Is your church infected by spiritual abuse? The Apologetics Index has all sorts of links about this.
Also see Churches That Abuse and Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth. These are full books on PDF. The guy who runs this website has a signed letter from Ronald Enroth giving him permission to scan these two books, both of which are out of print.
One practice, now widely discredited because it easily becomes spiritually abusive, was often used in the 60s and 70s: shepherding.
It’s giving yourself over to someone else, your “covering,” who makes all your decisions for you–even who to date or marry, how often to have sex, or what music to listen to.
If you disagree with your shepherd or suggest changes to the group rules, you just might find yourself out of the group, since the leadership makes all the decisions. Congregations may find themselves with no vote or voice.
In groups which decided the “shepherds” must be the opposite sex, shepherding has also led to adultery.
It has also led to broken people.
Unfortunately, shepherding seems to have re-emerged in many churches and Christian groups–ones which seem orthodox on the outside, so you must watch out for it.
I’ve heard of accountability groups, which seem to have come from this practice; take care that it does not match characteristics of shepherding.
I’ve also noted that talks about wifely submission sometimes use the same terms used in shepherding: i.e., the husband is the “covering” for the wife and she “submits to his decisions” no matter what.
Webpages on shepherding, what it is, how it’s abused:
The Shepherding Movement Comes of Age by Lynn and Sarah Leslie describes the practice of signing covenants, which exists in many groups and churches. It also implicates the Purpose-Driven Church model.
Willow Creek charges Promise Keepers and Willow Creek Church with shepherding. The writers are rather fundamentalist and I disagree with them on many points, but they still make interesting charges. Whether the charges are true or not, you be the judge.
Here and here, you can investigate whether Willow Creek practices shepherding. And here, you can check out Saddleback’s FAQ. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot on these sites. I’ve heard of restrictive covenants and the like, but don’t have proof of them.
Nowadays, you can also find blogs about spiritual abuse, on which you can share stories, find comfort and validation, and learn which churches to avoid. My favorites:
Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD/CPTSD (includes posts about a spiritually abusive pastor)
Written between probably 2005 and 2007
Index to my theology/church opinion pages:
–End Times and Christian Zionism
–God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine
–Cat and Dog Theology
–Raising One’s Hands in Worship
–On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
–On church buildings
–The Message Bible
–The Purpose-Driven Life
–The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers
–The idea that God has someone in mind for you
–Literalism in Biblical interpretation
–Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology, Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
–More about Pat Robertson
–Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
–Women in Marriage/the Church
–Why do bad things happen?
–Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts? Or, how should we evangelize, then?
–Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
–Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
–Hell and the Nature of God
–Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday?
–Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
–How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?
–What about predestination?
–Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
–An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God
–Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go?
–Are Spiritual Marriages “real”? (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated)
–Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
–What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
–Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
–What is Worship?
–Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
–Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge
–Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
–Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week