When I was a kid, every once in a while I would come home and begin to excitedly tell my parents who had gotten in bad trouble that day. I learned after a while to stay quiet. Because every time I started talking about someone else’s naughty behavior, my step-father would ask, “What did you have to do with it?”

His immediate assumption was that if someone had gotten in to trouble at school and I was aware of the details, I must have borne at least some of the guilt. And believe me, I would never have done anything to intentionally get in to trouble at school. “Back in the day,” if I had done anything to draw negative attention from a teacher or administrator, I would have paid ten-fold when I got home.

I spent some time lately looking around the internet for other sites that address church hurt and spiritual abuse and a common theme on many sites was to advise those who have been “hurt” to “examine yourselves.” Take a close look at yourself because chances are you are the problem or contributed to the problem. And I wanted to hurl a brick through my computer screen and into the front windows of the people who were writing that garbage.

Listen up, people! If someone has truly been spiritually abused, they have been so beaten up by church “leadership” and made to feel so defective – trust me, they’ve been examining themselves, their motives, their actions, their heart, their faith, their prayer life, their submissiveness, their attempts to forgive, reconcile, and restore. They have been beating themselves up for every look, every attitude, every emotion, every posture, every word, every inflection, every stinking thing they have ever done!

When I met with a woman from my church the week following being tossed out of the church, she kept repeating to me, “But, Ellen, you told!”

She had absolutely nothing to share with me about what I might have done to deserve the years of judgment, condemnation, persecution, ostracism, and abuse I had experienced. The only thing she could tell me that I had done wrong was that I had “told” about it. Yet, she also made it very clear that I was the problem. For telling. Seriously.

And here’s what I have to say about that. First of all, you don’t hide what’s appropriate. So if what was being done to me was appropriate, why couldn’t I talk about it? Secondly, if the truth getting out was going to damage the church, then what they did to me was the wrong thing to do in the first place. And thirdly, if what they did to me had legitimacy, they shouldn’t need to be so afraid of the truth being told.

But, I digress.

Here’s the thing. None of us are perfect, true. But, telling a spiritual abuse survivor that they must have contributed to the abuse is like telling a rape victim that she must bear some responsibility for being raped. Or telling a child abuse victim that he must bear some responsibility for having the crap beaten out of him.

Because spiritual abuse isn’t about my being perfect or imperfect. It’s about people in authority judging me, condemning me, guilting me, and confusing me about my worth and relationship with God – and probably for something that is not even “sinful.” Probably for something as simple as asking questions or disagreeing or pointing out a legitimate concern.

Spiritual abuse isn’t about what I or any other victim has done. It’s about the words and actions of leadership that tears down, attacks, weakens, silences, and harms those who are under their authority to the point that they wonder if they are truly loved by God.

It has NOTHING to do with the victims behavior and EVERYTHING to do with the ABUSERS behavior.

And if you don’t get that, you just don’t get it.

  1. The way you describe spiritual rape hits the nail smack on the head, Ellen. I really loved reading this post!

    Thank you,

  2. Dave says:

    I think it is always wise to honestly appraise ourselves and our own motives, lest we be the one with the plank in our eye criticizing our neighbor’s speck. Having said that, when I see the spiritually proud standing in judgment of the spiritually broken, I will place my bet on the motives and heart of the broken every time.

    • Ellen says:

      My point, Dave, is that the spiritually broken have already done that. To an extreme. So when they seek help and the first – usually touted as the most important – advice is to analyze their own wrong-doing, this only increases their sense of unworthiness, thus adding to the depth of their abuse.

  3. Dave says:

    Yes, I was actually trying to agree with that point, recognizing that self-inspection is appropriate on all our parts, but also acknowledging that the spiritually broken are virtually guaranteed to have already done that and much more. The spiritually broken have already asked themselves over and over what they did wrong, what they could have done differently, and have done a fair job of beating themselves up in addition to the other beatings they’ve endured. The spiritually proud admit to no fault, see their actions as having been perfectly justified, see themselves as the righteous instruments of God’s judgment, and reflect the attitude of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who prayed to God saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”

    I am glad that, unlike humankind, God sees the heart. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

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