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Research Survey on Spiritual Abuse

Research Survey on Spiritual Abuse – Paper Pilot Test

Preliminary Report

Michael D. Langone, PhD

Summary

ICSA’s Spiritual Safe Haven Network (SSHN) consists of individuals and religious institutions (churches, synagogues, campus religious organizations, etc.) that want to offer those who have experienced spiritual abuse a “safe haven” providing spiritual solace, information, and community. See http://www.icsahome.com/spiritualsafehavennetwork.

SSHN has designed a questionnaire to investigate mainstream religious organizations’ experience with and attitudes toward spiritual abuse. This report summarizes data collected from a pilot survey from four churches in Massachusetts. Rev. Robert Pardon, Director of MeadowHaven, approached the pastors of these churches to ask if they would give their congregants the paper survey reproduced below.

The “details” section, which follows the “results overview,” provides data on selected questions from the survey. Our focus in this report is on questions that assess the prevalence of spiritual abuse (i.e., how many/what percentage of people in churches believe they have been spiritually abused) and churches’ attitudes toward education on this topic.

In the results section, we will provide data on the four churches combined, highlighting a few of the questions. We hope that these data will encourage more churches, synagogues, and other worship places to work with us to survey their congregants and to explore the subject of spiritual abuse. Contact ICSA if you are affiliated with a religious organization interested in giving out the survey, which is also available online.

Future reports will explore the data, collected and yet to be collected, in more detail.

Results: Overview

The total population of the four churches in this pilot test is 565. 55 members of the congregations completed and handed in the survey – slightly under 10%. Given this response rate, one may conclude that the prevalence figures represent minimums, since individuals within the 90% of nonresponders may have been victims of spiritual abuse or are concerned about family members. Our figures on attitudes toward education, however, may distort views of the total church populations, since those who are concerned about the subject may be more likely to complete the survey. Nevertheless, given the high levels of concern among respondents, religious organizations should pay attention to these figures, for 10% is a sizeable percentage of a congregation.

Respondents included 23 males and 32 females. We do not know the male/female ratios of the participating churches, so we do not know if there is a greater tendency for one gender to complete the survey.

The most important question for this report is the number of people who believe they had been “affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive.” 13 of the 55 respondents (24%) said “yes,” with 4 of the 13 saying they had been affiliated with more than one spiritually abusive environment. If none of the 90% of nonresponders have had experience with spiritual abuse, then at least 13 of 565 congregants in the four churches (2.3%) have been affiliated with a spiritually abusive environment. This figure is more than double what prevalence studies of the general population’s cult involvement have found (see http://www.icsahome.com/articles/prevalence). Of course, the actual figure could be higher because some of the 90% of nonresponders may have answered “yes” had they completed the survey. This is a significant finding because some religiously oriented persons mistakenly think that believing “correct doctrine” immunizes against abuse and that their church is immune because it advocates “correct doctrine.”

The 13 people who said they had been affiliated with a spiritually abusive environment rated these environments 3.31 (between moderate – 3 – and severe – 4) on abusiveness.

4 of the 13 said the abuse had occurred “in a mainstream church denomination.” 1 said the abuse occurred “in an aberrant church within a mainstream denomination. 4 said it happened “in an unaffiliated or nondenominational church.” 5 reported that abuse took place “in a cultic group.” 2 chose “other” for the site of the spiritual abuse. (The totals add up to more than 13 because some respondents reported more than one experience of spiritual abuse.) It is noteworthy that, though spiritual abuse is often associated with cultic groups, most of these respondents reported that the abuse happened in mainstream or nondenominational churches.

Two questions relate to SSHN’s goal of building a network of safe haven religious organizations to which spiritual abuse victims could turn for support.

“Do you believe that your church should provide a “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding, support, and information on spiritual abuse resources?” Respondents rated this question from “0” (not at all) to “6” (very much). 51 persons gave the following ratings: 0 (n=1); 1 (n=0); 2 (n=0); 3 (n=3); 4 (n=10); 5 (n=11); 6 (n=26). The average rating was 4.9, indicating a strongly affirmative answer to the question.

“Do you believe that the members of your church can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and the availability of resources?” This question used the same rating scale as the preceding. 47 persons gave the following ratings: 0 (n=1); 1 (n=0); 2 (n=0); 3 (n=2); 4 (n=14); 5 (n=10); 6 (n=20). The average rating was also 4.9, the same as the average rating for providing a “safe haven.”

The responses to these two questions are encouraging to SSHN. Subjects’ answers suggest not only that these church members want to help spiritual abuse victims but that they view themselves as needing to learn more about the subject. Both of these are goals of SSHN.

The results of this pilot test of SSHN’s survey suggest that:

  1. Churches and other religious organizations may have more spiritual abuse victims in their midst than they realize. 
  2. Though spiritual abuse may occur in cultic groups, it also takes place in mainstream religious organizations. 
  3. Church members want to provide a welcoming, understanding haven of safety for victims of spiritual abuse. 
  4. Church members realize that they can benefit from education about spiritual abuse.

Details

Rock Village(n=9; one appears to have been a visitor from Christian Fellowship Center)

Approximate population of church =35.  9 respondents (20%).

3. Your Gender:

2 male; 7 female

4. Have you ever been affiliated with a group,organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

3 yes, one; 2 blank; 4 no

5. If you were involved with an abusive group,organization, or individual, please rate the level of abuse.

Very severe (n=1); moderate (n=1); very mild(n=1)

8. Where did this spiritual abuse occur?

In a mainstream denomination (n=2); in a culticgroup (n=1)

9. Has a family member or close friend everbeen affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?

Yes, one (n=2)

10. If “yes” to (9), where did this spiritualabuse occur?

In a mainstream denomination (n=1); in a culticgroup (n=1)

11. Are you aware of individuals (other thanyou or your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever beenaffiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive? If not, enter “0.” If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=8); blank (n=1)

12. Are you aware of members of yourcongregation (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about aloved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual thatyou believe was spiritually abusive?  Ifnot, enter “0.”  If so, please enter thenumber, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=8); blank (n=1)

13. Do you believe that spiritually abusedpersons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issuesrelated to the abuse?

6-very much (n=7); 5 (n=1); uncertain (n=1)

Average of those giving a rating: 5.88

14. Are you concerned that members of yourcongregation may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals thatare controlling or domineering to an unwholesome degree?

0 (n=5); blank (n=1); 1 (n=2); 2 (n=1)

15. Do you believe that your church shouldprovide a “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding,support, and information on spiritual abuse resources?

3 (n=1); 4 (n=2); 5 (n=2); 6 (n=4)

Average of those giving a rating: 5.00

16. Do you believe that the members of yourchurch can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victimsand the availability of resources?

Blank (n=1); 3 (n=1); 4 (n=3); 5 (n=1); 6 (n=3)

Average of those giving a rating:  4.38

Dartmouth BibleChurch  (n=13) 

Approximate population of church =300.  13 respondents (4%).

3. Your Gender:

2 male; 11 female

4. Have you ever been affiliated with a group,organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

2 yes, one; 4 yes, more than; 7 no

5. If you were involved with an abusive group,organization, or individual, please rate the level of abuse.

severe (n=4); moderate (n=1); moderate, severe(n=1)

8. Where did this spiritual abuse occur?

In a mainstream denomination (n=2); in anunaffiliated (n=2); in a cultic group (n=2); other (n=1)

9. Has a family member or close friend everbeen affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?

Yes, one (n=2); yes, more than (n=3); no (n=8)

10. If “yes” to (9), where did this spiritualabuse occur?

In a mainstream denomination (n=1); in anaberrant church (n=1); in an unaffiliated (n=1); in a cultic group (n=2); other(n=1)

11. Are you aware of individuals (other thanyou or your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever beenaffiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive? If not, enter “0.” If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=11); 2 (n=1); 7(n=1)

12. Are you aware of members of yourcongregation (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about aloved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual thatyou believe was spiritually abusive?  Ifnot, enter “0.”  If so, please enter thenumber, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=11); 1 (n=1); 2 (n=1)

13. Do you believe that spiritually abusedpersons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issuesrelated to the abuse?

6-very much (n=11); 5 (n=1); not at all (n=1)

Average of those giving a rating: 5.46

14. Are you concerned that members of yourcongregation may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals thatare controlling or domineering to an unwholesome degree?

0 (n=4); uncertain (n=1); 1 (n=2); 2 (n=2); 4(n=2); 6 (n=2)

Average of those giving a rating: 3.12

15. Do you believe that your church shouldprovide a “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding,support, and information on spiritual abuse resources?

0 (n=1); 3 (n=2); 4 (n=1); 5 (n=3); 6 (n=6)

Average of those giving a rating: 4.62

16. Do you believe that the members of yourchurch can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victimsand the availability of resources?

0 (n=1); 3 (n=1); 4 (n=3); 5 (n=1); 6 (n=3)

Average of those giving a rating:  4.38

First CongregationalChurch (n=18)

Approximate population of church =80.  17 respondents (21%).

3. Your Gender:

10 male; 7 female

4. Have you ever been affiliated with a group, organization,or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

2 yes, one; 15 no

5. If you were involved with an abusive group, organization,or individual, please rate the level of abuse.

moderate (n=1); very mild (n=1)

8. Where did this spiritual abuse occur?

in an unaffiliated (n=1); other(n=1)

9. Has a family member or close friend ever been affiliatedwith a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spirituallyabusive?

Yes, one (n=4); no (n=14)

10. If “yes” to (9), where did this spiritual abuse occur?

In a mainstream denomination (n=1);in an aberrant church (n=1); in a cultic group (n=4);

11. Are you aware of individuals (other than you or yourfamily/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with agroup, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive? Ifnot, enter “0.”  If so, please enter thenumber, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=13); 1-2 (n=1); 2 (n=3); 3(n=1);

12. Are you aware of members of your congregation (otherthan you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/isinvolved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?  If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximatingif necessary.

0 (n=15); 1 (n=1); 1-2 (n=1); 2(n=1)

13. Do you believe that spiritually abused persons canbenefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related tothe abuse?

6-very much (n=14); 5 (n=4);

Average of those giving a rating:5.78

14. Are you concerned that members of your congregation maybe vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are controlling ordomineering to an unwholesome degree?

0 (n=4); uncertain (n=2); 1 (n=5);2 (n=2); 3 (n=4); 6 (n=1)

Average of those giving a rating:2.25

15. Do you believe that your church should provide a “safehaven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding, support, andinformation on spiritual abuse resources?

uncertain (n=1); 3 (n=1); 5 (n=4);6 (n=12)

Average of those giving a rating: 5.59

16. Do you believe that the members of your church canbenefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and theavailability of resources?

Blank (n=3); 4 (n=4); 5 (n=3); 6(n=8)

Average of those giving a rating:  5.27

Trinity CommunityChurch

Approximate population of church =150.  16 respondents (11%).

3. Your Gender:

9 male; 7 female

4. Have you ever been affiliated with a group, organization,or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

2 yes, one; 14 no

5. If you were involved with an abusive group, organization,or individual, please rate the level of abuse.

severe (n=1); moderate/severe (n=1)

8. Where did this spiritual abuse occur?

in an unaffiliated and cultic(n=1); no reply (n=1)

9. Has a family member or close friend ever been affiliatedwith a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spirituallyabusive?

Yes, one (n=2); no (n=14)

10. If “yes” to (9), where did this spiritual abuse occur?

in an unaffiliated and cultic (n=1);in an unaffiliated (n=1)

11. Are you aware of individuals (other than you or yourfamily/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with agroup, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive? Ifnot, enter “0.”  If so, please enter thenumber, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=11); 6 (n=3); 10 (n=1); 50(n=1)

12. Are you aware of members of your congregation (otherthan you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/isinvolved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?  If not, enter“0.”  If so, please enter the number,approximating if necessary.

0 (n=15); 6 (n=1)

13. Do you believe that spiritually abused persons canbenefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related tothe abuse?

6-very much (n=14); 5 (n=1); 3(n=1)

Average of those giving a rating:5.75

14. Are you concerned that members of your congregation maybe vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are controlling ordomineering to an unwholesome degree?

0 (n=7); 1 (n=1); 2 (n=3); 3 (n=1);4 (n=2); 5 (n=1); 6 (n=1)

Average of those giving a rating: 1.81

15. Do you believe that your church should provide a “safehaven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding, support, andinformation on spiritual abuse resources?

4 (n=5); 5 (n=4); 6 (n=7)

Average of those giving a rating:5.1

16. Do you believe that the members of your church canbenefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and theavailability of resources?

Blank (n=1); 4 (n=4); 5 (n=5); 6(n=6)

Average of those giving a rating:  5.2

Research Survey on Spiritual Abuse

Thissurvey seeks to collect information on churches’ experiences with victims ofspiritual abuse, such as former members of cultic groups or people who havebeen involved in manipulative relationships in mainstream churches.

Thereare various definitions of the term “spiritual abuse.”  Some stress the use of undue power andinfluence over another’s life.  Othersemphasize the serious harm that occurs when one person manipulates and takesadvantage of unsuspecting others, e.g., congregants, followers, spouses,students, etc., especially in religious settings.

Youranswers will help ICSA’s Spiritual Safe Haven Network (http://www.icsahome.com/spiritualsafehavennetwork), which workswith religious organizations that provide community, information, and assistanceto those who have been spiritually abused.

Youmay complete this survey anonymously. Thank you.

SURVEY

Today’sDate__________________________________________________

1.  Name of Church You Currently Attend:_____________________________________

2.  Your birth    year _____  Month _____  Day _____

3.  Your gender

Female

4.  Have youever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believewas spiritually abusive?  (If you answer“yes,” refer in the questions that follow to the group, organization, orindividual that was most abusive.)

No – skip to question 9

yes, one group, organization, or individual

yes, more than one group, organization, or individual

5.  If you were involved with an abusive group,organization, or individual, please rate the level of abuse.

very mild

moderate

severe

very severe

6.  If you have been affiliated with a group,organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive, when didyou first become involved (Month/year)?  (Ifyou are not sure, please approximate the dates)

Month_________  Year_________

7.  If you have been affiliated with a group,organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive, when didyou cease involvement?  (If you are notsure, please approximate the dates)

Month_________  Year_________

8.  Where did this spiritual abuse occur?

in a mainstream church denomination

in an aberrant church within a mainstream denomination

in an unaffiliated or nondenominational church

in a cultic group (new religious movement; high-demandor high-control group)

other

9.  Has a family member or close friend ever beenaffiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?  (If you answer“yes,” refer in the question that follows to the group, organization, orindividual that was most abusive.)

yes, one group, organization, or individual

yes, more than one group, organization, or individual

10.  If “yes” to (9), where did this spiritualabuse occur?

in a mainstream church denomination

in an aberrant church within a mainstream denomination

in an unaffiliated or nondenominational church

in a cultic group (new religious movement; high-demandor high-control group)

other

Now we aregoing to ask you about other people in your current congregation.

11.  Are you aware of individuals (other than youor your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliatedwith a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spirituallyabusive? If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximatingif necessary.

_______

12.  Are you aware of members of your congregation(other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one whowas/is involved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe wasspiritually abusive?  If not, enter“0.”  If so, please enter the number,approximating if necessary.

_______

Please, let usknow your opinion:

13.  Do you believe that spiritually abusedpersons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issuesrelated to the abuse? (Please circle)

Not at all

Very much

uncertain

 14.  Are you concerned that members of yourcongregation may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals thatare controlling or domineering to an unwholesome degree? (Please circle)

Not at all

Very much

uncertain

15.  Do you believe that your church shouldprovide a “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding,support, and information on spiritual abuse resources? (Please circle)

Not at all

Very much

uncertain

16.  Do you believe that the members of yourchurch can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victimsand the availability of resources?

Not at all

Very much

uncertain

Thisconcludes the survey and we wish to thank you for your participation.  This will help us to better address the needsof those who still struggle because of a spiritually abusive experience.  The following questions inquire into possiblefollow-up actions.

17.  Would you like to receive a brief report onthis survey?

If yes, please provide an e-mail address to which tosend it:

18.  Would you be interested in volunteering inprograms and projects aiming to help spiritual abuse victims?

Not at all

Very much

uncertain

19.  Would you be willing to participate infollow-up research on this subject or otherwise contribute to the advancementof ICSA’s Spiritual Safe Haven Network?

 If yes, please provide at least the minimal requiredcontact information below.

First Name [Required]:

Last Name:

E-mail [Required]:

Phone(s) [Required]:

City/State/Postal Code/Country:

Thankyou for your time!

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