by an Anonymous Preacher’s Wife
Spiritual abuse is a horrible, hidden, silent, and deadly act on one’s soul. Some people do not know how to define exactly what spiritual abuse is, or are confused by the lines that can sometimes be blurred by it. In order to even write about spiritual abuse, there has to be a definition of what exactly spiritual abuse is, and is not.
Spiritual abuse is a set of beliefs that someone has against another in order to manipulate that individual into agreeing, or complying into those beliefs. Tactics that can be used are humiliation, invalidating, or demeaning someone who does not agree with certain spiritual aspects. It is intimidating others to be submissive to religious authority without questioning, or disagreeing against the person’s authority.
Spiritual abuse is falsely accusing an individual, or labeling them as having no faith in God, being disobedient, being an enemy of one’s own church, or accusing this individual of trying to make others fall away from the church. It is being accused of being possessed, having a devil, or a spirit. It is forbidding others in the church from having any association with them—even friends or family members.
Spiritual abuse is sharing information with only select people because they are “privileged”, or hold special “positions”. It is expecting others to conform to dangerous religious practices. It is shunning, persecuting, and/or excommunicating an individual, and then expecting, encouraging, forcing others that remain in the group to do the same by spreading rumors, threats, and other lies about the individual. It is refusing members of the group medical, and/or psychological treatment by claiming God will heal. It can also include seducing someone, or sexually abusing someone with claims that God is wanting this done.
Spiritual abuse is not ritual abuse, although they are closely linked together. If spiritual abuse progresses, it has a possibility to turn into ritual abuse. They are both intertwined because they both come from the same foundation of shaming, and humiliating someone into complying to whatever the abuser is wanting to accomplish, which is keeping control, and power over their victims.
Spiritual abuse can happen in any religion, denomination, belief. It can cross any line whether it is Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Jehovah Witness, Jewish, Hindu, Islam, Buddhist, or Pagan. The common theme is in order to keep it under control, in order for the abuser to keep order, he/she has to do whatever possible to keep it secret.
What Spiritual Abuse is NOT!
It is not about a pastor trying to lead a congregation. Pastors sometimes have to give instruction to a saint of their church. Saints are like sheep, and sometimes need direction, and guidance. A loving pastor will never approach a saint that does need correction in any of the ways described under spiritual abuse. A loving pastor will do it in love, and sincerity along with much prayer. Does it sometimes hurt when a pastor corrects a saint? YES!!! But a saint that loves God, WILL always know the difference, and will know her pastor’s heart. Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. In this verse, the saint knows that it is wise to obey her pastor. In this verse it also states that they (meaning the pastor) will have to give an account. I believe that God is going to require an answer of that pastor for how they handled their saints. Did they handle their saints properly the way God would have wanted it handled, or did they cause more harm? God takes all things
into account. Not just the pastor but the saint as well. Did the saint listen to the pastor, follow instruction, and cause any commotion? God is a just God, He sees it all.
There is a huge difference in a spiritual leader watching out for someone's soul, trying to lead them, and guide them, compared to someone misusing, and abusing the authority that God placed them over. Most pastors are not spiritual abusers. I have known and respected many good pastors. It’s just a shame that there are a few bad ones out there that seem to ruin the whole barrel for many. When someone has gone through spiritual abuse, trust is violated. It appalls me to think how spiritual abuse and childhood sexual abuse are very similar. The main component that is so critical in both situations is violated, and that is trust. I think of when Jesus wanted us to have the faith of a child, that innocence to just trust. It is no surprise that the enemy will take the very core, and try to destroy what God wanted us to hold close, and that is to trust.
Spiritual abuse will try to destroy a person’s faith, their sense of self, their humanity, their core, their beliefs, what they was taught, their foundation, and even God will be questioned in the process. It’s an awful thing to go through. If one can ever come out the other side, this individual will walk away with strength beyond what they ever imagined. There is hope on the other side.
But How Can This Happen?
One might ask how does one fall into spiritual abuse to begin with. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to some of the most intelligent people. It does not mean that a person is gullible, or ignorant. It just means that the abuser spotted an opportunity, even if it was the slightest window, and took it when he/she had the opportunity. This could be through the form of building up trust, of putting a person in a position of “authority” or trusted position, or some other form. Mind control is a huge part of spiritual abuse, as well as, emotional and mental abuse. In order for the abuser to gain the control he/she is seeking, the abuser had to “earn” the person’s trust, and when the opportunity presented right, they gained control.
Spiritual abuse can happen to anyone. It happened to me, sadly on more than one occasion. On one instance, it was under leadership—a pastor’s wife was the one who was the spiritual abuser. She was very controlling. She controlled not only where I slept but what I ate, what I wore, when I drove my vehicle, when I could have my vehicle, how I wore my hair, and the list went on. If I disagreed with what she said, she told me I was going against God’s will, that God would punish me. She had me so afraid of God’s wrath. I was also her “right hand woman”. She depended on me for everything, or so I thought. In reality, she was just using me to make herself look good. It was a vicious cycle. I finally was able to break away from her. Unfortunately she had a long and negative reputation that I was very unaware of.
Spiritual abuse did not just stop with this woman, it only continued to carry over. Whenever pastors found out I was even associated with this particular woman, I would get labeled, or I was to be watched. One pastor told me that he had “put a red flag” out on me because of this woman. I do not blame these pastors. They were just trying to protect their congregations. They were only doing what they knew out of ignorance. I was nothing like this woman, didn’t even act like her, yet I was labeled because of being associated with her. Due to the hurt that was caused not only from this woman but also from the isolation of these churches, and pastors, I never stayed one place long enough for anyone to get to know me. I just moved on.
Several years had passed, and I thought I had finally rid my “demons” of this woman for ever. My husband and I moved trying to assist a church. Everything was going well. My husband became a licensed minister. We were the “assistant pastor/pastor’s wife” without the official title. I was helping with the music; my husband was helping with the preaching when the pastor was not able to be there. We both were teaching home Bible studies. I had written one book, and was working on a second. Ministry was going well for us.
Then one day, the pastor found out about my secret from the past. He knew this woman, and had been hurt tremendously by her. Well you can only guess what had happened. The ugly head of spiritual abuse rose its head but with a vengeance like I had never seen before. The problem this time is this pastor had issues of his own, he had problems with women. Well with those issues, and then add that to the one he never resolved with this woman who offended him, well it all came flowing over on to me.
It first started out with small things. He would make comments that I wasn’t doing something right, or I needed correction in this part of my life. Looking back, I wonder now if he wasn’t trying to see just how loyal I was, or if I wouldn’t buck up at him. At first I didn’t think much of it, and would try to straighten up. For whatever reason, I never could seem to do “right” in his eyes. Then he started pulling my husband to the side, saying things to my husband about me. He would tell my husband that it was in strictest of confidence, and would use my husband’s license as the “tool” to keep him from telling me. Well there was one slight thing that this man did not count on, that is God did talk to me. I knew almost every time this man would pull my husband to the side, and slander me. I told my husband that what he was trying to do was cause division between us, and that was wrong. This man told my husband that I had a Jezebel spirit, that I was uncontrollable, and that I was pushy. He told my husband that something needed to be done with me.
At the time, I was helping with the music. The man told me that people was saying I was a piano hog. All I was doing was taking care of the music when the other piano player was late or didn’t show up, which seemed to be most of the time. He would have other saints say things to me about my children, cruel things. I never had a calling to teach Sunday school, and yet that is exactly where he put me because the one who was supposed to be teaching Sunday school wouldn’t show up.
He had the presbyter call me one time at home. I had a lot of respect for this presbyter. After the phone call, I knew exactly where this call came from. The presbyter told me I did not hear from God, and I had no idea what I was talking about. I just listened, and said I understand what you’re saying sir. I wept after that phone call because I knew that this man was not only out to get me personally, he was out to have everyone that I looked up to in my life for spiritual leadership turn against me.
One day, this man called me and my husband in to his office. I told my husband that I didn’t feel right about this meeting, that something good was not going to happen. My husband said we need to go, so with great hesitation, I went. As I sat down, I noticed on his desk the biggest stack of blank paper I had ever seen. The man first gave huge accolades to my husband for all the hard work he had done. Then the true quest of this meeting came out, he turned to me. He wanted to know who I had been talking to. I told him that I had not discussed anything with anyone in the organization. He wanted to know what had been going on with me. I told him that I would rather not discuss anything with him because he had months to come to me, and he chose not to one time approach me, that he had every opportunity to talk to me, and yet he has chosen to ignore me. He immediately got defensive, and wanted to know who was I to decide for him when he was supposed to talk to me. We started raising our voices at each other. I will be the first to tell you that was not the right way to do things. I felt like an animal backed into a corner. God spoke to me, and told me to shut my mouth. So I did. I didn’t say another word. The man kept going on, and on at me, and I held my silence.
He finally stopped, and said don’t you have anything else to say. I shook my head no, and finally said I think I am finished here. We left. After that, I was devastated. I cried all the way home. I became angry, and started getting bitter. I was angry with my husband. I wanted to know why he had not defended me. My attendance at church got less and less. I was angry with God. Why was this allowed to happen? What had I ever done to deserve this? I finally got to the point that my only solution was to die. I wanted out.
I often wonder how one goes from having such a wonderful ministry to a place of wanting to die. Well many people in the Bible got to that place. I wasn’t even able to encourage myself in God. I did have only one thread left of hope, and that was to contact a few people that I knew would know how to reach God for me because at that point I sure wasn’t able to.
Slowly God began to make the way where deliverance would come from this man. We kept asking for a release from him, and he didn’t want to give it. My thinking was if someone is causing you that much headache, my word just let them go. The only thing I could think of was our tithes, and he was looking for something to hold over my husband so he could get his license. Well both opportunities came. My husband was laid off. We found not only a place to live in another state but also jobs available for both of us.
The man had no choice but to release us but he did it in a deceitful way. It was his last attempt to try to get back at me by using my husband. He told the board that my husband didn’t exit properly, and needed his licensed pulled. I thought how petty can you get. We would get reports back from several that he was going to get my husband’s license. We had to make a seven hour trip to go before the board. This man lied to us, and said he wasn’t the one that reported this to the board. Well there are bylaws in place that say whoever has a complaint against another brother, have to be present. Well guess who was at the board meeting that day.
When we arrived at the meeting, I was not allowed to go back. I sat in the waiting area, praying that God would intervene. My husband went back. He was given accolades of all his hard work, questions were asked about things that were done for us, yet not one word was said about all the time, and money we put into the church, and the parsonage, about the time we spent covering the services for this man when he was out of town. Then the truth of the meeting came out, I was being put on trial yet I was not even allowed in this meeting to defend myself. When my husband came out, he looked like he had been put through the ringer. I told him it will be alright, God knows. We had to wait there for the men on the board to decide. After an hour, he was called back. They didn’t pull his license, told him that we had to make it right with this man, and a few other stipulations. They gave my husband some words of wisdom, and told him that no one was trying to nail his ministry down.
We left that day with our heads a bit higher than when we first arrived. Although we didn’t like everything that the men on the board decided, over all, I think the outcome was good. I sure couldn’t complain. Our first order of business was to call the man. My husband called him right away to apologize for any wrong doing that we may have done on our part, that he never meant any wrong, and that we had no disparagement towards the man. All the man was interested in was what the board decided. I was listening to the whole conversation. My husband kept trying to divert his question but the man kept insisting. You could just hear the expectancy in this man’s voice. Finally my husband told him he would be receiving a letter, and that he didn’t lose his license. It literally sounded like someone let the wind out of the man’s sail. He would not meet with us after that, said he would have to get back with my husband in a few days. In a few days, he called my husband. I was listening again. This time, his true came forth. He railed on my husband, was angry about the turnout of the meeting. His whole main focus was on me, how awful I was, and how I had treated them so badly. I told my husband that should gave him a clear view of just how much this man has been after me to destroy me.
Even though we moved several states from the man, he has still tried a few times to bother us. The man did his pastorally duty, and made sure to report what type of saint he considered me to be to the pastor we would be under after him. He also used different saints from his church to call us that had caused us problems in the past. After about the second or third time of them calling, I finally would tell them politely to let them know that I appreciate their pastors concern. I never got another call. The last time he spoke with my husband, he told my husband that if we ever do start a church he hoped that we would get
saints just like me so we would know just what I put them through. Well I sure hoped we would because at least then our saints would be treated right.
After we had left this man’s church, I would often think of David and King Saul. David was on the run from Saul, who had been trying to kill David. David even had a few opportunities where he could have killed Saul, and yet didn’t. Once he even cut off part of Saul’s garment, and then felt conviction because this was still God’s anointed. David repented over what he had done. I have thought about that often. Pastors are just people. They make mistakes, they’re human. God just happened to appoint them in a position of authority. Unfortunately, some pastors may be just like Saul trying to kill off David in the process. Saul had issues, and unfortunately, David had a way of exposing those issues that made Saul uncomfortable.
During all that was going on, God began to deal with me heavily about forgiveness. I had to forgive. But God, do You realize what that man is doing? Yes, God does. One day in my kitchen, God showed me a theatrical curtain. It was very heavy, dark. I watched this curtain slowly being pulled back. God spoke to me, and told me that God sees this man, and I am not the first one he has done this to, nor will not be the last. That this man was crafty, and that although he thinks he has people fooled, that God does see it all, and that I need to be encouraged. I hid this in my heart, not even telling my husband. One year later, I received an email from a friend out of the blue. She felt led to tell me about a pastor’s wife who had sat at one time under this same man, and had faced some of the very same things that I had gone through. My friend said that this pastor’s wife now had a thriving, growing church, and was doing well. My mind quickly went back to what God showed me in my kitchen. My friend had no idea what God had showed me just one year prior.
So how does one forgive when you are facing persecution that is horrible, and deadly to one’s own soul? How do you forgive when you have been spiritually abused, and even the very foundation of your faith has been rocked by the one you thought you could have trusted the most, your leadership? It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright hard. There were days where I just wanted to scream, and yell. Sometimes I did scream, and yell. I took it out on my husband, my family. I yelled even at God because I hurt so badly. I didn’t understand why God would allow such a thing. Don’t be so shocked that I yelled at God, I am just being honest. I always went back later, and asked for God’s forgiveness. God knew I was hurting in the worst way possible.
I began to search scripture on forgiveness. What I found was that Jesus was abused so badly, and yet He forgave his abusers. With each pounding of the hammer, with each crack of the whip as it dug into his flesh, He forgave. I kept thinking if God, who robed Himself in flesh, could allow mankind that He created to do that to His body, and still forgive them, then who am I to not forgive. I began to ask God to help me forgive this man. I asked God to help me see this man the way God saw this man because otherwise, I don’t think I could do it on my own.
Every day, sometimes several times a day, I would ask God to forgive me for being angry with this man, to forgive me for any contempt I felt towards him. Then I would also ask God to help me forgive this man for what he did to me. I continued to do this day after day. Now I will be the first to tell you that praying this way was not easy at all. There were many days that I did not feel forgiving or loving towards this man. In fact I felt cheated, and robbed for what he did to me, to my husband, to our ministry. As time continued on, I kept praying. I knew I started gaining ground when I would think of this man, and I didn’t feel that twinge of anger so quickly, or the pain that I usually felt whenever he would pop into my mind, or his name came up in conversation.
I knew I finally had made great ground when one day on my way to work I was praying for this man as I usually did, and I began to weep for him. I prayed asking God to touch his soul because it wasn’t just his
soul I was weeping for. I knew this man was a pastor, and he had a congregation. I was praying that if he had not got his life right with God, that God would have mercy on him, and help him to do so. I kept thinking if this man ever failed, or something happened to him, he had a whole congregation following him. It wasn’t just his life that would be affected but those of his saints.
It’s really sad what spiritual abuse will do—not only the victim, but also the abuser. The victim will be deeply wounded beyond anything imaginable. What saddens me is the abuser doesn't even realize he/she is doing this. All they are focused on is revenge, hate, or some old wound that festered up from years ago.
Today, I attend a great church. I am still healing from the effects of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse has affected the way I now interact with leadership. I am very leery, and guarded but not because my pastor is spiritually abusive. It is because I have been through spiritual abuse, and very wounded by spiritual leadership.
Just because I was a victim of spiritual abuse does not mean that it has stopped me. It just means that God has made me a victor, a survivor. There is another thing I learned through all this. I learned that either I could get bitter, and let what happened to me eat me up, or I could get better. The choice was mine. The difference between bitter, and better is one small letter, and that is the letter “i”. I made the decision that I would not let what this man did to me stop me. I made the decision that I would allow God to take what happened to me, and use it for His glory as He saw fit. I made the decision that I would get better, and that forgiveness would reign. With my experience, a ministry opened up. What the enemy meant for evil, God is using for good.