The unrecognition and too easy dismissal of spiritual abuse

January 24, 2013

An Abusive Apology
Once again, David Hayward, whose “Naked Pastor” blog and cartoons were introduced as a Link of the Day last week, presents a cartoon that packages an important truth in a simple drawing and a few words. His graphic illustration and his additional commentary highlight the pompous, self-righteous attitude of some religious leaders when their spiritually abusive behavior is pointed out to them. The impact of spiritual abuse can be devastating, as any woman can tell you after sitting in a church where she hears sermon after sermon about her supposed lower position in God’s hierarchy and her need to be submissive and put aside her own desires or aspirations  Or as countless LGBT persons can tell you after hearing multiple sermons that they are going to hell and that their feelings, their deepest loving relationships—their very being— are sinful in God’s sight. Spiritual abuse can devastate self-esteem and cause feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness. (Professor Ronald Enroth, in his book Churches that Abuse [Zondervan, 1992] has shown various ways that abuse can occur in religious settings—especially through legalism; rigidity; authoritarian leadership; excessive church discipline; and manipulation and control through fear, guilt, and intimidation.)

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


  1. Greetings,

    Glad to see your linkage between spiritual abuse and the ‘women thing’ in the church. Christian women, as a whole, seem to be targeted for spiritual abuse for one reason or another. This is harmful, hurtful, and damaging to women and girls.

    You might be interested in my doctoral research on spiritual abuse and recovery.

    My website is:

    My book is: Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness.

    I have another website with is a resource for abuse issues. It is called:

    Drop by for a visit.

    All the best as you continue to raise awareness about these issues!



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