Book Review

Review By: Kelly Stern –

Spiritual abuse by the clergy happens in churches. It shouldn’t. But it does. And people leave their home church in grief and anger over it. What happens to these Christians? Where do they go, and why should church leaders care?

Barbara M. Orlowski’s doctoral research into the problem of disenfranchised believers is presented in her book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery. She defines spiritual abuse as “the misuse of spiritual authority to maltreat followers in the Christian Church.” Orlowski focuses on dedicated Christians who have served in their churches for years before making the difficult decision to leave after experiencing spiritual abuse. She follows them on their journey to find healing and wholeness.

Some victims of clergy abuse are reluctant to return to church—any church. They ask, “Why can’t I just be a Christian and not bother to go church?” Most do return, according to Orlowski, after a process of healing and a cautious exploration of other churches. Even some good comes out of these experiences: a greater appreciation of God’s work in their lives; forgiveness; more gentleness and humility when serving others.

The strength of Spiritual Abuse Recovery lies in the positive outcomes Orlowski presents. Rather than dwelling on the tragic abuse perpetuated by a narcissistic light on the path to wholeness. Her four steps to healing: allowing sufficient time to grieve; forgiving and releasing the situation to God; finding a healthy faith community; and moving forward in Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit, provides hope.

Church leadership must address this issue, so the abuse will stop and those who have come to their church for healing will be understood. The abusive patterns such as hierarchical leadership style focused on power and control, insincerity, hypocrisy, kingdom building, heavy handedness, and an inability to handle criticism must be recognized and avoided.

The author also provides an excellent bibliography of literature and websites for further interaction on this topic. I recommend this title for church leaders and for those who have suffered spiritual injury in the Church.