In anticipation of the Nov 1st release of my new book, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church, I am making my way through a 5-part blog series on misconceptions and misunderstandings of spiritual abuse. You can read prior installments here and here.
We come now to #3 in the series: “Spiritual abuse is not in the Bible or church history—it’s just a modern psychological construct.”
A number of folks may balk at the idea of spiritual abuse solely on the grounds that the terminology itself is relatively modern. If it does not appear in the Bible (or church history), it is argued, then we can’t affirm it.
While the impetus behind such a concern is fundamentally valid (the Bible is our highest standard and church history an important guide), this objection is guilty of the word-concept fallacy. Sure, the terminology itself may be relatively new, but the concept is not. Indeed, the concept is rooted deep in Scripture and church history.
What is Spiritual Abuse?
If we are going to understand the concept more clearly, then we should begin with a definition of spiritual abuse. In my forthcoming book, I go into the definition issue in more depth, but for our purposes here, we can define spiritual abuse as when
A spiritual leader—such as a pastor, elder, or head of a Christian organization—wields his position of spiritual authority in such a way that he manipulates, domineers, bullies, and intimidates those under him in order to maintain their own power and control.
In other words, spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader rules in a harsh and heavy-handed manner. Others have called this same phenomenon heavy shepherding or authoritarian leadership.
With that definition laid out, it is rather evident that this is not a new problem in the 21st century. Nor is it a problem invented by a modern psychological culture. Rather it is a problem as old as humanity itself. [Read more…]