Editor’s Note: I rarely endorse books. This is an exception. Remy sent me an earlier draft of his book and requested feedback. I made some edits, but mostly I just rejoiced that he had written such a book. I believe it is the most helpful resource about spiritual abuse that has yet been written. The following review is taken from my Foreword to Broken Trust. You can find the book on Amazon here.
Toxic faith is like bad breath—we can smell it better on someone else than on ourselves.
When I was in a cult, I didn’t know that I was in a cult. Instead, I thought I was part of God’s elect and that my faith community was different because we were special. I even completed a “Warning Signs of a Cult” checklist—marking nearly every box—while my controlling leader explained from the pulpit why the questions were flawed and our congregation wasn’t unhealthy. I believed him and tossed the worksheet into the trash. My identical twin brother, on the other hand, saw the symptoms of toxic faith and left. I shunned him for the next thirteen years.
Of course, not every unhealthy organization is a cult. But most of them—whether full-blown cults or just run-of-the-mill legalistic or controlling assemblies—share a constellation of qualities that are recognizable to outsiders but nearly invisible to insiders. Like radiation leaking from a broken reactor, toxic faith can damage you without a lot of fuss.
This book is a Geiger counter designed to beep loudly in toxic environments.
The problem of toxic faith may be greater than most people realize. While hard figures are difficult to come by, some experts estimate that there are over 5,000 cults in the United States. Other statistics say that 2.5 million people have been involved in cults over the past 40 years (International Cultic Studies Association), and that there are 180,000 new cult converts each year. This does not include people adversely affected by legalism or toxic faith but not technically in a cult-like church or organization.
Anecdotal evidence for toxic groups abounds. Since starting “Liberty for Captives” in 2012, I have received hundreds of emails from people all over the United States and Canada describing their own toxic faith backgrounds. Most of these groups remain “off the grid,” undocumented by local journalists and unrecorded by cult experts or spiritual abuse writers. Toxic faith remains a huge problem in the United States.
If the problem is great, the need for resources to address toxic faith and recovery from spiritual abuse is equally compelling.
Since leaving my cult and graduating from seminary, I have read over 100 books related to toxic faith, toxic churches, spiritual abuse, and cults. Many of them were like wheat crusts: dense, nutritious, but hard to chew. When I started a blog designed to educate survivors of spiritual abuse, I tried to simplify what I’d read and turn it into bite-size pieces that were easier to swallow. I realized that most survivors of toxic faith didn’t need scientific papers or Ph.D.-level manuals: they needed simple truth packaged with much grace and plenty of practical application. At least, that’s what I needed.
For the past seven years I have looked for a book that combined all of these qualities into a comprehensive treatment of toxic faith and recovery from spiritual abuse. F. Remy Diederich has finally written that book.
Remy understands toxic faith. His own faith nearly shattered after he left an unhealthy community. Indeed, Remy experienced a long sojourn outside of organized religion before realizing that the best way to help heal the wounds was from within, not without. He is a counselor and author, but most of all he is a pastor in the very best sense of the term: a good shepherd who cares most deeply for lost and wounded sheep.
Because of his personal experience with spiritual abuse, Remy’s chapters are short, clear, and filled with practical advice on how to evaluate the health of your faith and your faith community. If you are in a toxic setting, Remy gives clear instructions on how to exit it and how to begin your healing journey. He even includes an entire section for ministers who may have created a toxic environment in their own community—a section unprecedented, as far as I know, in the wide literature on toxic faith and spiritual abuse.
Most gratifyingly—at least I was gratified by it—Remy writes with graceful pastoral care, a rare quality in this genre. I savored this book as I would savor an afternoon in the sun. When I put it down, the warm feeling of being understood and cared for lingered. What a grace.
This book is for three types of people:
- First, if you have begun to smell the odor of toxic faith in your church or faith community, this book is for you. It is a tool to identify toxic faith and spiritual abuse. If something like it had fallen into my hands two decades ago, perhaps my story would be different.
- Second, if you have had your trust broken by abusive spiritual leaders, these pages will help jump-start your healing journey with dozens of practical steps and gracious suggestions.
- And third, if you are a spiritual leader who struggles with the realization that you may have caused spiritual abuse or toxic faith in your organization, this book is for you. Hold fast to it. You won’t find this severe mercy anywhere else.
My hope is that Broken Trust receives the wide readership it deserves and becomes a tool of grace to shatter the chains of toxic faith and bring liberty to captives.