See the category in the right margin entitled “Diary of a Silenced Church-Goer” if you would like to read about my experiences in this area.
Stay alert. Keep a clear head. God loves loyalty, commitment, faithfulness, submission, and trust. But he also earns these things from us. If anyone else in our life (like a pastor) requires that we give them our trust without also being willing to earn it from us, then this should send up a red flag.
Here are a few things that come to my mind when I think of the tell-tale signs that spiritual abuse (or otherwise abuse of power) might be happening.
Re-writing the story. They attempt to re-write the story (that is, they try to fudge the facts on what actually happened, whether big, small, or indifferent). They create cover-ups. They dodge the tough questions when confronted with them. They give crap answers instead of honest, transparent responses. You are not crazy. This is all part of the gaslighting that they have learned to master somehow (and for some reason) in their own lives.
Mis-placing the blame. Instead of taking responsibility for themselves and their choices/decisions.
Shutting down disagreement and dissent. Instead of encouraging healthy discourse and discussion.
Dismissing alternative opinions and perspectives. Instead of welcoming an open examination of the facts and of objective truth.
Using a seductive spirit to woo people. Instead of consciously respecting (and deliberately showing that they are aware of) other people’s boundaries and space. And instead of attracting people with inclusiveness and non-physical-touching approaches.
Lack of empathy. They can’t/won’t see things from other people’s point of view.
Asking you to trust them without earning it/having earned it from you.
Protecting the guilty, accusing the innocent.
Not letting the consequences fall where they should/attempting to divert justice from where justice is due.
No admittance of wrong/no accountability.
Getting rid of the old people (meaning, the long-term attendees and established leadership) and the thinking people (meaning, those who are the real truth-seekers) and surrounding themselves with young and impressionable new people who don’t know the whole story and/or who don’t have the history with the church (which often gives way to unquestionable devoutness to the church, which can cloud judgement and contribute to becoming a sycophant).
I, me, and my instead of we and ours.
Control instead of guiding.
Legalistic instead of choice-based.
Closed-ness instead of openness.
Actively teaches and encourages suppression instead of respectful expression (of the truth, of sexuality, of style, of gender, of thoughts and opinions, of feelings and emotions).
Appearance (of living a godly life, of aiming for health and wellness, of building up others) doesn’t match with reality.
A dependence on charisma and seduction and blind faith over common sense, logic, and wisdom.
Dividing the hairs the wrong way/making the wrong kind of distinctions.
Resorting to passive-aggressiveness instead of communicating in a way that is direct, honest, open, assertive, fair, and respectful.
They play dirty, take swipes, make low blows, and aim to hurt all without the intention to help heal.
They think that everything is about them and fail to see that they are, in fact, not just part of the problem but the problem.