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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 cultic group (n=1) 

9. Has a family member or close friend ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

Yes, one (n=2) 

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

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

11. Are you aware of individuals (other than you or your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually 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 your congregation (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?  If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=8); blank (n=1) 

13. Do you believe that spiritually abused persons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related 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 your congregation may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are 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 should provide 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 your church can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and 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 Bible Church  (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 an unaffiliated (n=2); in a cultic group (n=2); other (n=1) 

9. Has a family member or close friend ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

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

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

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

11. Are you aware of individuals (other than you or your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually 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 your congregation (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?  If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

0 (n=11); 1 (n=1); 2 (n=1) 

13. Do you believe that spiritually abused persons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related 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 your congregation may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are 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 should provide 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 your church can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and 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 Congregational Church (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 affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

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 your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive? If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, 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 (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?  If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

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

 

13. Do you believe that spiritually abused persons can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related to the 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 may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are controlling or domineering 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 “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding, support, and information 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 can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and the availability of resources?

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

Average of those giving a rating:  5.27 

 

Trinity Community Church

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 affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive?

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 your family/friend) within your congregation who have ever been affiliated with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually abusive? If not, enter “0.”  If so, please enter the number, approximating if necessary.

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

12. Are you aware of members of your congregation (other than you or your family/friend) who are concerned about a loved one who was/is involved with a group, organization, or individual that you believe was spiritually 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 can benefit from educational or therapeutic support to deal with issues related to the 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 may be vulnerable to groups, organizations, or individuals that are controlling or domineering 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 “safe haven” where spiritual abuse victims may find understanding, support, and information 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 can benefit from education about the needs of spiritual abuse victims and the availability 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 

This survey seeks to collect information on churches’ experiences with victims of spiritual abuse, such as former members of cultic groups or people who have been involved in manipulative relationships in mainstream churches. 

There are various definitions of the term “spiritual abuse.”  Some stress the use of undue power and influence over another’s life.  Others emphasize the serious harm that occurs when one person manipulates and takes advantage of unsuspecting others, e.g., congregants, followers, spouses, students, etc., especially in religious settings. 

Your answers will help ICSA’s Spiritual Safe Haven Network (http://www.icsahome.com/spiritualsafehavennetwork), which works with religious organizations that provide community, information, and assistance to those who have been spiritually abused. 

You may complete this survey anonymously. Thank you.

SURVEY

Today’s Date__________________________________________________ 

1.  Name of Church You Currently Attend: _____________________________________ 

2.  Your birth     year _____  Month _____  Day _____ 

3.  Your gender 

ð        Male

ð        Female

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

ð        No – skip to question 9

ð        yes, one group, organization, or individual

ð        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. 

ð        very mild

ð        mild

ð        moderate

ð        severe

ð        very severe

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

Month_________  Year_________

8.  Where did this spiritual abuse occur? 

ð        in a mainstream church denomination

ð        in an aberrant church within a mainstream denomination

ð        in an unaffiliated or nondenominational church

ð        in a cultic group (new religious movement; high-demand or high-control group)

ð        other 

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

ð        no

ð        yes, one group, organization, or individual

ð        yes, more than one group, organization, or individual

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

ð        in a mainstream church denomination

ð        in an aberrant church within a mainstream denomination

ð        in an unaffiliated or nondenominational church

ð        in a cultic group (new religious movement; high-demand or high-control group)

ð        other

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

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

_______

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

_______

Please, let us know your opinion:

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

0

Not at all

1

2

3

4

5

6

Very much

 

uncertain

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

0

Not at all

1

2

3

4

5

6

Very much

 

uncertain

15.  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? (Please circle)

 

0

Not at all

1

2

3

4

5

6

Very much

 

uncertain

16.  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? 

0

Not at all

1

2

3

4

5

6

Very much

 

uncertain

 

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

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

ð        Yes

ð         no

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

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

0

Not at all

1

2

3

4

5

6

Very much

 

uncertain

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

ð        yes

ð         no

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

First Name [Required]:

Last Name:

E-mail [Required]:

Phone(s) [Required]:

City/State/Postal Code/Country:

Thank you for your time!