What is Abuse?

Abuse occurs when someone uses force or authority to control another for their own pleasure or security. The Abuser attacks the very Image of God in which we reflect His ability to choose the good and reject evil. The Abuser substitutes his or her own will for the discerning choices of a person Christ died to save.

Abusers victimize those who are, at least temporarily, vulnerable to them. They reject God’s call to care for the helpless (often called the “widows and orphans ”). Because of this people with authority in the lives of others – pastors, parents, teachers, law enforcement personnel, healthcare workers – bear a special responsibility. They wield power that makes many people vulnerable to abuse.

Victims experience abuse as pain. Like all forms of pain, we eventually come to adapt to it. This leads to two responses

Abuse seems normal. Especially if we have grown up with abuse, we assume that this is the normal way people behave. We can even come to believe that God approves of the abuse. This can trap the Victim in the abuse and can also lead the Victim to become an Abuser in turn.

Abuse increases. Since the Victim has become acclimated to the abuse as “normal” the Abuser can no longer control the Victim as strongly. In order to maintain control the Abuser then must increase the pain by increasing the level of abuse.

Abuse comes in many forms:

  • Sexual Abuse: Forcing unwanted sexual acts or being sexual with a vulnerable individual such as a counselee or minor. Of course, most acts of sexual abuse are also Sexual Misconduct. However, Abusers often hide behind the veil that they participated in “consensual activities”. However, when the “partner” is below the age of consent or emotionally vulnerable, engaging in any sexual activities constitute abuse.

    What constitutes sexual activity? Ask this question, “Could we engage in this intimate activity in front of the whole congregation?” While we might occasionally appreciate a passionate kiss between a married couple celebrating their love, few sexual activities can be committed in front of others without either embarrassment or brazenness.

    Sexual abuse is often combined with other forms of abuse. In order to control the Victim and hide the abuse, the Abuser must often apply Verbal, Mental/Emotional, or Spiritual abuse.

  • Verbal Abuse: Using language to control another through denigration. Beyond an insult or an angry exchange, the verbal Abuser uses words and tone of voice to inflict pain on another for the purpose of breaking their will and making them compliant. If every time I act contrary to the Abuser’s desires I must face an intense verbal attack on my intelligence, morality or self-worth, I will come to avoid that pain by doing whatever the Abuser wants.
  • Mental/Emotional Abuse: Willfully inflicting mental or emotional anguish on another through threat or humiliation. This abuse can happen without a word spoken or physical force applied to the Victim. Destroying a prized possession, killing (or threatening) a loved pet, posting degrading photographs – all are forms of Mental/Emotional Abuse. Like physical and verbal abuse, these implicit threats aim to control the Victim’s behavior.

    In addition, unlike verbal abuse, mental/emotional abuse can masquerade as “teasing”. By degrading the Victim’s self-image and self-worth the Abuser makes the Victim willing to do whatever he or she wants. After all, they are not “worthy” to resist.

  • Physical Abuse: Any act of violence against another person. This seems most evident. If I strike another adult I commit a legal offense: Assault. If someone uses such assaults to control another adult or has a pattern of assaulting them, then they commit physical abuse.

    Where does corporal punishment of minor children come in here? Is that abuse? Clearly when a child is young a slap of a hand reaching for a hot stove top can be life-giving. And spanking used to punish a child who runs out into the road can be justified. However, any corporal punishment that leaves a bruise or welt has gone beyond simply applying a painful reminder to harming their bodies. And continual threats of “whippings” can constitute mental/emotional abuse.

  • Spiritual Abuse: Controlling or manipulating another person through religious or spiritual authority. This can often be at the root of other forms of abuse in the church. It may take the form of a “special revelation” from God, a misuse of Bible verses, or simply assurance that something is right &lquo;because I say it is so”. By invoking authority from any of these sources gives license to an Abuser to make any claims, any demands the want. This abuse directly undermines the Church’s true authority, undermining any attempt to bring the Truth to the world.

In addition to these forms of Abuse we might consider Financial Misconduct: Using one's position to acquire unearned financial gain. While not truly a form of Abuse, Financial Misconduct can have the same consequences for its Victims. The lost of security, trust, and vitality in individuals and a congregation mean that when a pastor or prominent congregation member commits such financial sins these crimes can leave lasting scars.

For other information on healing from suffering or abuse see: