Part 3
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Part 3
Reviews of Relevant Books

Religion as Addiction

Father Leo Booth, Breaking the Chains: Understanding Religious Addiction and Religious Abuse (Long Beach, CA: Emmaus Publications, 1989), $9.95, 266 pp., paperback.

Recognizing Abuse

David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1991). 234 pp.

Ronald M. Enroth. Churches That Abuse (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992). 227 pp.





Not about Blame

Marlene Winell, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion (Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 1993, 1994), 297 pp., foreword by Steve Allen, preface, introduction, epilogue, appendix listing resources for further reading, related organizations and publications, and movies. $12.95.

Religion as Addiction

Father Leo Booth, Breaking the Chains: Understanding Religious Addiction and Religious Abuse (Long Beach, CA: Emmaus Publications, 1989), $9.95, 266 pp., paperback.

Reviewed by Thayne I. Andersen

Father Leo Booth, a priest in the Church of England, is an internationally known educator, lecturer, and addictions counselor. His particular ministry focuses on addictions: alcohol, drugs, eating, sex, codependency—you name it. This is his second book on spirituality and addictive disorders. Other books he has written include Say Yes to Life, Daily Meditations, Meditations for Compulsive People, and Spirituality and Recovery: A Guide to Positive Living. He describes himself as an alcoholic, a recovering spiritual addict and a recovering spiritual abuser. Video and audio tapes of his energetic lectures are available through Emmaus Limited, 195 Clairmont Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90803, (213) 434-4813.

The book claims to discuss the dual subjects of religious addiction and religious abuse. Father Leo’s approach to religious abuse, however, is primarily how an individual can abuse religion—not how churches abuse individuals. Since the stated motivation for the book involved non-LDS religions—primarily televangelists and followers of charismatic fundamentalist movements—it affords a relatively safe avenue to explore our own LDS beliefs without direct criticism of our Church leaders and structure. It is certainly less threatening to consider Jim Jones of Guyana, a religious addict who attracted many others looking for a religious "fix" under his influence to the point that they did not draw back from poisoning their children and themselves. It could be much more threatening to consider a local bishop, stake president, or General Authority as obsessively abusing religion by being too judgmental of some of the local ward members.

This book does not focus on any particular church, although his examples are Christian. A chapter relating personal experiences of victims of religious abuse and addiction includes believers from the Church of God, Roman Catholicism, Episcopalianism, Assemblies of God, and nondenominational Christian fundamentalism. He explains that much of the abuse inflicted by organized religions on individuals actually comes from representatives of churches who themselves abuse God by being too judgmental and narrow in their thinking. In no part of this book does he specifically mention Mormonism.

In the foreword, Father Leo explains: "We live in an addictive society. We are compulsive around alcohol, food, drugs, sex, gambling, TV, people, work, physical exercise—the list seems endless. Why should we be surprised to discover that compulsive or addictive behavior or abuse can be exhibited where God, the Bible and religion are concerned?" He then defines spirituality as "finding God in a loving lifestyle, not in dogma" (21). One of his purposes in writing this book is to answer those who claim that religion simply substitutes one addiction (God, dogma, faith, etc.) for another (alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.). It is the lack of balance, he claims, that makes the difference between healthy religion and abusive religion. When religion creates "co-dependency" it is both abusive and wrong. He defines "co-dependence" as the emotional and psychological result of oppressive rules that prevent the open expression of feelings or discussion of personal or interpersonal problems (27-28).

Breaking the Chains is divided into two parts: Part 1, "The Problem," includes six chapters: "Background," "Dysfunctional Behaviors," "The Family (Co-Dependents)," "Adult Children Issues," "Who Is at Risk?" and "Personal Stories." Part 2, "The Solution," has three chapters: "Intervention," "Treatment," and "Recovery."

Although Mormonism is formally absent from the book, Mormon readers will find much familiar material. For instance, he charges: "Extreme religious groups, who consider the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs an abuse of the body, seem to ignore the chronic use of compulsive overeating. God’s kingdom—and a donut, too!" (46) A male religious addict usually dominates his family: "My image is of a well-dressed religious addict being followed by a woman who is submissive, controlling, protective and overweight" (106). And here’s another: "The religious addict continues to use biblical texts and tradition to maintain yesterday’s status quo. Any relaxation is seen as the work of ‘liberals’ and ‘communists.’ The purity of God’s word is to keep the women (and the entire family) in their religious places" (99).

"Escape" is the keyword of addiction, whether it is addiction to alcohol, drugs, or salvation. Addicts want a "fix" from something or someone to escape reality. Those who abuse religion use their dogma to judge others and exalt themselves. Much as alcohol and drugs modify the user’s perception of reality, the religious abuser loses balance, becomes extreme, and lacks tolerance, charity, and acceptance for those who do not share his or her beliefs. Those who use religion in this way, according to Father Leo, become the embodiment of Karl Marx’s condemnation of religion as "the opium of the people," keeping them slaves to the habit of dogmatic beliefs.

Twenty symptoms typically affect the religious addict, including black and white thinking, obsessive praying, refusing to doubt or question, unrealistic financial contributions, isolation, and excessive judgmental attitudes. He then explains each of the symptoms in detail. Symptom 5 is "refusing to doubt or question." Father Leo claims that "spiritual growth involves doubting, questioning and discussing issues we disagree with or do not understand" (221-22). He claims that self-improvement in all aspects of life, not just those aspects that don’t involve religion, can only come if one is allowed to ask questions, deliver opinions and interpretations, at times agreeing to disagree. He points out that had Paul not disagreed with Peter about incorporating into the church the uncircumcised Christians, Christianity might have remained an isolated Jewish sect (222).

The last part of the book focuses on using "interventions" to confront the religious addict or abuser and persuade him or her to accept treatment. He recommends support groups like Fundamentalists Anonymous (Box 20224, Greeley Square Station, NY, NY 10001).

Although the descriptions and explanations in the first half of the book would be helpful for most LDS readers, Part 2—which outlines desired changes from treatment—seems harder to relate to. The very idea of seeking treatment for "religious addiction" sounds strange to Mormon ears, probably because most Mormons think it is not easily possible to be too zealous. I have never heard General Authorities caution against excessive devoutness or even acknowledge that otherwise well-functioning leaders may also be abusing God and religion.

Perhaps more important, however, something in each of us admires some religious addicts. An individual who expects miracles, then bears his testimony that they happen (for example, unexpected money appears after someone chooses to pay his tithing rather than the mortgage) captures our awe and attention. The author is right, however, in defining religious addiction as a loss of balance. Can we all gain and keep that balance? I hope so.

THAYNE I. ANDERSEN is a life-long member of the LDS Church, a social worker, and currently the clinical director for an alcohol and drug treatment program for the U.S. Army at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and a part-time instructor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. His e-mail address is

Recognizing Abuse

David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1991). 234 pp.

Ronald M. Enroth. Churches That Abuse (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992). 227 pp.

Reviewed by J. Frederic Voros, Jr.

Considering the level of popular attention recently focused on physical, sexual, even ritual abuse, the discovery of "spiritual abuse" should come as no surprise. And yet it does.

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is a good starting point. It defines, analyzes, and provides a vocabulary for discussing spiritual abuse. While the arrangement of the subject matter is confusing and the writing style at times becomes awkward, the analytical concepts and the illustrations in this book are breathtaking.

The authors, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, are Senior Pastor and Pastor of Counseling, respectively, at the Church of the Open Door in Crystal, Minnesota. They write as Protestants to Protestants. Although no denominations are mentioned, they seem to be describing conventional evangelical congregations.

Churches That Abuse has a different focus. In wearying detail, it examines sometimes bizarre, often cult-like groups. These churches are marked by idiosyncratic practices such as "intimate dancing" and "silence discipline." Enroth recognizes that "the abusive practices described in these pages may appear to be far removed from the world of conventional churchgoers" but maintains that such "tendencies toward abusive styles of leadership are more prevalent than most Christians realize" (205). Still, his focus on relatively small, extremist sects makes Enroth’s book both less accessible and less illuminating than The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

Both books, however, deal with spiritual abuse as the exploitation of person by a second person who uses some kind of religious authority to control or dominate another. It is the "misuse of ecclesiastical power to control and manipulate the flock" (Enroth 29). It occurs when the "needs" of the organization are given precedence over the needs of its members (Johnson and VanVonderen 32).

Since the concept of spiritual abuse is still relatively novel, this review concentrates on describing the characteristics of spiritually abusive religious systems, the results of spiritual abuse in the lives of members, and possible responses to spiritual abuse, with some concluding comments on spiritual abuse and Mormonism.


  1. In a spiritually abusive system, "the most important thing is how things look" (Johnson and VanVonderen 31). Johnson and VanVonderen tell of a pastoral ministries course offered at a Bible college where a young pastor-to-be was taught that his wife and children should address him in public as "Pastor." To maintain "pastoral dignity," he should always appear in his suit in public, even if it meant changing out of work clothes to run to the auto parts store. He should route the church telephone to his home and answer it "First Christian Church" to create the impression that he was constantly at church. When sitting on the platform at church, he must always wear proper socks and never cross his legs in a way that revealed the soles of his shoes. "Reveal your soul," he was told, "never your soles." Another instruction was about his voice: "When you ascend the platform, remember—you are the voice of God. Sound like it" (131).

  2. Another characteristic of a spiritually abusive system is that its leaders require the place of honor. "Unhealthy, authoritarian leadership encourages people to place their pastors on pedestals" (Enroth 81). "It is our belief," write Johnson and VanVonderen, "that the less secure a leader is, the more important titles will be to him or her." Such leaders project the image of spirituality, require the recognition of people, and "point to themselves as the primary source of knowledge, direction, authority, and life" (134, 136).
    Not only will spiritually abusive leaders demand honor, claim Johnson and VanVonderen, they may actually insist that others deny reality to maintain their authority: "Members have to deny any thought, opinion or feeling that is different than those of people in authority. Anything that has the potential to shame those in authority is ignored or denied"; in other words, "The system defines reality" (58).

  3. Spiritually abusive leaders invoke their position to enforce their decisions. "Because I’m the pastor, that’s why!" "Are you questioning my authority?" "Don’t be a troublemaker." "Submit to your elder." Such phrases are symptomatic of "false authority" (112). Johnson and VanVonderen identify two characteristics of false authority: first, the leaders take authority rather than receiving it from God. And second, their authority rests not upon wisdom, discernment, or truth, but solely upon their position or rank—they are to be obeyed because they are in charge.

  4. Spiritually abusive systems encourage "misplaced loyalty": loyalty to Christ is transformed into loyalty to a leader or a church. Conversely, "disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is equated with disobeying God. Questioning leaders is equal to questioning God. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right" (76). Enroth asserts that abusive leaders "consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority" (103).
    This misplaced loyalty is cultivated by three methods. First, "leadership projects a ‘we alone are right’ mentality, which permeates the system." Second, leaders use "scare tactics" to bolster misplaced loyalty, perhaps telling departing members that "God is going to withdraw His Spirit from you and your family" or "God will destroy your business." And third, "you can be ‘exposed’ for asking too many questions, for disobeying unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples to send a message to those who remain" (Johnson and VanVonderen 76-78).

  5. An extremely important characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is legalism. Legalism focuses on achieving righteousness through the performance of required behaviors and the avoidance of proscribed ones. People earn salvation through their human works. Johnson and VanVonderen warn against any spiritual system "in which the leaders or teachers add the performance of religious behaviors to the performance of Jesus on the cross as the means to find God’s approval" (36). In such a system, members must earn love and acceptance by obeying rules.
    Johnson and VanVonderen tell of a Christian conference in which the attenders were given formulas for achieving "a nice, packaged, orderly Christian life." Those who successfully completed the course—mostly the naturally disciplined, strong-willed people—were permitted to attend an "advanced seminar." And the others? The speaker told the audience, "If you follow these principles and they don’t work, call me and tell me about it. You need to know, though, that you’ll be the first one for whom they didn’t" (44). Thus, anyone who questions the system runs an enormous risk of being labeled "unrighteous."
    Legalism spawns a preoccupation with fault and blame. In the New Testament the purpose of confession is to receive forgiveness and cleansing; the spiritually abusive system demands confession "to know whom to shame—that is, whom to make feel so defective and humiliated that they won’t act that way anymore" (Johnson and VanVonderen 58).
    Christians who trust the grace of Christ for salvation threaten a legalistic structure, since "living with Jesus as your only source of life and acceptance is a confrontation to those who seek God’s approval on the basis of their own religious behavior" (Johnson and VanVonderen 37).
    Abusive leaders favor legalism for a number of reasons: busy and apparently righteous adherents make them look good; a legalistic system allows them to examine others instead of themselves; and they gain a sense of validation from the good works of their followers (Johnson and VanVonderen 37). Of course, despite such self-interested motives, these leaders’ demands are "cloaked in the language of being holy and helping others to live holy lives" (ibid).

  6. Spiritually abusive systems are characterized by deception, or what Johnson and VanVonderen call "double-talk." People are told "they are not spiritual enough to understand teachings or decisions of the leaders. The leaders sound pious enough, even spiritual. But we are left with the vague sense that something is missing. They will give you the ‘right’ answer, but rarely will you get the ‘real’ answer. Everything has a double meaning" (126). In conversation, receiving a straight answer requires a precisely phrased question.

  7. Manipulation is the life-blood of abusive systems. The most powerful of the manipulative techniques is enforced silence, or what Johnson and VanVonderen call the "can’t-talk" rule: "If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem" (68). Those who speak out may be accused of being unloving, unspiritual, or un-Christian (ibid.). Enroth described one sect that, when confronted with its own wrong teachings, will "attack the character and life of the questioner by claiming that he has ‘sin in his life.’ Such terms as ‘prideful,’ ‘independent spirit,’ and ‘rebellious’ are used in answer to the inquirer" (117).
    Scripture may even be invoked in the service of such abusive tactics. Thus, Hebrews 13:17, which counsels to "obey your leaders, and submit to them," is "stripped of its spirit and translated legalistically to mean, ‘Don’t think, don’t discern, don’t question, and don’t notice problems.’ If you do, you will be labeled as unsubmissive, unspiritual, and divisive" (Johnson and VanVonderen 171). Another frequently used scripture is Matthew 18:21-22, where the Lord tells Peter he must forgive "up to seventy times seven." This verse may be turned against an abuse victim with the courage to speak up. Instead of addressing the problem, the leader makes the member the problem: "What’s wrong with you that you can’t forgive?" (Johnson and VanVonderen 100). Thus, "truth is suppressed in the name of spirituality" and "the code of silence is enforced with God’s own Word" (Johnson and VanVonderen 94).
    Another manipulative technique is the existence of unspoken rules. Johnson and VanVonderen observe that no one would ever say out loud, "You know we must never disagree with the pastor on his sermons—and if you do you will never be trusted and never be allowed to minister in any capacity in this church" (67). This is because "examining [the statement] in the light of mature dialogue would instantly reveal how illogical, unhealthy and anti-Christian [it is]" (ibid.). Yet the rule is subtly enforced.
    Another manipulative technique is coding, the use of circuitous or euphemistic verbal formulations to avoid uncomfortable realities. Another is triangulation (they call it "triangling"), the use of intermediaries to deliver messages or directives to insulate the leader from the member’s response (Johnson and VanVonderen 57).

  8. Finally, spiritually abusive systems are secretive. "When you see people in a religious system being secretive—watch out. People don’t hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate" (Johnson and VanVonderen 78). Johnson and VanVonderen report the following comment from a "wounded" Christian: "Quite a number of us wanted more information about how church finances were being spent. We wanted to know if more money could go into direct ministries, benevolences, things like that. When I asked some questions at an elders’ meeting—boy did the room get icy. Later I was told to stop trying to create a faction in the church" (21). There are two reasons for the secrecy: Leaders feel that they must protect the image of the organization so outsiders will think well of it, thus making themselves "God’s ‘public relations’ agents"; and leaders condescend to members: They tell themselves, "People are not mature enough to handle truth" (78).
    As a result, abusive systems abhor outside news media. According to Enroth, "Criticism, whether its source is Christian or secular, sincere or superficial, is always viewed by fringe churches as an ‘attack’" (164).

Even if someone may identify several of these characteristics in their church, Johnson and VanVonderen warn against launching witch-hunts. They point out that no one is immune from acting or speaking in a way that spiritually abuses others (24). Members can be abusive of leaders. They also note that it is not abusive for a leader with responsibility for a decision to choose contrary to your opinion; for a Christian (whether leader or member) to confront another Christian, in love, with wrongdoing; for a church board to release a minister for physical, mental, or spiritual problems; to respectfully disagree on doctrines or other issues, even in public; to be a strong leader; or to adopt certain standards of group conduct, such as dress codes (ibid.).


What are the effects of a spiritually abusive system on the member? Johnson and VanVonderen identify and illustrate several "symptoms" they have observed in Christians suffering spiritual abuse.

The member may develop a distorted image of God, seeing God as never satisfied, vindictive, punishing, apathetic, powerless, or fickle (41-42).

Related to this misperception is a preoccupation with spiritual performance. It can take either of two equally disastrous courses. One is a tendency toward self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and perfectionism, expressed in a high need to control what people do and how things turn out. The other is shame, a sense of inferiority, a negative self-assessment, and an indictment of one’s personhood (44).

Another effect of spiritual abuse is a rejection of grace. Again, this reaction may take one of two forms. The shamed member may conclude that he or she does not deserve God’s grace. The self-righteous may feel that "others are lazy, or are taking advantage of God, or are getting off the hook too easily" (46).

Like victims of other forms of abuse, the spiritually abused member will often deny the abuse. Johnson and VanVonderen cite three reasons for this denial. First, when spiritual abuse is the norm, it is difficult to recognize. Second, admitting the abuse out loud "often feels like you’re being disloyal to family, to church, even to God." Lastly, being trained that you are the problem if you notice a problem is a powerful incentive not to notice problems (49).

Members in an abusive system may tend toward irresponsibility, since "no amount of performance results in the promised prize of love, acceptance or rest" (47). Some may expend the minimum necessary effort to get by in church duties. Others become hyper-responsible burden-bearers. Johnson and VanVonderen counsel that if you’ve been through this, "you wind up very tired, emotionally, physically and spiritually. This may show up in the form of lack of energy or motivation, impatience with the needs of others, depression, a sense of being trapped, or finding ways to escape" (48).


Johnson and VanVonderen propose two responses to the spiritually abusive system: fight or flight. But how to decide? To assist the reader in this decision, they ask some diagnostic questions (215-17), among them:

  1. Does grace have a chance in your church? They suggest this rule of thumb: "If the leadership is grace-full—even with a group of very legalistic sheep—grace has a chance ... If, however, there is a bottleneck of power-posturing leaders at the top, who are performance-oriented, the chances of things changing are very slim."

  2. Are you supporting what you hate? Johnson and VanVonderen speculate that if all those contributing time, money, and energy to something they actually disagree with would stop, many unhealthy and abusive organizations would collapse.

  3. Can you both stay and stay healthy? They analogize to a person holding onto the ship of his church with one hand and the pier of spiritual health and reality with the other. As the ship gradually pulls away, the member has to let it go.

  4. Are you trying to help the system, even though you are exhausted? In a spiritually abusive system, members never get permission to rest. Cries for help are labeled as unspiritual.

  5. If you came for the first time today knowing what you now know, would you stay?

Those who opt to fight must expect resistance from both image-conscious leaders and performance-oriented members. Their task, assert Johnson and VanVonderen, is to keep telling the truth with the knowledge that they are serving God and opposing Satan (224-27). These authors cite Jesus himself as the prime example of one who attacked and exposed an abusive system:

First, His confrontations landed on those who saw themselves as God’s official spokespersons—the most religious, the best performers. They gave money, attended church and had more Scripture memorized than anyone. They set the standard for everyone else. Second, Jesus broke the religious rules by confronting those in authority out loud. Third, He was treated as the problem because He said there was a problem. And fourth, crowds of broken people rushed to Him because His message offered hope and rest. (36).

They conclude The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse with this prayer:

God, please pay attention to how those who have given their lives to serve you are getting intimidated and abused. And even in the middle of that, authorize and empower them to keep telling the truth. And keep moving your hand over your people to bring healing and rest, in the name of Jesus. (232)


In certain fundamental ways, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is a distinctly Protestant work. Johnson and VanVonderen’s grace-oriented theology, while clearly taught in Mormon scripture and shared by an increasing segment of the Mormon community, is probably not accepted by most Latter-day Saints.

Also, Johnson and VanVonderen phrase church membership as a matter of personal preference. No attention is given to the idea that a church might inspire a member’s loyalty based upon uniquely compelling doctrine or divinely bestowed authority, or that one might be geographically tied to a particular church unit. Nor do they consider the possibility that deeply felt cultural and family influences might tie a member to a church for extra-religious reasons. Finally, they do not recognize priesthood in the popular Mormon meaning of that term: authority to act for God.

Nevertheless, the core insights of their book echo truths revealed within Mormonism some 158 years ago. Speaking through the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, the Lord expressly warned that his priesthood is not a license to exercise "unrighteous dominion" (D&C 121:35-44). He warned against those whose "hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and [who] aspire to the honors of men" that they do not or will not learn that "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven" and can be handled only upon righteous principles. He rebuked those who use priesthood "to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness ..." And he warned that "it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

And when they do? The heavens withdraw, the Spirit is grieved, and "amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man." Hence, "no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned ..."

If Johnson and VanVonderen’s "spiritual abuse" does correspond to the "unrighteous dominion" of section 121, then the moment a Latter-day Saint uses his authority to dominate a fellow member, to require the place of honor, to transfer loyalty from God to himself, to maintain a false image, to silence inconvenient questions, to threaten those who disagree, to attack those who notice problems, to enforce unspoken rules, to lie to followers, to insulate himself by triangulation, to compel by virtue of his office, or to conceal what others have a right to know, amen to his priesthood. It is forfeit in God’s eyes. What remains is the quality that Johnson and VanVonderen term "false authority": the power to direct people merely because you are in charge. Surely there is no more place for that within Mormonism than there is outside it.

J. FREDERIC VOROS, JR., is a lawyer and writer living in Salt Lake City. This review was first published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 185-91, and, in revised form, is reprinted here with permission.

Not about Blame

Marlene Winell, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion (Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 1993, 1994), 297 pp., foreword by Steve Allen, preface, introduction, epilogue, appendix listing resources for further reading, related organizations and publications, and movies. $12.95.

Reviewed by Warren S. Parkin

"The loss of an all-encompassing belief system has profound consequences including ambiguity and responsibility," writes Marlene Winell in Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Refusing the easy road of finger-pointing and assigning blame, Winell takes a stance that recognizes the personal pain of spiritual abuse, ecclesiastical victimization, and making a transition to a healthier religious life. She urges the reader to shoulder the agony of recovery, self-exploration, and world investigation. "This book is not about blame," she writes. "There can be a fine line between examining the past for the purpose of understanding and using the past as an excuse for continuing irresponsibility" (8).

For Winell, the daughter of Christian missionaries and now a licensed psychologist, religious recovery comprises a complex process of mourning and creation. "Like a lost child, I have had to reconstruct reality ... the meaning of life, the world, myself, others, the past, present, and future" (40-41).

Winell addresses religious transition from her life-long personal experience of leaving the Pentecostal faith and her concrete professional experience as a psychologist who counsels individuals in the process of sorting through religious issues and crises of faith. By sharing her personal experience, Winell opens a space of confidence with the reader devoid of condescension regarding things religious. Her recognition of the importance of religion for the individual reflects a recent and welcome shift in the field of psychology away from viewing religious belief as self-delusion and evidence of psychosis, and toward an understanding of the complex, valuable, and sometimes painful elements that religious belief offers individuals.

Winell successfully avoids a dry clinical tone by addressing the reader in the familiar "you" and by weaving quotations throughout the text from individuals involved in religious transitions. These personal and sometimes painfully intimate glimpses provide an implied community of people who have struggled through their own religious transition. Evelyn, for example, shares her fears that she’ll never recover: "I’m scared sometimes, because I think that I may never get better." Kara shares her joy at rediscovering her self-worth, "I found out I’m not just full of the devil and in a dark dungeon: there’s a lot of light down there inside of me and there’s this innocent little girl in there." Megan speaks of her struggles to value her own feelings: "I’ve struggled with learning how to feel. It’s really hard for me. Coming from a religious family, I was taught to distrust so much of my own feeling experience, especially if it signaled ill ease with the faith." Dave also observes how fear of losing his worldview kept him from questioning and comments on the pain which results from pursuing one’s questions: "The trap that people get into is being afraid—taught to be afraid—to doubt any piece of the wall. If any chink appears in the wall, the damn thing is going to come down, and not only are you going to go to hell, but you’re going to have enormous uncertainties about everything ... because it was all spelled out" (87). Inclusion of authentic experiences in the very voices of the people who have been through religious transition provides the reader with a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Written for people who want to understand and recover from harmful religious indoctrination, people at any stage of leaving their religion, and adults who, as children, grew up under intense pressure to embrace parental beliefs, Leaving the Fold also speaks to therapists, friends, and family members of those who struggle with their religious heritage. Although Winell concentrates on recovering from disillusionment with Christian fundamentalism, she asserts that the "issues of psychological damage and recovery are true for other dogmatic religions" and has found the material presented in the book relevant for her clients who come from other religions: Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Seventh-day Adventists, Emissaries of Divine Light, Scientologists, and others. Lest the reader worry that Winell speaks as the devil’s advocate, she makes her personal commitments clear: "This book is not anti-God, anti-church, or antispirituality, but it is anti-dogma. It is about problems with rigid religions—those that hold their tenets to be more important than people to the point where believers can be harmed" (5).

The subtitle, A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion, may provide a stumbling block for the Mormon reader because in Mormon culture "fundamentalist" tends to be negatively associated with polygamists and "born-agains," and many believing Mormons dismiss "fundamentalists" as fanatics. But the term for Winell implies unyielding rigidity in a religious structure; in no way does it disparage individuals involved in dogmatic religious groups. The Mormon reader may be surprised at the similarities between Mormonism and Winell’s description of fundamentalist Christianity. "One chief characteristic is a mood of militant opposition to secular culture, liberal theology, higher criticism, and scientific views that challenge the Bible" (6). Mormons insist that Book of Mormon is the "most correct book on earth"—a statement they take literally. Similarly, fundamentalists view the Bible as infallible, God’s will, and literally true (73). Apocalyptic thinking tends to dominate (66-67). According to Winell, dogmatic religions claim sole access to the truth and thus are more likely to discount individuality, especially if it reflects an opposing or alternative point of view.

Other common characteristics of fundamentalism which may interest the Mormon reader appear in the chapter "Recognizing Manipulations" (63-86):

The faith is presented as a package with an implication that acceptance is all or nothing. Belief in one aspect demands acceptance of the entire dogma.
The system claims exclusive access to the truth and answers to all problems, even though circular logic and pre-packaged answers are clearly visible.
Individuals are instructed to depend on leaders more than their own intuition and perception.
Because of a fear that too much outside information will threaten faith, knowledge is strictly controlled and basically anti-intellectual. Any outside source of information is suspect simply because it comes from an outsider. Faith and reason are frequently cast as opponents.
The religion co-opts private spiritual experiences and successes as proof of the entire religion.
Believers and leaders assume that difficulties in one’s life connote some sort of spiritual failure.
Doubts about the gospel are considered temptations of Satan.
Expressing doubts, asking questions, and discussing unorthodox ideas usually result in various forms of punishment, ranging from silence to criticism to outright ostracism.
The religion encourages distrust of one’s own thinking and one’s own feelings.
Members have feelings of fear about life outside the fold. They frequently assert how horribly depressing or meaningless life would be without the belief system. "The world is an evil place that will eat you up." The only safety to be found is in immersion in the belief system, which not infrequently fostered paranoia.
The religion implies that if a person leaves the faith it is because of that person’s spiritual shortcomings. The individual, not the system is at fault.

Winell sums up the vulnerability of the questioning individual within closed religious systems: "The true believer, then, is to trust neither inner guidance nor any information from the environment. Conveniently for the Church, this paranoia leaves the person as vulnerable in the hands of religious leaders as a child in the home of abusive parents" (77). By way of contrast, "a more moderate religious group often features a respect for individual differences around doctrine, religious practice, and lifestyle" (6).

Consisting of fifteen chapters, in addition to the introduction and the epilogue, Leaving the Fold divides itself thematically into three main parts: (1) Sorting It Out, (2) Healing, and (3) Growth. The first section describes the recovery process, Marlene Winell’s personal experience, understanding one’s involvement, recognizing manipulations, breaking away, and the impact of one’s family background. The second section which addresses aspects of healing, includes chapters on caring for the inner child, building relationships, breaking free of damaging thought patterns, reclaiming one’s feelings, and working through feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and grief. The third section on personal growth focuses on strategies for developing personal identity and self-love, living life in the present, finding pleasure, thinking for one’s self, and personal empowerment and creativity through choice.

Exploratory inventories at the end of chapters form an especially useful component of Leaving the Fold. Exercises prompt the reader to probe the benefits of religion, to recognize manipulations of religion, to evaluate personal strengths, to review healthy and dysfunctional aspects of one’s family life, to trust one’s feelings, to value individual uniqueness, to develop self-appreciation, to experience fun, to appreciate critical thought, to recognize openmindedness, to clarify personal values, and to organize a personal belief system.

In addition to explorative inventories, an excellent appendix of resources offers further reading on topics such as critiques of conservative Christianity, women and Christianity, children and religion, mental health and religion, other spiritual views, alternative ways of thinking, emotional healing, responsibility, choosing and creating, and relationships. The appendix also lists journals, magazines, and newsletters devoted to alternative thinkers, and helpful directories, catalogs, and organizations. Finally, a list of more than eighty films designed to enlarge one’s world experience and to give information about people, lifestyles, and alternative worldviews provides an easily accessible and enjoyable resource for the individual sorting through religious issues.

Winell avoids quick-fix solutions and single-answer paths for individuals. Instead, Leaving the Fold values individual experience while simultaneously contextualizing those particular experiences within larger patterns of grief and recovery. "Whether you leave abruptly or drift away over a long period of time, you may experience profound sadness and confusion about what to do, think, and believe," she acknowledges. "You may also feel the rage of betrayal or struggle with persistent depression" (1).

Winell divides the recovery process into five phases: separation, confusion, avoidance, feeling, rebuilding. These phases overlap and can repeat themselves.

Separation is marked by questions, doubts and new information and life experiences which do not fit within standard dogma. "Your faith feels like a tapestry coming apart" (17). While some make a sudden break with their church, others struggle to be better, more faithful believers. Conversely, attendance at services and maintenance of prescribed daily rituals, such as prayer and scripture reading, may diminish.

Confusion becomes more pronounced as one fails to find answers which agree with standard beliefs and doctrines. And when one begins to let go of the belief system, "feeling totally adrift" is common. "There may be times of near panic, when you wonder whether you’ve made a terrible mistake and will be forever damned" (8). She additionally observes, "You might have trouble with intense feelings in this phase because you have been taught to interpret them as ‘conviction of the Holy Spirit’" (17) or, in Mormon parlance, as a withdrawal of the Holy Ghost. After having made the break, moments of euphoria and feelings of relief and liberation are also common.

The avoidance phase marks a time of withdrawal from participation in any kind of organized religion. Avoiding people associated with your religious experience also occurs. This is a time of creating some space for one’s self and beginning to explore new directions.

The next phase marks an increase in intense feelings of anger over past treatment, betrayal, and hurt. Winell likens this phase to grieving for the death of a loved one and stresses the necessity of valuing such feelings. "You really have had multiple losses. Uncovering and grieving these losses will be key to releasing you from your pain" (18-19).

The rebuilding phase provides for a time of sifting through past beliefs, discarding ones which don’t work anymore, keeping those which do, and acquiring a new worldview. "In the rebuilding phase," she promises, "people rediscover their self-worth" (19). In addition to rebuilding belief, personal relationships and social networks also must be reconstructed.

Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion is a welcome, readable, and practical contribution to the field of recovery from religious abuse—a field still in its infancy. The reader who wrestles with issues of faith or knows someone struggling for self-reconciliation will find it heartening. While Winell never minimizes the painful challenges brought on by reevaluating one’s religious worldview, she constantly provides an optimistic and encouraging perspective built around trusting one’s self, experiences, thoughts, feelings and intuition. As Winell notes, "Anyone can live by a formula. It’s much harder to leave the straight and narrow. Yet many of us have found that we must leave. The imperative from deep within is too strong. Life beckons and to dishonor the call would be spiritual death" (277). Importantly, Winell’s book brings together information which lets the individual know that traveling one’s own path needn’t be inherently self-destructive or morbidly lonely. Rather, exploration can lead to unprecedented growth, rebirth, and reveling in renewed love for life.

WARREN S. PARKIN, a sixth-generation Mormon, served a mission in Paraguay, has facilitated a group called Mormons in Transition at the Jordan United Methodist Church in West Jordan, Utah, since May 1993. His dissertation topic, "Husbands, Wives, Widows, and Virgins: Representing Gender in Early Modern Spain," focuses on negotiating individuality within dominant and oppressive cultural contexts. After a meeting in which Warren’s bishop compared him with Korihor, Warren resigned his Church membership.