A Response to the Evangelical Alliance Theology Advisory Group Report

Written on behalf of survivors of Spiritual Abuse who have contacted Replenished to inform our response.

In order for the voice of those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse to be heard, a public response to this report was deemed necessary. This response has been sent to the Board and the Council of Management. We believe the response is thorough and represents the voice of those who have contacted us. If you have anything further to add or wish to respond to the report separately the contact details of the Evangelical Alliance UK are below.

UK Resource Centre

Evangelical Alliance

176 Copenhagen Street


N1 0ST

info@eauk.orgIn the interests of transparency we have included the response to the EA Theology Advisory Group below. This makes for a lengthy blog but we believe this is the most accessible and public way of ensuring the voice of those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse are heard. As an organisation we will continue to use the term and definition of Spiritual Abuse until those that we represent tell us otherwise. The importance of the choice of language of survivors to describe the experience of Spiritual Abuse cannot be overstated here.

Dear Chairperson,

We are writing to you as Chief Officers of Replenished, in response to the report of the Theology Advisory Group entitled Reviewing the Discourse of ‘Spiritual Abuse’.

Replenished is an organisation that aims to provide relief to those in need, by reason of Spiritual Abuse/Coercive Control in a Religious Context. This will be achieved by:

·facilitating safe spaces for survivors of Spiritual Abuse (of all faiths and none) to explore the next steps on their journey to recovery.

·signposting survivors to services and resources available to aid them in their journey

·walking alongside survivors of spiritual abuse providing a place of reference and advice, safety, peace and rest at whatever stage of their journey to recovery they are on.

We regularly speak and receive feedback from those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse (Survivors) and from a variety of faith backgrounds. The messages from this group has informed our response to the report and the areas where we wish to challenge and disagree with the findings and future approach of the Evangelical Alliance UK in relation to Spiritual Abuse.

It is clear from reading the report of the Theology Advisory Group (TAG) that there has been little or no consultation with survivors in the TAG reaching its conclusions or in the Board endorsing these. It is for this reason that we have made the decision to respond publicly to the report to ensure the voice of survivors is heard.

There are a number of areas of disagreement and challenge that arise from the report and these are raised respectfully and alternative approaches are suggested.

Replenished categorically disagree with the proposal to change the terminology of Spiritual Abuse to Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Religious Contexts. It is right that the term abuse remains in the definition as such abuse does cause significant and long term harm. However, the term Emotional and Psychological Abuse in Religious Contexts does not adequately reflect the magnification of Emotional and Psychological harm when a spiritual aspect is involved. The undermining of trust, faith and the misrepresentation of the Divine or spiritual aspects of faith in particular, has devastating and long term impacts on those that experience Spiritual Abuse. In regularly listening to survivors it is clear that Spiritual Abuse is a term that is widely used by survivors to describe their experience. There is a clear and profound difference between Emotional and Psychological Abuse in a Religious Context and Spiritual Abuse. The spiritual aspect is not just the context, setting or role in which Spiritual Abuse is perpetrated but it is the means by which the abuse is perpetrated and it is this that causes Emotional and Psychological harm to be magnified and compounded. Spiritual Abuse undermines the whole frame of reference of a person of faith on an emotional, psychological and spiritual basis. This is what causes the deep seated, long term and significant harm not the religious setting.

The inclusion of coercive control within the definition is entirely appropriate. This is only included in the legal definition Domestic Abuse in relation to intimate partners, however there is some recognition that this legal definition needs to be expanded to include wider family members. We believe that due to the nature of the closeness of relationships and fellowship with Christian Communities it is entirely appropriate to translate these principles over and include within the definition of Spiritual Abuse.

In the report it states “It should be clear that our specific critique of the term ‘Spiritual Abuse’ in no way downplays the harmful actions and effects of Emotional and Psychological Abuse in religious contexts. Rather, we seek to show here that precise, well-founded, workable definitions of abuse actually help the survivors of it, just as accurate diagnoses aid the recovery, wellbeing and human flourishing of those who suffer affliction and pain.”

Unfortunately the TAG report demonstrates a lack of understanding of the spiritual aspect of Spiritual Abuse and the impact and harm caused by Spiritual Abuse. You talk about precise, well-founded, workable definitions of abuse actually helping survivors yet we would question how many survivors you have actually spoken to in the development of the EA definition of this type of abuse? Surely those affected by this abuse should be at least consulted in forming a definition of it? The report in general reads with a lack of compassion. Where compassion is stated this is undermined by the future planned approach which seeks to censor the preferred definition of many survivors leaving those words of compassion empty and hollow.

Those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse often talk of the definition of Spiritual Abuse: Coercive control in a Religious Setting by Lisa Oakley and CCPAS, and the work that has been done to provide qualification of this, as illuminating and useful in describing their experience. For many it is this definition that often provides the initial recognition of what they have experienced. Just knowing your experience has a name and identifying traits, can be liberating.

We are clear that emotions must be allowed to be expressed. Emotions such as anger, grief, hurt, and loss. Just as in the loss of a loved one in death, a person needs time to reconcile their emotions with reality. The ability to choose the language you use to describe your experience is empowering and of the up most importance for those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse. This is a unanimous message from all we have spoken to.

It is for this reason we need to express our genuine concern that the Evangelical Alliance is seeking to control the language used by the Church around Spiritual Abuse. This approach is potentially extremely damaging in controlling the ability of those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse to adequately speak about their experience. It has had the effect of undermining and minimising the experience of every survivor of Spiritual Abuse. In addition this attempt to control the language of those who have already been subjected to coercion and control has tugged at the scars and reopened old wounds and if this continues will significantly disempower many survivors from speaking about their experience.

Controlling the language of those who have been abused falls far short of what is deemed best practice in responding well in any type of abuse.

This brings us neatly onto the next area of challenge and disagreement which is religious liberty and freedom of speech. Whilst we hear the fears and concerns that the Evangelical Alliance has regarding the loss of religious liberty and freedom of speech we do need to point out that the curtailment of religious liberty and freedom of speech is a key aspect of the experience of Spiritual Abuse. In the qualification of the definition of Spiritual Abuse it is clear that holding a theological position is not in itself Spiritual Abuse. Similarly this is the case for challenging and leading well. Indeed there are clearly areas where it is vital that there is challenge such as Safeguarding but this should still be done in a healthy respectful way. If the Evangelical Alliance are campaigning for continued Religious Liberty and Freedom of Speech than this must be a Religious Liberty and Freedom of Speech for all, including those who experience or have experienced Spiritual Abuse.

Another key message from survivors of spiritual abuse is their need for justice. The key driver in seeking justice is ensuring that the perpetrator is held to account and that their experience is not repeated by others in the same organisation or elsewhere if the perpetrator has moved to another organisation.

We want to be clear here that there is a distinct difference between justice and criminalisation. Justice can be achieved particularly in relation to the key drivers above without necessarily criminalising. There are however cases, where the Spiritual Abuse is extreme, where criminalisation is entirely appropriate.

In the press release regarding the report Revd Dr David Hilborn, Chair of TAG, said “We take the harm caused by Emotional, Psychological and other forms of abuse in religious contexts very seriously indeed. The Alliance has worked closely with its partner organisations and member churches in this area.” The report also states that “Evangelical Alliance UK is deeply committed to fostering healthy churches in which people can thrive, free from abuse.” We have historic e-mail evidence provided by a number of survivors that when they have reported some of the severest Spiritual Abuse this country has seen, that the response of the Evangelical Alliance was to state they were not a Governing Body and that they were not able to address this with a member. In light of this we would request that you provide us with a copy of the processes in place to ensure that Spiritual Abuse within a member organisation is responded to well and the processes for the EA response when this is reported to your organisation.

There is a need for all faith based organisations to step up to the mark in how they develop healthy cultures which nurture, value, respect and empower all within their community. There is also a need to develop systems to respond well to those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse and, where necessary, internal systems of justice to discipline perpetrators and ensure lessons are learnt in order for Spiritual Abuse to be prevented in future.

If this does not occur then it is likely that the pursuit of justice systems within the secular legislative framework will continue and gather momentum.

We would request that you work closely with partner agencies and member churches regarding Spiritual Abuse, as you have done in the past with other forms of abuse. The priority should be working with those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse to guide the development of healthy cultures, clear learning processes from incidents of Spiritual Abuse and internal justice systems to ensure there is justice for all. This will ensure that the religious liberty and freedom of speech of all is protected and enable member organisations to respond well, challenge well and disagree well.

We believe that this approach will be more effective in reducing the momentum and traction that is building for a secular legal framework response to achieving justice. By attempting to shut down debate and discussion by discouraging the use of terminology in relation to Spiritual Abuse and in turn minimising the experiences of survivors of Spiritual Abuse the EA are encouraging further momentum and traction to be sought. The same can be said for the attempt to discredit the work of advocates for and authors regarding Spiritual Abuse as “well-intentioned but not fit for purpose.”

On behalf of Replenished we would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to CCPAS and Dr Lisa Oakley for the work they have done and continue to do around Spiritual Abuse. This has added constructively to an open debate and discussion and aided in understanding Spiritual Abuse and effective response to this in faith based organisations.

In light of the points of challenge and disagreement above we ask the Evangelical Alliance UK to reconsider their position and future approach to Spiritual Abuse. We strongly encourage the Evangelical Alliance to work with survivors and their advocates in order to develop healthy cultures, effective and compassionate responses and robust internal justice systems for survivors of Spiritual Abuse.

We are happy to discuss, in a constructive way, any challenge or areas where we disagree or any opportunities for closer working to facilitate the voice of survivors to be heard.

We look forward to receiving a response from the Chairperson of the Board and the Chairperson of the Council of Management.

With truth, love and gentleness.

Simon Plant and Caroline Plant (Chief Officers of Replenished)






SA67 8HR



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