We Must Not Tolerate Spiritual Abuse

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about abuse of power in churches this week. The headlines about everything that has gone on at Mars Hill with Mark Driscoll just keep coming (as they should). I also just read a book about a woman who grew up in essentially what was a “Christianized” cult (Girl at the End of the World). The reality of such abuses in the name of God is weighing heavily on me. 

Part of the reason this hits me so hard is that, in a much smaller way, I’ve seen abuse of power within the church firsthand. I’ve witnessed shunning, although it wasn’t called that. I’ve heard Scripture passages read aloud and then twisted to bolster lies delivered straight from the pulpit. Even though I saw that fallout years ago — it is times like this when it still haunts me. And yet, the pain I experienced is minuscule compared to what so many other people have endured in other cult-like (and actual cult) churches.

Brothers. Sisters. Please hear me out. It is not Christian to stop critical thinking when you enter the doors of a church. Don’t check your brain at the door. Sadly, we cannot assume leaders have everything right. Please realize I’m not saying we should always assume they are doing wrong either.

It is also not Christian to put your pastor on a pedestal. We are called to worship Jesus, not the leader of our congregation. We must always remember they are humans and sinners just like we are. And if they lack humility or react angrily when someone challenges them over a legitimate wrong, there should be alarm bells sounding in our heads.

Nor is it Christian to remain silent as abusive practices continue. Silence is what allows the sins to continue and the damage to be done.

It is not Christian for a church leader to have absolute authority over their church. Driscoll had elders to hold him accountable, until he changed things up several years ago and gained control. If you aren’t filled in on how that all happened this article from The Stranger lays it out for you. It is a must read.

Driscoll’s behavior towards his congregants and elders has been un-Christlike and incompatible with the Biblical requirements for the pastorate for years. What I cannot comprehend is how it got this far. How could it go on this long? Church leaders were thrown under the bus in 2007 and yet for the past seven years since Driscoll has continued to remain a popular speaker and author because of Christians — and not just the ones at Mars Hill.

Sure, now it looks like the empire is crumbling but how many more people were damaged because it took so long to expose those sins and call him to account? Driscoll’s attained “celebrity” pastor status through the support of many outside his own church. Because of that didn’t all Christians have a responsibility to call him to repentance? We are one body after all. Certainly, some have done that over the years — people who have left Mars Hill, sermon reviewers like Chris Rosebrough and others. But I am left with the impression that far too many were either ignorant about what was going on at Mars Hill, unwilling to believe Driscoll had done these things or were unwilling to speak out against them.

We must not tolerate this sort of abuse within the church, just as we shouldn’t tolerate other forms of abuse (verbal/emotional/physical/sexual abuse).

We must not sit down, shut up and do nothing when people are being victimized in the name of our Lord.



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6 Responses to We Must Not Tolerate Spiritual Abuse

  1. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  2. Thank you for this. It’s accurate and heartfelt. Sadly a blog essay pleading for these things is also necessary in today’s church world. Spiritual abuse, with its name calling, shaming, intimidation, and shunning is bewildering, and totally unexpected in its ferocity because it occurs in an environment that is supposed to be defined by Love. This pure hate from masked but worthless shepherds coming from those one trusted and loved is ultimately very depressing.

    Fortunately the Holy Spirit is there to comfort us; and our Jesus, who endured these things also, sympathizes with us. (Hebrews 4:15). But it’s still a long road back for bruised and bewildered sheep. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Mark 6:34. I can’t wait for the day when I see my Worthy Shepherd in person, to be guided by Him forever.

    • Julia says:

      What I really wish is that individual Christians would see the signs of manipulation a mile away and steer clear of these situations. But at a bare minimum, when abuse becomes obvious the church cannot remain silent. To be silent is to be complicit.

      But you are absolutely right Elizabeth about the comfort of the Holy Spirit!

  3. Pingback: Speaking Out. | Roll to Disbelieve

  4. Reblogged this on lit! and commented:
    “I’ve seen abuse of power within the church firsthand. I’ve witnessed shunning, although it wasn’t called that. I’ve heard Scripture passages read aloud and then twisted to bolster lies delivered straight from the pulpit. Even though I saw that fallout years ago — it is times like this when it still haunts me.”

  5. richpdx says:

    I was in a similar situation, it was a for neglecting elder/ elderly abuse. Christ has called pastors to feed his sheep not to segregate them and only “feed” those the pastor thinks are viable to the pastor’s vision.
    In my former pastors vision casting ways to be relevant and hip to attract a young demographic, he shoved aside the older and founders of my former church. Much of what was worship was very superficial and gimmicky. I spoke privately about my concerns about the changes and need to include our elderly by perhaps a few hymn of worship. His response was he confirmed many of our older member did not like the changes and he was not going to waste time on them because they were not the future of the church; they were going die soon anyway, He just written them off. It was also a veiled warning to me I need to get with the vision less I will be written off. I know at that time I could not stay, I resigned my membership. Eventually it led me back to Anglican that is dedicated to the proper proclaiming of Word and Sacrament.
    An epilogue of my former church: Not every church that follows the church growth movement become a big mega church. Of the core membership of 20-40 people I been told only two remained, the numbers dwindled to were the Romanian Church that rented space and Hispanic part the church runs things now, the church was blended church with Hispanics and English speaking congregation.

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