Spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is characterised by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context. Spiritual abuse can have a deeply damaging impact on those who experience it. However, holding a theological position is not in itself inherently spiritually abusive, but misuse of scripture, applied theology and doctrine is often a component of spiritually abusive behaviour. (L. Oakley 2017)

The national church has created guidance for understanding spiritual abuse which can be found here:

4.2 Spiritual Abuse | The Church of England


Front cover of Understanding Spiritual Abuse in Christian Communities.

Understanding Spiritual Abuse in Christian Communities

Dr Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys have produced a Spiritual Abuse summary document titled Understanding Spiritual Abuse in Christian Communities.

Read the document here or click on the picture to read it.

Replenished Life are an independent charity which supports those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith.

Visit their website for more support, advice and resources.​​​​

Spiritual Abuse and Healthy Cultures Training from the National Safeguarding Team

Following the success of previous sessions and ongoing demand for further training the NST are pleased to work alongside Replenished Life to offer more dates during 2024.
This course will explore issues of Spiritual Abuse: Coercion and Control within Christian organisations and communities alongside building Healthy Christian Culture and dates are open to anyone wanting to attend:

  • Wednesday 8 May 2024
  • Thursday 18 July 2024
  • Wednesday 18 Sept 2024
  • Friday 8 Nov 2024

All sessions run 10am – 3.30pm and have an allowance for lunch and breaks. Places can be booked here.

Please contact lisa.clarke@churchofengland.org for further information. 

Focus on Spiritual Abuse in the Diocese

Our Head of Safeguarding, Louise Whitehead, wrote a piece on Spiritual Abuse for Pathways, the magazine for the people of the Diocese of Oxford.

You can read the article here, and access the full Winter 2023/24 issue of Pathways here

Dr Lisa Oakley (left) ran a workshop on Spiritual Abuse for our PSOs as part of the Safeguarding Sunday event we held at Christ Church Cathedral in November 2023.

To find out more about Safeguarding Sunday click here

Further reading and resources:

‘Let There Be Light’ explores the pattern of abuse experienced over a period of four decades under the leadership of Mike Pilavachi in the UK church. A Church of England safeguarding report substantiated claims of emotional, physical and spiritual harm. This documentary explores the story of what happened - and lessons the Church must learn for the future. 


Back to Safeguarding

Page last updated: Friday 19th April 2024 10:45 AM
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