Spiritual Abuse, Part Two

This week on the podcast, Dan and Rachael Clinton, Assistant Director of Program Development and Admissions, continue their conversation on the dynamics and fallout of spiritual abuse. Rachael vulnerably enters the particularities of her own story to help illuminate some of the themes and categories we discussed in last week’s episode.

Rachael shares about her experience as a high schooler in a small church that was marked by rigid dogmatism, a deep sense that you are either “in” or “out,” and the assumption that questioning authority or showing allegiance elsewhere was a sign of profound sinfulness.

Dan: “It’s a setup for betrayal.”

Rachael: “It didn’t just disrupt my capacity to trust others, it fractured my capacity to trust myself and to trust God.”

In this system, God had become a dictator. Rachael remembers feeling that if this community was a reflection of who God is and what God wants, Rachael wanted no part of God anymore. But because spiritual abuse is so insidious and pervasive, she also had the deep feeling that if she chose to step away, she would lose everything.

Here’s the insanity: you’ve got to leave God to come back to God.

Rachael: “My faith had become so defined by adherence to this group and these certain sets of beliefs, that it felt like if I step outside of this, I’m going to lose my calling.”

Dan and Rachael reflect on how systems of spiritual abuse, and the sense of complicity that accompany them, evoke the same categories that we engage in our work with sexual abuse: betrayal, powerlessness, shame, and ambivalence. Moving away from those systems will require levels of anger and grief that many of us are afraid to bear.

Rachael: “I needed a lot of healing, and I needed to encounter God again.”

That movement toward truth and goodness invites us to name our experience, to tell our stories, and to dream that we might one day be able to live in community with others without losing ourselves. That long, hard work of healing is what Dan and Rachael will discuss next week.