Monday, December 21, 2009

Who Joins Spiritually Abusive Groups?

I regularly check for cult related news at a rather unique website. You can check it too at this link.

One of the things I hate to see when I go there is under the title “Clergy Abuse.” Most of the news in this category is sexual abuse but other forms also show up occasionally.

If you have not experienced spiritual abuse personally thank God for it. You probably wonder how people get caught in something so obviously bad for them. Its not easy but it extremely common. Spiritual abuse grows out of a seedbed of legalism, a performance-based relationship with God. This leads to a focus on the external, or what is visible and can be checked by others. This is what Jesus referred to in the Pharisees as “whited sepulchers.” When our relationship with God can be reduced to the external it is probably accompanied with a person or group that reinforces that view.

Anyone who has experienced this abuse needs to know three things. First, recovery can be found. Second, when you have recovered, give from your experience to others who are struggling with abuse and legalism to help them find hope again. And third, thank God for your experience (and the recovery) because you will then be a much stronger, and wiser Christian whom God will use to heal His wounded sheep.

My workbook on Spiritual Abuse Recovery was dedicated “to the ‘Wounded Sheep’ who just wanted to serve God and please Him.” I have excerpted part of Chapter Two below to provide some insight into why this is a growing, and unrecognized, problem.

Chapter Two: Who Joins Abusive Groups?

“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”
G.K. Chesterton

The question of who joins high control religious groups seems like it would have a simple answer. It does not. Nor is there a simple answer to how it happens.
The starting place should be the question of what disposes a person to spiritual abuse? Why is a person vulnerable? What differences in people make one vulnerable and another not so vulnerable? I would love to know your answers to these questions but here is a list that may help you think it through.

Which of these statements fit you?
1) I had a lack of knowledge of the Bible.
2) I was raised in an abusive family or church so I didn’t know the difference.
3) I was not sufficiently strong in critical thinking skills or will power.
4) I came to Christ through the abusive group’s influence.
5) I was like the frog in the kettle where things changed so gradually I didn’t notice until it was too late.
6) I am easily led, or I want someone to take the lead for me….

…. People who were raised in families where dysfunction was the norm may gravitate toward a church that is like their family of origin. It’s all they know. It’s the familiar rut with an accepted comfort level. The way to break out of such a rut is exposure to a much more gracious culture. Hopefully the contrast will stir a hunger for grace and not performance. This is what the people in the Bible who knew they were sinners saw in Jesus. They contrasted Him to the self-righteous Pharisees and knew instantly that Jesus was someone to listen to.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the Spiritual Abuse Recovery workbook send me an email at the address on this blog. I will tell you how you can receive it.