What is Spiritual or Religious Abuse?

What is Spiritual or Religious Abuse?


C. S. Lewis once said, “of all bad men,
religious bad men are the worst,” Hey, I’m Hannah and this is Firm Foundations.
Thanks for watching. In this series we are learning how to separate the facts from the
fiction in LDS history and doctrine. This episode is about spiritual abuse. Like
all forms of abuse, this is a difficult and nuanced topic, so if you feel yourself panicking
at any time, please leave this video and go watch something silly like parrots barking
like dogs. Spiritual abuse is not a phrase we often use in the church, but that doesn’t
mean it doesn’t sometimes happen. In the LDS vernacular, we do sometimes use the term
Unrighteous Dominion, the equivalent of religious or spiritual abuse. So, what is spiritual abuse? According to
the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Spiritual or Religious Abuse comes in many forms. Often
when we think of spiritual abuse it’s of a leader inflicting people in his congregation
with extreme abuse. Cults are a great example of religious abuse. One person who is typically
a very charismatic sociopath can manipulate a group to follow him, even performing perverse
acts, signing away all their assets, and sometimes even dying for the cause. Another form of spiritual abuse is when the
abuser ridicules or belittles a person’s religion. Sometimes trying to argue with or
bait them, other times using passive aggression to cause the victim anxiety and pain. An extreme
form of this type of abuse is Hitler. His belittlement and hatred of Jews, mentally
disabled people, Gay men, Gypsies, and anyone who opposed him, caused WWII. He published
several books, spewed hateful rhetoric, and convinced an entire nation through fear-mongering
and hatred to start one of the most brutal wars in history. However, this type of spiritual abuse can
also be a lot more subtle. I know members of the LDS faith who were mocked mercilessly
by classmates both in high schools and university settings. They were teased about Joseph Smith,
visions, polygamy, mocked for the size of their family, and more. There are also members
who marry into a non-member family. Sometimes members of that family exclude them, speak
to them snidely or dismissively about spiritual matters, trie to convince the children not
to be baptized, and sends the church member anti-mormon literature. Some will even try
to sneak the LDS member alcohol, try to convince their family member not to marry the person
or scream at the in-law for their beliefs. All of these actions are abusive. The opposite is also true. Members of the
LDS faith must also be careful not to exercise religious abuse. When people with other beliefs
enter our homes, schools, or neighborhoods we must be loving and understanding. We live
a religion that some people find pretty weird. When we are confronted with people of different
beliefs, we don’t need to be pushy or try to force them to be like us, we need to be
loving, and demonstrate through our actions that we are kind and Christlike, and that
we aren’t quite as weird as some people may think. Other forms of spiritual abuse include parents
who use undue force to coerce children into church attendance or religious activities.
Rather, showing the joys and benefits of the gospel through example, teaching with love,
and using words of encouragement and praise are important. If an adult child decides to
leave the faith, parents should not overreact, yell, tell their child they are going to hell,
threaten their inheritance, harass their child with constant missionary requests, try to
transfer their church records wherever the adult child moves, or try to insist that their
grandchildren attend church or get baptized. Having someone close to you, especially a
child, choose a different life path is hard. Sometimes the parents feel that they themselves
are failures or that they have been betrayed. I get it. When you have a true and genuine
testimony, a family member leaving the church can seem to be the worst possible thing to
ever happen. But you must react as Christ would react. Show love, show sympathy, because
that person probably feels lost, hurt, betrayed and confused, just as much as you do, or maybe
more. Dramatic reactions on your part will only make the situation much, much worse,
and teach your child not to trust you with important struggles. Missionaries need to be respectful of the
boundaries of people they contact as well. Pushy attitudes, pride and a lack of desire
to understand the lives and religions of investigators is inappropriate. For example, Alma the Younger’s
son Shiblon was a very overzealous missionary, but was rebuked by his father for being overbearing.
In Alma 38 we read, “And now, as ye have begun to teach the word even so I would that
ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all
things. See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your
own wisdom, nor of your much strength. Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see
that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain
from idleness.” God also addresses Spiritual abuse, using
the words unrighteous dominion. In D&C 121 we read “when we undertake to cover our
sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion
upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the
heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn,
Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left
unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against
God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost
all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin
to exercise unrighteous dominion.” Christ’s message is one of service, love
and forgiveness. If we are exercising unrighteous dominion, we are guilty of spiritual abuse
and must repent and learn to lead with love, not coercion. Another form of spiritual abuse is a parent
who overzealously invades a child’s privacy, indoctrinates them, and punishes them harshly
for thinking outside of or questioning the religion. Questions are good! Questions are
important, it’s also important when asking questions to learn to seek answers that are
temperate and factual. “Saints”, the new history of the church is an excellent resource
because it is comprehensive, and you can read or listen to it online for free. However,
the best part is that as we hear the stories of the early members, we also have the ability
to check the original sources. As you read saints online, you can click on footnotes
throughout, which will lead you to scans of the original documents. This book is a story,
but it is a completely factual story, reporting the events exactly as the early members say
they happened. Another form of religious abuse is when a
person uses religious texts or beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors
(such as physical, financial, emotional or sexual abuse.) This person is usually a parent
or domestic partner. They often enforce a strict moral code and when those in their
household or those under their control break that code they punish them in harsh ways.
This person is typically a narcissist, who views their religion as an extension of themselves,
and when people reject what they view as themselves, they will do whatever it takes to punish that
person and get them back in line. Like with other forms of abuse, outside observers may
not realize what is happening, meanwhile the victims of the abuse experience cognitive
dissonance, pain, confusion, and emotional and mental scarring. Sometimes a parent might see the warning signs
when their child is preparing to get married and try to convince them to call it off. There
are a few ways to do this, you can counsel with love, and encourage the couple to do
their own introspection, or you could try to coerce the result you want using unrighteous
dominion. Claiming you have had a revelation about their marriage and trying to enforce
your desires on them. Even if you have good intentions, sometimes it can be easy to use
religion to control or tear people down, rather than encourage and build them up. Sometimes, a person will use the idea of “spiritual
promptings” or “revelation” to try and get their way with you. This is why we all
have access to revelatory power, so that you can seek out your own promptings to know if
what that person is saying to you is right and fills you with peace, or wrong, and make
you feel nothing, or panic, or dread. One of the most incredible examples of spiritual
abuse is that of the Biblical King David. King David was chosen by God, and anointed
by the prophet Samuel to be the King of Israel and a Prophet of God. In his youth David was
strong, wise and proved himself a worthy leader. But David grew accustomed to power. One day,
he looked from his window into another home and saw a woman bathing. He coveted her. He
sinned. But this sin was repentable, as he could have restrained himself and moved on.
But, David choose to continue coveting the woman, Bathsheba. He brought her to the palace
and forced her to have sexual relations with him. Because he was both King and Prophet,
Bathsheba had no choice in the matter, and David coerced her using unrighteous dominion
to break sacred covenants that she had to her husband. When Bathsheba became pregnant
from David’s abuse, he again had an opportunity to change and repent, but for far more serious
sins. Instead, he chose to attempt a cover-up, and when that failed, he had Bathsheba’s
husband killed. We can only imagine the pain and trauma Bathsheba endured, as she was shunned
by the women around her and the sins of the king were put upon her head. But she was a
survivor, and managed to raise her son Solomon in relative safety. On the other hand, David was severely rebuked
by the Lord, and in both the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants we are reminded
that David’s sins barred him from celestial exaltation in the next life. Like Anakin Skywalker,
David was the one who was chosen above all others, but who choose fear and wickedness,
becoming the evil he was sworn to protect his people against. So, how do we deal with spiritual abuse? First,
everyone be kind. Practice empathy and not control. Second, believe people. Sometimes
people who have been spiritually abused lash out against their religion or their abuser.
That is normal, and it is because they are hurting so very badly. Don’t argue with
them or remind them that “not all Mormons,” listen to them, and sympathize with them.
Also, use your own powers of discernment to avoid people who enjoy practicing unrighteous
dominion. Once you are aware of the danger, don’t allow yourself to get sucked in. If you are the victim of spiritual abuse seek
help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline or visit their website. If you were
religiously abused as a child and still feel fear, anxiety, resentment or have trouble
moving on, I recommend “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse”. I haven’t read the
book myself but I did research on what books have been helpful and I think this is a good
place to start. The link is below. Look for the signs of religious and spiritual
abuse, these include: People in authority using that authority to
bolster their own image. People who insist on others making sacrifices
for the church or the cause, but never seem to make any or equal offerings themselves.
Leaders who rely on threats and coercion. Use personal revelation. People around whom
you do not feel at peace and safe are not peaceful, safe people. I would also recommend everyone read the article
by Steve Hoppe, a Christian marriage counselor who outlines spiritual abuse in the home,
and explains the psychology that the survivors may be feeling. The article is the last link
in the sources. Finally, I want victims of religious abuse,
from every religion, to know that you are not going to be punished by some harsh or
horrible God. You are a soul and you are valuable. We can’t change the past, but we can choose
the future. You are allowed, and encouraged, to completely cut off contact with your abusers,
be they church leaders, neighbors, parents or your spouse. You are allowed to only see
them in very limited and public settings. You are allowed to be angry with them, you
get to feel what you feel and live your personal truths. Please seek counseling, because while
anger is helpful at first, constant anger will only hurt you, not them, and you deserve
to heal. You deserve help that only a qualified professional can give. Please read books or
join support groups that will help you process your experiences and begin to heal. Be wary
of people or groups that enable you to stagnate, and don’t encourage your progress. And although
it is hard to do, and it is an understandable reaction, please don’t turn hatefully against
an entire religion because of the abuse you experienced at the hands of a few. Most people,
religious or not, are trying to to their best. I am sorry that that was not your experience.
You deserved better. Thanks for joining us! Firm Foundations is
created by me, Hannah. We are funded by the More Good Foundation, with production assistance
from Rachel Grant. Don’t forget to subscribe, and we’ll catch
you next time.

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