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Spiritual abuse in Christian faith settings: definition, policy and practice guidance

Lisa Oakley (Faculty of Social Science, University of Chester, Chester, UK)
Kathryn Kinmond (Steps SA, Stafford, UK)
Justin Humphreys (CCPAS, Swanley, UK)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 18 October 2018

Issue publication date: 18 October 2018




A previous publication in this journal reported the findings of a 2013 survey into people’s experiences of membership of a Christian church in the UK (author citation removed for the purposes of review). A major finding of this survey was that many people said they had been “harmed” by their experience with some labelling it as “Spiritual Abuse” (SA). Respondents in the 2013 study also stressed the importance of developing safeguarding policy and practice in this area. The purpose of this paper is to explore the findings of a more extensive survey conducted in 2017 which aims to identify people’s understanding of SA some four years after the initial work and within a context of some discussion and uncertainty around the term itself. The study also aims to assess the current status of safeguarding policy and practice in SA perpetrated against individuals in the Christian church in the UK. A secondary aim of the study is to ascertain how far understandings, policy and practice have developed since the initial survey was conducted. It is emphasised that the authors do not assert that SA is perpetrated solely in the Christian church. However, as this is their personal religious background it is the focus of this work.


A mixed methods online survey of Christians, Church attendees and members of Christian organisations was conducted in 2017. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, inductive thematic and content analysis.


A clear definition of SA is required. There is an ongoing need to develop policy and practice in the area of SA in order to respond effectively to those who have these harmful experiences.

Research limitations/implications

This work has been conducted within the Christian faith community and thus, represents only this faith context. Accordingly, it is research with a specific group. The work would usefully be expanded to other faith contexts.

Practical implications

People are still being harmed by experiences in the Christian church. Safeguarding policy and practice in the area of spiritual abuse needs to be developed in the immediate future.

Social implications

Those working in statutory agencies, faith and community contexts need to develop an understanding of SA.


This is the largest survey conducted on the topic of SA in the Christian faith to date in the UK.



Oakley, L., Kinmond, K. and Humphreys, J. (2018), "Spiritual abuse in Christian faith settings: definition, policy and practice guidance", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 20 No. 3/4, pp. 144-154.



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