Sometimes I wonder how people get the control and get people to follow them almost blindly. Wondering if we actually want to use our brains and think for ourselves or rather let other people do the thinking for us. Because a person in a leading position doesn’t really have any authority unless we give them that authority and do as they tell us to do.
Who sets the norms and values?
With religion, there comes laws, values, and norms set by founders/leaders. Often based on the values and norms that count on that time the founder lived his/her life. Since we are always evolving, fashion always changes and sometimes changes so radically that it doesn’t always get accepted as normal. Like that time when all women were wearing skirts or dresses and only a few dared to wear trousers and got criticized for it. But is it wrong now that a woman wears trousers when it was wrong then? In the cult I grew up in, it is.
I often ask myself if these laws are made to make you a better person or to get control over you. Laws that put so much pressure on one to be holy enough to get the reward like going into the rapture or to heaven and you won’t protest and just do as you are told. And when the time comes and the founder passes away leaving a flock of followers that desperately trying to keep that religion with the norms and values alive. Do these laws expire at some point, even when they try to hold on to them with all they’ve got?
If you go against the pastor’s advice you are out of God’s will
We learned about a kind of hierarchy. The husband is the head of the family. The pastor is the head of the church and God the head of the pastor. So in one way, it gives this pastor lots of power and authority. If you go to him with a question and he gives you an answer you better listen. If you take a chance and go against that advice you are out of God’s will.
At first, I didn’t really recognize it as misuse of power. I learned it from a young age to listen and to obey. But when the demands became more ridiculous, we became more and more aware of the manipulation and spiritual abuse.
What are the signs of spiritual abuse?
1. The standards of honor, respect and authority are distorted.
This is one of the biggest signs in my eyes of spiritual abuse taking place. Over time, leaders won’t be approachable anymore. There can be a misuse of the verse “touch not God’s anointed,” and the church loses its ability to come and reason together. There isn’t really a culture of honor and respect that is given from both leadership and believers, but a dictatorship has taken its place.
There is little focus on working through problems. So people will leave in silence or submit themselves. The leaders forcing power, intimidation, and manipulation to make things happen and make you obey.
2. Over-spiritualizing of everything.
This is a big issue in general. It is very easy to say “God told me” and you get disarmed for any protest you could have. You can’t go against God’s word. That would be everything against what you believe in. It gives the leader more and more power and it becomes this spiritual manipulation. It is very easy to cover up mistakes and uncertainty when they tell you “God told me”.
3. Fear and shame drive people into submission.
Especially when there is a small congregation it is difficult to hide in the masses when things get thrown in your face from the pulpit. Some leaders may attack you directly by name or indirectly with specifics what is wrong with you, but still with the purpose of humiliating you in front of the congregation. Even though everything you tell them should stay confidential you can’t really trust them. They might use it against you.
4. Having control over personal decisions in a person’s life.
Many leaders do feel safe when they can control your life. They may tell you who to marry, who not to marry. What to wear. If you can travel or not. What job to get. Which school to attend. What kind of car you should buy. And the list goes on and on.
5. The leader’s sins and weaknesses are minimized while the people’s sins and weaknesses are maximized.
When a leader does a sin it often gets swept under the carpet. People that ask questions about the leader’s behavior, they get silenced and humiliated themselves. When was the last time you heard a pastor express repentance of certain areas to the congregation? It’s often all about what the church needs to get right and very little about humbling themselves before God.
6. Mocking those who leave.
There is a time when you need to deal with dangerous and toxic people. Often the conflict is about honest disagreement. And instead of dealing with it in a proper manner they bully and push those people away. You can be shunned, communication and contact will be broken and you will be treated as an outcast. Or you get bullied so much that you leave voluntarily.
The pastor or leader will often speak against and mock these people that left from the pulpit. Empowering their own position and authority.
7. A strong legalistic and religious pressure.
Since the focus is often on how things look, there is a strong focus on sin, sanctification, and holiness. With rules that have to be followed strictly.
People are taught in such a way that they always feel they will never be good enough and are unworthy. Pressing themselves to be better, to do better and to be more holy.