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Why must we talk about spiritual abuse?
About the Series
While national statistics indicate that one in four females and one in seven males are victimized by a current or former intimate partner, spiritual abuse is a tactic overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women.
This series explores the many complex dynamics associated with the pervasive problem of spiritual abuse. It will provide a working definition; present a more equalitarian view on the responsibilities and roles of women and men in both religious and secular society; give facts about the reality of spiritual abuse; and offer readers guidelines and strategies on how to effectively address the issue.
Although spiritual abuse is found amongst couples subscribing to all faith-based, philosophical and religious groups, this series focuses on how the problem affects Christian women. The reason for this specific selection is because Christianity represents the author’s faith tradition and expertise.
About the Author
The Reverend Al Miles is a member of the Joyful Heart Foundation’s Board of Directors. Since 1993, he has served with Pacific Health Ministry as the coordinator of the Hospital Ministry department at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. A nationally recognized expert on how culture, faith, religion and spirituality intersect with domestic and sexual violence, especially when perpetrated against women and children, Miles speaks widely on these topics. He has authored four books and hundreds of articles on intimate partner violence. Rev. Miles is a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and has been an ordained minister in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) since 1983.
Even in 2014, spiritual abuse remains a major deterrent to the overall safety and well-being of women, especially those trying to escape an abusive male partner. In a Christian context, it is the misuse of God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts—from both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture—and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to encourage, excuse, maintain and promote male entitlement and male privilege and to offer justification for beliefs and practices which espouse female subjugation.
There are two key components in the propagation of spiritual abuse. First, the belief that females, in both religious circles and society in general, are lesser than males—in intellect, power, strength, value, worth and in the view of God and Jesus Christ. Second, that females themselves are to blame for the crimes and sins males perpetrate against them.
Stay, Pray, Obey, Okay
Female victims-survivors [a term used by the author because it indicates that a person was not only violated but that she also survived her victimization] of domestic violence are frequently pressured to stay with, obey and even pray for the very men who are violating them. Somehow, the women are often told that these sacrificial acts will please God and Jesus Christ and make everything okay in the abusive relationship. The women are also told that their “obedience” in this earthly life will be “rewarded in heaven.” But in these circumstances, no plausible strategies are provided to victims-survivors as to how following such instructions will bring an end to the abuse or, for that matter, offer them any other positive outcomes.
I refer to this kind of counsel as Stay/Pray/Obey/Okay advice, and it must be noted that it comes from all corners of society:
- Armed services
- Behavioral health
- Courts, law enforcement and other legal professions
- Entertainment and other media outlets
- Faith, religious and spiritual communities
- Institutions of higher education
- The sports arena
Women are frequently told that their actions and inactions cause or contribute to the mistreatment they receive from their male intimate partners. The corollary being if women didn’t behave, dress and speak in certain ways then men would not have to “correct” them. As a result of these precepts, many women suffer even greater emotional, physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual devastation. And some end up being murdered.
Women are not as likely as men to perpetrate spiritual abuse tactics. It is rare for women to misuse God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts, and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to claim female entitlement and female privilege and to offer justification for beliefs and practices which espouse male subjugation.
Men of faith do misuse God, Jesus Christ, church doctrine, sacred texts, and cultural and familial teachings and traditions to harm their female intimate partners. Perpetrators of domestic violence are found in every segment of religious and secular society. And yes, some of them are spiritual leaders—board members, deacons, educators, pastors, pastoral counselors and youth ministers. They will not only use various aspects of culture, faith, religion and spirituality to assert control and power over their current or former female intimate partners. These men will also claim that God and Jesus Christ instructed them to carry out their misdeeds.
Domestic violence is not caused by Satan. An all-too-common spiritual abuse tactic employed by male batterers is to suggest that some outside evil force, most often identified as “Satan” in the Christian context, is the real culprit for the violence being perpetrated. Male spiritual leaders and laity are especially susceptible to this tactic of deception. Caution needs to be taken regarding one specific dynamic surrounding an alleged “Satan invasion.” It occurs most frequently when a male violator is facing accountability for his criminal and sinful behavior.
Female victims-survivors are not to blame for the spiritual abuse being perpetrated against them. No one can provoke another person to use abusive tactics. This is true even if the person being violated has an alcohol or drug problem, has chosen not to participate in religious worship services or sexual activities with her intimate partner, is said to be “too cold,” “too emotional,” “too flirtatious,” “too aggressive” or “too passive,” and even if the victim-survivor is having an extrarelational affair. The person solely responsible for the violence being perpetrated is the one who has chosen to be abusive and violent—the batterer.
In this series, I’ll be answering some common, albeit very complex, questions about spiritual abuse: how exactly is spiritual abuse perpetrated? Where did the myth of male entitlement and female subjugation come from? What about the sanctity of marriage? The notion of forgiveness?
But as importantly, we’ll be asking the right questions. Over my years, I’ve heard one in particular many, many times: why do so many of the women choose to remain with men who violate them? Yet curiously, people seldom ask why so many men—Christian and non-Christian—abuse the women they claim to love. I’ll be unpacking these questions, and many more, throughout this series.