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When prayer is all too much and becomes abusive (22 Jan)

Updated: Jan 31, 2018

22 January 2018

Dr Lisa Oakley was our London conference keynote speaker last year. She now works at Bournemouth University and continues in her work there to focus on spiritual abuse and its impact. Last week in a survey carried out by the university in partnership with CCPAS (Churches Child protection Advisory Service), it was revealed that 1,591 respondents said they had personally experienced spiritual abuse.

In her presentation Lisa presented us with a number of examples drawn from her own research, which demonstrated the key characteristics of coercion and control, manipulation and pressuring of individuals.

On January 9th the Guardian reported the case of an Anglican vicar who had been found guilty by the C of E of spiritually abusing a teenage boy after putting him under ‘unacceptable pressure’ during intensive prayer and bible study sessions in his bedroom. Clergy disciplinary measures were used to bring the case and the bishops’ disciplinary tribunal described in their judgement how the vicar ‘engaged in mentoring so intense that (the boy, aged 15) was put under unacceptable pressure having regard to his age and maturity and was deprived of his freedom of choice as to whether to continue’.

This was the first judgement of its kind, but there is a real sense from Lisa’s research that other examples are already known about or awaiting discovery.

In our own Church there is a lesson here about promoting an ongoing culture of vigilance and developing a good understanding about what is appropriate in our prayer and bible study activities with people of all ages and in all circumstances. We know from the conference feedback that there is an interest in this area of safeguarding practice and so the offer to provide more training and insight is on the table. Please do contact me if this is something you want to know more about.

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