Book gives hope to those traumatized by spiritual abuse
When Connie Baker was 25 years old, she was sexually abused by her church pastor for nine months. But that's not the worst part of the story: Although the pastor confessed to the abuse, Baker was publicly blamed for it by the elders in the church.
"I was expected to give public confession and then asked to leave the church. The abuse from the leadership shattered me, and it took many, many years to gain the healing and clarity I needed to recover," she said.
The Happy Valley resident went on to become a professional counselor specializing in religious abuse, and has just published a new book, "Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Freedom for Survivors — Discover the Cultures and Systems of Religious Abuse and Reclaim Your Personal Power."
"This is the book I wish I would have had when it happened to me," Baker said.
Religious abuse is not just sexual, Baker said, adding that the most fundamental elements of religious abuse are power, control and manipulation. But it also can be financial, psychological, physical or verbal.
"By definition, any abuse consists of some type of power differential — where one person has more power than the other and hurts the other person with that power. This is true of spiritual abuse," she said.
"The abusive person or institution has some sort of power that the abused person does not have, and they use that power, usually leveraging religious ideas or the idea of God, to manipulate, control, hurt, exploit, suppress, silence or weaken the other person," Baker said.
This kind of abuse can be difficult to stop because "holy books and religious leaders speak for the divine, and it's very hard to argue with that."
Education on the topic can be an effective method of halting spiritual abuse, Baker said, noting that if church boards and elders are educated about it, they can recognize the abuse earlier and deal with it more effectively.
Religious abuse strikes at the most fundamental levels of human existence, Baker said.
"It damages us spiritually and existentially, and it touches the most basic questions of life: Who am I? Who is God? What is the nature of truth? What about life after death? These ideas are all shaken and sometimes shattered with religious abuse."
The long-term effects include post-traumatic stress, loss of faith, loss of identity, chemical dependence and addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and panic attacks, marital and family problems, and conflict and loss of social support network/community.
Any religious leader, male or female, can use their power to harm others.
"I have heard horrible stories of women in religious authority who exploited, silenced and power-played those they led," Baker said.
Most major religions have been clearly patriarchal, so men often hold more power than women. Thus, in a patriarchal structure, men often will be the abusers, she added.
Children are most often the victims of sexual abuse, but Baker said there are many adults who have been assaulted by religious leaders.
Need for education
"There is a desperate need to educate about this topic. Thousands of people have been damaged by religious institutions," Baker said.
Her book lays the groundwork for conversation.
"It explains concretely what religious abuse looks like, how it happens, the impact on the survivor and how to heal," she said.
In addition to her book, Baker's Facebook group "Overcoming Religious Abuse Community," her online course and a booklet she put together are all available online to help others.
She recommends that people visit connieabaker.com for more information. The website also contains a 14-minute video where Baker tells the complete story about her abuse.
Currently, "Traumatized by Religious Abuse" is available on Amazon and is ranked a No. 1 bestseller in three categories: religious studies, psychology and abuse self-help.
Baker added that her book "gives validation and hope to those who have gone through such a traumatizing event."
Visit connieabaker.com for more information about her book and other resources.
To purchase "Traumatized by Religious Abuse: Courage, Hope and Freedom for Survivors — Discover the Cultures and Systems of Religious Abuse and Reclaim Your Personal Power," visit amazon.com and type in the title.
The book costs $16.73 in paperback form or $7.99 for Kindle. It is published by Luminare Press.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.