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Spiritual Abuse? What are we talking about?

I think we must be having something of a late summer blast as I write today with a fan nearby. Three weeks ago I was sweeping rainwater form near our front step. Last week we were in Scotland and did not need to wear an anorak at any point – a first for us on a Scottish holiday. I’m not sure about how the safeguarding and climate change agendas align but maybe a later blog will explore the interface!

So in sunny weekend weather I attended a two day online conference on Spiritual Abuse and Coercive Control, which I found in equal parts deeply engrossing and deeply depressing. Engrossing as we heard academic evidence about and personal testimonies from impacted individuals where the faith organisations that they had been born into or chosen to join, seriously harmed them through misuse of clerical and other leaders’ power and narrow interpretation of sacred texts. Depressing because it was a phenomena experienced in several faith communities, not just the Christian Church, and that the options for addressing such abuse can be quite limited. If you choose to leave you can also be deliberately ostracised and this can have a serious effect on personal mental health and wellbeing, as well as being challenging to your faith.

Space does not permit a re-telling of the several stories shared, but spiritual abuse is an area of concern that we will need to reflect on more. Which is why our Safeguarding Training Group will be looking at how best to develop a module that helps church leaders first to recognise and then how to tackle it.

One or two contributors took issue with the title of spiritual abuse preferring the term pastoral malpractice. They also raised the tricky issue of how the state may become drawn into, appropriately or inappropriately according to your point of view, defining what is spiritually abusive and adjudicating as a consequence. One contributor harked back to the 16th century and for me, this invoked a picture of burning at the stake as, when on holiday, I had read a novel set in the period when there was so much religious strife.

This may be a theme to return to at intervals as there was so much to consider and, for me, some eye-opening insights to reflect on.

In the meantime, enjoy the good weather whilst it lasts. Autumn will approach far too quickly.

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