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. Earlier topics in this series: Isolation, Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming, Emotional Abuse, and Spiritual Abuse.
On the wheel, threats, accusations, and intimidation is described as:
*Threatening abandonment or ex-communication for sinning/going “outside the group”
*Leaving the church = the devil will try to get you
*Fear of going to hell
*Accusing you of going against God
*Using their position to require you to do, say, or believe something
*Not allowing you to seek external help (e.g. medical, police)
One word best describes this section of the wheel – fear. Abusers know that the use of fear keeps people in their place. Members of the group never know if they are safe and fear repercussion if they do not follow the rules. Fear may cause members to act against other members. It’s one thing to fear the leader, but when friends within the group act against each other to protect themselves, it can cause additional harm.
Our friend, Ken Garrett, gave me permission to share his experience:
As my wife and I became embedded within our church and increasingly identified with its pastor, I became vulnerable to his control in what seemed every area of my life. I realized that he had gained tremendous power and influence in the most important relationships in my life – those with my wife and my children. He could also turn my closest friends in the church against me, belittle me before the congregation, question the sincerity of my faith, and discourage people from becoming friends with me.
He could institute a dozen different types of shunning against me – without me even knowing I was being shunned until I sensed the coolness and withdrawal of friends. He could suggest to my children that I was a substandard father. He could mention to my wife the he had noticed my lack of attention to her, and that I did not seem to love her as much as she loved me. He could remove me from valued positions of responsibility in the church and betray private issues of sin and confession that I had shared with him. He could chip away at my self-esteem, confidence, and sense of worth.
In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches, pages 46-47
When listening to people’s stories where fear was used as a control tactic in a group, most describe a sense of unease with the unknown when they left. Fear kept them in line for so long. But, the longer they were away from the fear and control, they began to feel more light and free.
If threats, accusations, or intimidation were used in your spiritually abusive church, you may experience physical and emotional reactions toward members of the church, God, and the use of the Bible. Fear, anger, and distrust are valid responses to your experiences and trauma. You may need a lot of time to work through the healing process. But, you can be free of fear!
6 thoughts on “Religious Power and Control: Threats, Accusations, and Intimidation”
i. This is also done through their proxies who looked like our peers. It can even be done “nicely” e.g by suggesting that “we are all” as degenerate as one another, thereby deflecting attention from the powerful but invisible ringleaders who may live in another town.
ii. Once a “religious organisation” has seized enough public “standing” its sway is not only over the members (who may never be deemed full members) but over a wider public circle, who have been fed the message that someone’s “dissent” (from the imposed instability) is impolite.
iii. Some sects are organised in an “over the top” style so as to pose a dichotomy with “apparently more friendly” but equally oblique and perhaps larger ones. Beware instability posing as rigidness and v v.
These are all reasons why deep knowledge of the real meaning of Scriptures is needed and why genuine agnosticism (which encompasses true belief) is to be highly prized. Don’t carry the baggage of the higher ups.
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I have an extra copy of Ken Garrett’s book, “In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches.” I’d love to give it to someone!
If you’re interested, tell me in the comments. I’ll do a random drawing on Saturday.
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I’m interested in the book In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches.
I have experienced an entire church along with my ex-husband convincing my children that I am evil and the worst mother in the history of the world. My children no longer attend the church that told them this, but they still believe it. I haven’t seen them in months because of their (and their dad’s) hatred for me. They believe that because I set boundaries and refused to tolerate gross immorality and sin that I am of the devil. “Good” Christians sweep every sin committed by a pastor and his family under the rug and pretend it away no matter the physical damages in order to protect the reputation of God, errrr, the pastor, doncha know? (And the pastors attributed divine-only attributes to themselves, so I am convinced that they at minimum subconsciously consider themselves to be the gods of their little phallus cult and it’s why they care more about their own reputations than that of the Trinity.)
Christina – Looks like the book is yours! I’ll email you for your address.
Unfortunately this is happening in a lot of churches. Dee is just reporting the tip of the iceberg at Chapel Hill Bible Church in NC: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2021/09/24/chapel-hill-bible-church-pastor-eric-mckiddie-is-gone-and-pastor-jay-thomas-is-under-fire/