Home Christian News Wade Mullen: How to Recognize Spiritual Abuse in Evangelicalism

Wade Mullen: How to Recognize Spiritual Abuse in Evangelicalism

When confronted with their actions, abusers use tactics such as denying the victim’s claims or saying the victim is misrepresenting the truth. Abusers make excuses, such as by claiming they did not have control over their actions because they were under the influence of drugs, sickness, or stress.

Other tactics include shifting blame, admitting wrong but minimizing the harm, and attacking the character of the victim. Mullen said that in spiritual settings, some abusers compare their victims to wicked characters in the Bible, such as Jezebel. Or abusers might depend on an “appeal,”  saying something like he (the abuser) is just “a man being a man.” Abusers adjust these tactics depending on who their audience is.

When abusers are finally caught, said Mullen, “often they’ll apologize, but it’s not a true apology. They’re waving a white flag, hoping that people will be disarmed.” How can you tell if an apology is false? It will be short, defensive, and self-promoting. What’s more, the abuser who is caught will often start participating in what Mullen called “pro-social behavior.” That is, he or she will attempt to draw attention away from a negative event by “drowning it in a sea of good.” But you can tell the abusers are not being sincere because they have not told the whole truth or brought the “full scope of their harm into the light.” They are treating morality as a commodity that can buy people’s good will. 

Mullen offers more detail about what insincere apologies from evangelical institutions sound like in this post on his website. 

Despite the power abusers have to cause great harm to people, there is hope if we are willing to recognize patterns of spiritual abuse and to tell the truth about them. In another post, Mullen writes, 

Organizations and communities must change the broken systems that have allowed for abusive situations if they are to be a fortress of truth, not lies, and a shield to [their] members, not a threat. This usually only happens with new leadership that is able and willing to establish or reestablish appropriate boundaries and change the culture so that boundary-crossing is not permitted and truth-telling is invited.