I don’t know a whole lot about spiritual abuse. For the most part, I’ve had good church experiences– people who care about God and care about people. Of course, sometimes groups of people got a little bit overzealous and began to act like the law was the point of it all.
It wasn’t until I finished up Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future that I heard a first hand description of life in a spiritually abusive community. Blogger Elizabeth Esther shares her story of growing up in The Assembly, a fundamentalist cult, as well as her journey towards freedom.
Some of her story reminded me of Brother Jed and his rants on the campuses of many colleges across the nation. As I was reading Elizabeth’s story, I had some of his young daughters in my mind. What was it like for them? Did they ever experience these kinds of things too?
Some of her story broke my heart. Okay, a LOT of it broke my heart. There were parts that made me sick to my stomach. I wondered if I should continue reading or just put it down. For that reason, I can’t that I enjoyed the book. It wasn’t particularly fun to read. But, i think it is an important book for Christ-followers to read if they go into it with an attitude of learning and compassion. Some of evangelical’s favorite churches have been exposed recently of some things that look like spiritual abuse. After reading this book, I have a clearer understanding of why knowing and responding in an appropriate yet firm way is important.
Most surprisingly, some of her story kinda reminded me of my experiences or others experiences in the church…. even though I have been a part of “healthy” churches. I think this shows that it is very easy for something to slip into unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving, even if people are trying their best to follow Jesus. Take, for example, a high value for “obedience”. Many Christians I know talk about obedience as being one of the most important virtues in the Christian life. When reading Elizabeth’s story, a high value for obedience turned into mental, physical and spiritual abuse, all in the name of loving God. How do we help protect ourselves and the communities we live in from falling into the same patterns?
On a positive note, her story certainly was engaging, thought-provoking and well-written. I am deeply glad that Elizabeth Esther and her family have gotten out of the Assembly and have found a place of spiritual health. To share all of this takes incredible amounts of courage. In the author’s note, Elizabeth tells us that her goal in writing this memoir is “to shed light on the subtle forms of spiritual and religious abuse…may it sing freedom to captives and healing for those who have been bruised in the name of God.” I think she did an incredible job of doing that.
As a sidenote for some of my more conservative friends, if I would have read her blog first, I probably would not have picked up this book. But, after reading this book, everything that she says on her blog makes much more sense. So before you look at her website, commit to reading her book, regardless, okay? Sometimes I wish that the internet would only let people read each others blogs if they have read their life story first. Wouldn’t that be so much easier? We’d know how their past experiences have shaped who they are today and why they believe what they do. We’d have more compassion for one another, and be able to listen with a more open heart. I think it was surprisingly to see the variety of people who endorsed this book. People like Rachel Held Evans and Kristen Howerton, but ALSO people like Sarah Mae. I wouldn’t have guessed that they would be on the same endorsement page!
This is a book equivalent to the movie, Crash in the way that neither are fun to read/watch, but both give voice to something that needs to be heard. So go download a copy from amazon or but it on hold at your library. You can also find out more about Elizabeth and read a sample chapter over at Convergence books. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.