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Christian Patriarchy as Spiritual Abuse

Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism argues that the Christian Patriarchy movement must always, by definintion (hers), engage in spiritual abuse:

Spiritual abuse involves one person telling another person or group of people what to believe and how to live, and then backing that up with some sort of coercive force, whether it be claims to divine authority or simple emotional manipulation.

(Libby Anne is a former Christian, now atheist.)

I don’t agree with the Christian Patriarchy movement, but this is nonsense. Libby Anne overlooks the fact that by this definition all of Christianity, and in fact, nearly all religion, constitutes spiritual abuse. I can speak most authoritatively about Christianity, so I will.

As much as evangelicals like to say that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion or list of rules, the Bible does contain some rules, and it backs up those rules with the authority of God by claiming to be his inspired work. Nearly every Sunday morning sermon ever preached thereby enagages in what is, by Libby Anne’s definition, spiritual abuse, when the pastor tells people how they should live based on the authority of the Bible and its divine author.

I like much better the definition of spiritual abuse given in the article Libby Anne links to from her blog:

Put most simply, spiritual abuse is the control of people by manipulation of their religious needs or sensitivities by means of shame.

This language is slightly narrower, and thus more useful. Moreover, while I’m sure the Christian Patriarchy movement frequently uses shame to control people, I have known environments that practiced patriarchy without becoming abusive.

There are plenty of arguments to make against gender inequality without resorting to broad, sweeping definitions that conveniently conform to our own opinions.