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Spiritual Abuse: How to Recognize and Stop One of the Most Common Forms of Abuse Within the Church

What is spiritual abuse and what are some subtle ways it might be creeping into the way we treat ourselves and others?

Physical abuse is rarely hard to define or recognize. When spiritual abuse is present, on the other hand, it can be extremely difficult to figure out what is really going on, even when the pain of it is extreme. So let’s define spiritual abuse, shine a clear light on it, and bring it out of hiding. Years ago, a revered (now retired) counselor, Ed McCormack, helped me come up with this definition: Whenever a true principle is taught without the Spirit, implemented with coercion, or used to diminish another person and make them feel they aren’t good enough, it is spiritual abuse. . . .

When a child or spouse is put down in the name of righteousness, when the principle is true but the spirit is the opposite of love and charity, confusion and discouragement usually result. Brother McCormack pointed out to me some important passages in D&C 50. We studied them together, using them as guidelines to understand spiritual abuse. In the remainder of this article I’m going to use verses from that section to clarify this principle.

“Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:17-18).

Brother McCormack pointed out that the very word of God taught without the Spirit with the intention to make someone else wrong or bad or to beat up on them emotionally is not of God; it is spiritual abuse. . . .

How to Recognize Spiritual Self-Abuse

“And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:19-20).

Even when the truth is taught by the Spirit, if we receive it “some other way”—in the adversary’s way—it will discourage us and make us feel down and miserable and inadequate and incapable of living it. In this way the adversary is tempting us to spiritually abuse ourselves and be discouraged by the truth. I’ve done a lot of this in my lifetime, but only recently recognized the pattern as spiritual self-abuse.

Lead image from Meridian Magazine
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