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05 February 2018

Press release

New report is critical of the term 'Spiritual Abuse' as well intended, but not fit for purpose.

A new report that highlights the risks associated with adopting the vague and incoherent terminology of ‘Spiritual Abuse’ has been released today by the Evangelical Alliance. The term ‘Spiritual Abuse’ may be well intended, but it is not fit for purpose.

Produced by the Evangelical Alliance Theology Advisory Group (TAG), the report outlines how ‘Spiritual Abuse’ is a seriously problematic term because of its own inherent ambiguity, and because attempts by some to embed it within statutory safeguarding discourse and secular law would be unworkable in practice, potentially discriminatory towards religious communities, and damaging to inter-faith relations.

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. However, we are deeply uneasy about increasing usage of the unhelpful and potentially misleading term ‘Spiritual Abuse’. We believe the existing legal frameworks of Emotional and Psychological abuse are sufficient and need to be enforced in religious contexts, as in other contexts. However, creating a special category of ‘Spiritual Abuse’ just for religious people potentially singles them out for criminalisation. As such, it carries the risk of religious discrimination, and threatens social cohesion. As a diagnostic term, ‘Spiritual Abuse’ may be well-intended, but this report shows that it is not fit for purpose.”

Steve Clifford, General Director, Evangelical Alliance UK said, “Churches can and should be healthy communities where people, including those who are vulnerable, are encouraged to flourish. Churches need the support of robust safeguarding language, legislation and training to do this. This report makes a valuable contribution on all of these fronts. It underlines that the Evangelical Alliance is committed to wise, bold scrutiny of policy and practice that ensures the Church is able to support people pastorally, and make Jesus known effectively throughout our communities.”

The report critiques the methodology of the recent study, ‘Understanding Spiritual Abuse Christian Communities’ published by CCPAS. It also reviews the recent decision of a Church of England Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal to cite ‘Spiritual Abuse’ as a specific aspect of misconduct warranting sanction under the Clergy Discipline Measure. The report suggests that the time is right for a careful assessment of the negative – if unintended - consequences of proliferating ‘Spiritual Abuse’ language.

The report urges all churches to reject the language of ‘Spiritual Abuse’ and instead apply the existing legal terminology of Emotional and Psychological Abuse in religious contexts, and to work with existing law to detect, reject and report abuse in all its guises.

Media Enquiries

Jo Frost
Tel: 07736 032 430
Email: [email protected]

Notes to Editors

The full report written on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance Theological Advisory Group, has been externally peer reviewed as is available here. An executive summary is also available here.

Spokespeople are available for interview or media briefing on request.

The Evangelical Alliance

We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK's two million evangelical Christians. For more than 170 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We're here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it's celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK - we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.