Spiritual abuse is a term we’ve come to understand, many through experience. My recent experiences have made me wonder if we should also discuss spiritual neglect.
I found no articles about spiritual neglect, no discussions about it’s impact, but it is quite possible that it is as real and impactful to others as spiritual abuse, and perhaps even more widespread. An article on emotional neglect from Psychology Today backs the possibility.
Child neglect includes the following: “Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 25 States… include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect.” (https://www.childwelfare.gov/) Emotional neglect (of adults or children) includes “failing to provide emotional support that one should provide, given one’s relationship to the other… [and] emotional neglect involves neglectful omissions, that is, omitting to do things that tend to promote emotional well-being.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/)
Following these definitions, spiritual neglect might be a church or religious leader’s failure to provide for the spiritual well-being or spiritual growth of individuals. Assuming that people go to church to find fellowship and community, enjoying a safe and peaceful place to share, as well as to learn about God and worship God, spiritual neglect might include things like failing to provide sound Biblical teaching (or failing to provide teaching from a variety of perspectives–ie telling people they can only learn from the pastor), failing to be friendly to those who come, being exclusive, shunning, or being emotionally distant or uncaring to those seeking fellowship or spiritual support or guidance.
Biblical teaching includes strong teaching on loving each other, having mercy and compassion, being kind, patient, good, and gentle. People seeking a biblically oriented group of people would naturally expect these things to be displayed by the group, and not to just certain people or at certain times. When that group fails to provide these things-characteristics that Jesus and later the apostles taught Christians should portray-a form of spiritual neglect may take place.
You may read some things about spiritual abuse and think “nothing THIS bad ever happened to me.” Please remember that no matter what anyone else’s story, you also have a story. It’s not just the worst abuse that is harmful. ALL abuse is harmful, and all abuse is wrong. But even if you don’t see yourself as having been spiritually abused, you may have been hurt by a church. And you may have been spiritually neglected. Neglect is also harmful, and it is also wrong.
Have you faced or witnessed spiritual neglect? Could you add to the description above or share your story? There are people willing to listen, and I would welcome your input.