I have used the word “abuse” deliberately. I know it is an inflammatory word. It comes with many connotations. That is why I chose it. There are degrees of abuse. “Abuse” describes a spectrum of behaviors from the mild to the severe.
I also recognize that standards change. When I was a young lawyer there was no such thing as sexual harassment. Well actually there was lots of it. We just never talked about it. There was no such legal concept, but there was actually lots of sexual harassment. People did things they would not be proud of today. I include myself in that sorry category. I am not talking about sexual assault here. Standards have changed and men should be criticized for what they did. That does not make them evil. It means what they did was wrong and should never be repeated.
When I was young we were allowed to smoke in university classrooms. I pity the poor non-smokers in the classes. We were bad. Now we are repelled at the thought
It is the same with abuse. When I was young, teachers were allowed (expected?) to beat their students. Some of them did that severely. I was spanked by a teacher. I was given no reason why. She never even told me what I had been done. I know I probably earned it. As a result I learned nothing from the punishment. (That may explain a lot about me.) But I would not call that abuse. Or if it was abuse, it was very mild. I could take it. It was on the mild end of the spectrum.
I define the term “abuse” as behavior whereby a strong person takes unreasonable advantage of a weaker person for his or her own advantage. The word “unreasonable” is intended to suggest that a reasonable person would not do it. That is an objective standard. Some people would do it.
As an example, if young and vigorous Johnny persuades his Mother to transfer her bank account to him to “protect it” from her other children while he uses that money for his own advantage, I would call that abuse. This is a case of serious abuse.
Another example of abuse, I submit, is when a parent uses his or her authority and power over children to turn them over to a professional manipulator of children, such as an itinerant preacher, in order to “persuade” the children to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That is a violation of the child’s autonomy. That does not mean parents who did this are wicked. That does not mean parents cannot educate their children or guide their children. They must do that. Children need that. Parents however must be careful to respect the children. We always say children must respect their elders. That is true, but the elders must also respect the children. Revivalism in my opinion goes too far. It was well beyond respect. It was unreasonable. It was abuse.