Identifying Spiritual Abuse

Many years ago when I first began my journey of healing from the spiritual abuse of my youth, there was a book that impacted me tremendously. I just discovered that this book is available to read online, free of charge. So I am including a link here to Churches That Abuse, by Ronald M. Enroth.

Why I Post News Stories About Accused Clergy

One of the recurring themes I hear from those close to individuals who have been accused of abuse is that I am somehow wrong for posting the news stories about abuse in the church. Of course, I have persistently responded with my reasons for doing so.

But as I was looking through the news again this morning, and finding yet another story of a man charged with child abuse in the church I was overwhelmed with both discouragement and renewed affirmation in my actions.

My first thought on seeing the story I just posted was, “Will it never end? WHY does this just keep going on and on?” Take a look at the number of stories I have posted just during the past week or so. There have been new accusations of clergy abuse reported every day.

Today’s story was about a man accused of child abuse occuring over the past 20+ years. Statistically, there is very little likelihood these accusations are not true, given the fact that it includes multiple victims, including family members, over the course of a very long time. I am not a judge so I cannot say this man is guilty. I can say, based on abuse patterns, this story has the clear ring of truth.

This particular story is very typical. At the time a clergy member is reported to authorities, there is usually a trail of victims, frequently including family members, going back 20 to 50 years. Every one of those victims was permanently wounded. Their wounds directly affected their future spouse. It probably affected their family relationship, and their children once they had children of their own. That is the way sexual abuse works. The invisible effects are dramatic and devastating and they affect MANY lives.

This typical theoretical abusive clergy member also had a large number of church members in whose lives he has been an authority figure and in whose lives he has spoken for God. Over 20 – 50 years how many lives is that? It doesn’t matter if this typical clergy member was a fantastic preacher. His sin has affected the lives of everyone under him, whether they are aware of it or not. That is the nature of authority.

Eventually, it would be interesting to see a study of the effects of clergy abuse in the lives of those in his church. I have seen some consistent patterns. These things do not always happen, but I’ve seen it frequently enough to believe it is a pattern that results from spiritual authority with secret sexual sin. When the head pastor has hidden sexual sin, his church can become a haven for other sexual abusers. For some reason other abusers just know they are safe there. And when the church organization covers for the leader, this stronghold will continue virtually forever, even if the head is eventually exposed some other way. I have seen Christian organizations whose head was a sexual abuser, where the head was eventually removed but the sin was not addressed properly, and the organization remains a cesspool of hidden abusers. This can and will go on as long as that organization exists and the pattern of denial or improper dealing with abuse continues.

This issue of spiritual authority is why I believe this must be addressed by denominational leadership church-wide. Right now, as a pattern in the church, sex abusers are protected by the pulpit. Is that a spiritual authority pattern we want to encourage by ignoring its significance? What does it mean for the church? Take a look at Israel. God will not be mocked forever. He clearly said in the New Testament that church which was grafted in can just as easily be removed. Why do we think we are immune from God’s harshest judgment when we tolerate and pander to abuse in the church?

So, when people are outraged at me for posting these news stories this is why I will continue. By posting these stories I hope the church will start to see these are not rare or isolated incidents. This is a systemic problem in the Christian church, across all denominational lines. When it happens in a church, those in that church tend to think it is an anomaly that has struck their individual congregation. That is why it matters to post all these stories in one place. This is not a weird unfortunate thing that happens here and there. It is an epidemic.

Attitudes of Church Leaders Toward Clergy Sex Abuse

I just found this old news article which quotes Jerry Falwell regarding the clergy sex abuse scandal at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL.  I’m not attempting to target Falwell himself, especially considering he’s gone on to his eternal reward.  The reason I’m pointing this out is because it clearly states the attitude which is common among the upper echelon of church leadership.  This is why nothing is being done in Protestant churches to address clergy sex abuse – leaders don’t think it matters. They will say they think it matters, because to actually say it doesn’t matter would make them look horrible. Bad PR. But in statements like this, to say nothing of the general inaction, church leaders accidentally make it completely clear where their values really lie.


You can read the entire article here, dated Oct. 2006.

Jerry Falwell called high-profile allegations that a former pastor of a prominent independent Baptist church molested and raped numerous children over the course of decades a “bump in the road.”

“When you hit a bump in the road–the pastor has mentioned six months here of challenges–forget the bump in the road. That’s all it is. You’ve got to move on,” Falwell said in a keynote address of a three-day meeting of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

Robert Gray, the former 30-year pastor who led the church out of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1960s, was arrested in May. He is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 27 on two counts of capital sexual battery, because two of his accusers say he molested them when they were 6 years old.

Twenty-two people, including one man, have come forward since May to accuse Gray of abusing them. The other allegations involve children older than 12, meaning they cannot be prosecuted due to a statute of limitations…

…a column last week in by Christa Brown, founder of Voice to Stop Baptist Predators, and coordinator of SNAP-Baptist, prompted long discussions at an unofficial Web forum on

Brown criticized Falwell’s dismissive choice of words. “When 22 people report having been sexually abused as kids by a church’s founding pastor, it cannot rightly be minimized as a mere ‘bump in the road,'” she said.

She said what Falwell should be sermonizing on is, “Why did no one in the church put up a roadblock and stop this man?”

Survey for Recovered Spiritual Abuse Survivors

In the wide, wide world of cyberspace, I found a doctoral student who would like help from spiritual abuse survivors.  This survey is part of the research for her doctoral dissertation.  It is specifically for those who have recovered from spiritual abuse.

More information, including how to contact her can be found with the link here or the link in the left sidebar of my main page.

A Telling Error by Huckabee

A day after canceling a Sunday-night sermon at a north Florida Baptist church facing pending lawsuits that allege molestation and cover-up, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee decided instead to address the congregation live via telephone…

This quote is from a more lengthy article at

Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, was petitioned by abuse survivors to avoid speaking at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. The on-going scandal there due to clergy sexual abuse and blatant, continual cover-up by other church leaders who are still in authority at the church while facing legal charges, has made significant public headlines.

In making an appearance at Trinity, even though it was only via telephone rather than by satellite puts Huckabee’s stamp of approval on the leadership of this church. He is saying, by his appearance in spite of very visible clergy abuse and misconduct issues, these are his cronies, his associates, and that their behavior is of less importance than his political career.

If this church leadership’s actions in supressing known, on-going sexual abuse by their now-deceased pastor are of less importance than Huckabee’s political career is that the kind of man anyone, except those who are likeminded, wants in the White House? Even someone naive enough not to grasp that obvious cause-effect connection isn’t saavy enough for one of the most powerful political seats in the country.

In fact, this situation raises significant questions in my mind about who is pulling the strings behind Huckabee. Since he previously decided not to make an appearance when petitioned by abuse survivors, it makes me wonder if he was told by the SBC powers that be he should do it anyway. Who wants the SBC pulling the President’s strings?

If there were the remotest chance of me voting for Huckabee, which there definitely isn’t, this incident would cure me of that delusion.

Discipline: When is it Abuse?

To me, this was probably the single biggest behavior question that clouded the situation of our home life.  Gary believed that all his physical actions against the children were “discipline.”  He never could see that discipline was training in right behavior.  It is not punishment (punative action) for personally irritating childish behavior.  He didn’t look under the skin to his own motivation.  For him, actions that warranted discipline were ignored.  The actions he “disciplined” for were the ones that irritated, bothered, embarrassed, or inconvenienced him.

Gary watched violent martial arts R-rated movies with the boys starting when they were about 3 & 5 years old and every time I tried to reason with him about it he became angry.  (Interestingly, now in his new marriage he is upset that the father of his new step-children watches R-rated movies with them; they are 9 and 12.  I guess it was OK for him but not for anyone else.)  If anyone interrupted his TV show, he erupted in rage and would hit the offender if they were within reach.  If a boy running through the room tripped over Gary’s feet, he would scream at him and kick him as he ran away down the hall.  He excused this as discipline because the kids shouldn’t be running in the house.  However, it didn’t matter that they were running until one of them tripped over his feet and almost made him spill his drink.  And that child was the only one “disciplined.”  But putting children to bed on time, calmly insisting a child remain in bed after bedtime, keeping dangerous tools out of their reach, having them clean up their messes – none of these things ever crossed his mind.  In fact, he consistently undermined my efforts to do these types of child-training activities, thought I doubt he was consciously aware of it.

But when I tried to reason with him about his behavior and explain the difference, he never “got” it – actually the fact that I questioned his behavior was inconceivable to him and made him angry.  Notice too, that phrase — it made him angry.  His anger, as always, was my fault; caused by me. 

I am still mystified to this day.  I spend hours sometimes trying to understand.  Gary feels very deeply for his children.  I can’t find any tiniest crack in that.  He genuinely believes he is a wonderful, godly father.  But he also apparently believed however he “disciplined” his children was completely acceptable, even commendable.  If his actions were in response to an action by his children those actions were discipline.  There was nothing else.  When he hit me early in our marriage, he believed he was “disciplining” me.  He tried to tell me he was “spanking” me (never mind the strikes were anatomically inappropriate for “spanking”).  When I told him firmly that I was not his child and if he hit me again I’d call the police, he believed me and never tried it again.  But with his children nothing I could say made any impression.  I was undermining his authority and destroying our family.

I believe the line between discipline and abuse is in motivation more than in the how and how much of physical action; though the how and how much are also relevant.  Definitely, I believe there are also specific actions that qualify as abuse.  But discipline is about training, not punishment.  Discipline understands that there is age-appropriate behavior that sometimes a child is too young to alter (crying when hungry or tired) or that the child needs to be taught to change (how to make the bed, how to politely get a parent’s attention when the parent is on the phone, etc.)  To punish a child in any way for age-appropriate behavior is wrong. 

But even more important, when it comes to abuse, “discipline” because a child has caused personal irritation, interruption, embarrassment, etc. to the parent is abusive because of the motivation.  Spanking a child because they interrupted your TV show is excessive — and in our house it never stopped at spanking.  It’s not spanking if you swing to hit whatever you can reach.  And punching a child is always abuse.  Full adult-strength slaps across the back, shoulders, head, etc. is always abuse and inexcusable.  Slamming a child against the wall, kicking them, throwing them across the room – even if it’s onto an upholstered chair or sofa, is always abuse.  It is not discipline in any way, shape or manner.  Screaming, targeted swearing directed at a person,  and name-calling are abusive.  There is no excuse for this behavior.

 Counselors we went to, and the court system during our divorce, could not or would not distinguish between the common way anyone occasionally blows off steam and abusive rage.  Yes, we would all do well to control ourselves at all times.  But we all miss the boat from time to time.  I know that profanity is common for many people and swearing when you hit your thumb with a hammer is not an abusive act.  That’s what everyone assumed I was talking about.  I could not make anyone understand the difference between the screaming rages, accompanied by the worst profanity Gary knew (from the man who says profanity is sin and was extremely offended by his sons’ use of profanity when they were mad; surprise!) and vile name-calling; as opposed to the garden-variety loss of composure.  Bottom-line, this behavior is abusive and inexcusable.  It is never a disciplinary tool and it exceeds the perameters of “loosing my cool” because it’s been a long day and the kids won’t quit fussing and irritating each other.

“Discipline” is abuse when it is motivated by relieving personal angst.  It is abuse when it “punishes” rather than trains for age-appropriate behavior.  And, legally in most states, it is abuse any time it passes the boundaries of a couple reasonable, controlled swats on the buttocks – period, without exception for “extreme provocation.”

“He Taught Me How to Fly” – How Abuse Affects a Child, Part 2

I’ll never forget how sick I felt the first time I heard my oldest son, J, verbalize his memories of his early childhood.  I had wondered what he remembered and hoped he didn’t remember the specifics.  But when he was a teenager he finally told someone what he remembered.  He was speaking to someone else, I can’t remember who now, and I was listening.  I had never spoken to him about the details because I didn’t want to color his memories, just in case he didn’t remember. 

This is what he said:

I remember being kicked into the closet.

I remember being slammed against the walls.

I remember running down the hall to get away from him and pushing the crib behind the door so he couldn’t get into the bedroom to get me because I was so afraid.

My dad taught me how to fly [spoken with heavy sarcasm].  He threw me across the room when he was angry.

While most of these could have happened at almost any age, the one about the crib occurred before he was 4 years old. 

It was also revealing, and just as heart-breaking, what he didn’t bother to mention. He never mentioned the slaps (open-handed, full-strength strikes to any body part) and punches, or being hit with whatever object was closest to his father’s hand at the time. These went on all his life, though after he was reported to DFCS “Gary” stopped hitting first. Instead he would provoke J until J flinched first. Then Gary could justify bringing out the fists in the name of “defending his manhood.” (So for the last 4 years we were together I couldn’t ever say Gary initiated physical violence – thus he and everyone else, including the judge in our divorce, thought he was a changed man.) J also never mentioned all the times his dad called him “demon child” or some version of that in his frequent rages. These things were so “normal” they didn’t even rate mention.

As I’m writing this my insides are trying to climb out of my skin. Why, why, why would no one ever believe me? Why was the answer always “submit more,” “have faith,” “remain faithful,” etc.? None of those answers even touched the question, “What about the children?”  Both of the first two times I left him it was about his abuse of the children.  When I asked for help I was betrayed, denied and disbelieved. When I left Gary he convinced everyone I was lying or it was my fault. And because those voices were so loud and so unanimous I kept believing them.

 I was afraid of the authorities because the fundamentalist system in which I was raised painted the government, and especially family and children’s services, as evil people who couldn’t wait to take away the children of Christians, abuse them and turn them against their faith. When Gary was finally reported to the authorities I trusted them. The church had failed me; the authorities were supposed to protect us and they were supposed to be able to recognize abuse.

But Gary convinced the DFCS case worker I was teaching J to disrespect him and he was only responding to J’s taunts and rebellious mouth. Everytime I talked to her she threatened to take the kids away from both of us because Gary was violent and I was teaching the children to disrespect him. She scared me to death.

Later our Christian counselor (the one who didn’t believe me and didn’t approve of our separation) also said my actions were teaching our children disrespect.

The accusation of disrespect came because every time Gary became angry I got between him and the kids. I tried to reason with him. In the moment I had two choices. Walk away and let him mistreat the kids or get in the middle and try to reason with him and get him to stop. By necessity, these arguments (because that was always what they became) happened in front of the kids. There was no opportunity to take them out of the room – Gary wouldn’t cooperate with that. But they did serve the purpose of turning his anger onto me and off the kids. That action on my part was “disrespect.” And yes, I was angry in those times. But I never raged and I never got physical. I never screamed and I never used profanity – which was his modus operandi. (To be absolutely honest, I did scream at him twice while I was on chemo – and immediately apologized and took myself out of the room. It was because my meds were out of balance and getting them balanced fixed the problem.)

Two voices both said I was teaching the boys disrespect of their father — I believed them both. I apologized to the boys. And I tried to be even more reasonable. I learned to never engage in anger; to remain calm and reasonable. I still got in the middle because I couldn’t just walk away and let him treat the kids that way. And every time J mouthed off to his dad I also talked to him about his disrespect and his responsibility to do what was right no matter the provocation.  These conversations took place in private.  Gary frequently accused me to “buddying up” with J in these conversations and taking sides with J against him, which was not true at all, but no one believed me. 

Of course, the fact that I didn’t get angry back at him only made him angrier. Previously, when I did get angry, he excused his rage saying it resulted from my anger. When I didn’t get angry anymore he said I was treating him like a child (disrespect again) and it excused his rage. Somehow if I said anything, his rage was my fault. He could get angry about anything and was both entitled and excused; I was not allowed to ever be angry about anything – not his lies, not when he put us in danger with his choices, not when he abused our children.

At that point, J had never initiated physical violence toward his father and didn’t for another couple years after that. Not until he was physically larger than his father. Let me ask the question no one else seemed to be able to see — why was it OK for Gary to punch his son in the abdomen hard enough to leave marks I could still see a couple hours later, no matter what came out of his mouth? On the other hand, why was Gary excused for everything that came out of his mouth because we “provoked” him – by being too loud, or interrupting his TV show (a common offense that resulted in physically violent rage), by doing whatever he found annoying at the time? Why, why, why????