There’s been a lot of talk lately about “spiritual abuse” in the Church. In truth, these conversations have been happening for centuries – for example: the prophet Jeremiah called out priests and prophets on the misuse of their authority, Jesus had rather a lot to say to the Pharisees, and then there was that one time Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the doors of a church in Wittenberg – but it’s only in recent years that we’ve started terming the abuse of power in the Church “spiritual abuse.”
I would define spiritual abuse as a misuse of spiritual authority (including, but not limited to, misinterpretation of the Scriptures), in a way that causes harm to someone’s soul – but I honestly don’t think it always happens intentionally. Leaders, for all that we would like to think them infallible, are human, and as such, are capable of error. But whether a leader is intentionally abusing his/her authority in order to influence people to think or behave in a particular way, or is unintentionally doing so due to an honest misunderstanding of the Scriptures, the harm caused by his/her behavior is nevertheless very real, and needs to be addressed.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun, but I think there are a number of reasons why we’re hearing more and more about spiritual abuse these days….
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