Shaming and Shunning

Shaming and shunning. I’m told these are 2 common practices of all cults. As I look back at all that I endured during my 12 year stint in the cult, I am taken aback at how much my experience parallels that of a battered wife.

Battered wife syndrome is a physical and psychological condition that holds the following beliefs and attitudes:

  • The abused believes that the violence was his or her fault.
  • The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
  • The abused fears for his/her life and/or the lives of his/her children (if present).
  • The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.


Remember, we were taught that the “once saved always saved” doctrine was heresy, and that we absolutely could lose our salvation. Most all scriptures quoted were taken out of context just to back up the points leadership wanted to make…that is called “proof texting.”

Check out the similarities….

  • Anytime I was shamed, shunned, publicly humiliated, beat down, or otherwise “disciplined” by the leadership (always with multiple scriptures to insure unquestioning obedience), I always ended up believing that I was in sin, and needed to repent, that I had a bitter root, was prideful, or selfish, and so my abuse was really just the Lord chastening me and not only did I deserve it, but needed it in order to make it to heaven.
  • It was considered sinful for me to even think, let alone voice the possibility that leadership was abusive or overreacted in any way. So, when I couldn’t place responsibility for the abuse on them, it would naturally be turned back on me.
  • I feared for my spiritual life, convinced that we were the only true church and that walking away meant walking away from God. Funny how the statement of faith said we didn’t believe that we were the only church, but in reality we all believed that we were.
  • Because we were taught that leadership were really the only ones led by the Holy Spirit, and they micro-managed every aspect of our lives, large and small, I grew strong in the irrational belief that they would know “by the spirit” if I was doubting or struggling or had a bad attitude towards them. This paranoia lead to “walking in the light” and “confession of sin” that was not even my sin and did not need to be confessed.

What was really happening was that God was allowing me to see the red flags and instead of taking action to stop the abuse I blamed myself!

In “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” the author shares a story that highlights this behavior of becoming so self-absorbed with our sin that we begin to live a very unhealthy Christianity.

“Learning to “Do” Christianity

When I first became a Christian (Jeff speaking), I went to a weeklong conference designed to teach me how to live the Christian life. The speaker presented us with list after list of “spiritual” things to do and ways to do them. When I went home, I noticed that I felt really bad about myself. And I figured that God felt pretty bad about me too. I was guilty and ashamed.

Since then, I have thought a lot about what happens at conferences like that. One thing that bothers me is that many verses used in the teaching are taken totally out of context. But then, since the goal of this kind of approach to the Christian life is to get certain behaviors, proof-texting is deemed perfectly acceptable.

I’ve also come to some conclusions. First, I don’t think it is possible to leave a “Christian formula seminar” with a clean conscience. Under the banner of being a tutor to lead us to Christ, more often they cause people to become almost totally self-occupied.”

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen – Pg 86

Shaming and shunning kept me focused on my sin for 12 years. We all know what happens when you give something a lot of attention….it grows! No wonder I didn’t change much under that kind of teaching…I spent 12 years trying in my own strength to be “good enough” to please the leaders I thought God had placed over me, when the truth is, Jesus already paid the price for my sin…nothing I could do would make Him love me anymore or any less than He already does.

Praise God for His grace. It’s a refreshing drink of cool water after 12 years in the desert.