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Identifying Emotional Abuse - 2

Identifying Emotional Abuse 2

Deborah M. Jackson, MDiv

In my intention to bring empowerment and enlightenment about emotional abuse in the church, I want to highlight several more areas to take note of. The bible has much to say about abuse and mistreatment of others in the church, among spiritual leaders and outside the church. Often, there is more time spent talking about sexual sin and trying to control that, versus the sin of manipulation and abuse. God despises it. (James 1:26, Galatians 2:4) In addition, there is nothing I believe more debilitating than creating codependency in the body of Christ. Jesus trained His disciples to become fruitful, assured, and confident without Him, not the other way around. I address codependency in my last post. In this post, I’d like to address several other markers to identify when emotional abuse is present.

1. Coercion – no different than any other relationship abuse, even emotional abuse is about power. It may be hard to hear but truth. Emotional coercion can be difficult to spot, because it is one of those behaviors that often is not aggressive. Under the disguise of this is “for you” “I know what’s best.” “I am the authority.” It can play on someone’s lack of experience and or personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. An example of coercive control relates to money and finances. While there are truths in the bible about our thoughts and actions toward money, the use of those contexts to confuse, coerce, or cause conflict that drives someone’s choices can present as a toxic unhealthy action with damaging consequences. Coercion creates a sense of guilt, and pressure toward an end that benefits the recipient at the expense of the giver. Underneath the surface, the goal is to gain power – an emotional stronghold over another’s choices. This is antithetical to how Jesus led.

2. Cultish/Isolating – Like other signs cultish behavior can also be tricky. Therefore, we truly need a balance of spiritual leaders in our lives. Not all our guidance must come from inside the church, not all guidance (including spiritual guidance) must come from someone titled as a Pastor. Of course, they must be equipped, but keep in mind equipping is not tied to titles and positions. Dynamic spiritual leaders can appear engaging, gifted, supernaturally endowed, and powerful in multilayered ways. Even in this case, we still need to prayer for discernment. Like other relationships, it takes time to know what you have in any relationship. We learn far more when we see each other function in crisis not in the pulpit. Character is the test not charisma. It is not healthy to follow someone blindly. Perfection is not the standard but rather honorability, and humility. Strong leadership sets free; it does not isolate. The tone created causes a following to become like the leader – to mimic the person versus following and becoming like Jesus.


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