Category Archives: Abuse

A Cancer Within Evangelical Christianity


There is a serious problem within protestant evangelical Christianity. We love right preaching and teaching more than we love right living. We love power and authority more than sacrifice and submission. We love honor over humility. We love being led by popular leaders who make us feel good more than following the despised and rejected One—who has no “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isa 53)

We want King Saul over young David.

Of course I do not accuse all protestant Christians nor all leaders with this charge. And yet, we must all own this problem together. It is not merely the Catholic Church that has covered up abuse or used power to protect itself. While the system of the Catholic Church enables a wider and deeper cover-up, we have all of the same issues on a (slightly) smaller scale.

A picture of a true leader of God’s church…and the opposite

Leaders of the church are to be representatives of Jesus, individuals set apart to be under-shepherds. They are to care for the flock. And what do we need? We need teaching, encouragement, comfort, and rebuke in their proper times and measures. But most of all we need our leaders to be images/examples of our true Shepherd.

Quite simply, the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and who feeds, carries, and gently leads (Isa 40:11). Of course this is a picture of a powerful leader. Only one with power who knows right and wrong can choose to sacrifice rights and become smaller for the purpose of care of the most vulnerable.

But we have a pattern of enabling self-promoting leaders of the flock. These want to be listened to, respected and followed for their own sake. Sure, they may speak of the Gospel of grace, but how do they live it? How do they treat the ones who have the least power? How do they handle criticism? Do they even have a Paul (wise older leader with a track record of being willing to encourage and also say hard things) to speak to them as he did to Timothy? Or would they tolerate one who spoke to them as Paul did to Peter when he acted out of accord with the Gospel (Gal 2:11f)?

It seems that when we do see brokenness in our leaders we tend to excuse it, especially when their gifts are attractive and the ones revealing these flaws are expendable.

Consider this warning

What makes Jesus angry? The New Testament records a few instances of expressed anger: Money changers, self-righteous religious leaders, hindering children, and the pain of death (Lazarus). We see it most clearly in his language toward the religious leaders when he calls them “brood of vipers…white washed tombs…hypocrites.”

What are these leaders doing that evoke Jesus’ just anger? Matthew 23 provides some answers.

  • Everything they do is for show to receive the praise and honor of followers
  • They seek power and control. They (try to) decide who can be in the kingdom; they seek converts who will work for their interests
  • They develop special rules that support their apparent position of authority
  • They makes a show of sacrifice yet forget the most important values: justice, mercy, and faith/submission to God
  • Their public and private selves do not match—the outside looks great but inside is abominable

It does not matter if they deliver well-crafted and biblically sound sermons. It does not matter if many flock to their ministries. If their motive, efforts, and tactics (public and private) do not match God’s character of a good shepherd, their good human gifts of are no value. Even worse, they deserve rebuke (Ezekiel 34; Jeremiah 23) and even removal from speaking for God anymore (Ezekiel 44).

The true problem?

There have always been false shepherds. There always will be false shepherds. But, what enables them to stay in positions of power is that we allow it. G. Campbell Morgan minces no words when he highlights the problem of false shepherds.

Now the false in religion stands revealed in Christ’s contemplation of these men [described in Matthew 23], not only in the case of the men themselves, but in the case of the people who are under the influence of such men. The false in religion in the case of the people is due to failure to discriminate between the human and the divine; and consists of submission to unauthorized authority.

Morgan, Gospel According to Matthew, p. 273†

Why do we fail to discriminate between human and divine? We overlook “foibles” because we know our own hidden sins. We fear being ostracized and losing our position in the inner-ring of power. We ignore the words of victims in order to maintain the appearance of health in the system. We love the image of redemption (the happily ever after restoration) more than the long slog of obedience. In short, false shepherds cannot maintain or increase power unless we protect and enable them.

The beginning of a solution

Let us repent of these our sins. Let us study anew what we and our leaders are to be like. Let us listen to the ones we call expendable when they speak about abuse of power. In the words of my former pastor, let us pray to God for better leaders than we deserve and to be the kinds of undershepherds we are called to be in God’s wide kingdom.

Consider these previous posts on related topics:

To avoid spiritual abuse church leaders should do this

Evaluating the Character of a Leader?

Restoring fallen leaders? Possible or Impossible?

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts

† My thanks to Dr. Diane Langberg for pointing me to this quote in Morgan’s commentary.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Evangelicals, Uncategorized

What is more important to your church when it fails abuse victims? Gospel-driven behavior or reducing liability


Over the years I have had the opportunity to walk with church leaders through the difficult waters of abuse, whether done by leaders or done by congregants. One of the first conversations I try to have with those tasked with responding to the situation is this: What core values do you want to shape your response? Another way of saying this could be, “At the end of the day, who do you want to be, who do you think Christ calls you to be?

These values do not tell you what to do. They do not give you steps. But, they will help evaluate if a particular response is moving towards or away from those values.

If we don’t start at this point, then a couple of other values will control the conversation and control the decision-making: limiting legal liability, damage control, reputation management, and the like. These are understandable but do not comport with Gospel-driven responses to abuse.

Consider this fictional case.

A decade earlier a youth pastor is caught engaging in sexual activity with a teen. The church does not name it at sexual abuse and allows the youth pastor to leave and does not tell the congregation why he left. All this was done for complex reasons: lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation, desires to protect the victim (requested by the parents), and desires to protect their own identity. Years later, it is discovered the youth pastor has gone on to abuse more children in two other settings. Through a variety of reasons, the church is confronted for its failure to handle the situation properly. They are publicly accused of misconduct. The leadership of the church calls their attorney and their insurance company and get the strong advice to not admit any wrongdoing. Instead they are to make a bland statement and initiate an internal investigation (some of the leaders now were not there ten years ago). The report is issued some time later with policy changes made public. While it reveals “mistakes were made” by one of the leaders no longer present, it offers regret but falls short of an apology or indication that the church bore any responsibility for the subsequent abuse experiences.

What core values shaped the church’s response?

What would a church response look like if shaped by deep apology and behavioral repentance? What would it look like if the church considered the plight of the victims and their needs? Would they feel a responsibility to support their recovery? What if they cared more for kingdom values more than worrying whether they would be sued?

Sometimes, times of trouble reveal which god we really serve the most. And sometimes it is not very pretty.

It doesn’t always go badly. I do know a number of churches who opened themselves up to increased liability in order to speak truth about their failures. Take heart. It is possible!

3 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

Is God eternally traumatized?


The first words of Alwyn Lau’s “Saved By Trauma” essay remind us that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation and center point for all of Christianity.§ Without the cross, there is no Christian faith.

The Christian faith is centered around the historical trauma of the suffering, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian theological reflection starts from and eventually relates back to the work of Christ. Indeed, for some theologians, the resurrection points back to and affirms the cross. The apostle Paul’s declaration that the Christian pronunciation is essentially “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) ontologically entrenches trauma, destabilization, and anxiety at the heart of kerygymatic [sic] proclamation. (p.273)

Sit with that last sentence a bit. Christianity is at its core or essence a faith wrapped up in trauma. Yes, there is an all-important resurrection, but a resurrection cannot happen without a traumatic story (false-blame, injustice, torture, abandonment, and death). If Christianity is ANYTHING, then it is a faith that takes seriously the impact of brokenness.

So then, Lau makes an important next point about what a Christian theology should provide:

Theology proffers a distinct vocabulary to talk about personal and interpersonal wounding and trauma; the Christian community approximates a traumatic community. (ibid)

Victims of trauma ought to find great comfort and help from Christian leaders and communities because they observe a community that really gets their experience, both by word and deed.

Are we that community?

Or, are we a bit more like Job’s friends? Consider Lau again,

 Job’s friends, in presenting all kinds of explanations for why Job suffered the tragedies he did, were attempting to obscure the trauma of the truth of evil in the world. Job’s disagreement–and God’s eventual vindication and endorsement of his views over against that of his friends–demonstrated resilience in the face of such tempting illusions of closure. Job refused to look away from the void in his pain. He refused to accept cheap solutions to the problem and “causes” of his suffering. (p. 274)

To become a safe community for victims of trauma, we must continue to highlight that God and trauma are put together (albeit willingly) for eternity in the abandonment and death of Jesus on the cross. In this God takes trauma (injustice, torture, and death) into his own being–no longer does it exist in creation.  Again in the words of Lau, we need a “theology of Holy Saturday” if we are going to show that “hope can be spoken of only within the context of injustice, negativity, and despair; the joy and the Lordship of Christ takes place in and through sickness, death, and sin.” (ibid)

“If God’s being cannot be comprehended without factoring in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ…” (p. 275) then consider this statement:

“If indeed God suffers in the cross of Jesus in reconciling the world to himself, then there must always be a cross in the experience of God as he deals with a world which exists over against him.” (quote of Paul Fiddes in Lau, p. 275)

God is defined by trauma. But he, unlike creation, is not weakened by this trauma. Rather, Lau encourages us to see that “the God self-revealed  and depicted in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a begin who, out of love for the created order, chose the trauma of death as a central facet of God’s self-definition.” (276) In an immeasurable act of love that had been present in God from eternity past, God chooses self-sacrifice to break the power of sin and death. And since this love is not temporal, then neither is God’s character ever without the knowledge and drive to reconcile a people to himself–even through trauma.

So what? What if we really understood God’s experience of trauma?

  1. The church would follow her head in the care of the most vulnerable even at the cost of her own comfort and safety. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matt 12:20, quote of Isaiah 42:3)
  2. The church would regularly make room for lament (individual and corporate) as acts of faithful worship. Like Thomas, we need to see the wounds that remain in the risen Christ.
  3. Hope would be illustrated in her ability to equally cry out about the “not yet” part of God’s present kingdom even while she looks for the “already” present redemption and healing. There is as much hope in Psalm 88 and Lamentation 3 as there is in Revelation 21.

 

§Lau, A. (2016). Saved by trauma: A psychoanalytical reading of the atonement. Dialog, 55, 273-281.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, trauma, Uncategorized

Abusive Marriages: Restoring the voice of God to the Sufferer


In breakout format, Darby Strickland presented on this topic today at #CCEF16. She defined emotional abuse using the word oppression instead. She defined it as a pattern of coercive controlling and punishing behaviors whereby one spouse seeks to control and dominate the other. Oppressors enslave others, but tend to self-justify behaviors.  The oppressor tends to be entitled (people are there to please them; people should sacrifice for their well-being). They tend to dominate others and threaten as a means of control. Oppressors are willing to wound to keep control (which Darby reminds us is the opposite of how Jesus wields power–he was willing to be wounded for others). On the other hand, oppressors tend to be self-deceived, lack remorse and blameshift when accused.

Sometimes abuse is misunderstood as an anger problem. But the reality is that the root is self-worship and control. The only thing that matters are their words, their rules, their emotions, and their physical and sexual needs that must be obeyed. It is “enforced worship.”

Darby then explored emotional abuse in particular. Symptoms include a chronic pattern of rejecting, neglecting, degrading, terrorizing, isolating, exploiting, belittling, deceiving, blaming, ignoring, shaming, and threatening. She also talked about “gas lighting” which is the attempt to make someone think that something that did happen never happened. Within emotional abuse is also spiritual abuse. The use of Scripture, doctrinc, or position of leadership to abuse. It can be subtle but it lording power over others, demanding submission, and use Scripture to shame.

Darby pulls no punches when she describes behaviors by oppressive and abusive men (yes, women can do this as well, but this talk is focused on the experience of oppressed women). It is destructive to souls and does not reflect any part of Jesus Christ. She was equally clear on the destructive impact on victims. Eccl 4: the dead are happier than the oppressed.

What does God say about oppression?

  • Not your fault. Evil comes out of the heart of the one doing it: Mark 7. You might be a stressor by just being a person.
  • You do not deserve this. (Victims and leaders look for reasons, like Job’s friends). Heb 10:17. Your sins and lawless deeds I will not remember anymore. God is your rescuer, not your punisher
  • It is not a marriage problem. Luke 6:45 shows us that evil comes out of the evil person’s heart. It is not merely some interaction problem. Do not ask the oppressed to serve the oppressor more. It emboldens oppressors.
  • Oppression violates God’s design for marriage. It is not to be submitted to but rather brought into the light. He tells the head to reject control for self sacrifice.
  • God sees your suffering. Jesus sees and knows oppression too.
  • God cares about your safety. Do you think that God cares more about you keeping your vows than he does about your safety? 
  • God’s desire is to rescue you. I will rescue my flock and they show no longer be a prey (Ex 34:22)

Draw near to God through laments; he does not ask you to forget your suffering. Learning to lament is a process. It may not be “sanctified speech” when you first start to speak. That is okay, just begin to speak. Listen for the content, less focus on the tone. Then, you can ask God to help shape your expression. To counter the shaming words, remember who God says about you. “Remember who Jesus is because he is everything your oppressor isn’t.” He woos you, he does not demand subjection.

She closed with Proverbs 12:18: The words of the reckless pierce like swords. But the tongue of the wise brings healing.

_____

You might find it interesting that Darby chose to not take questions at the end. Her reason is that knowing that 25% of the christian world has experienced domestic abuse. Thus, she expected a number of victims in the room. She felt that taking questions might subject some, inadvertently, to further pain. (She was willing to take questions afterwards in private).

I very much appreciated her strong words to identify the pattern and indicate the primary concern for care for the victim. I know she has written and spoken on the topic of working with oppressors. This was not that talk.

8 Comments

Filed under Abuse, CCEF, christian counseling

To avoid spiritual abuse church leaders should do this


Anyone in a power position recognizes the possibility of abusing that power. Bosses can take advantage of vulnerable employees, parents can abuse children, and church leaders can manipulate parishioners. I start with the assumption that most church leaders do not want to harm their parishioners. I would go even farther that when spiritual abuse does happen, most leaders don’t see what they have done/not done as abusive. Rather, they act with the intent to maintain good order, prevent further sin, and the like.

to get caught up on what spiritual abuse is, take a look at these posts:

The church in her leaders who wish to avoid falling into acts of spiritual abuse may want to consider the following preventative steps:

  1. Study the Character and Leadership of Christ. You know that tired but true adage, you will better recognize counterfeits if you study the real deal. How does Jesus wield power? How does the true Servant Leader treat the most vulnerable? Sinners? Pray that God will show you where you or your leadership team look more like the world than of your head, Jesus. As a part of this study, invite someone who has experienced spiritual abuse to tell you about their experience. What was the damage done, the impact? 
  2. Identify Risk Factors. Life has risk. We try to minimize unnecessary risk and make wise choices when risk cannot be mitigated. While usually it is better to reduce risk, sometimes risk is essential to save life. There are a few risks that need to be acknowledged that increase potential for spiritual abuse: Having all male staff/elders/deacons may increase risk for women who have little voice in church policy, hierarchical leadership with little oversight by others increases risk of abuse. So, it is helpful to churches to review church discipline policies, pastoral care procedures especially in regards to the most vulnerable members of the church. There is a reason why churches have child abuse policies–to recognize vulnerabilities and to ensure protection. A similar review would help reduce the likelihood of incidence of spiritual abuse. 
  3. Develop Continuous Assessment and Learning. In medical and mental health fields, professionals are required to complete continuing education. In addition, many practitioners participate in agency-wide case consultations. The consultation is designed for mutual learning and input. A counselor presents a case and takes questions and recommendations from peers. What if church leaders held these kinds of “grand rounds” where those tasked to work with an individual or family presented the basic facts, the agreed upon goals and “interventions” tried. The audience of other elders and/or pastors could ask questions and offer alternate hypotheses or responses. If you have ever worked on a problem, you know that getting another set of eyes on the problem can sometime stir a new perspective. Encourage at least one group member to ask questions about the parishioner’s experience of help. Of course, confidentiality is a must and so be sure that the leadership can keep matter private. 
  4. Review Difficult Pastoral Cases. Seek External Feedback. No matter how wise and spiritual your church leaders are, they do not have all the expertise they need to handle any and every case. In the case of difficult and protracted marriage conflict, be willing to seek expert opinion outside of the church. Seek outside consultation when there has been abuse in a relationship and there are power differentials. God has given some people expertise in understanding major mental illness, trauma, and relational dynamics. Invite these individuals into session meetings to help guide the response the church makes. This can be done in ways that maintains complete confidentiality.

These are simple and general measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of abusing spiritual power that leaders have over congregants. While you may think such abuse is extremely rare, our call to be like our head Jesus demands that we hoist no millstones around the necks of vulnerable members.

     

    5 Comments

    Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring

    Reliving memories long after trauma. Why does it happen?


    I just returned from a week’s trip to Lebanon to train participants in a Scripture-Engaged mental health-informed trauma healing program. It was a wonderful experience. I made new friends, heard important stories of hardship and God’s faithfulness. I ate good (no, great!) food, and saw some beautiful scenery. Now, as I try to get my body clock back on home time zone, I’m waking early. In those wee hours of the morning, many of these memories come without any seeming effort on my part. There are great ones–laughter, sweet times, a poignant story of pain and heartache, a story of courage–and the brief moments of terror in several taxi rides. Since we survived the taxi rides, these latter memories are no longer negative as much as they invoke a chuckle or two.

    In a small way, I’m reliving and recalling memories. I can smell the smells. I can feel the tension of riding in the front seat of a taxi going 60 miles an hour on a city street or the driver’s attempt to squeeze between a barrier and a large truck at a high rate of speed with only inches to spare. I can feel it and see it. And I didn’t even try to recall either the good or the bad. They just appeared.

    This is how traumatic memory works. You experience a trauma and later flashes of memory–painful, shocking, unwanted–appear after the subtlest of triggers. You do not merely remember it, you feel it. You taste it, as if it were happening again. They come in bits and pieces, flashes and images; rarely in a linear sequential fashion.

    While most good and bad memories fade and are replaced by new and more salient experiences, some memories stay powerfully strong and consistently intrude into the present. Even when we tell ourselves, “We’re safe now. We are no longer in danger” or “You’re not a child anymore, you are grown up and don’t have to be afraid of being hit,” the memories and associated feelings keep coming. It is as if your logic and perceptions aren’t able to moderate the response.

    Let me give you a little silly example. I once became violently ill  for 4 days after eating deli turkey. To this day I cringe and feel stomach pain when presented with deli turkey. That experience was more than 12 years ago. Yet still I react. I know that what is in front of me is not tainted but it doesn’t seem to matter to my stomach.  Sure, the reaction I have is minimal and faded compared to immediately after my illness. But it is not gone.

    Why does this happen? What are the processes in play that keep us experiencing and reliving what may be old and distant–as if it were still present? What follows is brief and a relatively simplistic summary of two very complex processes. Use them to help you understand yourself or a friend and to increase your empathy for those trapped in such processes.

    Memory and the Connected Self

    Psychology focuses much of its work on the individual person–the self. However, the self never exists outside of social connections (or disconnections) with others. Our understanding of our self begins at birth with billions of interactions (smiles, frowns, words, touch, etc.) with others. As we develop and become aware of ourselves, we often have key experiences of success or failure that continue to shape our sense of self long into the future. Find someone with a powerful sense of failure and you will find someone who will struggle to interpret present success as indicative of who they are. Whether success or failure oriented, both outlooks form on the basis of how we perceive that others see us. It seems that shame and humiliation act as intensifiers making it hard to alter our sense of self even after corrective experiences. They turn me from “bad things happened to me” into “I am bad.”

    Memory and the (dis)Connected Brain

    In simplistic language, the brain is an amazingly connected and efficient organ firing constantly day and night. Memories are stored and accessed, intensified or eroded, and often altered through the firing of neurons. The efficient brain “learns” to access information quickly. Just as you no longer have to think to insert your key into a lock the right side up, you also no longer have to consciously recall a memory–it just happens. Because multiple hormones and structures in the brain are involved in memory formation, it stands to reason that ignoring a life-altering memory (and the full-bodied experience of it) is next to impossible. Structures like the brainstem, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus are evaluating and communicating (or not) with high-level processing within the cortex even before you know it. Thus, a memory and its reaction is already well-underway before a person can think and critique such a memory.

    So, are we doomed to be controlled by our past?

    No. There is ample evidence that we can form new connections and minimize intrusive and unwanted memories. The brain is plastic. It is adaptable and changeable. And yet, we are not in the age of the MiB neuralyzer. God does not usually remove us from our histories or make them so distant they have no effect on us. Adaptation takes time and energy and rarely is so complete that the person no longer feels nothing when they recall a painful event (in fact, feeling nothing might be rather dangerous as it would be a denial of reality).

    So, the next time you are beating yourself up for still struggling with the past (or are questioning why a loved one can’t move beyond a trauma), be gentle. Consider instead how you might develop a corrective response that accepts what has happened and gives opportunity for a new second response after the first automatic reaction.

     

     

    16 Comments

    Filed under Abuse, memory, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

    Trauma-informed churches?


    Yesterday I wrote a bit about trauma-informed organizations that seek to ensure that the ministries they provide neither harm recipients or staff members. That post focused on para-church organizations serving highly-traumatized populations and encouraged them to do some self-evaluation. But, today I’d like to add just a few additional thoughts on how churches might improve care for traumatized people in their pews.

    Types of Trauma in the Church

    Churches, by definition, are filled with broken people. That is just as God intended. And also as God intended, most find the church a safe place to heal and be restored–to God and to neighbor. But some find it a bit harder to feel safe in a church setting. In particular, those,

    • who have been harmed (spiritually, physically, emotionally) by church leaders
    • who have deep and hidden shame from interpersonal betrayals (sexual abuse, domestic abuse, forced perpetration, etc.)
    • who have experiences difficult to be understood by many (e.g., veterans)
    • who have secondary trauma (more invisible than most traumas) and who think they should be over it already

    How can churches evaluate current policies and practices to ensure that both congregants and staff are cared well for and not unintentionally compounding trauma experiences? Consider the following list as a starting point for conversations among pastors, elders, staff, and lay leaders.

    1. Do we have a basic understanding of the nature, causes, and symptoms of trauma?
      • Search this site for many resources on this topic
      • Watch free videos here about making the church a safe place for victims
    2. Do we understand key features of systemic abuse that might infect our church
      • Use the link just above to explore the symptoms of narcissistic systems and leaders
      • Search this site for more resources as well
    3. Do we have a child abuse prevention plan? Preventing future abuse also provides some level of healing from past victims.
    4. Does our child abuse prevention plan also include ongoing training, care for staff, and a robust response plan when abuse allegations surface?
    5. Are we aware of subtle forms of spiritual abuse? How do we protect vulnerable populations?
      • Explore the dangers of “sin-leveling” (making victim responses on par with offender actions)
    6. Victims often develop poor coping mechanisms (e.g., addictions, resistance to authority, reactive moods, withdrawal, etc. Do we respond to all sins the same or is there recognition that traumatized victims need a different form a response?
    7. Do we have regular spaces for pastors and leaders to address secondary trauma (the result of being deeply involved in the ongoing traumas of congregants)?
      • Explore local resources outside the church so leadership does not need to be expert on every form of trauma and trauma response.

    These are just a few questions to start with and will likely elicit many more as you go. By asking the questions you are taking serious the call by God to watch after the flock (including the sheep leading other sheep).

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized

    Injustice of minorities at the hands of authorities: It begins with stories


    In life we start with experience long before we can articulate reality. As we grow and mature we try to make sense of the world and our place in it. As we develop, we come to recognize that our experiences are always biased and in need of correction. Yet, no matter the need for correction, our experiences still shape us in powerful ways. Thus, if we are going to get a handle on the complex sociopolitical issues involved in the current distress of Black men being shot or mistreated by police officers, we need to start with their stories—not because these stories are all we have but because they are fundamentally shaping experiences for these men.

    Full disclosure: I am lily white. While I am the father of two African American sons, I myself can never fully understand their experience. I have never felt that others are afraid of me solely based on the color of my skin. However, what follows may help majority readers prepare to listen to heart-breaking stories and to become a bit more aware of what it might be like to be a Black man in America.

    Two personal stories first.

    Since it is my blog, let me tell two of my own stories of interactions with authorities. First, many years ago I was driving my little VW late one Friday night through the rural pine barrens of New Jersey, on my way to a youth group retreat. I was by myself. At some point a car came up on my rear at a high rate of speed. I hoped he would pass me but he didn’t. After a few minutes, blue lights flashed. I was being pulled over. I checked my speed and was sure I had not done anything wrong. After stopping, I turned off my music, lowered my window and awaited the officer’s approach. With his bright flashlight in hand, he asked me if I knew why I was being stopped. I didn’t. He asked me to get out of the car. Now my heart started racing a bit. He told me I had been weaving (I’m sure I hadn’t) and whether I had been drinking (I know I hadn’t). He put me through my paces with touching my nose, walking in a straight line. Had I been doing drugs, he asked. Why were my eyes so bloodshot (hard contacts did that to me)? He asked me if I would allow him to search my car and to move to the back. He proceeded to take the next 15 minutes to rifle through my car: glove box, under seats, through my packed bag. The longer it took and the more silent he was, the more anxious I became. I found myself starting to panic. Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Intermittently, he would stop, shine the light on me and ask me quite gruffly, why I was anxious (which made me jump and become more anxious). At one point I put my hands on my head so as to get a bit more oxygen into my lungs–like you might do after running an 800 meter race. Finally, he stopped looking through my things and help up a small tube containing a tiny suction cup (used to removed a hard contact that had become stuck in the corner of my eye). What’s this? I tried to explain but stumbled over my words until I could show him out it worked. Abruptly, the officer told me he could give me a ticket for weaving and driving tired. He wouldn’t this time but he was going to follow me for the next two miles to a nearby convenience store where he expected me to stop and buy a caffeinated drink. Those two miles were the longest I’ve driven. I probably choked that steering wheel to death!

    Thus ends my scariest interaction with American police. Not much of a scare really. It was, however, unnerving. I was not anywhere near home. I didn’t have any power. I hadn’t done anything wrong but was being suspected of many wrong things. You might argue that he was just doing his job but my experience was that I wasn’t believed when I gave my answers. Even though I passed the balance tests, I still wasn’t believed. I didn’t really have the right to refuse the search of my car even though the law said I did. He had all the power, I had none. I wasn’t really mistreated and went on my way no worse for wear. When I drove back by at the end of the retreat, I noticed being a bit on edge, looking around for police and being doubly sure I was driving in a straight line.

    But stick with my story for just a minute more. Imagine further now that this happened on a semi-regular basis, maybe even only once a year. How would that shape my sense of self or my reaction to police anywhere? And what if the outcome were undeserved fines or handcuffs just to keep the officers safe? How would that influence my sense of place in the community, a place where evidently you are a cause of fear merely due to the color of your skin?

    I did have another police interaction worth telling here. I attended a tiny bible college in Lenox, MA between 1984 and 1986. This school was situated on the edge of Tanglewood Music Center (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), a most beautiful and wealthy (and white) part of the state. Our study body, though small, was diverse with a number of students from the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA. One day, several of us decided to go play basketball at a local school. We piled into one of the Daye brother’s mammoth car. Likely there were 6 of us going to shoot hoops. What I know is that I was the only white person in the car, sitting in the back seat between two much larger African American men. On the way, (which couldn’t be more than 2 miles at the most) we were pulled over. No tickets were given but we were questioned as to where we were headed. What I most remember from this event is the questions I was asked. On several occasions I was ask, “Are you okay?” Taken off guard and, frankly, naïve to what he might be asking, I must have stammered out a yes. Either I was unconvincing or he couldn’t imagine why I would be with this group of friends. So, he asked at least 2 more times. As far as I recall, we went on to play basketball and never (sadly) spoke of that event. It wasn’t until later that I realized what the officer was asking and what message that spoke to my brothers–that they were a threat to me, that I must be there against my will.

    Why and How to Listen?

    In previous blogs I have covered the why and the how of listening to those who seem different from ourselves. Consider reading “Loving Your Cultural Enemies” and “On having Substantive Conversations about Race Relations.” Each of these short essays suggest the way forward is through listening and validating personal experiences because being heard, seen and understood tend to move us more quickly beyond simplistic diagnoses and blame-shifting. Think about the most recent argument you had with a family member. Did you make more progress debating or by acknowledging key points?

    Try These Steps

    1.  Remember your own minority experience. Before you start listening to the stories of others, recall your own experiences of being different or objectified. Maybe it was the time you were the only one of your kind (e.g., a Baptist among paedobaptists, a man among women, an English speaker among non-English speakers, a democrat among republicans, etc.). While these minority experiences may have been a passing, superficial experience, they teach us about what it is like to feel like an “other.” Recall the experience and then try to imagine it happening every day.
    2. Read widely of minority experiences. Start here with Brian Crooks’ experience of growing up Black in Naperville, IL. Remember, our goal is not to verify a person’s facts so much as it is to understand that perspective. Look for the common threads of systemic cultural/racial blindness and/or oppression.
    3. Imagine how you would want others to respond if you had a story of mis-treatment by authorities. Likely, you would want to be believed and you might want them to ask how they could help. Work to name injustices without excuses, blame-shifting or “sin-leveling.” For example, just as you don’t ask a rape victim if she was wearing a suggestive outfit, you don’t ask a minority male if he was wearing a hoodie.

    These are starter ideas to get ourselves immersed in the stories of others. Next we will consider what responsibilities we have when we learn of individual and systemic injustices.

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Abuse, Justice, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Uncategorized

    4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing


    [Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]

    As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.

    With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?

    So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]

    Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response

    While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.

    Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

    The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.HWT_USA_2014

    While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.

    But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce

    There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.

    To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.

    Experiential learning trumps lectures every time

    In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.

    Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.

    The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.

    Good training hinges on contextualization

    If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.

    The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.

    Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.

    For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.

    13 Comments

    Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, teaching counseling, trauma, Uncategorized

    New resource for adult males with child sexual abuse histories


    Take a look at most books and resources for adults with abuse histories and you will discover that they do a great job illustrating the experience of females. The vignettes are often about the experience of young girls. The pronouns used tend to be female. These books are incredibly important and I wouldn’t suggest for a second that there are too many such books. But if you are a male and you have a history of sexual abuse, you may have to look far and wide to find resources that tell your story.

    Look no further. Andrew Schmutzer, Daniel Gorski, and David Carlson have published, Naming Our Abuse: God’s Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016). All three tell their stories but do so in a way for other survivors to process (and re-write) their narratives as well. The book is written in 4 sections and is in the form of a journal with ample room for the reader to write along with the authors. The sections, The Wreck, Accident Report, Rehabilitation, and Driving Again, enable the reader to reflect on his own experience as well as move into next steps and ways to cope–first illustrated by three different voices and then followed by a good number of questions to engage. I would highly recommend that readers share the experience with a trusted friend and/or counselor so as to manage the response to the subject matter. As I said in my blurb, “…work slowly through this book, examining how you might tell your story (which has not ended!) to yourself.” Our stories are not over and it is important to examine how we may distort our own stories (or have them distorted for us by voices from our past or present).

    One of the little treasures in this book are the letters the three men write to their little boy selves long ago. Read these letters and consider what you would say to your younger self from your present self (but avoid shaming and judging that child that you were).

    18 Comments

    Filed under Abuse, sexual abuse, sexual violence