not to get lost in the mud of “he said, she said.” So, pay close attention to HOW the leaders and faithful members respond and WHAT they say. Did they put any blame on victims or minimize their pain? Were serious accusations laughed at or joked about? Was there partial truth in what they said? Did they respond to only a part of the accusation? Was the response equal in weight to the severity of the accusation? Also, there will always be accusations, so learning to discern amid these confusing realities are essential to protecting your family.

Join the Movement to PREVENT child Exploitation!

There is always a starting point for every great movement—a place where you become aware of a need and decide to be the solution.  Join the mass movement of adults around the nation who are gaining the knowledge & skills needed to protect children!

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