Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.

Dear Dr. David,

I am writing to you confidentially because I do not want to threaten my job, and certainly don’t want to be unchristian in my attitude or behavior. Here is my concern:

 

I work in a church and every day feel like I cannot be myself. We are taught to honor authority and I constantly try to do that. However, does that mean I have to give up my opinions or individuality? Whenever I disagree with my pastor, or other church leaders, I am made to feel like I am sinning. I am scolded and shamed for voicing any contrary opinion. I am told that he is the leader and I am to follow his leading. I am so confused. I want to work for a Christian organization, but want to be able to disagree and share my thoughts at times. Am I wrong?

 

I come from a codependent background, and it seems like I keep finding these situations. I grew up walking on eggshells, and now find that I am doing it again. Is this the way it has to be? How can I heal from my past if I keep finding abusive situations in my life? Please help me with this problem.
--Spiritually Confused

Dear Spiritually Confused,

I receive many notes from people who feel they are being hurt by spiritual leaders. This issue has gained more attention in recent years in books such as Ken Blue's Healing Spiritual Abuse. In it he details how any organization, including the church, can be a place where the abuse of power takes place. Here are a few things to consider:

 

Pastors or spiritual leaders who abuse power are rarely unlikable characters – in fact, often quite the opposite. They may be charismatic, insightful and dedicated to furthering the Kingdom of God. They are often people who seek to guide you to deepen your spiritual walk. However, abuse occurs when someone in spiritual authority, who are called to build up, equip and help free you from spiritual and emotional burdens, actually misuses that authority to control, coerce or manipulate you to think and act the way they want you to.

 

The issue of misuse of power is not a new one. The prophet Ezekiel warned about “shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezekiel 34:2-4).