For the last several years I’ve been on a personal spiritual journey. I’ve been discovering what I believe and why I believe what I do. Spurred on by finding myself frustrated by different difficult situations in my church community, I found myself broken and questioning. I don’t yet have all the answers that I am looking for. The journey has had its ups and downs and twists and turns. Along the way, my beautiful kind sister, Sarah has been instrumental in helping me to navigate.
Today I am sharing a piece so graciously and eloquently written by her from her heart. She put into words what’s been knocking around my head and heart for months and years!
At the risk of vulnerability, I feel compelled to share this.
Over the past few years, I have participated in multiple conversations and shed many tears with people from different walks of life who have been deeply affected by spiritual abuse. Books, websites, podcasts, conferences, and even whole ministries are devoted to helping those who have experience with it.
For those of you who have no experience with this kind of abuse, praise God, but please be aware that the person sitting beside you in Bible study, worshipping behind you in service, or praying next to you in life group may be dealing with deeply seeded wounds planted by spiritually abusive systems, doctrines, and/or leaders. And for every person still struggling to engage in community with other believers after having experienced spiritual abuse, there are countless more who physically cannot enter a church building without reliving trauma.
“Whether subtle or obvious, spiritual abuse is a form of trauma that undermines your relationship with yourself and with God.”
The Allender Center defines spiritual abuse for their “Confronting Spiritual Abuse” conference as, “The use of religious or spiritual power and authority to control, coerce, or perpetrate harm. In many ways, spiritual abuse is a distortion or exploitation of God’s power and authority to manipulate or control others’ bodies, personhood, relationships, and autonomy through shame and fear. Spiritually abusive systems and organizations and spiritually abusive people use religious texts, theologies, and practices to harm relationally, emotionally, and physically.”
Spiritual abuse, as defined here, is the very antithesis of 1 Timothy 1:7-10, where we read,
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
The gospel is redemptive. It heals, restores, transforms, forgives, empowers, and frees. So, brothers and sisters, if you have suffered or are currently suffering, not for this gospel’s sake, but at the hands of some other gospel; please know that there is hope and healing as we rest in faith through the grace Jesus Christ displayed in his ultimate sacrificial suffering on the cross.
You are not alone on your journey. You belong. You are wanted...not for how well you perform; how hard you work; how consistently you attend gatherings; how connected you are; how committed you are to institutional standards; how well you dress; how intensely you serve, how eloquently you speak; how much money you give; how well-behaved your children are; how glowing your reputation is; how well you fit into a mold; how talented, gifted or educated you are; how dedicated you are to a cause…but you are wanted because you are accepted in the Beloved. Chosen. Adopted. Redeemed.
I know our healing journey may be long, and unsteady; but I believe the “Confronting Spiritual Abuse” conference may be a place to start or rest along the way.
In many ways, spiritual abuse is a distortion or exploitation of God’s power and authority to manipulate or control others’ bodies, personhood, relationships, and autonomy through shame and fear.
Thank you, Sarah for your contribution.
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