The most applicable definition I have found that explains my experience and many others in the ubf context is this…
Stephen Hassan is perhaps the best resource on this topic. His B.I.T.E model gives us a framework for further discussion on this term “spiritual abuse”: B.I.T.E Model
Defining Spiritual Abuse
“abuse” means multiple things, but the definition from Merriam-Webster that fits is this: improper or excessive use or treatment, as in drug abuse. “spiritual” means relating to the spirit and more specifically the bible in this case. So “spiritual abuse” in my mind is: An improper and/or excessive use of the bible as treatment for the problems of a person.
Discover your primary Values
What do we value? Our value system will determine a lot about how much control someone can have in our life. And the value system of the church you are in will determine how much leeway there is for spiritual abuse to happen. In the ubf context, the “spiritual abuse” is expressed through authoritative control. The Hasaan BITE model explains the four areas where the control is exhibited, usually involving bible verses: behavior, information, thoughts and emotions.
The prime values of ubf are typically expressed as loyalty, obedience, submission and mission (which is ambition often). More specifically, I’ve identified the following values of many ubf directors:
- Etiquette – Learn the proper ubf rituals and learn to speak the ubf language.
- Filial piety – Respect and obey your shepherd and be thankful to your new spiritual family for your entire life.
- Benevolence – Be gracious always to all people with no negative words.
- Loyalty – Be loyal to your leadership.
- Nobility – Be the best and elite soldiers of Christianity.
These values are then bound to bible verses and used to conform ubf members to an ideal standard called “shepherd”. Non-conformance to this identity or to those values is dealt with through special training to bring people back inline.
Be cautious of a “New identity”
Our new pastor explained that while the “shepherd” concept in ubf is perhaps one expression of Christian identity, it is not your specific Christian identity. The spiritual abuse in ubf is most easily seen by realizing that the ubf ideology is meant to instill one specific Christian identity on all people, ignoring what God may have uniquely designed for that person.
Respect personal boundaries
From Dr. Henry Cloud, I also learned that one way to identify this invisible abuse is to realize personal boundaries. Our emotions tell us when those personal boundaries have been intruded upon. Anger, for one, tells me that something contradictory to my idea of justice has been violated. Whether I am right or wrong about that would need to be investigated, but at least I can start to identify the contradiction.
What is your definition of “spiritual abuse”?