Religious abuse as we have defined it in other places in our website articles, is the inner psychological and emotional trauma suffered by members of churches/religious organizations which have used authoritarian and manipulative teachings and practices to control both their thought and behavior - whether the abuse was intentional or not. The bottom line of spiritual abuse is that it occurs when edification is cloaked manipulation.
Unscrupulous leaders inflict
spiritual abuse through the domination and control of followers who are
compelled by induced fear or pride to adopt lifestyle changes that serves
their own agenda - not the love of God or the spiritual health of the
follower. Ultimately, this exploitation leaves them in a piteous dependence
upon their association with the church or religious group to provide them
meaning, a relationship with God, and even any notion of personality or
significance. This is a tragic and all too common reality in both cultic
movements and aberrant churches.
What is even more tragic, however, is that
most spiritually abusive leaders of aberrant churches sincerely believe that
the degree of unbiblical submission they are demanding of their followers is
necessary for their good. There are few more devastating personal intrusions
into life then the spiritual trauma inflicted by twisted people who claimed
divine authority to gain trusted access into the deepest part of someone's
heart, soul and mind and to manipulate them at their will in degrading,
terrifying ways beyond belief.
These are the kinds of things you'd expect would occur in "those" people "over there." You'd never suspect to see it anywhere else among a bunch of fanatics in the backwoods of Appalachia or among the neanderthal Islamic jihadi culture. But when it occurs in church settings, it is almost always systemic, generational and deeply entrenched as a pillar of the larger community, in a household of faith harboring hundreds of thousands of souls featuring dazzling programs, well-scrubbed children, and the reputation of being a moral repository of Christian values.
And you'd never dream it could become a global engine of institutionalized abuse that colors the lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions with a blacklight of twisted doctrine and practice that enslaves them, and makes them subject to the dictates of unquestioned and yet highly questionable authority figures.
When I left Chicago for Tennessee in 1986 to go to Lee College to prepare for the ministry, I never dreamed about such a thing. Like many, I thought cultism and religious abuse was something only among "those" out there. Upon moving back to the Hammond area in 2012, I was so completely focused on the transition at hand (buying a home, packing, saying goodbye to the area and ministry partners in the Volunteer State, etc.) that as part of my look ahead, I completely forgot about how great a black hole of anti-spirituality exists downtown off Sibley Avenue. It is a prime example of how excess, sin, depravity and exploitation has been sanctified as "old time religion".
Let this tragically necessary yet altogether disturbing article tell you a little bit more about the abyss called First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and the "higher institution" it spawned called Hyles-Anderson College. It's not for the faint in heart. But it needed to be written. Stay tuned ..