The identification of Clergy Power Abuse is relatively new,
and sometimes it is called Spiritual Abuse.
This article deals primarily with Clergy who have overstepped the mark to control and manipulate their followers with them the followers even knowing it. I think it is vital to widen understanding, urge Christian institutions, religious and healthcare professionals to look at the full range of abuses to develop policies and procedures that address spiritual abuse issues.
When I began my research initially, I thought that I might detail some of my own experiences of the abuse I experienced by men of power. However, fascinating as personal and anecdotal experiences may be, it is dangerous to generalise such experiences. Everybody has their own experience, and their own hurt to deal with. I looked around to see what people have written on the subject, thinking that I might interact with some of the pertinent literature. To my amazement, within the British scene, at least, there was virtually nothing. I wanted to change that and contribute my expertise to the mix; therefore, I based my master’s dissertation on this critical issue (you can find on this web site) of Clergy who use the power of their position to abuse. Unsurprisingly, I found such abuse devastatingly common.
There is no one single reason to why and how this kind of abuse occurs. I have found that some Clergy- and TV evangelist followers suffer from a considerable agree of naivety if not self-inflicted blindness- as did I. They swallow what they are told by these leaders without reason or question. We know that power games are a reality in the world of politics and business, but we do not want to accept that they are also a reality in the Christian world.
Dynamic Forces are at work and if any intelligent reading of the New Testament reveals that there were power struggles right from the beginning of the early Church’s life. One recalls when James and John anxious to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory, also gentile converts, are typical the bickering factions we see in the Christian world today. In every strand of the New Testament, we can find evidence of power struggles affecting Gods peoples’ lives, and nothing has changed since. We can stick our heads in the sand and hope this awful phenomenon will go away- I got news for you – It won’t, it’s alive and well!
The truth is, unless major power struggles are dealt with, seeds of destructiveness may spill over from one generation to another. In other words, institutional viruses (memes) can change the players, but the struggles do not. We know from dealing with COVID-19 pandemic that viruses never go away, they just mutate and adapt to new environments to grow and flourish. Clergy abuse, Spiritual abuse is a virus of the Christian world that must be addressed, and the vaccination is to bring people to justice and make leaders accountable for what they do.
Not all power games involve struggles between laity and ordained ministers. Such conflicts occur at various levels, for instance, some church leaders are pawns in the hands of their church boards. Sometimes ministers become the victims of a small but influential faction within the Church. Any issue of a power struggle within the Church is power is perverted, people manipulated, families are divided, and casualties abound. An unhealthy dependence of members on the leadership develops and ultimately creates total spiritual confusion in their lives. The leaders of such Churches so mesmerise their followers that, for a while at least, their leadership is accepted without question. Extreme examples of this are when I think of the Peoples Temple led by Rev Jim Jones, responsible for the suicide and murder of some 900 of his followers in Jonestown, Guyana. We mustn’t forget about the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, many of whose adherents died in the siege in Waco in 1993. However, the sad fact is, abuses of power are also found in more orthodox Churches, and maybe to be found in your Church?
I have been involved in the charismatic community churches for more than half-life, and I have found that some are particularly prone to authorisation leadership, manipulation, excessive discipline, and spiritual intimidation. An early membership handbook from Harvest Time Restoration group of churches based in Bradford, UK, demands submission to the Church’s leaders on the same level as submission to God. One noticeable difference, of course, is that human leaders are fallible, whereas God is infallible. This is just one example of how many churches across the world control their members. One danger for any with positions of power within the Church is that it will be misused consciously or otherwise. One of the most subtle and damaging abuses of power is to discourage the thinking of the flock.
These people as adults panic when asked their opinion – they honestly don’t know because they have lost their capacity to form an opinion – I know this far too well because I was one of them. To gain one’s self-respect and identity is a very, painful long haul indeed. The abuse of power is about divesting others of their power to gain more power. The abuse of power is about disrespecting those they abuse.
Clergy are members of the helping professions; the pastor is always in a position of power concerning seeker for help. In general, the helping professions can be unconsciously be motivated by a lust for power, while appearing to operate under a cloak of objective moral rectitude. The problem is, when you have more than three people in some kind of intentional community, religious or secular, you are going to have a political community, hence power dynamics. Some Clergy who through the power of their persona and position abuse their laypeople and the lay people let them.
Power in itself is not wrong. The Holy Spirit is the power of God in action. The proper use of power is the ability to mobilise resources to be useful towards specific ends. Power is neither good nor evil, it’s just necessary.
However, is it the abuse of power that is the sin! Jesus Christ did not come to abuse his power, but for all, he surrendered his power to save humankind- John 3. Jesus used his power as God incarnate to humble himself to become a human being, teach, heal, die, rise from the dead, and be resurrected to be free from sins power. Jesus Christ served others in all he did and was. So, Let’s use our power rightly and all what we do, do in love by following the example of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If this article has unsettled you or touched you and has raised some hurt or questions for you, I wish to help so please contact me – you are not alone in this.
Until next time- Live Life on Purpose in Hope. Faith. Love,
Rev Paula 💕
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