A suspenseful, moving narrative on the Church and its most secret sin: spiritual abuse
The Crooked Cross, by anonymous author Willow, is a compelling account of one woman’s dealings with a series of heart-rending situations involving spiritually abusive people and groups.
The book details the cruel treatment of an ultra-perfectionist and increasingly fervid father, who seems to be heading off the deep end; church members who use scripture and personal revelation to enslave, torment and crush her; a sadistic fiancé who would have destroyed her; and later, a paranoid, survivalist husband who blames her, starves her and stalks her.
The book is divided into twenty-eight short chapters, and almost all of them are gripping. The narration is smooth, and the writing intelligent and clear. Even after the first chapter or two, the reader might ask, “How could it get any worse?” and then it does.
Willow details her early submissive nature and the extreme behavior codes and practices of the fundamentalist church in which she grew up. She began attending a church that was “less strict” when she hit third grade, and you think, “Good!” But a pattern repeats in the book, and it is this: Whenever you think things are getting better, something worse happens.
Her father’s perfectionism gives her an eating disorder, and he encourages it! The less strict church suggests exorcism! She’s lonely, a man shows up. You think, “Great! Someone to save her!” and he turns out to be a terrible, sadistic creep. She reconnects with an old friend and he turns out to be an alcoholic. Every time there is a moment of relief, it is quickly overshadowed with yet another danger.
This building tension makes for a great narrative -- but a horrible, young life. You wonder how she managed to survive at all by the end.
The reader may be tempted to think that it is just too much, that these experiences are exaggerated or fiction because so much seems improbable. But if you’ve taken even a shallow survey of spiritual abuse victims and their stories, you know that this account, horrific as it seems, is entirely within the realm of possibility, and it is a sad commentary on the state of religious life in America that these stories are so common and so severe.
Some may not like the conclusion. Willow does not find the perfect spiritual epiphany and a new, nurturing, compassionate fellowship to join; she does not magically cause her father to become a sane, reasonable person by the end and effect some kind of reconciliation; she does not even find spiritual assurance. She does, however, find real love in the person of “Sweetheart” and just as important, she finds real freedom – and that’s a huge enough change, considering all that her short lifetime affords her, to make for as much of a happy-ever-after as possible.
Others may not like the anonymity of the author. Who is she? Why does she not put her whole, real name to her work? But victims of spiritual abuse are fearful of retaliatory rage. They’ve been threatened with harm and hell by people who like their prophecies to come true. If you’ve seen what powerful churches and spiritual abusers have done to victims like FBCJAX Watchdog and James Duncan, among others, you know that Willow is prudent by remaining anonymous.
The book should serve as a wake-up call to the church. Willow came across spiritual abuse in many venues, not just one. Churches encouraged the abuse or closed their eyes to it. Churches will point to selfish sins as the root cause of people leaving the church, when really the spiritual abuse that their methods and doctrines promote, or their neglect permits, could easily be more to blame for driving people away from a life with Christ.
If you pick up this book, you will see the seamier side of the church. You will confront ugly truths. But it will also open your eyes to attitudes and practices that desperately need to be addressed. The 3.99 price is a bargain, and I give The Crooked Cross my hearty recommendation.