Recommended Books on Understanding Abuse in Churches

Wade Mullen, Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse and Freeing Yourself From Its Power.

By comparing hundreds of clergy abuse cases, Mullen has identified a common toolbox of tactics used by abusive Christian leaders and institutions to control public impressions, deny allegations, blame victims, and evade responsibility. In a series of concise and easy-to-read chapters, he equips the reader to better recognize, criticize, and challenge all kinds of abusive systems. Particularly pertinent was Mullen’s analysis of how abusers try to shame their victims, such as by breaching their privacy or offering false apologies, so that the abusers can maintain their superior moral purity and legitimacy. As he puts it, “When you know the tactics abusers use, you can confront abuse.”

Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing.

McKnight and Barringer open their book with their experiences learning about the abuses at Willow Creek Community Church. They then zoom out to explore how such cases reveal the culture of an institution, and how often Christian organizations use deception, deflection, and demonization to protect themselves, their self-interest, and their leadership. As McKnight and Barringer note, “it’s not uncommon for church leadership to offer assurances that the issue has already been investigated, addressed, and resolved internally.” The second half of the book provides a set of constructive proposals for how to develop a culture of goodness, or in Hebrew, tov. Particularly pertinent was their analysis of when it is appropriate and biblical to go public, using the Old Testament prophets as an example.

Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church.

Drawing on decades of experience as a Christian psychologist, Diane Langberg provides a comprehensive theology and ethic of power, analyzing its many forms: including verbal, emotional, physical, economic, spiritual, and cultural. Particularly pertinent is her chapter on “Power Abused in the Church,” where she discusses how spiritual language, theology, and even prayers can be used to control, manipulate, and intimidate others. Langberg also discusses what truth and justice looks like in an abusive system, quoting Charles Spurgeon: “Leniency to the dishonest is cruelty to those whom they injure.” The book concludes with a section on how power might be used for good, where she focuses on humility, love, and other character traits of Jesus.