A Hidden Epidemic God Hates

During my time as a marriage counselor and pastor, I’ve seen cases of spiritual abuse in the home that would make your skin crawl.

Domestic spiritual abuse is using Scripture, biblical principles, or one’s spiritual authority to control a family member for selfish gain. The abuse may be sexual, physical, social, emotional, verbal, financial, and/or psychological in nature—but the key is that the abuser uses Christianity to justify the behavior. The hard heart of the abuser causes the mind to interpret Scripture through a clouded, self-serving lens. 

 

Tom micromanages his wife Sarah’s physical appearance to fit his personal tastes. He picks out her clothes, tells her how she can do her hair, and restricts her diet so she remains thin. When Sarah confronts him on his controlling behavior, he cites Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.”

Miranda is an overprotective mother. She homeschools her 17-year-old daughter, Kate, to prevent her from being exposed to rebellious teenagers. She won’t allow her to play sports, attend dances, or get her driver’s license. She cites 1 Corinthians 15:33 as her justification for parenting this way: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Bill forces his wife Angie to have sex against her will. He’s rough in bed and occasionally strikes her when they’re being intimate. He cites 1 Corinthians 7:4 as his allowance for doing so: “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.”

What do these three scenarios have in common? A spouse or parent is committing domestic spiritual abuse. While these examples may seem extreme, I assure you they’re not. During my time as a marriage counselor and pastor, I’ve seen cases of spiritual abuse in the home that would make your skin crawl.

What Is Domestic Spiritual Abuse?

It seems appropriate to define domestic spiritual abuse before we go any further. Domestic spiritual abuse is using Scripture, biblical principles, or one’s spiritual authority to control a family member for selfish gain.

The abuse may be sexual (Bill), physical (also Bill), social (Miranda), emotional (Tom), verbal, financial, and/or psychological in nature—but the key is that the abuser uses Christianity to justify the behavior. The hard heart of the abuser causes the mind to interpret Scripture through a clouded, self-serving lens. It distorts biblical truth and squeezes out the Greatest Commandment to love God and love others (Matt. 22:36–40).

Why So Common in the Home?

Why does spiritual abuse tend to rear its ugly head so frequently within the family? Two reasons.

First, family members have tremendous relational power—the ability to bring us joy, misery, and everything in between at the drop of a hat. Since family members influence us so powerfully, it’s tempting to try to control them. Domestic spiritual abusers give in to this evil temptation.

Second, it’s relatively easy to get away with. Friends, extended family, the church, and legal authorities can’t see what happens once the doors of the house are locked and the shades go down. This makes domestic spiritual abuse almost impossible to prove, which is exactly what abusers want.

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