In public church settings, private interaction, and every place that deference to spiritual authority is actively given by trusting followers, not every exercise of this profoundly impactful influence is proper. In fact, it is routinely found that abusive church leadership exerts its most damaging and destructive impact in these kinds of settings. People look up to those who appear to them to be spiritual giants for mentoring, pastoral care and inspirational guidance and find themselves in a horrific quagmire of psychological and personal coercion leading them to obey and submit blindly to demands made on them which cost them dearly in so many ways
It is this infamous common ground that cultic churches warp and destroy the faith of far too many people in the world today. The late New Testament scholar Catherine Clark-Kroeger does an outstanding job in an older online helping show through a sound study of the Scriptures that this abusive church leadership is all too familiar practice shared with cultic movements:
The Corinthians had become the willing listeners of those who worked them ill (11:19). The “super apostles” had brought the credulous flock a cruel aftermath (2 Corinthians 11:3), a different spirit and a different gospel (11:4) and a spiritual servitude.
The stance of these leaders was not much different from leaders in some contemporary cults who exercise total control over their adherents. Under the cloak of supreme holiness and sanctification is hidden a terrifying pattern of abuse. There can be not only beatings and physical abuse but mind control, deprivation, vituperation, intimidation, public shaming and humiliation.
As one expert noted of such a group:
The breaking down, forcing people to do behaviors that are denigrating. The language, the control of behavior, that if you’re not doing what the group wants, you’re violating God’s will. It’s certainly abusive personality control.
Like Satan, the leaders (ancient or modern) may appear as shining angels of light, but there is an appalling exercise of absolute authority (2 Corinthians 11:14). As is so often true in cases of abusive mind control, the victims can no longer acknowledge the abuse or nor are they able to defend themselves. Whether the abuse is in a religious community or a family, victims can become pathologically conditioned into acceptance, as a director of a battered women’s project notes:
Victims of domestic violence are in an altered state. Up seems down. It’s important to understand that if someone is a victim all these years, it’s sort of like she’s been brainwashed. You are in essence a prisoner.
A woman at the shelter added, “They break you down. You feel less than human. They isolate you. They say, ‘No one cares about you. Only I love you.’ And you start to believe it. Then it builds to the physical. It’s worse for people with higher social status. Society puts more pressure on them. It’s more embarrassing."
Read more of this outstanding exposition of Scriptural truth and how it speaks to modern spiritual corruption today that energizes religious abuse everywhere.
The story behind the photo above is unnerving and gruesome. It looks innocuously pious enough. There's a lot going on there which masked an abusive ministry in action. That's the problem indeed. It looks so normal. Highly disturbing images are at the article linked here. Viewer's discretion advised.