Escaping the maze of spiritual abuse

There are some books that I wish I didn’t have to review! Not because they are bad, not because of the publishers but because of the topic. This is one of those books. It saddens me that books need to be written about spiritual abuse, it saddens me that it is even a thing!

Spiritual abuse is becoming more and more of a topic today, let’s face it, Christians are not perfect and neither is the Church. Many people are talking about all forms of abuse that have taken place in churches across the world. But spiritual abuse is a difficult topic to tackle because it can be hidden so well.

Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys have written Escaping the maze of spiritual abuse: Creating healthy Christian cultures to help us think about this topic a bit more. This is not the kind of book that you pick up as a light read before you go to bed at night!

I always give honest reviews so here goes… I found this book a bit of a struggle to read, I  had to space it out over several weeks. It is full of snippets of people’s stories of how they were victims of spiritual abuse and it is more academic than the average book that I review. The authors are Christians and have written the book with this focus in mind…

“Our focus is on the faith we are part of and supporting the Christian church to prevent and respond better to spiritual abuse…”

The book helps the reader understand some of the signs of spiritual abuse, some of the practical things you can do to help those being abused and it shines light on a topic that others would prefer stay in the shadows. Spiritual abuse is difficult to define because it can come in all shapes and forms and can include (but not necessarily) other forms of abuse. Here is the definition that the authors give…

“Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is characterised by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context. Spiritual abuse can have deeply damaging impact on those who experience it.
   This abuse may include: manipulation and exploitation, enforced accountability, censorship of decision making, requirements for secrecy and silence, coercion to conform, control through the use of sacred texts or teaching, requirement of obedience to the abuser, the suggestion that the abuser has a ‘divine’ position, isolation as a means of punishment, and superiority and elitism”

One of the things that I disliked about the book is that it took 31 pages to get this definition. The beginning pages are helpful and they explain how difficult it is to define spiritual abuse, but if you know where it is you can jump there first and get the definition.

One thing I really liked about this book was the fact that it raised awareness to the reality that church leaders can also be spiritually abused by their congregation. It seems to be the default for people to think that church members can be abused by the leaders, but less often people consider the opposite to be true.

The difficulty with this topic is where does true Biblical discipleship stop and spiritual abuse start? The book helpfully says that the Church is still to be the Church and that means discipleship, that means calling people to repentance and it means to lift people’s eyes to Jesus. That must be done Biblically and faithfully!

This book has helpful suggestions and good tips on what to do when you hear of abuse or you suspect abuse is taking place. I did not agree with everything this book said, but I think that is can be a helpful resource for people to have if this is a topic that interests them.

Would I recommend it? Yes and no.

Yes, I would recommend it to people who really want to wrestle with the topic and who want to go a bit deeper. This is definitely the kind of book that you need to sit at a desk and read, it will take a bit of concentration to get through.

No, I would not recommend it if you’re looking for an introduction to this topic or if you’re looking for a light read. It is not a hugely academic book, but at points it is written in a bit of a confusing way and not the most straight forward read. 

Again, I don’t agree with everything this book says, but it was helpful and got me thinking through this very difficult and pastorally sensitive topic. You can purchase the book here. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you too have read the book.

Rating 3/5

Dr. Lisa Oakley has researched spiritual abuse in the Christian faith in the UK since 2003.
Justin Humphreys is Chief Executive of the safeguarding charity thirtyone:eight

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