It was recently brought to my attention that Patheos.com published an article on spiritual abuse entitled: Overemphasizing Spiritual Abuse?. There are some rather inconsistent and illogical (not to mention insensitive) information in that article. As a result I decided to post a rebuttal. It is my hope that this will serve as a reminder that battles for the war against spiritual abuse can be fought on many fronts.
I think the fundamental (no pun intended) flaw in your article, Charles, is that spiritual abuse isn’t limited to fundamentalism (which you seem to imply). Even if it were, before you can make statements such as “I would posit that Fundamentalism is a vice from which we millennials are in very little danger.” it would behoove you to define exactly what you mean by “fundamentalism”. I have a colleague who blogs about the Independent Fundamental Baptists. His website currently gets millions of hits per year to his site. I’d say that shows it’s a pretty big problem – and that’s just one of many, many fundamental traditions/denominations. And on top of that there are traditions/denominations that aren’t as overt about their status as “fundamentalists”. But even if only 1 person were abused spiritual wouldn’t that be enough to speak out against it? Just a thought.
Anytime the Bible/religion/spirituality, etc. is used in an “abusive” way that’s abuse. I know that sounds a bit broad and subjective, but that’s because it is. That’s simply a reality of spiritual abuse and a big part of why it’s so devastating. Spiritual abuse is highly subjective and we need to make sure we are being sensitive to each unique and individual experience. What’s spiritual abuse for one person may not be for another. You speak of indoctrination in terms of “domination”, but researchers/authors/experts in the field of spiritual abuse have long described it using such terms as covert, subtle, manipulative, inconspicuous, camouflaged, etc. These are terms that describe more of a covert, gradual and insidious process rather than the overt “domination” that your article seems to connote.
You say things like “I sincerely don’t mean to minimize the evils of spiritual abuse…” and “Without diminishing in any way the devastating effects of spiritual abuse in individual lives,…” yet that’s exactly what you’re doing (minimizing and diminishing) by what you wrote. Just because you say you don’t mean to do something doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing it. That’s similar to the person that says “with all due respect…” then proceed to say something disrespectful – as if saying “with all due respect…” neutralizes any disrespect that may proceed. Your statements come across the same way unfortunately which I think is sad and really trivializes a very serious issue.
I attempt to provide a definition of spiritual abuse on this website that is all inclusive and complete. But the complexities of spiritual abuse make such an effort almost impossible. We do the best we can, however, to try and make sure that we aren’t minimizing such devastating and malicious religious/spiritual practices. As a counselor it’s my perspective that we should never even risk the chance of appearing to minimize any type of abuse, especially not publicly. I cautiously agree with your assertion to Sarah that victims should be questioned so as to keep some level of accountability for those who would take advantage of the situation (which I think is what you meant to imply in your reply to her comment), but it should be done by skilled clinicians in private, not theologians and certainly not publicly. I’m afraid that articles such as yours only serve to perpetuate the stigma attached to victimization and cause people who are trying to reach out for help to second guess themselves. This can lead to more abuse and deeper spiritual wounds, and that’s abuse in and of itself.