Clergy Sex Abuse, Domestic Violence and Churches, Religious Power and Control, Religious Trauma Institute, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Authority, Women and the Church

Religious Power and Control: Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming

Each section of the Religious Power and Control Wheel describes a tactic used by abusers to maintain power and control over their victims. According to Laura Anderson, when the tactics are combined, a system is “designed and intended to exert power and control over others by their rules, requirements, punishments and consequences for not adhering to the specific requirements of the group.”

Many who read here will be able to identify with some or all of these tactics. We discussed isolation here.

On the wheel, minimizing, denying, and blaming is described as:

*Saying the abuse didn’t happen
*Denying the severity of what happened
*Victim blaming
*Calling things “sin issues” vs. abuse
*Requiring forgiveness
*Taking ownership for how someone else’s actions harmed you
*Downplaying need for secular support (e.g. police)
*Denying illegal actions
*Minimizing felt sense, emotion or experience
*Placating statements (e.g. “he’s a sinner too, just like you.”)

There’s so much packed in this one area of power and control. I immediately think of some of the “godly wife” books that we have discussed where religious systems have minimized spousal abuse. Where wives are told they should forgive their husband’s abuse because they, too, are sinners.

I think of children sexually abused by church leaders who were forced to forgive their abusers and the parents convinced to not go to the police because it would ruin the abuser’s and church’s reputation. I think of women who bravely told their story of clergy sex abuse only to have the abuser’s supporters blame the survivor and uphold the abuser.

I think of pastors who state they are ordained by God, thereby minimizing any abusive behaviors. I think of church members left feeling devalued after voicing concerns over policies because they’ve been told “it’s always been done this way.”

Are there other ways that you have seen controlling religious groups or leaders minimize, deny, or blame abusive behaviors? If you experienced spiritual abuse, how did these actions impact you?

12 thoughts on “Religious Power and Control: Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming”

  1. I wish that I could read what the wheel says. When I try to make it bigger, the words inside get pixilated and I can’t tell what they say.


  2. Wow… so spot on. The dehumanizing that happens when young children are sexually manipulated by clergy changes who they are are how they view God for a lifetime. I would love the pdf as well.


  3. So true, Ruth! I just sent a note to Kathi before your comment that we should be able to post the pdf here on the blog. Hopefully we will get that posted soon!


  4. What really stands out to me about this tactic is how it can come from a systemic or an individual level.


  5. When a friend said, “Praying for a miracle,” after I had shared the deep pain of betrayal on the part of the bishop and some “Christian” leaders in the community, it came across to me as, “Praying that you’ll come to accept the abuse you received as being God’s will for the salvation of souls.”


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