Category Archives: deception

Sex offender resources for the church

Last week I received a blog comment asking about counseling helps for sex offenders who wish to leave behind their offending behaviors. You can see the question and my answer here. I would add my thoughts from this short essay gives an overview of the kind of growth we want to see in reforming abusers.

This week I was shown some materials designed specifically for churches in order to protect victims (and potential victims) and aid the recovery of sex offenders–whether prosecuted or not.

These materials are published by an English organization, Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS). They have a number resources relating to the protection of children and describe themselves as,

a professional safeguarding charity providing training, resources, support and advice in all areas of safeguarding and a 24 hour helpline. CCPAS is also an umbrella organisation appointed by the Criminal Records Bureau to process criminal records checks.

The great thing about this organization (yes, I spell it with a z) is that their pamphlets are available for FREE downloads. Their “Help” series covers issues from sex offending and church attendance, sex trafficking, domestic violence, responding to allegations of abuse, etc.

The organization also encourages every church to have a volunteer safe-guarding coordinator.

Also, they have a host of DVDs as well. One I have in my hand is entitled, The Supervision and Pastoral Care of Sex Offenders. It is a 2 DVD set with victim and perpetrator accounts and reviews offender behaviors and helpful assessment, treatment and church supervision plans. You can purchase it on the above websites for about 25 US dollars.

I wasn’t able to review one other item sold by them: Walk the Walk: A Treatment Supplement for Sex Offenders with Christian Beliefs. Authored by Tim Horton and 80 pages in length, it is available on an American site (along with two other titles, one for helping sex offending clergy and for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Finally, a recent Christianity Today article covered the topic of working with sex offenders after prison. It did a good job as far as it went. But too often we concern ourselves with issues such as forgiveness, church attendance, and restoration. These issues are indeed important and ought not be neglected. However, focus for offenders should be on treatment, accountability, and willingness to support the well-being of others over their own supposed rights and freedoms. Diane Langberg and I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in a subsequent edition that might peak your interest.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, Diane Langberg, Sex, Uncategorized

Deception 101: Pulling off a massive fraud

Want to pull off a grand deception of mass proportions and in so doing rule a people? Look no further than King Leopold II and his colonizing efforts in the Congo. He was able to destroy a country while all the time convince others that he only wished to be father protector for the country.

Yes, it helps to have lots of money to buy opinions outright. However, Leopold didn’t need to spend much money to get the opinions he wanted. Why? Most of us are easily “bought off” by being associated with wealth and fame. It is also good to have an attractive exterior (and by attractive I don’t mean beauty as much as I mean desirable). But money and attraction alone will not be enough. You must consider doing the following:

1.      Find any number of people who will vouch for you. In order to pull off a grand deception you need emissaries who will secure the trust of important gatekeepers. These emissaries tend to be easily persuaded because they have a particular Achilles heel for fame or money. They are fame mongers.

2.      Buy some airtime and print space in order to advance the notion that you may be the most humble person with only the most philanthropic intentions for the place or the people you want to control. Be sure to focus on existing evils that you wish to bring to an end by your tireless sacrifices.

3.      Convene think tanks of those with expertise or interests in the area—those who might want to get in on the action be also those who really do want to address the evils (see #2) you say you want to stop. It is essential that these folks have solid ability to strategize and make decisions. Further, they should be quite assured that they are the most gifted individuals who can solve pesky problems. Flattery helps!

4.      By all means, do not tell these individuals your true intentions. Instead,

5.      Get these very energetic folks to start making decisions about how to care for the poor saps who haven’t enough wits to help themselves. They needn’t have any significant expertise in the area. Just give them some maps and let them start deciding what resources they think are needed, who should be in charge, who should do the work, and how to best do all of this without getting the rest of the world needlessly involved or suspicious—you know, to avoid red tape that will only slow down altruistic efforts.

6.      Make sure the think tanks recognize your great desire to do good and get them to vote you to head the efforts. You need to have power, remember. But don’t look too eager…agree to let someone else lead the newly formed committee next year. And send them home with gifts and ready to spread your good name to all who will listen.

7.      Be sure to give none of them any real power. When you convene the group next time, only invite those most loyal to you. Of course you’ll keep leading the group.

8.      Questions will arise from those not involved. Be very perceptive. What is their concern? Tell each person what they want to hear. Say it with passion and clarity. Get them to agree that you are the right person for the job and to say it publicly.

9.      Now that you have your “permissions”, start working two plans. The first plan is some small efforts to fix problems you said you would fix. Do it very publicly. Pay for journalists if you must. The “real” plan must also begin now. Do this quietly and without fanfare…someplace where you will not get much attention. If anyone complains, have ready a very realistic excuse. Admit to some problems but make sure it looks like you had nothing to do with the problem.

And there you have it. You have pulled on your grad deception. If you want to read how King Leopold II did this for real…read chapters 3-5 of Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. It is an excellent example of deception and using the cover of kindness to get what you want. Even Christian missionary movements sung his praises and gave him money because they bought his story.

Now, most of us have no plans to create a colony but I suspect that we all have moments where we try to look more honorable than we really are. The difference between us and Leopold is the scope of our intention.

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Filed under deception, Democratic Republic of Congo

Some thoughts on the roots/shoots of genocide

Been thinking about the topic of genocide lately due to a possible symposium talk in near future. If you are like me it is hard to wrap your mind around such a horrific human/group behavior. Just how does one get to the point of being willing to massacre 10 people much less 1,000? How does one become “okay” with mass killing?

I think most would like to believe it is something different from normal human behavior–something in a different category from the rest of humanity. Maybe it comforts us to think of it as a massive work of Satan (it likely is) or a secret political conspiracy that the general population knows nothing of til afterwards.

I suspect, however, that genocidal behavior develops out of some rather basic, even mundane, human tendencies. Here’s the recipe for mass murder, abuse of power, and even use of porn in the privacy of one’s bedroom while acting righteous in public. Duplicity, abuse of power, or any willful sin starts with,

  1. The seed of a perceived problem or threat/loss, and then
  2. Sprouts in the soil of self-focus and deafness or complacency to the needs of others, and then
  3. Bears fruit in warm glow of deception of self and other fertilized by propaganda

Here’s my question to you. What else might I be missing in this “recipe”?


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, cultural apologetics, deception, self-deception

“Niceness is a decision”?

Cover of "Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists,...

Cover via Amazon

For “light” reading over the break, I decided to read Anna Salter’s book, Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and other Sex Offenders (Basic Books, 2003). I’ve known of this book for some time and viewed her DVDs which cover a chunk of the book’s topic. **I don’t recommend you read this book at night or at all if you have any history of sexual abuse.**

The book reviews research on those who commit these kinds of crimes. What I found most helpful is her treatment of the problem of deception, common techniques, and how both the average person AND expert clinicians are easily seduced by the presentation and lies of offenders. She closes out the book with chapters on detecting deception and protecting children from abusers.

But one particular paragraph caught my eye. The context of what you read below is her discussion of the necessity of a double life (appearances of sincerity, likeability, honest, etc.) in order to gain access to children. As she says, “a surly and obnoxious person would have little access…” (p. 38)

“Niceness is a decision,” writer Gavin De Becker wrote in the The Gift of Fear. It is “a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character train.” There are days I want to tattoo this on my forehead. De Becker is right, but who believes him? (ibid)

Do you agree? Niceness is a decision not a character trait?

Niceness is an action, a behavior. Frankly, any of the fruits of the Spirit may be short-term behaviors as well. I can choose to be gentle or patient for a time. But true fruits come from Holy Spirit induced character change. But what bubbles up in us when no one is looking tells a bit more about who we really are.

We ought to be just a bit more suspicious about ourselves and be wary of the tendency to pat ourselves on the back for being nice–especially if we find ourselves doing calculations on the benefits we might receive for our good behavior.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, personality, Psychology

Professional communications by counselors: What do they reveal?

What we say and how we say it can tell someone quite a bit about our character. We counselors earn our keep with words. And yet, it is our words that may do the most harm to others. As a result, I encourage us to take stock of our words. What do they reveal about us? Oh, and don’t just consider the words you use in a session. How you talk to a colleague, about a colleague, to another professional may reveal your character more than you think. Consider the following communication issues:

1. Client put-downs. In agencies where counselors share clients with other professionals (e.g., psychiatrists, social workers, community workers, etc.), it is common for conversation to descend into put-downs. No doubt these professionals care about their clients. But if they are frustrated with the client, does it result in blaming the client? Making fun of their idiosyncracies? “He’s such a narcissist; She’s so Borderline”. These kind of comments reveal more about the speaker than the one spoken about.

2. Professional Lingo. Every guild has its lingo. Read a psychiatric or psychological evaluation and you will likely come across a number of words that only make sense if you are on the inside. The client probably wouldn’t really know what is being said about them with translation help. What do your progress notes communicate? Who are you writing for? How might our lingo hinder our work. I highly suggest that use the client as a standard to evaluate all our written communications. If the client couldn’t understand or could possibly be harmed by what we write, the think better of it.

3. Professional Territorialness. We communicate with other professionals about our clients. Does our communication reveal any condescending attitudes? Any unnecessary hierarchy? How do you talk about another professional to clients? To other colleagues? Do we withhold data for power reasons? For fear of mis-use by the other. If so, we have serious issues to address. Leaving them unaddressed will only injure the client.

4. Unprepared staffings. Staff communications regarding shared clients often include off-the-cuff comments about clients. These kind of statements can sound as if they are well supported by data. Sadly, we can offer up anecdotes about a client and they are weighted as heavily as objective test data. Can we support our comments and insights with data? Are there other data that might challenge our offered hypotheses?

5. General coarseness. I once had a supervisor who used the “F” word in every sentence (and in every form of speech possible). He relished the power he got from using that word. I’m not opposed to ever using curse words but they usually reveal more about the user than the situation. More recently, I’ve noticed how frequently we use genital imagery to talk about important character traits. “Do you have the stones to do that?” I heard this question asked in prime-time television. Why couldn’t they just talk about the trait of courage? I do think that language has a way of devolving in the heat of battle. Counselors work in the trenches and so it stands to reason that they might slip here some.

6. General grumbling. It is easy to slip into the habit of grumbling. I am tempted to revel (yes revel since I think I enjoy it some) in pointing out the failures of other people. I feel better when I can see their mistakes that I would never commit. We grumble against people, against institutions, against policies; against pretty much anything that irritates us.

Let us be diligent to explore what our communication reveals about our hearts and character and let us resolve, with God’s help, to love others even when they are not watching–and to model that love in our speech.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, deception, ethics, Psychology, Uncategorized

The burden of a secret

I once ran across a website posting short video clips of individuals revealing some deep secret. Some of these secrets were funny (developing a fake friend on a social networking site to make an ex girlfriend jealous), some were eye-brow raising (eating contents of nose), and some were downright painful (revealing affairs, addictions, sexual abuse and the like).

Keeping a secret (your own or someone else’s) requires that you carry a burden. You know something and can’t share it. You can’t talk about it. You might like to, but the consequences seem dire if you share it. You might lose a friend. You might lose your reputation. You might lose your security.

As someone who listens to secrets for a living I’ve a few observations about the secrets people hold:

1. Even in the confidential setting of counseling, it is near impossible to lay down the burden of some secrets. These secrets are covered in shame. Sexual abuse; Unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings; addictions.

2. Secrets shape our identity in some powerful ways–maybe even more than known truths.

3. The longer a secret is kept, the harder it is to tell, or the harder it is to tell truthfully. Time has a way of distorting facts and feelings in some cases. Similarly, we make lots of excuses for why we keep secrets. Some excuses are cover for shame (e.g., “It would hurt her to know that I…”).

4. When someone has a guilty secret (e.g., an affair), they often tell it to finally throw off the burden of guilt. So, when they tell their spouse, they often feel better right away. Unfortunately, the spouse does NOT feel better. In these cases I find the guilty spouse has a hard time relating to the new burden they’ve just loaded on to their mate. They feel free and wish their spouse would now also feel free too. It is always good for the guilty spouse to question why they wish to confess. Is it to promote truth and long-term possibility of healing? Then, they should tell (carefully). If it is to just be relieved of their guilt, then such a confession may not lead to repentance and healing.

5. Even little secrets kept from a loved one can hurt when revealed. If you lie to me about how many Easter eggs you ate on Sunday, maybe you are lying to me about more weighty matters.


Filed under counseling, deception, Psychology, self-deception

Pastoral sexual abuse a conspiracy?

Heard a radio personality discussing the Pope’s letter to Irish Catholics. He was unhappy with the content of the letter, specifically the Pope’s failure to accept responsibility for abuse by Irish priests. He commented that given the sexual abuse scandal around the world in the Church, there had to be a specific conspiracy, going to the top, to keep covering these matters up; to keep transferring offender priests to new locations.

Given the authority lines in the Catholic church, a planned conspiracy is possible. But, what do we make of these same problems in Protestant churches? Especially in independent churches where there is no authority beyond the local body? Sadly, we see the same cover-up, the same attempts to move someone on without blowing the whistle.

Why? Is it a conspiracy? Yes, but not like the radio host was thinking.

The most obvious answer to the why question has to do with the fact that all, since Adam, are inclined to hide sin; to cover up and deny the truth. SO, it stands to reason that we see this as a universal phenomenon. People, especially those with power, want to look good and deny problems. Even more so when the truth might remove them from power.

But there are some other reasons as well. Worries about defaming Christ, causing “unnecessary” anxiety, “wasting” a gifted person’s ministry just because of one problem. These kinds of reasons are secondary. They make it easier to swallow the denial and deception. Like the parable of the talents, we find excuse for why we bury things. But they are not the primary reason.

I think the radio host wanted to be able to accuse the leadership of the Catholic church. Popes had to know and agree with these cover-ups that allowed abuse to continue. They may well have. But, a far more insidious conspiracy lies in each of our hearts; one that will destroy us if we turn a blind eye to it.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, self-deception

Delusions and hallucinations: What are they?

Most of us trust our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. If we hear something, we assume it to be real. Imagine someone telling you that what you feel or heard wasn’t real. Would you be inclined to believe them? Probably not. And the more they tried to convince you that you were crazy, the more you might see them as trying to deceive you.

That is a little piece of the world of those who experience psychotic symptoms–where they believe, feel, hear, experience things that others deny are real.

So, what is happening when someone comes to believe they are Jesus Christ in the flesh? What is happening when someone hears a voice telling them that they should die?

Possible explanations:

1. Misinterpretation of feelings and perceptions. I walk into a room and the hair of my neck rises. Does it mean that there is a lot of static electricity in the room? That I’m nervous in crowds? Or that someone is beaming thoughts at me? One explanation is that I’m mis-reading the data.

2. Mis-firing of neurons in the perception areas of the brain. I know that isn’t exactly the scientific language we ought to use but it is true that certain electrical stimulation of the brain leads to perceiving smells and sights that are not real. Elevations of dopamine and other neurotransmitters are possible causes of psychosis.

3. Real supernatural experiences. It is possible that spiritual forces are at play and the person is hearing what is being sent to them. Now, whether those forces are telling the truth or not may be the question the person ought to entertain. Further, labeling these symptoms as supernatural does not necessitate a supernatural response (e.g., casting out demons). Deception may be broken by basic Christian responses (e.g., prayer, submission to the Word) and by medications.

As a Christian psychologist I believe all three are at play in any disease. We are individuals with broken bodies that do not work right. We are mis-perceiving and vulnerable to deception. I cannot say for sure that someone who believes themselves to be a prophet is lying. However, if they are not evidencing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives then I do question the validity of their identity.

Counselees experiencing intruding sensations and perceptions can break their influence when they are able to attend to other “data”. For example, “I feel others are out to get me but I will live as one who trusts in the Lord rather than in my ability to prove to others that I am in danger.” “I will not use violence or rage to be heard.” “I will not isolate in order to be safe.” “I feel like God has me here for a special reason but I will not neglect caring for my children nor abuse those who do not think I have a special calling.”

Counselors will find more success joining counselees, accepting their reality, rather than merely attacking their beliefs. It is possible that my counselee is a prophet but I can still encourage them to faithful work, love, and honor of those around them.

[Note: I’m not covering the issues of medications, hospitalization, and other psychiatric treatments in this post. These are important and not merely ancillary to the care of those struggling against psychotic symptoms. I am only musing on the possible causes of delusions and hallucinations.]


Filed under counseling, counseling skills, deception, Psychology

Accepting our part of the problem

Notice how hard it is to own our own stuff? Especially when the other person is the bigger problem? Consider the following conversation:

Speaker A: He’s such a jerk! I never want to talk to him again.

Speaker B: What happened?

Speaker A: He never told me that the assignment was due today or that it had to be done up professional. He just yelled at me when I asked him a question and told me I was going to get written up and reported to _____.

Speaker B: Wow that was so unlike him. He must have had something that was bothering him. Aren’t your assignments listed for you ahead of time?

Speaker A: Yeah, they are listed, but I wasn’t there when they put them up and because I have so much to do I couldn’t check what was listed and anyway he should tell me or at least cut me some slack since I work my butt off for him.

Without considering the wrongs or the mistakes of leader (which may be numerous!), notice that speaker A doesn’t tell you that he/she has a habit of forgetting to look at the assignment list nor that when the unnamed “he” called speaker A on messing up, speaker A then spoke in sarcastic and demeaning and defensive tones.

This is a fictional account. And yet we all struggle with saying, “I didn’t like how he treated me but to be fair, I keep forgetting to do what he asked.” “I wish he didn’t yell at me in front of everyone, but I have to admit I was goofing off and talking when I shouldn’t.” If I yell at my kids it is because I was tired or they deserved it. If I speed, it was because I was late. If I’m late it was because of bad traffic. If I didn’t finish my writing assignment it was because of some last-minute crisis. Notice how we take truths and turn them into defenses and thus avoid any blame at all.

What if you are only 10% of the blame for a conflict and your child/spouse/coworker/parent is to blame for the other 90%? Do you find it hard to say, “You know, when we were fighting yesterday, I said _________ and that was hurtful and wrong. Will you forgive me?” Do you find it hard to stop at the end of the sentence without adding, “but you….”

I do. So do my clients and my kids. We seem to think that if we acknowledge our part we let the other party off the hook. In fact, most frequently, when we own our part, the other party is MORE likely to own their stuff too.


Filed under conflicts, deception, Relationships, Repentance

Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder

What is the difference from selling truth to a population and selling propaganda? A razor’s edge so it seems. I suppose another response would be, “I know it when I see it”–the response made about pornography. But what may be truth to you is propaganda to another.

Why am I thinking about this? My recent trip to DC included a trip to the holocaust museum. There, the curator of the new propaganda exhibit took us through his amazing assemblage of Nazi propaganda. Let me give you a flavor:

Propaganda as defined in the museum is, “biased information designed to shape public opinion and behavior.” They go on to say that propaganda is identified as that which

  • plays on emotions
  • uses a combination of truths, half-truths, and lies
  • omits information that might counter its contentions
  • simplifies complex information into a slogan
  • Attacks opponents (blames them for all problems; negatively portrays them)
  • Advertises a cause and uses righteous approach to give the cause meaning
  • Targets desired audiences through contextual material

As we went through, here’s what I noticed as well. A propaganda machine works to re-write history; makes the enemy comical (caricatures of Jews evident); emphasizes oration skills; uses media, fine arts, art, color, pictures, emphasizes a logo; targets different audiences in different ways; doesn’t mind opposition but builds on it; keeps people terrified; encourages even demands grassroots involvement; gets the youth involved; portrays self as victim and minority; creates fictitious events (e.g., calls war by another name (retaliation for prior aggression); connects with known trusted and wise individuals or labels (Hitler was alluded to as the Great Physician!); encourages passivity so that the inner circle may act in their stead; and encourages skepticism and cynicism about the criticism they will receive (the Nazis told the people near the end of the war that the Allies would say evil things about them that were going to be untrue. Such activities plant seeds of doubt to encourage those to believe that the holocaust didn’t really happen).

Now, let me tell you about the reactions we had as we went though the exhibit. The Rwandans with us gasped and gaped at times. They realized that someone(s) masterminding the Rwandan genocide must have read the Nazi playbook. They reminded us that one such mastermind in Rwanda was a PhD in history and was behind the use of the Radio propaganda. They repeated over and over, “this is what happened to us.” Several of us also realized that in child sexual abuse, many of these same behaviors are used (whether consciously or not) to avoid detection. The perpetrator grooms the victim, rewrites history, tells half-truths, makes themself the victims, and even may try to plant seeds of doubt about the truth.

One more thought? Could we also say that sometimes Christian organizations use some of these tactics. Scare a population by making a caricature of the government, report only half the truth, make self as victim, excuse unchristian behavior as necessary.

While I don’t think the answer is that we ought to all become horrible skeptics in order to avoid propaganda, I do think we ought to be highly sensitive to those behaviors and attitudes that do not reflect the proper character of Christianity. We must not use tactics unbecoming of Christ–even if for a good end.

I leave you with this thought: Isn’t there a good use of propaganda? I believe so. Can you give some examples where you are getting “good” propaganda?

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Cognitive biases, deception, Rwanda