We all need an anchor for our souls. We all need to know that there are some things that are really true, that we can really count on, and on which we can truly base our lives. God has given each of us a need for stability in our lives, and He has also provided a solid foundation on which we can rest our souls.
This is why the Bible teaches that there are things that are always right, and there are things that are always wrong. Moral absolutes do exist; of this we can be sure.
And there are things that are always true, and things that are always false. Absolute truth also exists. The same God who created the need for these things within us has also met this need in His word.
Now, the spiritual abuser also knows that people need a strong foundation for their lives, and so he is quick to offer one, too. The problem is that the foundation that the spiritual abuser lays is different from the one found in the Bible.
The foundation that God lays for us in the Bible is simple: it is Christ Himself (1 Cor. 3:11). If anyone lays any other foundation, such as the foundation of one's own authority, or one's own "prophecies," or one's own opinions, or one's own preferences, he or she has laid a false foundation.
The foundation that God lays allows for personal freedom in lifestyle choices. It does not lay restrictions on what people eat, or what they drink, or what they wear, or tell them what holy days to observe or not to observe (Rom. 14:1-6).
Therefore, while God's foundation acknowledges that there are absolutes, not everything is an absolute. While some things are always right and some things are always wrong, not everything is always either one or the other. God does not treat his people like little children, giving them detailed instructions for every little decision in life. He treats us like adults, expecting us to make many decisions on our own.
Thus there are "gray areas." There are "disputable matters," and you have no right to dictate your own personal decisions on these matters to me, nor I to you.
But in a spiritually abusive group, many, many things in the gray areas are pigeon-holed as either "right" or "wrong," either "good" or "evil," and many disputable matters are classified as either "black" or "white." No allowance is made for "middle ground" in these areas. This is sometimes also referred to as "polarized" thinking, because nearly every issue is interpreted as having only two possible answers, both of which are polar opposites of each other. Spiritually abusive groups leave very little room in between the two extremes, thus crowding out both personal freedom and the operation of God's Spirit in the life of the individual.
Since most people can see through the faulty logic of this approach, this "black-and-white" mentality has to be foisted on group members gradually, even seductively, over a period of time. In the beginning, new members are impressed with the "brave stands" that the leadership takes on certain issues. Usually an explanation is given that certain things must be forbidden to group members, not because they are necessarily evil in and of themselves, but because they "might cause members to stumble." They have "evil potential," therefore they must be avoided.
Other times the leadership manages to persuade the members that these things really are evil in and of themselves, but only the leadership is "spiritually mature" enough to "discern" the evil.
Very often prohibitions are "customized" for various individuals in the group. For example, the leadership may "discern" that a particular member has a "spiritual problem." This "spiritual problem" may supposedly have something to do with watching certain TV shows. So the leader bans the person from watching any TV. Or it may have something to do with shopping, so the leader requires the person's spouse to do all the shopping from now on. There have even been cases of leaders who order married couples to stop having sex.
One time a member of my group requested help managing his personal finances, and our leader assigned me the job of helping him. I met with this young man, helped him put together a budget, and then dutifully reported back to the leader.
I informed him that this young man's budget allocated about 10% per month for the purpose of paying off his credit card debt, and another 10% for savings.
"Why didn't you allocate all 20% to pay off the credit card?" the leader asked.
"Because I was taught that when you budget, you need to save, as well as re-pay your debts," I replied.
"Don't you realize what you just told him?" he asked.
"You just told him he can live however he pleases!" the leader retorted, glaring at me in disapproval.
The leader's sudden, forceful, left-hand-turn in logic left me speechless. It was a move designed to knock me off-balance. It wasn't true, but it accomplished his purpose of disorienting me and giving him the upper hand. (And it was an example of another manipulative ploy: "turning-the-tables.")
In the black-and-white, polarized thinking of our group, all debt was totally evil, and members were expected to pay off all loans and charge accounts as quickly as possible. Scripture verses were twisted out of their contexts in order to support this teaching.
Thus my leader felt justified in accusing me of giving this young man a license to go out and sin, even though I was helping him pay off his credit card and save money. In a black-and-white system of thinking, there can be no middle ground. My action must have either been totally good, or totally evil, and he chose the latter.
Perhaps you can think of examples of extremely polarized thinking in your abusive group. We Christians are especially vulnerable to this, because we believe in moral absolutes. We feel alienated as we make our way through a world which believes that morals (if they exist at all) are relative, and "right" and "wrong" can change with each situation. We naturally gravitate toward those who agree with us. Spiritual abusers come offering us relief from the onslaught of moral relativism. They offer to eliminate confusing gray areas, and simplify our choices for us. They draw hard-and-fast boundaries for us to help us make sure that we always "color inside the lines." They sound like the good guys. But they're not.