Breaking news: ‘spiritual abuse’ allegations rock the early church!

Breaking news: ‘spiritual abuse’ allegations rock the early church!
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Simon Arscott
Simon Arscott Simon has been sent by the International Presbyterian Church to lead All Nations Church, Ilford. Born and bred south of the river in Camberwell, London, he studied in York.
10 October, 2023 10 min read

In shocking news, our reporter at the Jerusalem Post can reveal that Alexander the Coppersmith has accused the apostle Paul of spiritual abuse.

Dear Presbytery of Jerusalem,

I’m afraid I’m writing with some difficult news. I need to report Paul for spiritual abuse. I’ve been reading some of the latest thinking on the subject and only now am I beginning to process my experiences with Paul properly. For a long time, I wondered whether my falling-out with Paul was my fault. But as I’ve read the experience of other victims, what they’ve said has chimed exactly with what happened to me. I can now clearly see that I’m a victim of abuse at the hands of Paul.  

In this letter, I’m using the definition of spiritual abuse as provided by Christian experts in the field to demonstrate the controlling and coercive use of power that Paul has exercised in his church circles.

Unhealthy culture

First, Paul has set up a system of highly manipulative social control. He uses this system to exclude anybody who won’t conform to his particular theological and moral outlook. His devotees call it ‘church discipline’, but it is more accurate to see it as spiritual abuse. Just ask yourself: what’s the goal of ‘church discipline’? It’s clearly to coerce and control congregational behaviour with the threat of social exclusion.

Paul uses a colourful metaphor: ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Corinthians 5:6), but underneath this apparently harmless picture lies a sinister intolerance. Paul depicts anyone who disagrees with him as an infection that needs to be flushed out of the church!

His system of church discipline publicly shames and isolates church members who won’t conform to his outlook (1 Corinthians 5:11,13). Research shows that isolating people as a means of punishment is a textbook tactic of the spiritual abuser. This process can be so humiliating that Paul, himself, admitted one victim was in danger of being ‘overwhelmed by excessive sorrow’ (2 Corinthians 2:7). That particular individual is still seeing a counsellor today!

I’ve only recently come to appreciate that this pattern of abuse is not a bug, but a feature of Paul’s ministry. It is systemic, a pattern that he deliberately develops in his churches.

First, he appoints ‘elders’ (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), men carefully selected to be loyal to him and his particular version of the truth (2 Timothy 2:2). He then gets them to ‘silence’ alternative voices (Titus 1:11). He instructs elders not only to challenge but to ‘rebuke with all authority’ (Titus 2:15).

In other words, he places elders in a quasi-‘divine’ position, in order for them to pressurise congregations to conform to particular beliefs and behaviours. The threat of social exclusion quickly silences any potentially uncooperative members (Titus 3:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).

Most fundamentally, Paul has learned to weaponise the text of Scripture. He’s a very skilful interpreter and communicator. But, sadly, he doesn’t just teach; he uses the divine text as a tool of control and coercion. He expects you to actually obey his reading of the text; if you disagree, you’re looked down on as second-class. He does not leave you any wiggle-room.

Many times I have felt highly pressurised listening to his preaching, as he equates what he says with what God says (1 Thessalonians 2:13)! After all, who can argue with God?! His talks are often inflammatory and have incited violence in numerous cities around the Mediterranean (Acts 15:45, 50; 16:5, 19; 17:5).

Rather than using Scripture to welcome all with God’s love, he consistently weaponises Scripture to create out-groups and in-groups.

Unhealthy personality

But it isn’t just Paul’s system of church discipline that is abusive. He’s personally abusive. For example, Paul doesn’t hesitate to publicly name and shame people who disagree with him. Hymenaeus and Alexander still can’t show their faces in Ephesus, a decade after Paul took a disliking to them (1 Timothy 1:20).

I, too, have been on the receiving end of Paul’s vicious personal attacks (2 Timothy 4:14), and I’m still dealing with the psychological scars and working through my trauma. I still regularly have flashbacks.

Paul frequently uses derogatory language towards his theological opponents. He calls them ‘the dogs’ (Philippians 3:2) and ‘wolves’ (Acts 20:29). He suggests they ‘emasculate themselves’ (Galatians 5:12) and that they are Satanic (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).

He’s tarred all Cretans with broad, unflattering brushstrokes (Titus 1:12). He has a way of blowing up small disagreements (like circumcision) into massive controversies (Acts 15:2; Galatians 5:3-4). He uses sarcasm to embarrass and belittle those who think differently from him (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:8-13).

What’s most hurtful of all is how Paul threatens those who disagree with him with the extreme idea that they’re going to hell. I’ve personally interviewed members of Paul’s congregation in Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossae whom Paul told that if they didn’t make some changes to their private lives, they would go to hell (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:6).

Years later, my interviewees are still psychologically damaged by those threats. This kind of hurtful, extreme comment is another classic example of ‘spiritual abuse’.

Of course, Paul doesn’t appear to be a spiritual abuser. He can be very charming when it’s in his own interests. I’m sure Paul will be able to produce glowing character references from his supporters, but the moment you cross him, that charm evaporates!

I experienced a honeymoon period with Paul, where he love-bombed me, encouraged me, and praised me. But when I disagreed with him on an area of my private life (he said I needed to ‘repent’), he decided to turn the screws.

On the one hand, he can write very eloquently about love (see 1 Corinthians 13 for a fine example), but, when it suits him, he will not hesitate to unleash damaging verbal attacks. Many of his letters contain ‘emotional hand-brake turns’, moving from strong statements of appreciation (1 Corinthians 1:4) to threats of physical violence (1 Corinthians 4:21).

Paul is clearly prepared to intimidate and bully people when necessary, all under the guise of spiritual fatherhood (1 Corinthians 4:15). I assure you that these are real, abusive patterns I’m identifying and not just isolated examples. Quite simply, Paul has used and is using his religious position to damage people emotionally and psychologically.

I urge you to speak to the many survivors. I’ve spoken to a lot of the Christians in Asia, and no one there has a good word to say about him (2 Timothy 1:15)! That amount of emotional negativity is impossible to square with healthy Christian leadership. His churches are not safe spaces, but toxic environments, where individuals are not free to be themselves.

You need to get rid of this man and stop his writings being read in your churches! Anything other than your swift denunciation and support of the victims is unthinkable. 

Yours sincerely, 

Alexander, the Coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14)

The Jerusalem presbytery were contacted for comment but didn’t reply directly. Instead, they provided the following letter.

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