Mutuality in Service vs. Religious Abuse


In this article, I am using the term “abuse” in its wider meaning, as in “religious abuse”. Henri J.M. Nouwen, a priest, pastor and one of the most popular spiritual writers of our time, writes in “With Burning Hearts” , ” Each time we reach out to them (those we serve) they in turn – whether they are aware of it or not – will bless us with the Spirit of Jesus and so become our ministers. Without this mutuality of giving and receiving, mission and ministry easily become manipulative or violent. When only one gives and the other receives, the giver will soon become the oppressor and the receivers, victims. But when the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world.”

In a previous post, Speaking-up wrote of religious abuse, “Religious abuse is the fore-runner of all types of abuse encountered within a religious-context.  David Henke defines spiritual abuse as the misuse of a position of power, leadership or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help. When religious leaders are given the power, by the hierarchy, to discern the spiritual well-being of another, then it is no wonder that abuse will creep into the system. When a superior is allowed to discern if the other has a “vocation”, then we have the potential of a serious abuse of power. Power corrupts … absolute power corrupts absolutely. Superiors “play God” as they expel dissenters on the grounds that the latter have lost their “faith or their vocations”, while the group-think and mob-mentality fosters fear, intimidation, hypocrisy, secrecy, corruption and abuse. The Superior has only to throw the first stone and the community will complete the job. Some Superiors unabashedly say that they stand in place of God Himself.  This is Scripture-twisting at its worst. Amidst so many gods, how do we find a personal relationship with the true God?”

What are your thoughts and experiences? DrNick

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2 Responses to Mutuality in Service vs. Religious Abuse

  1. Phrogge says:

    Dr Nick, it sounds like you are talking about my seminary days. That certainly describes how things were back then. I can’t count the times I/we were threatened with expulsion and “loss of our vocation” for doing such terrible things as listening to the Patterson Johansson fight after night prayer when one of the faculty let it be known his radio would be on loud and his door open. And we just put up with it. In theology classes substantive thinking and questioning were not encouraged lest we be seen to be “doubting the magisterium”. Vacuous questions were tolerated because there were certain questions we were expected to ask certain professors. Whoever didn’t play the game was put in their place. The same kind of control is common among church leadership today. These days it is done “at the peril of one’s innortal soul”.

    I didn’t realize a lot until I went into the Army, a priest of 3 years 2 days. With all the pressures we experienced in various training situations and combat actions, any kind of abuse was rare. When you are crawling through the mud or doing other such things with your boss, respect up and down seems to happen. Leaders learn that when they take care of their people not only is the mission accomplished, but mutual respect grows, and so does loyalty up and down. There does not seem to be any similar mutual respect, loyalty, or concern for the folks in the church. The right to lead is earned, not demanded. You can’t fool soldiers. I don’t know what church leaders think about the folks in the pews.

    I still get annoyed when I hear of soldiers with whom I have proudly served described as “intrinsically disordered”. Talk about religious abuse . . .

    Just sayin . . .

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