Emotional and Spiritual Abuse in the Church: the Systemization of God

Josh de Keijzer
10 min readAug 31, 2019

The systemization of God leads to harm being done to people in the areas of sexual ethics, emotional dependency, and communal justice.

In the previous installment of my two-part series on emotional and spiritual abuse in the church, I discussed a foundational thought-pattern in many religious communities related to divine authority. I called it the Divine Authority Syndrome, partly tongue-in-cheek because I’m not a mental healthcare professional but a theologian. So I am not qualified to identify something as a syndrome.

Yet, from a theological vantage point it is clear that religious authority is connected with so many harmful ideas and practices that it probably makes sense to use the term. I suggest the issue of divine authority is a syndrome because it is marked by a complex set of phenomena that are all related to the central issue of divine authority.

It is these phenomena that I would like to address in this article. I’ve singled these phenomena out because they are most prominent not because they are the only patterns of abuse that stem from a wrong notion of divine authority. I will look at absolutized sexual ethics, emotional dependency, and immoral justice.

Absolute sexual ethics

My view is that human beings construct their own reality. This means that what they identify as meaningful, aesthetically beautiful, or morally required is not discovered, communicated by a supernatural source or transmitted through tradition. Sure, tradition transmits it, but was initially grafted as human beings discovered their relatedness to an outside world and tried to understand what that meant. They interacted with their environment and the members of their community and attached meaning to those experiences. Living in a community required rules (law) in order to make communal life possible. In this I’m not a moral relativist. I simply believe that ethics is part of the unfolding of the givenness of life in the world. Meaning-making and ethics are constructive responses to this givenness.

Sexuality is part of this interpretive, meaning-making, and regulative process. Community discovers that some forms of relationship are good for bringing up offspring. Community…



Josh de Keijzer

Writes at joshdekeyzer.com. Writer, researcher, lecturer, Bonhoeffer scholar. Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology.