In recent years, newspaper headlines are full of examples of “church abuse” or “spiritual abuse.” It’s disheartening and even sickening to hear about some of the ways in which religious leaders have used their position, power, authority, and influence to manipulate people to their own advantage and for their own purposes.
However, as terrible as that is, I want to write about the other side of the coin. There’s two sides to “religious abuse.” There is the side wherein religious leaders abuse people (This is the side we always hear about. This is the side that makes all the headlines). But there is another side to “religious abuse.” There’s the side wherein people use, abuse, and manipulate religion to serve their own selfish purposes. This form of “religious abuse” is also wrong and needs to be exposed to the light. Neither form of abuse should be swept under the carpet.
May I give you examples of the kind of abuse I’m writing about? How about king Nebuchadnezzar? Nebuchadnezzar built for himself an image that he wanted people to worship. This was his personal project (Daniel 3:1,2,3,5,7,). However, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego would not bow to the image, he threatened to burn them alive. But notice how he tries to disguise his wounded ego in this whole matter. He said, “Is it true…that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?”
Did you catch that? He brings his “gods” into the discussion. Don’t be fooled by this. Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t respect his gods, for in chapter 2, he proclaims that Daniel’s God is the “God of gods” (Daniel 2:47). But if you’re going to burn some people alive, it sounds a whole lot better to say that they offended your gods rather than your ego. Nebuchadnezzar tried to use his religion to justify his own selfish and sinful behavior.
Several years ago, I had a woman come to my office. She was unscripturally divorced, and was currently committing fornication with her live in boyfriend. However, she didn’t come to discuss her sinful situation. She came to ask me to to “preach” to her boyfriend’s parents about how Christians shouldn’t judge other people. She had several verses she shared with me that day that she wanted me to read to this young man’s parents. (None of which said a word about what the Bible says about fornication). This woman wasn’t interested in truth or God. However, she attempted to use God to serve her own sinful purposes. This is another example of how a person was engaging in “religious abuse.”
Friends, religious abuse cuts both ways. I grow weary of hearing about abuses by those who are spiritual leaders. But I also grow weary of people who use their religion as a crutch; only to bolster their own selfish and sinful agendas. Both are despicable. I don’t resent all the advocates lined up to protect those who have been abused by religion. I support such advocacy. I just want more people to become advocates for God and his church for the religious abuse that they endure as well.