Member Question – Can you give some clear examples of signs of how a pastor or church leader is crossing the line from being a shepherd to a spiritual abuser? It would be helpful to know when to support a pastor when he is truly trying to defend and protect his flock from outside/wrong influence vs. a pastor who has an agenda and is above questioning/accountability. It seems like the lines are sometimes blurred.
For further reading
- Thinking biblically about spiritual abuse
- Thinking biblically about those who have been victimized by sexual abuse
- Listening to sexual abuse
Spiritual abuse happens when someone mentally manipulates another person in order to accomplish an ungodly agenda. All abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, is spiritual abuse.
You cannot physically or sexually abuse someone without harming their inner being–their spiritual selves. Your question is not asking about physical or sexual abuse, but solely about the internal harming of one’s soul.
Humans are two parts–a dichotomy–physical and spiritual. The spiritual aspects of a person include the soul, spirit, mind, will, emotions, and so forth. The physical also has several parts, e.g., brain, bones, internal organs, and external body parts.
Spiritual abuse is abuse of the soul, which primarily affects the mind–how a person thinks. If the internal harming continues unabated, it will affect the person spiritually–how he relates to God, to himself/herself, and to others.
A darkness comes over the soul, which can lead to depression, despair, despondency, and even suicide. It can also lead to erratic behaviors like unstable anger, fear-motivated withdrawal, or alleviating mechanisms like alcohol and medications.
This happens more than we generally think, which makes your question relevant. The most common place where you will find spiritual abuse is in contexts where someone has authority over a person, whether the authority is God-given or self-proclaimed.
The two most common places where spiritual abuse happens for a Christian are marriage and the local church. In these contexts there is a God-given hierarchical structure. This biblical structure is not bad or necessarily wrong. It’s only