Abusive Practices at Church

by Rachel Baker on October 17, 2015

I can’t help but wonder if when John the Baptist started preaching and dunking people in the water, and then some guy named Jesus started walking through the country being kind to the down-trodden, were they seen as cult-leaders (whatever the ancient equivalent term may have been)? Both had followers that believed whole-heartedly in things that were “new” and “different” from the past religious beliefs.

Now, I know, I’ve downplayed just a bit, but its hard for me not to see religion and groups of believers of said religions as cult-like practices in our society. I think we have to be very careful about using words like cult, cult-ish, cult-like when discussing practices like those at the Word of Life Church. Not all cults have abusive practices and not all who are abusive are part of a cult. Further, the word cult has a interesting history that goes back to being used to describe heresy, as well as a way to commit ad hominin attacks on others who may not share one’s beliefs.

So, that said, while the Word of Life practices are indeed questionable in nature, I’m not sure they are a cult anymore than the group of Presbyterians who broke from the Presbyterian church as a whole because they are more progressive, up to and including allowing homosexuals in church leadership. By using words that depict cult, we aren’t really addressing the actual issues of abuse within “the church” and all religions. This is partly the problem with the borderline secrecy in how the Catholic Church (which, by the way, is cult-ish in the way they worship the pope figure) has dealth with the sexual abuse by priests. No one thinks to call the Catholic Church a cult when those stories come out, but the abuse is just as traumatic and detrimental to those who suffer from the predatory nature of certain priests, as well as the secrecy of the Church as an institution.

Beating the shit out of your kid, putting him in a hospital, and ultimately in a grave…that’s not the results of a cult. Its the result of being an asshole. The challenge with religion, as its written in the many books that depict “the Word of God” (whichever God you might be worshipping), is that belief systems give one an ability to hide behind translations that make being an abusive person perfectly okay to a great many believers.

That’s what people should be talking about, not the cult-like practices of one church. Below is an interesting article published in Newsweek this week, in light of the Deborah and Bruce Leonard arrests for beating their son to death. The article references several books on spiritual abuse and the abuse that happens in churches. If you find any interest in this case or spiritual abuse, its worth reading.

Read the Full article:
Church Beating Death Brings Abusive Fringe-Churches to Forefront

Mary Alice Crapo, author of the nonfiction book Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free From Churches That Abuse, says the details of the Word of Life incident are “absolutely” consistent with those from accounts she has studied and indicate a fringe or cult-like abusive church. “In their minds, they’re thinking they’re helping him. And even though the parents cringe, they really don’t want to do it, they feel bad about it, they’re also pressured by that group.”

In the early 1990s, around the time when about 80 people at a religious compound occupied by the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, died during a standoff with law enforcement, experts in psychology, sociology and religion began writing about what they called religious or spiritual abuse. Cult-like churches are not always as overt as the Branch Davidians. Such abuse can happen anywhere—from small Bible-study groups to mega-churches, the experts say.

In 1991, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project published a 37-question checklist to help people discern if their churches or religious groups were abusive, with questions like: “Does your church interact with other churches?” “Does your church staff avoid secrecy?” “Are your children happy to attend church?”

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter; or you can follow her at The Crafty Veteran on Bloglovin. You can also follow her writing about women veteran interests at Shield Sisters. You can find Rachel’s writing credentials at

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