The fifth technique used in spiritual abuse is financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs when members give under pressure, give beyond their means, or give because they are shamed into doing so.
Money is necessary to pay for a designated leader, pay for a building, to keep the lights on and maintain meeting spaces. Money may also be used for acts of charity, printing written materials, and providing education. In healthy groups there is transparency and accountability. Information on expenditures is readily available to members and outsiders. Many members of the group are involved in goal setting at the local, regional, and national level.
In abusive groups, checks and balances are missing. Information is hidden or not made readily available. Only a small, elite group knows what is happening financially and often the leadership is living in luxury, while ordinary members often have few financial resources.
Abusive groups often get financial resources by making quid pro quo promises. Quid pro quo means “this for that” and can be a form of harassment. Members are manipulated into giving by being told they are planting a seed that will grow into financial blessings for them later. Sacred texts or concepts are used to support the plea for funding. Tears and emotions are used to influence decision-making. On the extreme end leaders have said “God has told me to raise this money…or I will die.” A more subtle form of quid pro quo is when a leader teaches that God wants everyone to be rich and prosper. How does a person take God up on this offer? By giving to the preacher or group.
Financial abuse occurs when members are encouraged to give beyond their means. When tithing or donations are mandatory to keep an approved standing within the group, members may be influenced to donate financially instead of paying bills or buying groceries. Members are not told that some people should not give but should instead care for their own needs first.
In abusive groups there can be an anti-education agenda. Members are taught to avoid higher education which can negatively impact their ability to make money for an entire life time. They are encouraged to build treasures in heaven or spend their time or energy on “Kingdom” or spiritual endeavors. They may forego having children, due to the urgency of the work and then in their old age have no financial resources or children to care for them. When they are no longer useful to the group, the group will abandon them.
Apocalyptic groups that wait for the end of the world or the return of the Messiah often teach that it will occur within months or years, so members do not plan for the future; they will not think of their retirement. Members have sold everything or ran up debt, in anticipation of predicted dates. When the end does not come, the family is left to recover from the financial predicament.
Both abusive and healthy groups may suggest that members include the group when writing their wills. But how it is done is different. In abusive groups, the person is taught to give all (time, energy, money) and the only thing of value is the group’s goals. Thus they are encouraged regularly to give and give and give. Many have given all to the group and left nothing to their children. There would be no room for leaving resources to other charities or people.
Some abusive groups have become wealthy by promoting publications or products. These products can be anything from drops of “holy” water, a piece of “holy” cloth, “miracle” wheat, publications like books, videos, brochures, or payments made to attend elite seminars.
Abusive groups may ask for a donation for their work in exchange for a piece of literature. (If they sold a book, it would be a business and be taxable income, so they teach members to ask for a donation to their work.) That same piece of literature may have already been paid for with a “donation” made by the member. The member is obligated to turn in the donation that was made “for the work.” In this way, the group receives double payment for each piece of literature. If that literature was made by unpaid volunteers, the profit margin is huge. To keep profits rolling in, new materials are released and old ones are retired.
To heal from financial abuse, a person can do several things. Start investing in yourself. Maybe it is time to get more education. Use your resources for your future. Start a retirement plan; for even $50 a month a retirement account can be started through a local credit union or bank. Rewrite your will. Decide if you want to give money and to whom. Research how the money is used. Look for transparency. How much of what you give is used to serve the people you want to help?
If you participate in a faith tradition, instead of donating money, can you donate time? Observe what the group says about giving; are there quid pro quo promises? Is there manipulation of your emotions? Is the money used to support activities that help those who are less fortunate?
By taking charge of your giving and your personal well-being, you can recover from spiritual abuse. You can use your resources in a way that seems right to you.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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