In anticipation of the Nov 1st release of my forthcoming book, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church (Zondervan, 2022), I am working my way through a new blog series, “5 Misconceptions about Spiritual Abuse.” You can find the prior installment here.
We now come to the #2 misconception in the series: “Spiritual abuse is only a problem in independent churches that have no established church polity.”
In the research for my book, I was surprised to see the widespread nature of this sentiment. Across the board, folks regularly expressed the idea that authoritarian, domineering pastors must be linked to a church polity that is either non-existent or underdeveloped. Thus, independent churches, it is thought, must be the prime breeding ground for bully pastors.
But the reality on the ground doesn’t bear this out. Here are few things I learned in my research.
1. Spiritual abuse crosses denominational and theological boundaries
While there are no hard statistics on spiritual abuse, I saw no correlation between denominational polity and spiritual abuse. The cases I saw occurred in churches that were independent, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican/Episcopal. Indeed, some of the most severe cases occurred in some of the most hierarchical/highly structured denominations. Of course, I am just one individual, and my sample size is obviously limited, but I think this is still worth noting.
Historically, we have seen this same trend when it comes to sexual abuse. There may be no more highly structured church than Roman Catholicism, yet that was the very group that allowed sexual abuse to exist unchecked for generations. And, as I already noted, the recent revelations 6-part Houston Chronicle series, and now the newly released SBC report, show that some of the same problems exist in Baptist churches. [Read more…]