Below is a portion of the content of Chris Lawson’s booklet, How to Know if You Are Being Spiritually Abused or Deceived—A Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire. The full booklet has 101 questions. To order copies of the booklet, click here.
How to Know if You Are Being Spiritually Abused or Deceived—A Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire
By Chris Lawson
Do you know a loved one, a neighbor, or a co-worker who is in a cult or an abusive church or group? Or perhaps you yourself are in such a situation. The Spiritual-Abuse Questionnaire in this booklet will help shed light on this issue.
Spiritual abuse occurs when a leader, a church, or a belief system, whether well intentioned or not, dominates, manipulates, or castigates individuals and even entire families through fear tactics, mind control, or some other psychological or emotional abuse.
Sadly, the mask of spiritual abuse deception can be worn by anyone. The following two Scriptures are reflective of what happens when the position of authority is abused within a spiritual/church setting (e.g., self-exaltation, heavy-handed leadership, etc).
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means [by their own authority]; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? (Jeremiah 5:31)
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. (3 John 9-10)
It is my hope that this booklet will help people who have been through or are experiencing things similar (or worse) to what my family and I personally experienced years ago.
If you have been spiritually abused, take heart; the true Jesus desires to help and heal you as He has helped countless others.
Spiritual Abuse Questionnaire
This questionnaire is designed to help the reader think through a number of areas he or she may have never seriously considered before. As you read each question, circle either YES or NO. When you reach the end, go back through the list and prayerfully consider the questions you have answered YES to.
Answering YES to any of the following questions may be an indication of an unhealthy problem in your group or with your leaders. Answering YES to more than just a few questions is a definite cause for concern.
If this is the case, it is recommended that you take a much closer look into your group or organization’s history, purpose, and goals. Observe closely the methods, activities, and lives of the leaders. Are they using abusive and manipulative tactics on people?
The basic Yes or No questions of this questionnaire enable the reader to think critically on his or her own—something generally not allowed in abusive systems.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note also that while this booklet can be a useful tool in helping to bring clarity to difficulties in a church or ministry, the questions offered here should also be tempered with careful thought and godly counsel. Answering yes to just a few questions does not automatically mean you are in a cult or abusive situation. One thing for certain is that every church or group is composed of fallible people who are not always as loving as they should be. Nor should we expect to be in a place where there is no authority over us. Be reflective, therefore, to your answers to the following questions with the goal of being fair to both your church or group and to yourself.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CHURCH OR GROUP’S LEADERS
- Are you in any way fearful of your leader(s)? YES / NO
- Does your church or group revolve around one main charismatic personality who is the final arbiter of “truth”? YES / NO
- Do your leaders make claims of being “Anointed,” having “Elijah’s Mantle,” having “Apostolic Authority,” etc.? YES / NO
- Does the main leader or the leaders in your church or group always insist that they are right? YES / NO
- Does your group, church, or movement employ a corrupted modern-day version of the Moses/Aaron style of leadership where the pastor/leaders allegedly—by themselves—hear directly from God, like Moses? (This form of leadership is unlike the balanced plurality of elders found in the New Testament.) YES / NO
- Does the pastor/leader of your group, church, or movement surround himself with “people-pleasers” rather than with qualified men whose personal and public lives maintain the biblical leadership characteristics as found in I, II Timothy and Titus? YES / NO
- Is you group, church, or movement set up like a pyramid, with a hierarchy—with one single man at the top? YES / NO
- Are you discouraged or prohibited from freely asking questions about the background of your leader(s) and your group? YES / NO
- If so, are you looked down upon and considered to be divisive? YES / NO
- Would you be rebuked or chastised/punished by your leader(s) if you researched the background and history of the group and its leader(s)? For instance, would doing a background check on your leader be considered “disloyal” or “sinful”? YES / NO
- Are you discouraged or prohibited from freely discussing teachings, “prophecies,” or so-called new revelations that your group leader(s) has/have stated in the past or present? YES / NO
- Are you allowed to ask your leader(s) questions regarding their background in ministry, education, teaching, policies, etc.? If not, why? YES / NO
- Do you view those who are assisting your group or church pastor/leader as ones who simply “do what they are told” rather than people who can rationally think for themselves and if need be would not be afraid to confront the main leader(s) if questionable practices/teachings arise? YES / NO
- Are the leaders of your group, church, or organization above reproach (without blame) in morals, ethics, teaching, and the handling of your groups finances? How do you know? YES / NO
- Do any of your leaders have a criminal record? YES / NO
- Would your leader(s) allow you to freely ask questions or research their background in order to find out if they have a criminal record? If not, why? YES / NO
- Has anyone in your group ever tried to persuade you to NOT research the personal background of the leaders? YES / NO
- When issues are brought up about abusive situations, do your leaders say, “You just need to have more faith!” or, “You are being disloyal to leadership!”? YES / NO
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR GROUP AND ITS TEACHINGS
- Do you feel your group twists or takes Scripture out of its historical context and consistently or often misapplies Bible verses? YES / NO
- Does your group or church “allegorize” and “spiritualize” Scripture instead of utilizing a literal, grammatical, historical approach to interpreting documents, like you would in any legitimate Bible college or court of law? YES / NO
- Are you told what you will believe; and is questioning authority and doing further research on your own, aside from the group, discouraged or frowned upon? YES / NO
- Are you guided through the Bible by your leaders but at the same time not allowed to study the Scriptures on your own, apart from the group or organization’s own published materials? YES / NO
- Do your leaders claim to receive “new revelations,” a special “anointing,” and so-called “words” or messages from God? YES / NO
- Do your leaders withhold or avoid providing you and your group with a written “Statement of Beliefs” or “Statement of Faith”? YES / NO
- If you attend a group that is a recognized charity organization, have the leaders illegally withheld from you the organizations written bylaws when you have asked for a copy? YES / NO
- Is it difficult to get a straight answer from the group leader(s) on the group’s teachings? YES / NO
- Is your group secretive about any of its teachings, practices or meetings? YES / NO
- Does your group take “oaths” or have you commit to unrealistic expectations? YES / NO
- Are your leaders ever “harsh” in tone with you, or do you ever feel like an animal that is “driven hard”? YES / NO
- Have you been taught, told, or commanded not to share any of the teachings, doctrines, or practices that your group is involved in? YES / NO
- At any time of involvement with your group, have you ever been instructed to cut all ties with the past, with relatives (spouse, children, in-laws, etc.), or with friends? YES / NO
- Do your leaders favorably quote and endorse known false teachers and false teachings in their own sermons/teachings, messages, and materials? YES / NO
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR GROUP OR CHURCH’S POLICIES
- Does your group have any written or unwritten policies that allows leaders to use threats, pressures to conform, bribes, intimidation, verbal abuse, out-loud shaming, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or substance abuse, etc.? YES / NO
- Is foul language (cussing) or public humiliation used in any way as part of the public or private teaching within your group? YES / NO
- Would you say that your church or group has an extreme policy or guidelines for “disciplinary actions”? YES / NO
- Is, or could, your group’s policy on “discipline” be dangerous, illegal, or abusive in any way? YES / NO
- Do you think law enforcement officials would have a problem with the disciplinary guidelines and/or practices of your church, group, or organization? YES / NO
- Does your group restrict you from “visiting” other churches? YES / NO
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR GROUP’S LITERATURE AND MULTIMEDIA
- Do you rely completely, without question, upon the literature and information that your church/group gives you—for your own spiritual growth? YES / NO
- Will you be disciplined if you ever, at any time, listen to, read, or view literature and multi-media materials that are not from your group, church, or organization? Materials could include such things as books, journals, tracts, magazines, newsletters, CDs, DVDs, audio cassettes, videos, websites, etc. YES / NO
- Are you only allowed to use study aids, books, etc. that are from your group or organization? YES / NO
- Have your leaders ever told you that all Bible study materials outside of your group are considered worldly, bad, apostate, “of the devil,” or evil? YES / NO
QUESTIONS ABOUT MORALS AND ETHICS, HEALTH, AND CONSCIENCE
- Are you emotionally dependent on or require the “approval” of your leaders for what you do—what you eat, what you wear, where you go, what you say, who you spend time with, who you marry, the music you listen to, etc.? YES / NO
- Do you feel as though your life (or ministry) is being “micromanaged” by others? YES / NO
- Are your leaders cruel, vindictive, intimidating, or overbearing? YES / NO
- Do any of your leaders justify sexual immorality by telling you or anyone else things like “God told me it is okay for us to do this,” or “The Lord revealed this to me,” or “No one will ever know”? YES / NO
- Have you ever been instructed, led, forced, or coerced into any type of sexual activity with any of your group’s leaders—or anyone else in the church, group, or organization? YES / NO
- Are you or have you ever been commanded, forced, coerced, extorted, or manipulated into financial giving, tithing, “sowing your seed-faith offering,” etc.? YES / NO
QUESTIONS ABOUT MAKING PERSONAL CHOICES
- Do you feel you are manipulated when making personal choices about diet, clothing, time commitments, church/group service, tithing, friendships, dating, spouses, purchases, etc.? YES / NO
- Are choices ever made by any of your leaders that go against your own conscience? YES / NO
- Do authority figures within your group ever demand answers from you or use threats to get their way? YES / NO
- Do your leaders or the group-dynamics implemented in your group make you feel as though you cannot come and go as you please; meaning, you feel as though you’re expected to be at all or most of the meetings, and if you are not, you are in trouble? YES / NO
- If you are experiencing abuse in any way, very likely you are fearful or nervous about leaving your group, church, or organization. Are you fearful in any way that if you left, you would be hounded and harassed? YES / NO
- Do your leaders, or the group itself by consensus, make choices to involve you in things that you don’t like or would prefer not to be a part of? YES / NO
- Are you pressured, manipulated, or coerced into making decisions—any decisions at all—regarding anything with the group and its leaders, members, and activities? YES / NO
- Do you feel guilty or “dirty” after making decisions because . . . “that is just what our group does”? Or, is the proverbial “red flag of conscience” waving inside of your heart and mind saying, “This is just not right at all,” or, “This is weird” or, “We should not be doing or allowing this!”? YES / NO
- Is pressure put upon you in any way to avoid “outside information” about your group—like online reviews, assessments, and critical essays that contain quotes from your leaders and/or your organization’s published resources? YES / NO
- Are you fearful that if you make an accidental “wrong choice” your leaders will punish you or purposefully humiliate you in front of your peers, family, or the group/church congregation? YES / NO
- Have you ever been punished or abused in any of the following ways: Physically abused, out-loud verbal shaming in front of others, given the non-verbal “silent treatment,” given coded non-verbal abuse such as “the look,” financially mistreated or extorted and as a result suffered financial repercussions, sexually abused in any way, emotionally manipulated, purposefully betrayed, been the victim of sexual innuendos, spousal divisiveness, etc.? YES / NO
- Are spoken or unspoken must-obey “dress code rules” implemented in your group, and, if broken, will this lead to “disciplinary action”? (This is beyond simple personal modesty in dress in social, cultural, and cross-cultural settings.) YES / NO
- If you are a woman, are you taught or commanded that you absolutely must wear long skirts, have long hair, avoid all make-up, and wear a head covering in order to please God? Will you be chastised or considered “carnal” if you do not comply with these rules? YES / NO
- If you are a woman, do your group leaders tell you that you are to submit to your husband no matter what he does to you or tells you to do even if it is illegal or physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive to you or your children? YES / NO
- If you are a husband and father, are your church leaders overly involved in telling you what to do with your wife and children (beyond the normal parameters of biblical counseling and advice)?
This has been a portion of this booklet. In the full booklet, there are 101 questions. You may purchase a copy of the booklet in its entirety by clicking here. The cost for one booklet is $1.95 (with quantity discounts for 6 or more copies).