The Church of England has some very helpful online resources for safeguarding. They even have some courses that can be taken by anyone involved in church at their Safeguarding Portal, and you can get “badges” and certificates to prove you’ve passed the course if that is of use in your context. I got a couple of foundational certificates and also did two very helpful and informative training courses on modern slavery and human trafficking, while looking into this recently.
Whilst checking out some of these very well-presented resources, I was struck by the definition given of “spiritual abuse” — something which has sadly become topical of late, and something which many of us are now wrestling with, and trying to understand or come to terms with. It starts by admitting that unlike physical abuse, sexual abuse, or modern slavery for example, “spiritual abuse” is not a category of abuse recognised in statutory guidance. It is a matter for great concern, however, both within and outside faith communities, including the Church of England. It was, for example, discussed and defined in Protecting All God’s Children (2010), a Church of England document which can be found online here. There it is said that:
“Within faith communities, harm can also be caused by the inappropriate use of religious belief or practice. This can include the misuse of the authority of leadership or penitential discipline, oppressive teaching, or intrusive healing and deliverance ministries. Any of these could result in children experiencing physical, emotional or sexual harm. If such inappropriate behaviour becomes harmful, it should be referred for investigation in co-operation with the appropriate statutory agencies. Careful teaching, supervision and mentoring of those entrusted with the pastoral care of children should help to prevent harm occurring in this way. Other forms of spiritual harm include the denial to children of the right to faith or the opportunity to grow in the knowledge and love of God.”
This I think was the working definition in the case of the Revd Tim Davis who, it was reported in 2018, subjected a 15 year old boy to intense prayer and Bible sessions in his bedroom. The teenager described the mentoring he received as “awful” and all-consuming, but never felt able to challenge the minister. Davis was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk of holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority.”