Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of leadership to further one’s own interests. The leader uses authority to manipulate others in order to accomplish his purposes and religiously justifies what he is doing.
There are many ways that spiritual abuse can happen in a church. What I will describe is probably more specific to abuses that happen at the leadership level because that was my experience.
When spiritual abuse occurs, it is because circumstances require that the leader take you down in order to secure or advance his position. These circumstances could be jealousy, differences of opinion, political or budget considerations threatening his position, or needing a scapegoat for problems within the ministry.
“When a lust for power in the heart of a leader is combined with pride, an insecurity that needs to control, and a constituency that is willing to follow blindly, the conditions are present for spiritual abuse.”
Whether consciously or unconsciously on the part of the abuser, all abuse is about control. The desire to dominate comes from insecurity and fear of failure or exposure. Self-preservation is a major concern of the abuser.
Manipulators and controllers will not accept differences of opinion. One of the ways they exercise control is to question the loyalty of those who disagree with them and discipline those who contradict them, branding them as rebellious.
Taking measures to ensure that it is not an equal confrontation, the leader gathers people around him who do not question the way he uses his authority. Because he is not challenged, he is able to bully his intended target.
False accusation is an effective weapon for this kind of tactic. The leader claims to know the person’s heart accusing them of wrong motives and improper attitudes. It is easy to bring false accusation against someone in an area such as this where it is not possible to produce proof of innocence.
It is a warped version of the reconciliation process. Those who have been manipulated by false accusations will not be able to submit to the process. They should not have to surrender to the leader’s false judgment of them.
The reason it is impossible to find reconciliation in this situation is because it was false from the start. If the real motivation were reconciliation, these twisted methods would not have been used. When the leader uses his position to exert control, restoration is not the intended outcome.
It is different than simply a disagreement between brothers because the weight of position and authority is brought into the picture to wield power in order to achieve a desired result. If someone is coming in peace, they will leave their sword at home.