Spiritual Abuse

Continuing our series on crisis resources, here is a collection of materials on spiritual abuse. The descriptions are from the publishers, edited for length. Most of the books below are available at the Potsdam Public Library.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse generally involves leaders controlling others through “misuse of scripture, claims to divine authority, pressure to conform, and enforced accountability.” Victims are often isolated, and manipulated into silence. Spiritual abuse can include domestic violence, violence inflicted on children, emotional and psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Perpetrators use claims of spiritual authority to manipulate victims, i.e., that “God wants” parents to beat their children.

It is horrifying to hear the stories of victims from our own community about church leadership providing instruction to families on the proper techniques for assaulting their own children, and how to shame and manipulate them into secrecy. Psychological abuse is even more rampant and harder to detect with victims left unsure if what’s happening is really abuse.

To any of our readers who have that feeling that “something’s not right,” I hope that you will find some answers in the books and resources below, and that you’ll find yourself on a path to healing.

–Annie

Podcasts and Videos

The Allender Center Podcast: Spiritual Abuse Series

FOCL YouTube Playlist: Diane Langberg

The Spiritual Abuse Podcast

Theology Gals: Spiritual Abuse

Books

ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing

When Emily Joy Allison outed her abuser on Twitter, she launched #ChurchToo, a movement to expose the culture of sexual abuse and assault utterly rampant in Christian churches in America. Not a single denomination is unaffected. And the reasons are somewhat different than those you might find in the #MeToo stories coming out of Hollywood or Washington. While patriarchy and misogyny are problems everywhere, they take on a particularly pernicious form in Christian churches where those with power have been insisting, since many decades before #MeToo, that this sexually dysfunctional environment is, in fact, exactly how God wants it to be.

The #MeToo movement has revealed sexual abuse and assault in every sphere of society, including the church. But victims are routinely ignored by fellow Christians who deny their accounts and fail to bring accountability to the perpetrators. All too often, churches have been complicit in protecting abusers, reinforcing patriarchal power dynamics, and creating cultures of secrecy, shame, and silence. Pastor and survivor Ruth Everhart shines a light on the prevalence of sexual abuse and misconduct within faith communities.

She candidly discloses stories of how she and others have experienced assault in church settings, highlighting the damage done to individuals, families, and communities. Everhart offers hope to survivors as she declares that God is present with the violated and stands in solidarity with victims. Scriptural narratives like those of Tamar and Bathsheba carry powerful resonance in today’s context, as do the accounts of Jesus’ interactions with women. God is at work in the midst of this #MeToo moment to call the church to repentance and deliver us from violence against the vulnerable.

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Such experiences inevitably leave traces on minds, emotions, and even on biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to their partners and children.

Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring–specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy–and a way to reclaim lives.

Breaking the Silence contains important, action-oriented information about domestic violence and its pervasiveness in society. Sections include “myths” about domestic violence; a checklist to determine if a relationship is potentially violent; clergy resources for counseling, worship, and congregational outreach; rape; information for youth; and pages that can be customized with local and national contact numbers, e-mail addresses, and websites. Also includes questions for discussion and suggestions for using the book for training or as a youth and adult education tool.

What is the way forward for the church?
Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches–from Willow Creek to Harvest, from Southern Baptist pastors to Sovereign Grace churches. Respected author and theologian Scot McKnight and former Willow Creek member Laura Barringer wrote this book to paint a pathway forward for the church.

We need a better way. The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth.

How do we keep these devastating events from repeating themselves? We need a map to get us from where we are today to where we ought to be as the body of Christ. That map is in a mysterious and beautiful little Hebrew word in Scripture that we translate “good,” the word tov.

In this book, McKnight and Barringer explore the concept of tov–unpacking its richness and how it can help Christians and churches rise up to fulfill their true calling as imitators of Jesus.

This powerful book deals with the issue of how Christians, especially those called to counsel, can help survivors of sexual abuse find healing and hope. From 20 years of experience, the author demonstrates how counselors can walk alongside people deeply wounded by sexual abuse as they face the truth about who they are, who their abuser was, and who God is as the Savior and Redeemer of all life. Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse issues a strong call to the church at large to walk with survivors through the long dark nights of their healing.

According to the American Medical Association, one quarter of American women will be abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Loving support can make a tremendous difference to survivors as they struggle with the difficult process of healing and regaining trust in themselves and others. Often, however, pastoral caregivers possess the same misconceptions about domestic violence as does the uninformed public.

Al Miles addresses the issues related to inadequate pastoral response to this pervasive problem. He explores the dynamics of abusive relationships and the role that clergy members can take to heal this painful situation.

Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse: Creating Healthy Christian Cultures (in process)

‘Every time he wanted me to do something, he would quote scripture… I couldn’t argue with scripture, it was like arguing with God.’

The term ‘spiritual abuse’ is widely used across the Christian community. But what is it?
Sometimes spiritual abuse involves leaders misusing their position, but ministers can also be the victims. Common factors include control through misuse of scripture, claims to divine authority, pressure to conform, and enforced accountability. Individuals may be isolated, and compelled to secrecy and silence.

Drawing on a combination of extensive research, individual testimonies, and years of hands-on experience, Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys describe clearly the nature of spiritual abuse, and the best ways of countering it. Recovery is possible.

Sex is such an intimate topic historically wrapped in shame and when someone shares they were sexually abused, we may not know how to respond.

With recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, we are learning just how many men, women, boys, and girls have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted person, often family members or leaders in the church. Sexual abuse is rampant in modern society and now–sometimes many years later–sexual abuse survivors are sharing their stories.

Anne Marie Miller is a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse and has shared her journey toward healing with audiences all over the world. After speaking with thousands of survivors and their loved ones, she saw the need for a fundamental and practical guide for helping supporters of sexual abuse survivors understand the basics of abuse, trauma, healing, and hope.

Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping, revisionist history of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, revealing how evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism–or in the words of one modern chaplain, with “a spiritual badass.”

As acclaimed scholar Kristin Du Mez explains, the key to understanding this transformation is to recognize the centrality of popular culture in contemporary American evangelicalism.

Challenging the commonly held assumption that the “moral majority” backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 for purely pragmatic reasons, Du Mez reveals that Trump in fact represented the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values: patriarchy, authoritarian rule, aggressive foreign policy, fear of Islam, ambivalence toward #MeToo, and opposition to Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community. A much-needed reexamination of perhaps the most influential subculture in this country, Jesus and John Wayne shows that, far from adhering to biblical principles, modern white evangelicals have utterly remade their faith, with enduring consequences for all Americans.

Walking through Psalm 23 phrase by phrase, therapist and author K.J. Ramsey explores the landscape of our fear, trauma, and faith. When she stepped through her own wilderness of spiritual abuse and religious trauma, K.J. discovered that courage is not the absence of anxiety but the practice of trusting we will be held and loved no matter what.

How can we cultivate courage when fear overshadows our lives? How do we hear the Voice of Love when hate and harm shout loud? This book offers an honest path to finding that there is still a Good Shepherd who is always following you. Braiding contemplative storytelling, theological reflection, and practical neuroscience, Ramsey reveals a route into connection and joy that begins right where you are.

The Lord is My Courage is for the deconstructing and the dreamers, the afraid and the amazed, for those whose fear has not been fully shepherded but who can’t seem to stop listening for their Good Shepherd’s Voice.

An internationally recognized counselor offers Christian leaders a clinical and theological framework for understanding how power operates, the effects of the abuse of power, and how power can be redeemed and restored to its proper God-given place in human relationships and institutions.

Trauma therapist Teresa B. Pasquale offers healing exercises, true-life examples, and life-giving discussion for anyone suffering from the very real pain of church hurt. Pasquale, a trauma survivor herself, understands the immeasurable value of our wounds once we’ve acknowledged them and recovered in community. That’s why the wounds are “sacred,” and the hope this book offers is a powerful message to anyone suffering from this widespread problem.

This book explores the nature of emotional wounds, trauma, and spiritual hurt that come from negative religious experience. Some of the features are: -Stories from a wide range of persons hurt by negative religious experience -Healing and contemplative practices to help readers explore their own spiritual story and practical ways to move towards personal healing -A journey through the experience of trauma in religious settings and how it is both relatable to other forms of trauma and distinctive-outlining both facets -An exploration of the author’s own personal and professional understanding of hurt, trauma, PTSD, and the power of resiliency and healing.

“Am I the only one who sees this–am I just imagining things? Is something wrong with me . . . or could this be abuse?”

Maybe you don’t know for sure: all you know is something feels off when you think about a certain relationship or interaction with an institution or organization. You feel alone and confused–but calling it “abuse” feels extreme and unsettling, a label for what happens to other people but not you. Yet you can’t shake the feeling: something’s not right.

In his debut book, researcher and advocate Wade Mullen introduces us to the groundbreaking world of impression management–the strategies that individuals and organizations utilize to gain power and cover up their wrongdoings. Mullen reveals a pattern that accompanies many types of abuse, almost as if abusers are somehow reading from the same playbook. If we can learn to decode these evil methods–if we can learn the language of abuse–we can help stop the cycle and make abusers less effective at accomplishing destruction in our lives.

Something’s Not Right will help you to identify and describe tactics that were previously unidentifiable and indescribable, and give you the language you need to move toward freedom and create a safer future for yourself and others.

We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis (in process)

In the throes of the #MeToo movement, with authority and compassion, Mary DeMuth draws on her personal experience and elevates the voices of survivors as she unpacks the history of the church’s response to sexual abuse in order to find a new way forward.

“Timely and necessary…This book is not only a warning. It is an opportunity. An opportunity to live out the gospel we so passionately proclaim. And it starts with listening.”–J.D. Greear, President of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Well-Armored Child: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse (in process)

Author Joelle Casteix has filled the need for an easy-to-read toolkit for parents when it comes to preventing childhood sexual abuse. When her own child was born, she was deluged with tomes that covered everything from breastfeeding to choosing the right college. But one book was noticeably absent. It’s the book that can help parents take action to prevent their child from becoming another statistic.

The Well-Armored Child gives parents the tools and strategies to understand how predators “groom” children, why many of our trusted institutions cover up abuse, and how to empower children without shame, fear, or inappropriate discussions of sex.

Written by Rachael Denhollander, recipient of Sports Illustrated’s Inspiration of the Year Award and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People (2018).

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected?”

Rachael Denhollander’s voice was heard around the world when she spoke out to end the most shocking USA gymnastics scandal in history.

The first victim to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused hundreds of young athletes, Rachael now reveals her full story for the first time. How did Nassar get away with it for so long? How did Rachael and the other survivors finally stop him and bring him to justice? And how can we protect the vulnerable in our own families, churches, and communities?

What Is a Girl Worth? is the inspiring true story of Rachael’s journey from an idealistic young gymnast to a strong and determined woman who found the courage to raise her voice against evil, even when she thought the world might not listen. In this crucial cultural moment of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, this deeply personal and compelling narrative shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, why so many survivors are reluctant to speak out, and what it means to be believed.

Why does narcissism seem to thrive in our churches?

We’ve seen the news stories. Maybe we ourselves have been hurt by a narcissistic church leader. But what is narcissism, really? And how does it infiltrate the church?

Chuck DeGroat has been counseling pastors with narcissistic personality disorder, as well as those wounded by narcissistic leaders and systems, for over twenty years.

He knows firsthand the devastation narcissism leaves in its wake and how insidious and painful it is. In When Narcissism Comes to Church, DeGroat takes a close look at narcissism, not only in ministry leaders but also in church systems. He offers compassion and hope for those affected by its destructive power and imparts wise counsel for churches looking to heal from its systemic effects.

DeGroat also offers hope for narcissists themselves–not by any shortcut, but by the long, slow road of genuine recovery through repentance and trust in the gospel of Jesus.