Like members of an alcoholic's family, people in an abusive church sense something is wrong, but they would rather walk around it than talk.
If they question anything, they feel they are rebellious or less spiritual than others.
Some just drop out. Others give up on God.
But talking is a step toward healing. It lets them know "there are others out there with the same thoughts," said Eric Mercano, a member of Grace Restoration Ministries.
Grace is sponsoring a seminar on spiritual abuse -- its signs and recovery -- from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Holiday Inn West on Stevens Creek Road. There will be prayer ministry after the program.
"In America, nobody is required to go to church," said the Rev. Frank Garner, pastor of Grace. "We volunteer to be abused."
People will stick it out because they fear leaving. They don't want to be rebellious and lose God's blessings. They think that they, not the leaders, are the problem, he said.
Sometimes finding another church is the best solution, but Grace doesn't encourage leaving, said Mr. Mercano. "There are different ways to deal with problems."
Spiritual abuse is a term that covers negative situations in a church as well as in a cult. When a leader puts himself in a power position, wants excessive conformity, is preoccupied with performance or money and refuses to be questioned about the church or ministry, that can be abusive, said the Rev. Garner.
Somebody else is trying to be the Holy Spirit for you, said the Rev. Garner. "What I do doesn't make me holy. It is what Jesus did."
Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: The Rev. Frank Garner
What: Spiritual abuse seminar
Where: Holiday Inn West, Stevens Creek Road
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today