Churches That Abuse

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Churches That Abuse
Churches That Abuse.jpg
Author Dr. Ronald Enroth
Cover artist The Aslan Group
Country United States
Language English
Subject Spiritual abuse
Genre Christianity
Publisher Zondervan
Publication date
Pages 231
ISBN 978-0-310-53292-7
OCLC 24502109
Followed by Recovering From Churches That Abuse

Churches That Abuse, first published in 1991, is a best-selling counterculture apologetic book written by Ronald M. Enroth. The book presents real-life stories of pseudo-Christian churches and organizations deemed spiritually abusive and the effects these groups have had on their members. A primary theme of the book is to demonstrate, through case histories of individuals, couples, and families, that "spiritual abuse can take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible-preaching, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity".[1]

Enroth outlines the backgrounds of the leaders of these groups and explains how the groups evolved to the point of becoming spiritually abusive. A few religious authors, such as Ruth Tucker, former professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, have objected to the research methods used by Enroth.[2] However, the book has been praised by many in the anti-cult movement, including Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D;[1] Michael D. Langone, director of the American Family Foundation; Dr. Paul R. Martin;[3] and James Leo Garrett Jr. of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Characteristics of an abusive church[edit]

In the book, Enroth lists several characteristics in identifying abusive churches.

Control-oriented leadership[edit]

According to the book, "...experience with authoritarian leadership is, unfortunately, not unusual for people who have been a part of spiritually abusive groups. Control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence, and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence. They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak and those who consider leaving their flock." (Page 42)

Spiritual elitism, perceived persecution[edit]

According to the book, "The spiritual elitism of abusive churches can be seen in some of the terminology they use to refer to themselves: 'God's Green Berets', 'God's End-Time Army', the 'faithful remnant', the special 'move of God'. As one ex-member put it, 'We believed we were on the cutting edge of what God was doing in the world. I looked down on people who left our movement; they didn't have what it took. They were not faithful to their commitment. When everyone else got with God's program, they would be involved in shepherding just like we were.' ... If abusive churches are exclusive and special, it follows that they will be targets for persecution, or so their leaders seem to feel." (Page 61)

Manipulation of members, fostering dependency[edit]

According to the book, "Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority. In all totalitarian environments, dependency is necessary for subjugation." (Page 53)

Life-style rigidity[edit]

According to the book, "Traditional evangelical churches value and respect individual differences. For the most part, they encourage people to become unique persons in their own right, not mere photocopies of someone else. Authoritarian, manipulative fringe groups, on the other hand, encourage clones and promote cookie-cutter life-styles." (Page 54)

"... authoritarian churches demonstrate an excessive focus on such concerns. The restricted life-style and limits on personal freedom that follow are just other examples of the need to control that all abusive churches exemplify. Conformity to prescribed standards is achieved, more so than in mainline churches, through peer pressure and pastoral directives." (Page 70)

Emphasis on experience[edit]

According to the book, "Quite clearly, the excesses at Community Chapel demonstrate what can happen when spiritual experience dictates theology and then necessitates a re-interpretation of Scripture. Subjective experience takes care of the theological loopholes that the Bible seems not to address. The leadership of Community Chapel promoted the view that one could accept certain doctrines and practices if they could not be disproved from Scripture, rather than accept them because of a strong conviction they were right because they were taught in God's Word. It has been said that commitment without careful reflection is fanaticism in action, and that certainly was the case at Community Chapel." (Page 26)

Harsh discipline of members, information control[edit]

According to the book, "Virtually all authoritarian groups that I have studied impose discipline, in one form or another, on members. A common theme that I encountered during interviews with ex-members of these groups was that the discipline was often carried out in public-and involved ridicule and humiliation. (Page 78)

"Members of all abusive churches soon learn that the pastor or leader is beyond confrontation." (Page 81)

"Unwavering obedience to religious leadership and unquestioning loyalty to the group would be less easily achieved if analysis and feedback were available to members from the outside. It is not without reason that leaders of abusive groups react so strongly and so defensively to any media criticism of their organizations." (Page 84)

Painful exit processes[edit]

According to the book, "Leaving an abusive church situation can be extremely difficult, calling into question every aspect of life members may have experienced for the period of time they were involved. (Page 89)

"Leaving a restricted and abusive community involves what sociologists call the de-socialization process whereby the individual loses identification with the past group and moves toward re-socialization, or reintegration into the mainstream culture. There are a number of emotions and needs that emerge during this transition process. How one deals with these feelings and affective experiences has a significant impact on the overall healing that is required. Many have described the aftermath of abusive-church involvement as comparable to that of rape victims, or the delayed stress syndrome experienced by war veterans. It is recovery from what might be called spiritual rape." (Page 90)

Groups discussed[edit]

The following groups and religious leaders are discussed in the book:

Analogous books[edit]


External links[edit]