How do you know if your church is an abusive church? These are some of the key marks. They exist along a spectrum, so just because you don’t see all of these in their full form doesn’t mean your church isn’t abusive. Take a look at each of these factors and rate on a scale of one to ten and rate your church to see.
The group believes they they are the best of any comparable group because they are the ones who are really pursuing the pure vision that no one else is. Religiously this leads to doubting the salvation of other more mainstream groups and eventually moves from thinking they are just the BEST to thinking that they are the ONLY group with the truth. This may be combined with a militant corporate goal, perhaps related with the end times. Along with this will be n Elite View of History. The group will have its own version of history to support both it’s future goal and its elite status. The radical fundamentalist Baptists for example have a story which explains why they are the only true church.
Power of a Single Person.
Within an abusive group, although it may start around an ideal, a single person always gets more and more power, and this power is used to implement the other aspects. The way the main leader treats everyone else is generally the number one key of what kind of group it will be.
Repression of Free Speech.
In an abusive group there are always things you are not allowed to say or talk about. Sometimes pastors use sermons on “gossip” to shut down the freedom of speech of the parishioners. A pastor has a sin and it has been discovered, so rather than repent, he admonishes the people not to gossip. In the meantime he gossips by gathering all of his allies together to support him and attack those who are bothered by the situation. If they accept it, it sets up a culture where people are not comfortable with telling the truth.
Pressure to stay
Healthy groups apply no pressure to you to stay. The more unhealthy the group, the more pressure you feel to stay. Usually this is a psychological barrier tied into your view of yourself and your salvation: If you leave you will lose your salvation, your family relationships, your friends, etc.
The other side of this is the inability to leave. Those who they cannot keep silent or who refuse to obey must be disfellowshiped immediately. So basically the plan is to keep you from leaving, and if you cause trouble take you out. And once you are gone is it as if you never existed. Your former friends will not talk to you because you are a heretic. This may also extend into entire other groups, and perhaps the world itself. These “enemies” are often phantoms of the imagination of the leadership, and when they are not, they are enemies created by the sinful behavior of the leaders. These enemies serve as the explanation for bad things that happen, as well as why everyone must stick closer and closer together and only obey the leader. Sometimes it is “everyone but us”
The most important part of all of this, however, is the theology. If the church just does these things, but doesn’t justify them with the Bible, then it’s in the early stages, and you just have an unhealthy leader that needs to be removed. It is when the group starts to justify its actions with the Bible, and create a special theology supporting the above behaviors that you know you are in a truly abusive church.