Category Archives: Doctrine/Theology

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts


In 21st century United States, does spiritual abuse really happen? Can’t we all just choose churches where we feel safe? No one makes us (adults) go to church so shouldn’t spiritual abuse be nonexistent in this day—or at least happen only once (e.g., fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…)?

Sadly, spiritual abuse happens in all sorts of churches and for all sorts of reasons.

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.” Consider some of these examples:

  1. Refusing to provide pastoral care to women on the basis of gender alone
  2. Coercing reconciliation of victim to offender
  3. Dictating basic decisions (marriage, home ownership, jobs, giving practices, etc.)
  4. Binding conscience on matters that are in the realm of Christian freedom
  5. Using threats to maintain control of another
  6. Using deceptive language to coerce into sexual activity
  7. Denying the right to divorce despite having grounds to do so

For a short review, consider Mary DeMuth’s 2011 post on spotting spiritual abuse.

Why it is so harmful

If someone demands your wallet, you may give it but you do not think they have a right to it. You have no doubt that an injustice has occurred. You have been robbed! When someone abuses, it is a robbery but often wrapped up in a deceptive package to make the victim feel as if the robbery was actually a gift. Spiritual abuse almost always is couched in several layers of deception. Here’s a few of those layers:

  1. Speaking falsely for God. Spiritual leaders or shepherds abuse most frequently by presenting their words as if they were the words of God himself. They may not say “Thus sayeth the Lord” in so many ways but they speak with authority. When leaders fail to communicate God’s words and attitudes, they are called false teachers and prophets. Some of these false words include squelching dissent and concern in the name of “unity.”
  2. Over-emphasizing one doctrinal point while minimizing another. Consider the example of Paul, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In three other places in the NT, Paul says similar phrases. The application is that our leaders are to exemplify the character of Christ. Sadly, it is easy to turn this into, “do what I want you to do.” Paul does not say to imitate him. He says to imitate him when he imitates Christ. There are other examples as well: forcing forgiveness, demanding victims of abuse to confront their abusers in private so that they will meet the letter of Matthew 18.
  3. Good ends justifying means. It is a sad fact that many victims of other kinds of abuse have been asked to be silent for the sake of community comfort. Indeed, community comfort is important. But forcing a victim of abuse to be silent and to forego seeking justice is a form of spiritual abuse.
  4. Pretending to provide pastoral care. I have talked with several pastors who crossed into sexual behavior with those they have been charged to counsel. All too commonly, the pastor deceived self and other into thinking that the special attention given to the parishioner was love and compassion. In fact, their actions were always self-serving. However, the layer of deception made it feel (to both parties) like love in the beginning stages.

The reason why spiritual abuse hurts so much is that it always fosters confusion, self-doubt, and shame. This recipe encourages isolation, self-hatred, and questioning of God. When shepherds abuse, the sheep are scattered and confused. They no longer discern the voice of the true Shepherd.

This is exactly why the Old Testament and New Testament speak in such harsh terms against abusive and neglectful Shepherd: Ezekiel 34:2; Jeremiah 50:6; John 10:9. Words like, “woe to you…” and “you blind guides…” reveal that spiritual abuse for any reason is destructive and is not of God. And it gets no harsher than, “better than a millstone be tied to your neck and thrown into the sea” to illustrate the depth of evil in harming vulnerable people.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, pastors and pastoring

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK


When we hear about abuse within churches these days we often think about sexual abuse by leaders. But there are other forms of abuse that happen in other parts of the world. The following link talks about abuse that happens as a child is accused of being a witch or engaging the demonic world. In our Global Trauma Recovery course, we looked at some of the ways adult women in Ghana are accused of sorcery and who must then flee to witch camps to save their lives. The link below addresses the abuse of children labeled demonic in the DRC.

When you finish reading, you might sigh with relief that this isn’t a problem in the US church. Well, maybe not so fast? If you check out the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, there are equally distressing accounts of abuse and cover-up.

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK.

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Filed under Abuse, church and culture, counseling, Doctrine/Theology, DRC, stories, suffering, trauma

Disaster preparedness for your church?


Friends of mine at Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute are offering a 4 day seminar for those who want to Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinoishelp their church respond to local and international disasters. The goal is to prepare your church to be disaster resilient and to respond well to needs in your community. If your church is desiring to have an effective disaster ministry, you should attend this training. HDI is able to bring together theological discussions, leadership training, and best practices for psychological first aid.

Details:

  • June 4-8, 2013, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
  • $175 (if you register by May 1) for 4 days of training
  • Contact: Linda Bretz, linda.bretz@wheaton.edu

Check out this HDI Disaster Leadership Workshop (2) for details and registration.

 

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Filed under christian counseling, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Doctrine/Theology

Dealing with controversies amongst believers? Does Acts 15 give us any help?


Find 3 Christians and you will likely hear 4 passionate opinions! And give it time, and they’ll probably start 5 different denominations. Joking aside, since the beginning of the Church, Christians struggle to know how to handle differences in theology and the key questions of each era.

The World Reformed Fellowship has posted a blog I wrote on the question of how we are to handle significant differences in doctrines.

Ever wonder how the arguments might have sounded when the Council of Jerusalem took up the issue of circumcision and whether those uncircumcised (namely Gentiles) could be part of the new church?

“It has always been taught this way since God covenanted with our father Abraham. How can we reject such a central tenet of our faith? Did not God command circumcision for every Jew and every foreigner in our house? And did he not call it an ‘everlasting’ covenant (Gen 17:13)? How can we just drop something like this?”
While such debates are not surprising, I find the council’s response to be quite so.

Check out the res of the post here.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, conflicts, Doctrine/Theology


[A version of this post was first published here on February 24, 2009. Given the content of my previous post, I decided to place it back at the top by republishing today]

Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 1 Cor. 7: 1-4

In the past year I have had several conversations with men about these verses. In every situation one spouse (not always the woman) had refused to engage in certain sexual practices with their spouse. These they found unappealing or disconcerting for a variety of reasons (e.g., a husband did not wish to use sex aids, a wife did not wish to receive oral sex, a spouse found a position brought back memories of abuse, or either found themselves undesirous of any sexual activity).

And so the frustrated spouse remembered these verses and wished to use them to compel their spouse or at least remind them of the duty to provide sex.

So, whose desires trump if the gist of the passage suggests that neither has full ownership of their own body nor has the right to demand in the bedroom? 

Sadly, I have listened to  men argue that women must submit to their husband’s sexual requests. She should fulfill her marital duty, should abstain only for prayer, and that her body is her husband’s. They appeal to this text and to Ephesians 5 which commands women to submit to their husbands.

Here is what is missing in that argument:

1. The husband is commanded to sacrifice everything to love his wife. That would include his desires.

2. This passage clearly states that the wife has control over her husband’s body and thus gets veto power over how he wants to use it in bed.

Some other things from the text that get neglected:

1. The Corinthian church wanted Paul’s opinion about sex and marriage. Paul does not affirm their position. In fact, he says that given the problem of immorality, couples should not unnecessarily tempt each other.

2. Sex is not the highest good in life or in marriage. It would be better to not marry and no, not everything is beneficial. Thus our desires cannot be a god to us.
2. The mutuality of sex is obvious. No one gets trump. The goal of the passages is to encourage each other to look out for problems of temptation.
3. And yet, these aren’t commands but advice (v. 6).

Now consider these application Q & As:

1. Should a spouse comply to a request for sex if they aren’t interested?

Interested is a key word here. Some spouses may wish to engage in sexual activity even as they know their own level of desire isn’t nearly as high as the requesting spouse. But the one who wishes to please their spouse ought not feel compelled or asked to do something they find distasteful or compromising. Couples that can talk through sexual desire differences in a manner where both the asker and the assenter feel heard and supported should not face much difficulty here. It is only when either the asker feels rejected or the assenter feels forced/guilty does differences in sexual desire create trouble.

2. Should one ever use these verses to urge their mate to engage in certain sexual behaviors?

There is a big difference between asking and urging (aka compelling). Lauren Winner says that God oriented sex is unitive and sacramental. It is about giving rather than getting and/or performance. It is hard to imagine how a person would use these verses  in a manner that wouldn’t violate the law of sacrificial love. Recall that these texts are not providing “rights” for either party. The entire Christian life is a “dying to self” experience.  

3. Are there situations that might cause a couple to abstain from sex other than for prayer?

Absolutely. The text doesn’t cover every situation. Health factors obviously limit sexual activity. These may include non-genital disease, STDs, and even past or present traumas. Generally speaking, married individuals enjoy sex. So, if one is resistant to sex or to certain sex practices, it probably won’t take much time to uncover problems in the relationship or other illnesses. Note here that this 1 Corinthian text focuses on the problem of sexual immorality. Paul gives several pieces of advice (give yourself to ministry, avoid marriage, get married, watch out for each other, etc.) but nowhere does he command any of these activities. His goal is to help the church avoid the sins of idolatry and adultery. When we take the text and look for a passage to defend our “must-haves”, we miss out on the larger context and purpose and fall into the very sin Paul is exhorting us to avoid–idoloatry.

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March 8, 2013 · 5:07 am

The priority of relationships in the mission of God


I teach at a missional seminary. You might wonder what “missional” is all about. Well, I’ve tried to articulate why missional is all about redemptive and redeeming relationships. Such relationships change the ways we relate to those we seek to serve, whether here in the U.S. or in any other part of the world. To read a bit about how missional relates to serving others in Africa, read this post over at the Biblical Seminary faculty blog. It came out on Halloween but Hurricane Sandy made her appearance a few days earlier so I doubt many saw this.

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian psychology, church and culture, Doctrine/Theology, missional

7 questions about your church’s abuse policy


Over at Biblical Seminary’s faculty blog, I have a new guest post up pointing readers to 7 important questions to ask as they review their church’s existing abuse policy. One of the questions ISN’T whether or not your church HAS an abuse policy. I assume that every church has one already.

Read the post here.

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Filed under "phil monroe", biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology

Is All Counseling Theological?


Why do we have to study theology? I don’t need that to be a good counselor?

These are words I have heard from students studying counseling and/or psychology in both university settings and seminaries. What would you say?

Biblical and theological training in professional programs?

Most Christian institutions offering counseling or psychology graduate programs require some level of theological engagement. Otherwise, why exist? Some do so via specific course work while others embed the theological or biblical material into classic counseling courses. At Biblical, we do both. We require traditional counseling courses such as Marriage & Family, Helping Relationships, Psychopathology, Social & Cultural Foundations, etc. In these courses we explore counseling theory and practice from an evangelical Christian psychology perspective. We also require students to complete courses like, “Counseling & the Biblical Text” and “Counseling & Theology: Cultural Issues” where they engage biblical texts and theological study as they consider how it forms counseling theory/practice and shapes the character of the counselor.

Is all counseling theological?

Yes. And David Powlison in the most recent CCEF NOW magazine (2-4) talks about this very fact. Here are some choice tidbits,

…counselors deal with your story. In fact, they become players in that story. By word and deed, even by their line of questioning, they inevitably offer some form of editing or rescripting, some reinterpretation of your story.

Counseling is inescapably a moral and theological matter. To pretend otherwise is to be naive, deceived, or duplicitous.

…all counseling uncovers and edits personal stories…. All counseling must and does deal with questions of true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, value and stigma, glory and shame, justification and guilt.

All counseling explicitly or implicitly deals with questions of redemption, faith, identity, and meaning.

Thus, if value-free counseling is not possible (the very questions we ask lead clients in one direction or another), then it stands to reason that every counselor ought to explore the theologies (doctrines, interpretations, beliefs, etc.) he or she brings into the counseling room. Who is God? How does God operate? What is the purpose of the Bible? Does it have anything to say about my life, my attitudes, my relationships? What is sin? What is my purpose in life? What does God think about my suffering? And on we could go.

But counseling is NOT theologizing

But lest you think that Christian counselors spend a great deal of time plying clients with the right answers, on sin hunts, or catechising clients, let us remember that exhortation rarely makes for good counseling. In fact, most clients are well aware of their sins–even those who do not call themselves “believers.” And those who have correct theology are not less likely to have trouble in their relationships or less likely to struggle with racing thoughts or depression or less likely to get caught in addictive behavior.

Instead, good christian counseling consists mainly of,

  1. loads of stimulating questions designed not to get the “right” answer but to awaken the client to how they think, act, believe, relate, etc.
  2. Short observations to stimulate more critical understanding of the personal narratives being written, and
  3. Collegial exploration and practice of new narratives, perceptions, and behaviors.

Wait, just what is Christian about these three points? Couldn’t unbelieving counselors agree with this list? Sure they could. What makes these three activities Christian is the submission of both counselor and client to core convictions and practices of Christ followers.

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, Christianity, counseling skills, Doctrine/Theology, teaching counseling, Uncategorized

Guest post over at Christianpost.com


The website, www.christianpost.com has picked up one of my recent blog posts about whether our bodies can cause us to sin. Never heard of the site before but nice to be noticed. You can see the post here if you missed it on my site: http://blogs.christianpost.com/guest-views/can-your-body-cause-you-to-sin-11696/

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, Doctrine/Theology

2nd Post: Can Your Body Make You Sin?


Over at Biblical Seminary’s Faculty Blog you can read my second of two posts on the topic of bodily weakness, sin, and culpability. I conclude with the realization that there is something more important in this conversation than ascribing blame or parsing fault.

I’m curious about your thoughts. How much does culpability really matter when determining your response to those whose bodies seem to cause them to sin?

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Filed under counseling, Doctrine/Theology, Psychology, Uncategorized