Why reconciliation isn’t the best objective


At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones who are hurt, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a bad objective?

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Better objectives

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (face-to-face or through others) of the damage you have caused or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done.
  • Make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When reconciliation isn’t possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the widow who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing training sessions, Philadelphia May 8-11, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, May 8-11, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wound of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups.

If you have already taken the initial training and you would like advanced training to become a healing group facilitator or to become a trainer in this train the trainer program, then come to the advanced session. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for the training and would love to spend the 4 days with you thinking and experiencing how we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

But register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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2019 Global Community of Practice Livestream


The 2019 Trauma Healing Global Community of Practice is fast approaching. The event will be held in Philadelphia, PA, USA from March 12-14th.

This years’ COP will explore the family’s vulnerability to trauma as well as family restoration. Attendees will hear from a wide range of global speakers while networking with peers from around the world. While registration is closed for in-person participation, we will be livestreaming the event and are looking for individuals to host interactive viewing parties. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please click on the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/host-a-live-stream-viewing-party-for-the-global-cop-registration-55242162796 or email Lauren Popp at lpopp@americanbible.org. The eventbrite link above contains the schedule of plenary events. As you watch you will receive information on how to submit comments and questions. So, even though you may not be in person, you can still have participate!

Only a party of one? You can still access the livestream. Click on this link: http://thi.americanbible.org/cop-live

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Advice for church leaders when dealing with abuse in congregant families


Looking for a good introduction and tips to respond well when abuse is alleged or exposed? Dr. Diane Langberg has a great blog as your launch point: http://www.dianelangberg.com/2019/02/recommendations-for-churches-dealing-with-abuse/.

I could summarize it but I’d rather you just go and read it!

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Philadelphia area Healing the Wounds of Trauma Initial Equipping


Announcing the initial equipping training for those interested in becoming certified in the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum. This will be offered at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, July 18-21, 2018. There are three ways the course is offered:

  • Graduate credit (2 credits, with pre and post course work)
  • Audit (shows up on a transcript)
  • Continuing education (NBCC approved CEs for social workers and professional counselors)

Teachers will be Heather Drew and myself.

For more information, start here. If you are interested in learning this train-the-trainer model of trauma care designed to raise up safe faith communities, this might be the training for you.

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MOTB Presentation: The Role of the Bible in Prisoner Transformation


On June 7, 2018 (6-7p EDT), I will be participating in a speaker series presentation at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. I’ll be offering a brief response to Dr. Byron Johnson who is the main attraction. My focus will be on our trauma healing curriculum and program in jails and prisons. In addition, there will be a response by Prison Fellowship, International.

You can see the details here. I believe it will be aired on Fb Live.

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Signs of over-hyped psychotherapy treatment?


Donald Meichenbaum and Scott Lilienfeld have recently published a short essay entitled: How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist.† This can be helpful for both counselors and future clients who are both hungry for finding “what works.”

Before giving their 19 warning signs they remind readers of two important factors:

  • General factors in therapy (alliance, therapist skill, client commitment) do account for significant portion of the positive effects of many therapies but this should not be taken to mean that any therapy will work fine. In fact there is evidence that some therapies are harmful.
  • It is helpful to have some self-doubt. Skepticism can be helpful, both in maintaining some humility and self-reflection of what we think works. The authors quote another who suggested to therapist that they should “love yourself as a person, doubt yourself as a therapist.” And to point to the challenge with this, they cite a study of 129 therapists where many therapists rated themselves as effective as 80% of all therapists while no one actually rated themselves as below average. Maybe these therapists live in Lake Wobegon?

Warning signs?

I will not repeat the actual language of their checklist but will give you a summary

  1. Language. How do they talk about the intervention? Revolutionary? Ground-breaking? Do they use psycho and neuro-babble? The authors point out that dropping words like neural networks, body memories, and the like do not substitute for scientific evidence.
  2. Illustrations. Does the “packaging” feel slick? Lots of scientific-looking images (brains, PET scans, etc.)?  Lots of explaining how something works but no evidence offered that it works (beyond anecdotes)?
  3. In-group focus. How much do they refer to gurus, name-drop recognized leader endorsements? Do they offer special certifications that only they offer and special in-group activities that you can only get if you pay for it? Do they slough off critics and criticisms for not being on the inside. You can’t critique us because you didn’t see what only the in-group people see. 
  4. Effectiveness. What evidence do they offer that it works? Anecdotes? Testimonies? Years of experience? Every treatment must start with anecdotes until it can get published research studies. But compare the language used to talk about effectiveness (and also lack of side effects) and the amount of published data. If the volume of data is limited, then the language should be as well. Also, are there any studies done by someone other than key authors and disciples?

These warning signs do not mean a treatment protocol will not work or is not a break-through. Certainly older well-accepted treatments may work less well than the new treatment. Just because the mainstream does not yet accept a new theory or intervention should not be a reason to reject it. But healthy skepticism is still warranted. Be wary of hype and over-promotion. Things that are said to work for everyone rarely do. Solutions to complex problems rarely can be found in a few quick steps or sessions.

Desperation pushes us to find solutions. I was challenged to find a solution to a friend’s mental health concerns. In exploring options we came across an intervention that held our interest. But upon further investigation we discovered it would cost $3,000 up front and take 30 sessions before knowing if it would be effective. A further review found many claims of huge successes and when we asked the practitioner about when it doesn’t work the answers given were clearly defensive. In addition, we could find no one at established university programs offering training and research provided could only be characterized as superficial despite the intervention being around for a nearly 20 years. Bottom line: we went looking for something else. The intervention might work but we didn’t want to risk the time it would take to find out if it would work.

†Meichenbaum, D. & Lilienfeld, S.O. (2018). How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 49, 22-30.

 

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Living with the Inheritance of Trauma


Last week at the Global Community of Practice, Dr. Diane Langberg and I presented “Living with the Inheritance of Trauma” as a kick-off to the conference theme on trauma through the generations. Our two-part presentation can be found here.

Diane’s presentation begins at the 12:05 minute mark. She explores the impact of complex trauma on stages of individual and social identity development and how this has an impact on trauma being passed on to the next generation.

My portion begins at the 58:30 minute mark. I consider some examples of direct and indirect transmission of trauma across generations as well as the systems that maintain trauma transmission. This is a question that I asked the audience and I ask you:

What are the social conditions and structures that maintain systems that transmit trauma to the next generation?

If the question seems a bit obtuse, you can listen to the case I read from “The Warmth of Other Suns” (p 62f) which begins at the 1:08:32 mark. Or, if you didn’t see Rod Williams presentation the next day, check out this video on mass incarceration.

My question really is this: what are the factors outside of individual behavior (e.g., one traumatized person’s behavior towards another) that maintain conditions encouraging generational trauma? And for those of the higher caste in a society: what are the mechanisms that enable those with greater social power to (a) avoid many generational traumas and to (b) remain blind to the structures and systems at work?

 

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Live stream the 2018 Global Community of Practice conference, March 13-15


This year the Global Community of Practice is on the theme of generational trauma (and its antidotes). If you aren’t coming, you may wish to access the live stream link below and watch the main sessions. I believe the link will contain the means to text or type logo-thiquestions and comments to what you are seeing. A moderator will review the comments and questions to be included in large group discussions so your thoughts may well be part of the global discussion.

See Agenda flyer listing the program for the next three days. The times listed are Eastern Daylight Time. Be sure to note the time that Diane Langberg is speaking on Tuesday on “living with generational trauma” and her closing on Thursday afternoon. There are many other can’t miss moments: devotions by Rev. Gus Roman and Carol Bremer-Bennett; presentations by Dr. Michael Lyles, Carolyn Custis James, Rod Williams and many more.

Live stream link: abs.us/COPLive

 

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When don’t we support victims of abuse?


At the American Bible Society, where I work, those of us involved in trauma healing often say that what gets us up in the morning is our mission to equip the church to be a safe place, a place of hope and healing, for traumatized individuals. I think most Christians want to believe that the church is a safe place for the most vulnerable among us.

But this has not been the case for far to many who report child or adult abuse and harassment.

Now, as a son of a pastor, I am well aware of the challenges pastors and church leaders have in leading their congregations. Frequently, the leaders need the wisdom of Solomon, especially in cases of life and death conflict. The work of pastoring through abuse allegations is never easy. Don’t let your love of the church stop you from reading the rest!

I imagine we all believe that the Church can do so much better. And we ought to be asking ourselves, why have we failed as much as we have? In theory, we are always against abuse and always for protecting the vulnerable. But it does not always play out this way.

Consider what responses might be given to these three “first meeting” vignettes:

  1. A woman comes to church leadership to seek pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-known to be antagonistic to church and to the Christian faith.
  2. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-respected in the community and has been a Sunday School teacher for the past decade. She is also known to be a wise and careful woman.
  3. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. The man is involved in the church and the woman has been known to be a bit of a church hopper.

Whether or not there is objective evidence supporting her allegations what response should these women receive? Will it be the same? Will the compassion and support offered be the same for each woman? Who will be treated with more compassion, who will be treated with more suspicion (or even just neutrality)? Will the amount of circumstantial evidence influence our response?

Minto, Hornsey, Gillespie, Healy, & Jetten (2016) have attempted to research (a) whether we are more likely to fail to support abuse victims when the abuser is one of our own and (b) whether circumstantial evidence will change our position. [You can download their full-text research essay here.] Their interest was exploring how social identity (what group you are a part of and have pride in) influences how we handle allegations of abuse by fell0w group members.

Study 1. 601 individuals read a vignette of an adult male alleging that a priest sexually abused him as a ten year old. The vignette included details of the alleged abuse and the rebuttal made by the defense attorney for the priest. Catholics, Prostestants, and non-believers all rated the assumed credibility of the victim and the perpetrator. Results indicate both Catholic and Protestant individuals with high church identity were significantly more likely to defend the accused and doubt the accuser. This was especially true if their faith was central to their core identity.

Study 2. 404 individuals also read the same vignette however the level of circumstantial evidence against the priest was manipulated. For some, the survey participants learned that church authorities were not defending the priest and that there had been a previous suspension for similar behavior (i.e., higher certainty of truth). The remaining participants learned that there had been no other cases and that this case was thrown out for insufficient evidence. The results for this study indicate,

ingroup participants were more likely to defend the integrity of the accused (and to cast doubt on the accuser) than were other participants, an effect that was exclusively driven by high identifiers. Interestingly–and somewhat surprisingly–this effect was not moderated by the subjective level of certainty surrounding the guilt of the accused.

In other words, those who highly identify with the Catholic church are more likely to defend the accused even when there is considerable circumstantial evidence against that person.

While this research was carried out examining responses to Catholic priest allegations, it appears that the problem does not lie only within the Church. Consider the obstructing responses of Michigan State to allegations of Dr. Nasser’s abuse of young female athletes over the years. The authors conclude,

Our data confirm that such highly identified ingroup members are the least willing to believe that the accusations are based on fact. This helps to provide psychological explanations for qualitative and anecdotal accounts of senior group members failing to adequately follow up allegations of child sexual abuse within their institution.

But why? The authors ask, wouldn’t the ingroup members be more motivated to purify their ranks by rejecting those who are accused of bad behavior? What is gained (or lost) by standing by accusers when the there is circumstantial evidence of abuse and no evidence of circumstantial evidence of lying on the side of the accuser? This is the challenge for those of use who listen to stories of abuse that happen in our own cherished communities.

Until we solve this problem, we will stand with the young women who accused Dr. Nasser of sexual abuse because he was not one of us but refuse to do the same when the accused is one of our own.


For further reading on reasons why we fail to act well in light of abuse allegations or reports of failures to act:

  1. Why we fail to act: Sins of complicity
  2. Failures to act: Why we don’t always blow the whistle on abuse
  3. After failures: What is more important? Gospel behaviors or reduction of liability?

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