Spiritual abuse was the subject matter of a recent survey carried out by Dr Lisa Oakley of the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University. The survey found that more than 1,000 British Christians from Anglican, Baptist, Independent and Pentecostal churches reported they had experienced spiritual abuse by leaders. Respondents also said church leaders were also experiencing abuse from members of their own congregations.
The survey identified key characteristics of spiritual abuse as “coercion and control, manipulation and pressuring of individuals, control through the misuse of religious texts and scripture, and providing a ‘divine’ rationale for behaviour.” Justin Humphreys, executive director of charity the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, who co-authored the research, said priests and other leaders had to be careful about expressing the beliefs of their church to avoid alienating or upsetting others and that individuals should be free to challenge. He noted many victims had struggled to get help because social workers and mainstream children’s and abuse charities did not understand spiritual abuse and some were unaware it existed at all.