Dedicated to the memory of  Michelle H. Fox.

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What is spiritual abuse? Just as emotional abuse affects one emotionally, while physical abuse inflicts pain and bodily injury on its victim, spiritual abuse affects one spiritually. It is the result of a spiritual leader or system that tries to control, manipulate, or dominate a person. This control is often in the form of fear. This is considered a major factor in mind control/coercive persuasion or thought reform. There are those who feel the latter comes into play in cases such as these, while others feel the thinking is in error. Regardless of where one stands on this, it does not lessen the affects of spiritual abuse.

David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, co-authors of “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” describe the action: "It's possible to become so determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine or a way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn't 'behave' spiritually the way you want them to. When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person's standing as a Christian- to gratify you, your position or your beliefs while at the same time weakening or harming another- that is spiritual abuse."

Does leadership in your church demand you consult with them (or your discipler) before making major decisions or any decisions at all? Has leadership forbidden you to go on vacation or spend time with someone (particularly one who has left the church group)?

Do you find yourself periodically questioning your spirituality or standing with God? Have you been preoccupied with checking out others in the congregation to see who is living up to the rules and who isn't?

Are extra-biblical rules and standards equated as coming from God, with your salvation or spirituality linked to following them? Do you find that cutting or not cutting your hair has now become an indicator of your spirituality and a means of protection for your family?

Has the initial joy you felt when first coming to know the Lord been replaced with worry? Do you feel you're not doing enough or are not good enough and can't live up to what is expected? Are you worried God has sent you a spirit of delusion?

Do services uplift and give strength or do you feel sad, beaten down, or depressed afterward? Has your view of God changed to where he is seen as a harsh taskmaster, eagerly waiting for you to mess up so he can chastise you or leave you behind?

If you have experienced any of these, or similar, you may be a victim of spiritual abuse.

Below is an early 1990s interview with Stephen Arterburn about spiritual abuse.

Abusive churches are often performance oriented, with an "us verses them" or elitist mentality. Questioning is often discouraged, forbidden, or branded as a sign of rebellion or lack of spirituality, though this may not be said directly. Those who do not follow the rules may be labeled, shunned, shamed, removed from church positions or even cast out of the fellowship.

You may not be allowed to confront or question those in leadership as they are "God's anointed." Members are taught that only God is to intervene in situations where leadership may have done wrong.

I was a member of an unhealthy spiritually abusive United Pentecostal Church for almost thirteen years. Though not as damaging as some, such as the shepherding movement or the International Churches of Christ, it was none-the-less spiritually abusive.

The focus of this site is the issue of spiritual abuse in Bible-based churches. It has a secondary emphasis on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI or UPC). Like others who run similar sites, the reason for concentrating on one organization is merely due to personal experience and knowledge of their beliefs.

I am not implying that every UPC church is run in a spiritually abusive manner. However, the one I attended fit this description. Since leaving in 1993, I have encountered many people from various areas who exited UPC churches and had similar experiences of abuse. My concern is the lack of oversight toward individual churches pastored by UPC licensed ministers as well as some of their doctrine.

Is this site saying that nothing good ever happens at a UPC church, or that people cannot come to know the Lord and be saved, or that they have a monopoly on spiritual abuse or doctrine that is in error? Absolutely not.

Please keep in mind that it is not the church you are attending that saves or delivers from things which are wrong in your life. It is God and God alone. Do not give any organization, church, fellowship, or person the praise and glory that belongs only to God.

Some may proclaim good things that are being done in their church group, but this good does not dismiss or excuse anything bad. It is wrong- and dangerous- to ignore abuses simply because good may also be found.

Certainly there are countless groups which can speak of good they have accomplished or which has happened during their meetings, even groups whose main purpose is to push the agenda of its leader(s) despite who they hurt or use in the process. Does this in turn validate that everything they do is proper and of God? Does this diminish the damage inflicted to others? Certainly not.

If we turn our heads and allow abuse to continue, pretend it never happens, or excuse it because it also occurs outside of our group, we may later find ourselves the victim of such abuse. How many must be hurt before it is addressed and seen for what it is?

--Lois E. Gibson, site founder

Below Madeleine Tobias speaks about mind control, cults & overcoming indoctrination.