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Thursday, September 29, 2011

10 warning signs of spiritual abuse (and cult leadership)

Found a very intriguing and insightful post on Mary DeMuth's blog. Titled "Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot It", DeMuth writes about her experiences with "churches and ministries that bully".

Here are some of the indicators of spiritual abuse, in whatever form it might take...

- Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.

- Demand allegiance as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.

- Use exclusive language. “We’re the only ministry really following Jesus.” “We have all the right theology.” Believe their way of doing things, thinking theologically, or handling ministry and church is the only correct way. Everyone else is wrong, misguided, or stupidly naive.

- Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.

- Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.

- Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.

I can unfortunately think of any number of people who fit these descriptions plenty. Who fit all of them, even.

Reading over DeMuth's article, I felt led to consider again what it means to be a follower of Christ and what sincere Christian leadership entails. I really have to credit a lot of good people that God put into my life over the years (especially during those first crazy few when I began my walk with Christ) from whom I came to understand a notion that is completely at odds with the ways of the world: namely, that to serve Christ first and to serve others best means to put self last. In fact, the ideal of Christian leadership is that person who not only recognizes that he or she is imperfect, but indeed readily acknowledges that reality. To follow Christ and serve others is to crucify self, as opposed to aggrandizing self.

That is the reason, I have to believe, why the most respected and admired servants of Christ that most come to mind, are also the most humble and selfless. Those are the men and women who daily strive to let self die, so that Christ within them might radiate forth ever more brilliantly. It is the ones who take pains to point to themselves most who in turn point away from Christ.

Anyhoo, it's a great essay by Mary DeMuth, and I felt led to turn y'all's attention to it :-)