The Church for Everyone conference took place at St James and Emmanuel Church in Didsbury Manchester, hosted by their vicar Rev Nick Bundock. As part of the day Jayne Ozanne ran a workshop entitled ‘How to recognise and safeguard against spiritual abuse’.
She started with an overview of Church of England policy documents, starting with the 2006 report ‘Promoting a Safe Church’, which was the first official mention of spiritual abuse (on page 39 in appendix 2). In the 2011 ‘Responding well to those who have been sexually abused’, the Church of England used the government’s list of 4 types of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.
In 2017, the ‘Responding well to Domestic Abuse’ report recognised additional categories including spiritual abuse. This report was about domestic violence, but appendix 3 was about theology and showed how theology could be misused to cause harm. This appendix is well worth reading and the report can be downloaded from here.
In 2018 there was the first case of a CDM (clergy discipline measure) for spiritual abuse.
The Methodists issued reports in 2010 and 2015 ‘Safeguarding adults’. The Roman Catholics do not appear to have official policies on spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is mentioned on the Baptists’ website, but it is not defined.
The ground-breaking academic textbook on the subject is Breaking the Silence of Spiritual Abuse by Lisa Oakley and Kathryn Kinmond
Available to buy here.
The latest book by Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys is Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse: Creating Healthy Christian Cultures.
Available to buy here.
Recently the organisation thirtyone:eight (formerly CCPAS) published their research paper entitled ‘Spiritual Abuse’, which can be downloaded here.
It defined spiritual abuse as:
‘Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is characterised by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context. Spiritual abuse can have a deeply damaging impact on those who experience it. However, holding a theological position is not in itself inherently spiritually abusive, but misuse of scripture, applied theology and doctrine is often a component of spiritually abusive behaviour.’
The presenting factors in spiritual abuse are fear (of not being good enough, being wrong, being excluded, afraid to speak out) and shame (who you are, what you have done). This can lead to self hate and for some to internalised homophobia.
There needs to be greater accountability in the church to whistle blow and to report abuse. There also needs to be greater training on how to respond to reports of abuse, For example, it is not a good idea to just go to the parent / church or have a chat over a cup of tea with someone accused of abuse, it must be reported to the safeguarding officer.
Effective safeguarding needs:
We also have to be aware of the current culture about a ‘clash of rights’, if we are to reduce and eliminate abuse. God’s love is not harmful.