The Spiritual Abuse in Intellectual and Emotional Abuse

Ministries must not demand to be served but endeavor to do the service as Christ commanded.

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What would be solely intellectual and emotional abuse in any setting has an additional layer of spiritual abuse about it in church, Christian, and religious (including cult) settings, because of spiritual powers that are present and employed.

Churches, pastors, Christian organizations, etc, must understand and reverence the power they hold in the ministry dynamic — if they don’t abuse stands to occur.

Take this recent example.  An aged person who also has a history of trauma is bombarded with demanding text messages to do a complex set of actions to support a parachurch ministry they’re aligned with.  If that was it, it may not be so bad.  In the context of that ministry, there are potentially some noble goals in doing that (just not in a demanding way!).

But not in this situation.

To the replies sent that said, “I don’t know how to do this, and I don’t think I want to be involved,” the ministry representative on this occasion responded by badgering the person with eight more consecutive messages featuring lots of text and pictures, replete with detailed instructions.

The person who received these unsolicited communications and instructions repeated that she did not wish to engage, naming why in this instance — a lack of technological know-how and confusion.

That obviously wasn’t enough for the ministry representative to back off.  He came back with, “Well, we’ll need to drag you into the 21st century then, won’t we? [and] You can’t hide under your prehistoric rock forever, you know! [and] I will even buy you an iPhone so you can replace your ancient device!”

Let’s analyze what’s going on here:

  • the ministry representative is not serving the person he’s badgering — she is the one doing the ministry a service.  He stands to gain.  She does not.  Ministries must not demand to be served but endeavor to do the service as Christ commanded
  • the ministry representative has the power position, and not only positional power of being the rep for the ministry, but he has a technological power OVER her.  She is the vulnerable one; and not only in these ways but also in the ways of having been previously abused and traumatized.  Count it up: triple vulnerability!
  • he is using demeaning, belittling, and condescending language.  (What I’ve cited here is just a couple of sentences; in all reality, he exasperated her by insisting she get on board at least four times — all by text message.  She said, “He just wouldn’t take no for an answer” — and abusers don’t)  Feeling demeaned, belittled, and condescended to, the lady felt dumb and ‘worse than a piece of poo’
  • the lady he’s dealing with would qualify for Mensa, so she is incredibly intelligent, yet this is her Achilles heel, in that her abuse pivots around being demeaned as ‘dumb’ (which she is NOT).  As a result, the lady is triggered into a freeze response — a valid and understandable response to a trigger for trauma — which only serves to make her feel even more hopeless
  • he has overwhelmed her with too much information (eight consecutive messages in short succession WITH complex instructions) and he has asked (demanded) too much of her (both in terms of testing her capacity and not respecting those limits and in failing to honor God)
  • then he makes himself out to be the hero by ‘offering’ to get her a new iPhone (she was using an iPhone!) — this so often happens in abuse situations; the abuser painting themselves as the good person above reproach.  He is protecting himself and throwing her to the wolves, the opposite of a Jesus-leadership model.  (He may end up insisting on giving her the phone as a way of controlling her)

Using the words ‘prehistoric’ and ‘ancient’ and ‘21st century’ (in this context) can only be read as goading words that are designed to push a person to ‘overreact’ — these are trigger words.  Causing a victim of abuse to ‘overreact’ is a key weapon in the arsenal of the abuser to make THE ABUSER look like the victim telling her that she’s ‘hiding under a rock’ is a direct assault on her person; a categorization of emotional abuse

Given that it’s a ‘ministry’ doing this, these abuses are not merely intellectual (her intelligence is being deliberately insulted) and emotional (his coercive use of his emotions are inciting an emotional reaction from her), but they’re deeply spiritual abuses because the platform he is leveraging is a spiritual authority.  He is coercing her ‘for the sake of the ministry’ (I mean, no pressure!)

And this is also a form of elder abuse — to make an older person feel stupid because they don’t know how to use technology (which the younger person has mastered)

This kind of behavior resembles the behavior of scammers and spammers.  It is neither Christian, ethical, or moral, and it is certainly abusive.

She was left feeling not only silly and stupid, but confused and angry, and then guilty for being angry.  A toxic cycle was initiated with her.  There was so much in this communication that this guru of the English language was befuddled by — in not knowing what it meant — that it left her feeling worthless.  This is another ploy of abusers to reinforce they’re on top: to confuse and paralyze so the person begins to seriously doubt their own competence.

I write this as a salient reminder that abuse is as subtle as it is multifaceted.  I have tried to be relatively forensic in this analysis to show what is actually going on in the abusive dynamic.  And do you know, I know that there’s actually much more in it, but I will leave it at that.

One thing we learn about abusers: it’s always all about them, and everything is always being manipulated for THEIR purpose.  If someone behaves in a consistently manipulative way, trust what you see; they are NOT worthy of your trust.




This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribe Work

Featured Image by MINDY JACOBS on Unsplash


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About the Author

Steve Wickham is a Kingdom Winds Contributor. He holds several roles, including husband, father, peacemaker championing peacemaking for children and adults, conflict coach and mediator, church pastor, counselor, funeral celebrant, chaplain, mentor, and Board Secretary. He holds degrees in Science, Divinity (2), and Counselling. Steve is also a Christian minister serving CyberSpace i.e. here.