The following is excerpted from www.spiritwatch.org
How to Spot Spiritual Abuse by Rafael Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
The Five Warning Signs Of Religious Abuse
1) Unchecked Authoritarian Leadership
The first danger sign of a possibly unsound church, Enroth explains, (Ron Enroth, Churches That Abuse) can be seen through a high-handed exhibition of its leadership's authority, which often appears unnervingly legitimate. "Spiritual abuse can take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible preaching, fundamental, conservative Christianity. All that is needed for abuse is a pastor accountable to no one and therefore beyond confrontation. Authoritarian leaders are ecclesiastical loners. That is, they do not function well or willingly in the context of systematic checks or balances. They are fiercely independent and refuse to be part of a structure of accountability. To put it crudely, they operate a one-man (or one-woman) spiritual show. And God help the person who gets in the way or makes waves."
He continues: "Yes, sometimes they will point to a board of elders or its equivalent, but more likely than not, this turns out to be a faithful inner circle of clones that implicitly accepts all that the leader sets forth. Abusive pastors often come from troubled backgrounds and are very insecure persons despite the 'take charge' image they may project. They are power hungry people who crave visibility. Leaders who inflict spiritual violence often hide behind the smoke screen of authority to gain power." (pp. 203, 217, 219 of Churches That Abuse). It is important to understand that religiously abusive church leadership is most visible when it demands public and private attention to be given to the authority and control over the flock by the pastor. Often, in aberrant churches, this is not an easy thing to discern, and yet frequently it is one of the danger signs that may be easily overlooked. Such leaders will seem too quick to chastise members, often in harsh forums of public rebuke.
2) Imbalanced Congregational Life
Secondly, the congregation's social characteristics provide danger signals as well. Enroth points out that "membership of authoritarian churches is frequently comprised of young, spiritually immature Christians. This kind of church is successful because it is meeting basic human needs - the need to belong, the need to be affirmed, to be accepted and to be part of a family. It is not unusual for the leaders to assume the role of surrogate parents, especially for those young adults who come from dysfunctional family backgrounds" (p. 216). It is just this sort of yearning need and sincere zeal that the aberrant church pastor uses to exploit his flock through manipulative control. Mr. Enroth explains that abusive church leaders "foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and otherwise, by focusing on themes of submission and obedience to those in authority. They create the impression that people just aren't going to find their way through life's maze without a lot of firm directives from those at the top" (p. 217).
3) Conscious Threats Of Discipline And Disfellowshipping
"Another sign of impending trouble in a church is an obsession with discipline and excommunication. Beware of churches that warn of certain doom if you leave their 'covering,' or if you 'break covenant.' Once banished from [or having left] the group, little compassion is shown the wayward one." Again and again, it has been observed that former members of aberrant churches, when contemplating leaving the group, were issued dire warnings that they were backsliding, compromising and facing judgment from God. Church members who are seen as stepping out of line will find themselves being shunned or criticized by the so-called "true believers" in public, and will usually face much harsher treatment in the larger abusive church congregation. Demeaning public rebuke, even ridicule from the pulpit is one means of religious abuse disguised as "discipline."
4) Deliberate Disruption Of Personal Relationships
A fourth sign of aberrance in a church is when the church encourages complete isolation or strong distancing of it's membership from family and friends not involved in the group. Enroth observes that even family relationships within the group become severely disrupted and strained, since the demands for attention to be given to the "spiritual family" become all important. Parental and marital bonds may be strained or shattered over the need for individual family members to more fully identify with the church group, and non-member relations outside of the group are often stunned at how cold and distant their once loving family members became when they "got religious." The abusive church's "spiritual family" then appear to become the recipients of the warm family ties and affections that group members have withdrawn from their own family.
This is one of the most heartbreaking and shattering consequences of religious abuse dispensed by aberrant churches. We know of many, many people who have suffered unspeakably agonizing losses of their marriages, children and parents at the behest of abusive group leaders who deemed their members' relationships with them far too spiritually polluting, smothering and destructive. A marriage of twenty years was abruptly ended by a divorce initiated by the pressures placed upon the couple by an abusive church through its leadership, simply because the husband left the Polk County "church" where both he and his wife were members. Such unbelievable occurrences are all too frequent and too real to ignore.
5) Withdrawal And Isolation From The "Outside"
Enroth goes on to say that another sign of abusive behavior in a church is it's tendency towards isolation from other churches. There is a conscious effort to limit input and contact with thoughts and ideas from outside the church's own circle. This is what is known as "information control" and is a crucial element of what is known as mind control. "Beware of the church, " he writes, "where outside speakers are consistently denied access to the pulpit, and where other Christian churches are regularly denounced, belittled or ridiculed."
It is unfortunate that Calvary Temple clearly displays all of these characteristics. When a member of Calvary Temple identifies such signs they must realize that scripture dictates that they must leave. Often we may be reluctant to leave, instead "letting God handle it". But continuing to attend, being involved in, and tithing to Calvary Temple is supporting it and approving of it.