How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.

[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].

She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.

She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.

Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:

  • She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
  • The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
  • All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
  • If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.

She got angry at the church, God, and her family–who indeed shunned her–and vowed to never go to a church again. That was seven years ago. She has kept part of her bargain. She does not go to any church. She only speaks to her older brother, the only non-Christian in her family.

But after several years of getting angry at God she has changed her mind. She has read several books on alternative understandings of LGBTQ theology. She has talked to many believers who do not feel the same way as her church about these issues, regardless of whether they are Affirming. She now believes God probably doesn’t endorse the way she has been treated.

But after being away from God for seven years, she doesn’t know how to re-establish connection and a relationship with God.

She struggles because she has jettisoned a literal reading of the Bible, a Christian code of ethics and sexuality, evangelical political and cultural norms, and most of her parents’ beliefs on heaven, hell, and authority.

But she still believes in a Creator-God and she still believes Jesus is the savior.

She is one of many who have asked how they can reconnect with God after throwing out evangelicalism and organized church. This is not an easy thing to do, as everyone who has tried it can testify.

Some people walk away from the church because they were abused by a pastor or church leader.

Some run away because when that leader was confronted, the church rallied around the leader and laid more grief on the victim.

Others saw hypocrisy, hatred, alt-right political positions, spousal violence, xenophobia, gun violence, and Complementarianism either taught outright or winked at.

There are also conscientious theologians in churches who see the circular logic of Inerrancy, or who cannot stomach the disconnect between Science and the Bible as their church taught it, or see a permanent distance between a God of love and the God of Eternal Conscious Torment.

People leave church–and people leave Christianity.

The author Anne Rice, a Catholic, wrote this several years ago:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

For whatever reason people leave the Church and/or Christianity, there are some who do not leave God. But because they learned God from Christianity, it is hard to separate God out enough from his proponents to form a meaningful relationship. Some do not.

Some cannot bring themselves to believe in God because their entire church anguish is irrevocably tied up with God.

To help understand that, listen to one victim of child sexual abuse. Though this is not about God, it draws a parallel emotional picture with someone struggling with abuse in church, and whether to believe in God:

“I was dragged weekly down to the basement of our house where I was molested, beaten, and even raped. I have done a lot of work to not hate my Dad. I have done even more work to be able to finally function as a healthy adult. But damn it, don’t tell me I have to have anything to do with my mother who let the whole thing happen.”

For many, God is that parent who let the whole thing happen.

This article is not telling anyone they have to have a relationship with God. But if, after all the struggles, you still believe in God and want to re-connect somehow, what can you do?

This is not a definitive list. But it probably will help get the reader unstuck.

1. Get it all out.

You can’t reconnect with God if you keep pretending you are not angry with God. Spend some time, maybe a lot of time, telling God how you feel. Anger is only part of it. Add your disappointments, your fears, your confusion, your sense of injustice. Perhaps write it down or put it on a recording of some kind. There are some who have used art, poetry, and podcasts to empty out the feelings.

Like Forrest Gump who, after his grief, ran and ran until he was tired, keep getting it all out until you’re tired of doing that. Then you know it is done. It doesn’t matter how long this part takes. Do whatever you want with all of it: Collect it, distribute it, burn it, read it over–it doesn’t matter. It’s yours.

2. Tell someone else as much of your story, or as little as you like.

If you do this step, make sure the person you first tell is as safe as you can find, and that they know ahead of time what is expected. You don’t want them to fix you, agree with you, disagree with you, defend God, attack God, or any other reaction of that type. You want them only to understand what you’re saying. When you do this, find another person with whom to do it again. Then again. And again. Some become writers to do this.

Last year, Jennifer Fox wrote a mini-series called “The Tale” which stars Laura Dern, and has been hailed as a masterpiece of television. It is a story of how when Fox was 13, her equestrian coach and the coach’s boyfriend embroiled her in a bizarre sexual assault.

Fox describes the series as more than just cathartic. It resulted in the ability to get to know her own self better. Even though the television story is a little different than her real story, it is not dissimilar. She was abused by trusted adults.

So why did she write it? In her words, it was to discover her 13-year-old self:

One day, I woke up and realized I actually didn’t know who I was at 13. I lost touch with her and didn’t know what she would say to me today or why she did what she did.

After writing the script, she admits to forming a deeper understanding and appreciation of who she was and what she had endured. This is the key to telling your story. The more your story of church, abuse, discouragement, etc. is told, the less power it has. And the more you will understand about what really happened.

3. Read what others have found.

Once you have written down–or divulged the pain in another creative stream–and told others about this pain, it might be time to let it go. You don’t ever have to. It is your choice. But it is a heavy weight to carry on one’s soul. Some people may have to negotiate with that part of you which never wants to forget what happened. You might start slowly until you feel comfortable letting some elements go. Some of these elements relate to God, so you might need help with that part.

This is the stage I suggest reading the books, blogs, essays, and songs of those who have returned to God after being away awhile. I hesitate to give the titles for you at this juncture. There are many to choose from and I don’t want to completely direct your path. You can ask others on social media who relate to this re-connecting who they found helpful. Take it slowly. Through this stage, you may see what others did to find the God of their youth, the God who wasn’t always scary.

Unfortunately, for some of you, the God you were taught was always scary and you may need to purge that God out of your system before checking out the God of peace, gentleness, and love.

One book I do suggest trying is Kevin Butcher’s book “Choose + Choose Again.” It can be cathartic and releasing, though some have found it to be too triggering.

I also find all the writings of Anne Lamott helpful for the person returning to God. Listen to this wisdom:

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know; That even when we’re most sure that love cannot conquer all, it seems to anyway.”

4. Back into Spirituality–And God.

I never recommend a particular spiritual discipline at this point, but neither am I that guy who believes that all spiritual disciplines except bible meditation lead to demonization. I think it depends on the state of your soul. If you are seeking God, you are not going to find a snake.

Meditation, yoga, contemplation, tai-chi, mindfulness, grounding, running with spiritual purpose, speaking in tongues, dancing, energy work, and a host of other spiritual disciplines can at least open up the possibility that you can be connected to God the Spirit. John 4:24 says that God is Spirit and those who worship God should worship in spirit and in truth. Romans 8:16 says “The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are God’s beloved children.” There is a lot going on deep in our spirit-selves that we do not tap into. Before knowing God again, know your own spirit and how it works.

If the path you go down spiritually is leading you away from God, stop going that way. If it is leading you to yearn for more of your Creator’s presence, then keep going. I’m not worried for you. You’ll figure it out.

5. Start talking again–but this time, let it be a conversation.

Jesus told his disciples that he wouldn’t leave them as orphans; he would come to them. By this he meant the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the only member of the God-trinity we will ever experience directly in this plane of existence. The Spirit of God talks deeply inside our spirit. So have a conversation. Enjoy questions and answers.

One of my clients was working through the pain of being separated from her mother at age 10. She blamed God for taking her away. As we did the memory work, we found that a part of her had decided she didn’t want to ever be close to anyone again or love anyone again. But that part of her would take over later in life and force her to cut off new people whom she really did want to know and love. She felt stuck.

We went back into this 10-year old memory together. We faced that part of her that wanted to cut off love. This part would not budge. It would not let the core of her be in relationship with anyone other than superficially.

So I asked this question to the part that didn’t want love: “Would you like to see if God’s Spirit has anything to say to you?” Surprisingly, that part really did want to hear what God had to say. Within a short time, God showed this part that even though people would be imperfect and selfish with their love, God promised never to do that. This part didn’t quite believe God, but it was willing to give God a try.

That began a two-month trial period. This “I don’t want love” part would have conversations with God’s Spirit. By the end of two months, it allowed her core to begin receiving love from God.

By the end of that year, she began to receive love from other people too.

Not everyone’s story is that neat and tidy. But talking again to God, as much or as little as you like, can bring a new appreciation for what God sounds like when the voice of the pulpit and the voices of the pew-sitters are not speaking for God.

How Parent Teen Exchanges Work

A mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.

“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”

“Sure”.

“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”

“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.

“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”

“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”

“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time.

“I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”

“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”

“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”

“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”

“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”

“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?”

Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.

“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach age 11 or 12, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”

This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter however was aware of this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.

If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.

“Mike, what should I have done?”

“First, you start with some agreements between you and your daughter. I call these agreements “Exchanges” because they are not really rules. They are negotiated understandings and both sides have input on how they are to be worked out. In the case of your daughter’s room, an Exchange might look like this:

1. The room is her space even though you own the house

2. The room is locked but parents have permission to enter it if they feel it is warranted.

3. If the teen does not keep the room to a minimum level of tidiness, there would be consequences (these must be negotiated and agreed upon).

4. The only exception to this is if a teen has a weapon in the room or if the parent suspects the teen is in trouble or is hurting themselves. If these exceptions occur then the parent must tell the teen either right before going in or immediately after.

I asked Maria if she could live with this kind of Exchange. She thought about it for awhile and said there were a few modifications she would like, but that it sounded fair. She brought it home to her daughter who made a few more modifications than Maria and I had worked out. By the end, they were both satisfied it was a workable Exchange.

The next time we met, Maria and I went into the deeper issue. I asked her why the condoms and the copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” upset her so much.

“She’s only 17. She shouldn’t be sexually active yet. And I certainly don’t think she should be fooling around with that Bondage crap!” Maria’s complexion was a deeply disturbed umber by this point.

“Tell me about your discussions with your daughter about sex.”

Maria shared that they had talked twice about sex and sexuality. The first time she had reviewed the basics of her daughter’s monthly cycle and how to care for that part of her life. The second time, she explained how intercourse worked and how petting almost always led up to it. That conversation took place two years before and they had not talked about sex since.

“Then Maria, I don’t think you should be surprised your daughter has decided to find out more about sexuality without consulting you. I am not trying to make you feel bad, but the information you gave your daughter, though moderately helpful, is less than minimal. Think about this; you found condoms in her drawer. What information do you deduce from the condoms?”

“That she is sexually active.”

“Not necessarily. She may be, or she may just want to make sure she’s prepared if she does have sex. She owns these condoms herself, which may mean she is not relying on a boyfriend to have them. She is taking responsibility for her own life. If you had been having these conversations regularly, you would know her motivation for having the condom.” I wasn’t trying to make Maria feel badly. I wanted her to wake up to the most important aspect of Respectful Parenting: There must be continual dialogue over issues both parties feel strongly about.

In the end, Maria went home and began the first of many discussions about sexuality with her daughter. She and her daughter read through several chapters of Fifty Shades and talked over what it meant. In the end, the daughter concluded on her own that this was not that interesting to her. And mom and daughter talked more about their own ideas of sexuality and what it implied to them.

Lo and behold, they stopped fighting.

It’s not rocket science.

In this article, I am outlining how any parents and teens can get to this place. It is all facilitated by Exchanges. An Exchange is an agreement a parent and teen enter into on a specific subject where certain compromises are made by both sides until everyone is satisfied about the issue.

To arrive at a successful Exchange, these are the basic understandings:

1. This is not a contest. It is not a win-lose zero sum game. Either both parties get enough of what they want or you keep working at it.

2. This is about compromise. Everyone needs to give up something. That is why it is called an Exchange

3. This is negotiated. Parents can’t unilaterally determine all the parameters of the exchange. Neither can the teen.

4. An Exchange is always open to change if it is not working for everyone concerned.

With these guidelines up front as the basis, let’s look at 8 common Exchanges and how a parent and teen can arrive at them.

Schoolwork Exchange

This is very complex concept. How well someone does in high school often determines what they will do with the rest of their lives. Parents often understand this better than teens. So parents come at the issue more intensely than their teens. Unfortunately, for teens, high school is a complex tangle of relationships, changing goals, victories and defeats, pressures, and competing allegiances. It is not as simple as just getting good grades.

A parent wants a teen to work hard. That is reasonable to expect. In a schoolwork exchange, the parent and the teen must decide what is expected by both parties. Most teens want their parents to give advice about school, provide resources, guidance and help. But they really resent being harped upon, criticized for doing poorly, checked up on, punished for bad grades. I have told parents that good grades should be discussed but not rewarded. Bad grades should be discussed but not punished. It is a very difficult thing to negotiate.

But in this exchange, clearly spell out what a teen is responsible for and what the discussions will look like if the teen does not live up to their agreements. The teen may want the parent to do certain things to help them. Teens with learning disabilities may want parents to attend 504 hearings or IEP meetings. Or the teen may want the parent to withdraw from scoping their grades for a quarter, just to see if the teen can manage it themselves. In the end, the agreement must be revisited regularly to see if it is working.

Parents should always avoid immediately jumping in to help their teen. When the teen has a serious problem—especially one resulting from their actions—and they come to you for help, practice benign neglect. A parent might say, “that really is a hard one. What do you think you are going to do about it?” When they express confusion about what to do, tell them sincerely you hope they come up with an answer to it. By doing this, you are emphasizing to them their life is their own and the sooner they solve their problems the faster they will grow up.

I warn parents that the teen ultimately has to care about achieving some success in schoolwork without being pushed. No one is going to push them when they’re at college or in the workforce, so teen years are a good place to start with self-motivation.

Future Predictions Exchange

The second most common complaint I hear from teens in counseling is their parents make continual dire predictions about their future. If they experiment with marijuana, parents assume the teens are on the road to addiction. If the teen is sexually active they are going to get STD’s, AIDS, pregnant or will be living on the streets soon. If they get bad grades, they will have to work at Walmart.

The teen already fears an unknown future. They don’t need a parent to add gloom and doom to the picture.

In this Exchange, the parent and the teen must negotiate how a parent can express concern about current actions. How much is the parent allowed to express their fears and how deeply can they analyze the current trends. Teens need to specify what issues can be discussed and which ones are off-limits.

In the end, all parties need to be satisfied they have not given up more than they are comfortable with.

Solutions Exchange

Teens have problems. By definition, teens are beginning to face issues that never came up when they were children. And, they lack enough experience as adults to know how to act in every situation. For example, teens don’t know how to manage money very well. There are exceptions to this rule, but generally they don’t spend money wisely. This often means they don’t have the money they need when they need it.

In this exchange, the parents and teens decide when and how a parent will enter into a problem the teen is having. This exchange must cover when parents must stay out and when they can enter in. However, I always recommend parents not enter a problem too early. Let the teen sweat it out and try out some potential solutions.

I have friends whose son had extremely bad body odor. They asked me if they should say something. I told them only one of them should approach this issue and should give solutions like showers, deodorant and laundry hampers. Unfortunately, dad went beyond these and constantly lectured his son every time the smell was slightly off. Dad and son reached a point of yelling because of this.

I helped them draw up an exchange about how often parents could suggest solutions to their son. On his side, the son agreed to ask more often (at least once a week) if his body odor was offensive. All sides agreed that parents would help by buying whatever the son needed to smell better.

After agreeing upon this, there was no more yelling. And even though the smells did not get hugely better, they were tolerable.

Talking Exchange

We had a rule in our house “Nothing is not an answer”. We made that rule because two of our teens loved to give that as an answer to most questions. “What happened in your life today?” “Nothing”. “What’s bothering you?” “Nothing”. Is there anything you want to talk about?” “Nothing”.

Because we are seeking to parent with respect, we must respect the teen’s right to their own information. But the teen must also stretch and realize that a certain level of communication with others in the household is also respectful.

In this exchange, parents and teens decide on some simple guidelines. A teen is allowed to say “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” But if they say that, the parent has a right to ask “Why” and “Can you give me a time we can talk about it?” In this exchange, parents and teens spell out exactly how to handle situations where teens want to keep some information to themselves. But in the Exchange it should be spelled out the teen should come back to some of these issues when they’re ready.

Personal Space Exchange

This is the one we mentioned above. Every teen needs to have a space they can call their own. This is not just to protect the emotional center of their lives. They also need a break from younger siblings and nosy parents. We all need that. They need a place they can crash and contemplate where their life is going. If they choose to use that place as a storage unit and the mess offends others, they must be responsible for that. Just as the owner of a house is allowed, with notice, to inspect their house when renters are present, so too a parent needs to specify in the contract how often inspections will be done.

Consequences for messy bedrooms and toxic waste should be spelled out. For the most part, parents are often concerned about drugs and alcohol in the room. This must be written into the exchange as well. Leave nothing out of the agreement. Though many parents are alarmed by my approach to drugs and alcohol in this exchange, I have a radical solution. If they persist in smoking weed or drinking, tell them you will not allow it in your house. And if they get in trouble, you will not bail them out. Parents have yelled into my face saying when their kid comes home drunk or gets into a horrible accident, they will be camped on my doorstep to punch me out.

I tell them the teens will do these things regardless of how stern the parents are. But if you start early talking about many things, the teen will adopt many of the values of the parents at some point. Talking always comes long before rules.

At the very least, the teen’s room should have a lock on the door. They must have a key and so should the parent. But the parent must agree only to use it in the most dire situations.

Trust Exchanges

Few things hurt as badly as being accused of lying. We want our loved ones to trust us and when they do not, it causes us to doubt their love. At the same time, we all fail. And when we fail, it is harder for others to trust us. This conundrum is experienced often between parents and teens.

Teens often complain their parents do not believe them. Teens hate being told “you’re lying to me”. Frequently, I have proposed an Exchange to solve this. In this agreement, the parent says they will not use the phrase “you’re lying”. Rather, they must tell the teen, “I have trouble believing that, and here is why.” The parent needs to take ownership of their skepticism without immediately jumping to a conclusion.

At the same time, the teen should not demand a parent believe everything they say. There must be a certain level of skepticism by all parties. At the heart of this Exchange is the agreement that no one will call anyone else a liar. It is no coincidence that in the British Parliamentary system, you can call other members of Parliament just about any name you want as long as it isn’t “Liar”.

Interrogation Exchange

Teens also want parents to leave an issue alone when all has been said. Most often, this doesn’t need to have a full Exchange. Parents and teens should just allow each other to say “we’ve talked about this enough. Let’s leave it alone”.

Russ and his girlfriend had unprotected sex and she thought she might be pregnant. At 7 weeks gestation, she miscarried. But they had both told their parents about the pregnancy. During those early weeks, Russ’s parents had mercilessly lectured Russ on his irresponsible actions. A week before his girlfriend lost the baby, Russ ran away from home. They didn’t see him for five years.

I know the parents very well and we have dissected all that happened. I have talked to Russ about it and asked him what would have helped in the situation. All of them agreed the best solution would have been to set a limit on how much discussion they could have on the issue. Russ needed a time-out from being interrogated. From the first discussion, he knew how foolish he had been to have unprotected sex. But mom and dad would not drop the issue. They saw it as a microcosm of all his other failures. Soon, they were no longer talking about sex, but about grades, smoking, laziness and dire future predictions. This one issue became the lightning rod for all their frustration.

In this Exchange, all parties have the right to say “You have ten more minutes to make your point and then we’re done for at least a _______ (a specified period of time). It is always appropriate to negotiate how long a time has to pass before discussing the issue again. At one point, all parties have to have the right to say “enough is enough” on certain issues.

One more thing about Exchanges. Write them down and have all parties agree to them and sign their names. My kids didn’t think this was funny…when they signed their names to our Exchanges, they also looked dead serious. i believe they knew I was both treating them like adults but also expecting they would now act like adults.

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected.

He teaches that all mental illness and every counseling situation is, at its heart, either a sin problem or a difficulty understanding or living out biblical truth. The answer is always the same: Bring the truth of the Bible to bear on a situation, help the counselee to see that truth, and encourage them to start living it.

The Nouthetic counselor believes if the counselee does this, the mental illness will be cured.

I completely disagree. Mental illness has dozens of causes, many of which we have not yet fully discovered. Here is my difficulty with the premise that the Bible can solve all mental illness: Even the Bible says it is not the answer book for all of life’s problems. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, its primary purpose is to train people in righteous living, theological knowledge, and the understanding of God. It never claimed to be an expert on all other subjects.

Christians have practiced using the Bible as the only authority on all subjects for a number of reasons. A primary reason is to control others through manipulative interpretations of the Bible, causing this Book to say things it doesn’t say about subjects it makes only passing reference to.

Therefore, for Nouthetic Counseling to state that the Bible can solve all mental illness is beyond what the Bible itself lays claim to.

During this next month, I am going to review the book “Competent to Counsel” chapter by chapter. Admittedly, this is a harshly critical review. I do not like anything about Nouthetic Counseling, and I have seen it hurt the lives of many people. I will share some of those testimonies. If the Nouthetic group does not like my analysis, they can do their own.

Here is my take on the Introduction of the Book.


It is important to establish Jay Adams’ credentials to speak on the issues of counseling, psychology and psychiatry. What are his bona fides?

He took a course in Pastoral Counseling in his first undergraduate degree. He took a few more in his Masters degree in Theology. In addition, he spent a summer internship helping out Hobart Mowrer, author of “The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion”. Adams claims to have observed several group therapy sessions with Mowrer in state psychiatric hospitals in Illinois.

This 3-month internship was literally the complete extent of Jay Adam’s professional training in psychology at the time he wrote this book. And he spent it with a man whose work is especially critical of all things  related to psychotherapy. Dr. Mowrer is considered by most psychologists to be an outlier in the field of counseling, with little academic achievements to his credit to establish his theories.

To summarize, Adams has no background in Psychology, Psychiatry, or any related field. He did an internship for 3 months with a man whose work has never been proven by the scientific method.

Those are his credentials for claiming to be able to tell the world how all mental illness can be cured. To be fair, he is proud of not having any background in psychology. Here is how he puts it in the Introduction:

“My conclusions in this book are not based on scientific findings.”

and

“I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in generalizations with specifics, and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures.”

In other words, Science is only good for stories, better naming of things, and as examples for stupid ideas that conflict with the Bible.

In the Introduction, Adams lays out his primary problem with psychiatry. (Note: He doesn’t understand psychology and lumps psychology and psychiatry together as if they speak with one voice). He contends that all psychiatry is Freudian or Rogerian (Sigmund Freud or Carl Rogers), and as such should be rejected because of their non-Christian belief system.

In the introduction, he rejects Mowrer as well because he is not a Christian and then, startlingly, William Glasser.

Glasser was a very strong Christian and espoused a biblical worldview. I have no idea why Adams would lump him in, except Glasser was not an Evangelical. Actually, that is probably why he felt he was not a Christian.

He took one course in psychology. He learned about Freud’s and Rogers’ theories and concluded:

“I found it ludicrous to nod and grunt acceptingly in detachment without offering biblical directives. I decided I was wasting valuable time.”

Later in the Introduction, he continues,

“I found myself asking, “Is much of what is called mental illness, illness at all?” This question arose primarily from noticing that while the Bible describes homosexuality and drunkenness as sin, most of the mental health literature calls them sicknesses or diseases…could the books be wrong in similarly misclassifying other problems like depression, or neurosis or psychosis as sickness?”

Adams is teaching right up front that there is no such thing as mental illness. All mental illness is really just sin. A person sinned and that is why they’re depressed. A person sins and that is why they hear voices in their head. A person sinned and that is why they stay up for 7 straight days with manic episodes.

Though in this introduction, and indeed in the entire book, Adams gives no real evidentiary proof that his methods work, he claims they are true by virtue of his ability to read the Bible and find counseling advice inside of it. He wonders in several places why everyone has not found this to be true. He attributes the church’s lack of bible use in counseling to its adherence to the demonic secularism attacking the church.

In this introduction, Adams creates an convenient Straw Dog and then tries to tear it down. The Straw Dog is the idea that the “Medical Model” of mental illness is accepted by all of psychology and has been proven by the Bible to be wrong.

First, even in 1970 when he wrote “Competent to Counsel” the majority of psychologists did not believe all mental illness was a disease. Though some certainly did, many more non-psychologists taught it. Take for instance the field of addiction. The idea that alcoholism was a disease comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, not psychology.

Since 1970, the majority of psychologists have a nuanced view of illness as it relates to mental difficulties. Therein lies the strength of the Scientific Method. Science is not always right. But at its core, Science is always re-examining its beliefs and principles, challenging them to see if they can stand up to scrutiny. The hypotheses that cannot stand are discarded for better ideas. Psychology is always doing that. Theology lacks that feature and thus remains relatively static.

But in seeking to tear this Straw Dog down, Adams says that the Bible is the proof that no problems exist apart from sin.  Adams is claiming that all problems can be reduced to just a simple formula–with attending simple solutions. He states it very clearly:

“From my protracted involvement [note: 3 months of internship…that is his protracted involvement] with the inmates of the mental institutions at Kankakee and Galesburg, I was convinced that most of them were there, as I said, not because they were sick, but because they were sinful. In counseling sessions, we discovered with astonishing consistency that the main problems people were having were of their own making.”

If he thinks he came up with that observation, I have to object strenuously. This is one of the biggest contentions of psychiatry and psychology since its inception: All people are responsible for what they believe. It is the cornerstone of all memory re-processing therapies, EMDR, Choice Theory and dozens of other therapies.

Adams shows his complete ignorance of the field of psychology right from the start.

It only gets worse as one goes through the book.

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

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He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”

Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough. Continue reading “Why Pastors Make Poor Allies”

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”

Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained

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Before, you start reading, I am going to warn you explicitly and nicely.

I will be using the “F” word several times. And not a bleeped out version of it. There is a reason for it. This is a very serious explanation of words and how we use them. I am concerned that people are making many mistakes with their speech. We get bent out of shape about the innocent words, and we overlook the really dangerous ones.

So, if seeing the “F” word in print bothers you to the point of distraction, please don’t read further. I post here a sanitized summary of what the Bible says about these things:

Cursing is all about sending verbal harm to others

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is about empty religion

Swearing has to do with taking oaths to guarantee you’re telling the truth.

Cussing is a verbal response to intense emotions inside.

More than any other point I am making, understand this. No word is bad in and of itself. No word. It is the context, purpose, and heart condition that makes a word wrong.

Again, read no further if your purpose is to be outraged that I am using the full version of the “F” word.


Heidi grew up in a bar–literally. Her parents were bar owners in a small town. She grew up hearing every profanity you can imagine. By age 15, she was an alcoholic and used language that would make a longshoreman blush. She married another alcoholic and for years they lived a raunchy life. At age 40, two days after his birthday, he died of a heart attack.

In her distress, Heidi talked to a member of our church who comforted her. During this season of comfort, Heidi asked questions about God. When she got answers which convinced her Jesus loved her and could help her change her life, Heidi wanted to be a part of that. She surrendered her life to Jesus the Messiah. And she did change.

Within months, she was no longer medicating her emotions with alcohol. On Sunday evenings, we had a sharing time when people could talk about what God was doing. Heidi came one week. I will never forget her testimony that Sunday night. No one who was there will forget the words she spoke:

“God has set me free from my shame and alcoholism. I feel fucking great these days. God took all the shitty junk out of me and replaced it with fucking great love. Man, I love God so much!”.

Then she sat down. I want you to imagine the look of horror on some of the faces in our conservative little church. I hadn’t a clue what to say. Then, one of our grandmothers started to laugh uproariously. And others began to applaud. What an amazing night. What these church people saw was pure, unaltered joy, wrapped in the humanity of deep emotion. She spoke a language of intensity, not of profanity.

Now for another perspective. Karla had grown up in church. There was a lady in their church who had hurt her verbally many times. Karla gathered two of her friends with her in a prayer group. They began to pray about this other lady. Months later, Karla told me what they prayed that day. It went something like this:

“God, bless our sister in a special way. She is causing other people a lot of pain. Would you bring pain to her life so she can know what we all feel and so she can somehow change her wicked heart. In Jesus’ name.”

The lady they were “praying” for started to get sick a few days after the prayer meeting. Not only did she get sick, but she kept getting one virus after another. After a couple of months of continuous illness, the doctors said they didn’t know what had happened, but her immune system was shot. That’s when the Prayer Group came and asked me if they had contributed to this. I explained to them that their words were curses. They had cursed this woman.

Yes, their words were a curse. Often, cursing is thought of as people dropping a “fuck” here and there. That is not necessarily cursing.

The Bible mentions curses over 200 times.  A curse is something out of our mouth which wishes harm on another person. And whether you believe this or not, curses do work. Balaam had the power to curse other people and his curses happened. Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered and died. I don’t think most people realize how powerful their curses are. We sometimes make jokes about curses. We tell our children “I hope you have children as awful as you are.”

Really? Is that what you want for your children when they get married and have children?

Understand that it is out of the overflow of our inner soul that the mouth speaks. When we have bitterness and hatred, our words often flow with curses. And those curses have effect. Romans 12:14 has the antidote: “Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.” Paul gives this instruction because people have always wished harm on others. It is the natural thing to do when you’re hurt. But God does not desire we curse others. We can call them on their shit, we can go to the police, we can exclude them from our lives. Those are all legitimate responses. But to curse another person wraps your life up in that curse. Who wants that?

People also don’t understand swearing. Swearing is not using profanity. Swearing in the Bible has to do with taking oaths. Here is what Jesus says about it in Matthew 5:33-37:

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city ofthe great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

Swearing an oath was used as a manipulation technique to convince others you were telling the truth. We have trouble believing other people at times. In many cultures, people believe if you swear an oath based upon a strong spiritual force, that force would bind you to the oath.

Jesus makes it clear we do not and should not get involved in these kind of oaths. They are evil because they seek to manipulate others and they bind you up to promises you probably should  not make. I think of Jephthah and his daughter. In Judges 12, he swore a vow that if God gave his army victory over the Ammonites, whatever came out of his house first would be sacrificed to God. His daughter was the first one out of the house.

What did he think would come out of the house? And did he really kill her? We don’t know for sure, but that is certainly a possibility. Child sacrifice was practiced in the Ancient Near East during that time.

The problem with swearing oaths is diminishing. We don’t usually manipulate that way any more. You do find it in some cultures that are more superstitious.


In the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:7, we are told not to take the name of the Lord in vain. The phrasing in Hebrew means “to carry the name of Yahweh like an empty container.” The implication is to speak Yahweh’s name without any reverence or thought.

In their day, this would be another way of saying “empty, thoughtless religion.” Jesus makes this even more clear in Matthew 6 when he warns people,

“6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I remember a guy named Earl Albert Simpson who would “take over” our prayer meeting every week. He prayed long eloquent prayers, full of scripture and theological words and concepts. I remember he would use the word “Lord” every sentence–he sometimes used it several times. His long drawn-out prayers exhausted the rest of us and discouraged anyone else from praying.

This is taking God’s name in vain. It is the empty repeating of the name of God because you think there is virtue in it.

It is also claiming that God is found in something God has nothing to do with. I get incensed these days when people do this. People will see evil, corrupt, diseased, violent, and very perverse events, and then they will bring God into it. Here are a few statements some people make in those moments:

“God has a purpose for this.”

“God works all of this for his pleasure”

“God wanted another angel” (after the death of a child)

“God is judging our nation for sin” (after a disaster)

“God wanted all those children dead” (one well-know preacher said that God wanted all those children dead or they would be alive).

These statements are taking God’s name in vain. You are carrying God’s name into a situation in your own container, for your own purpose, to justify your own prejudices and biases.

A religious life that claims God does evil of any kind is perverse and taking God’s name in their own container.

Finally, let’s talk about cussing. Is cussing evil?

Normally, after I point out to people they are wrongly using verses related to swearing, taking God’s name in vain, and cursing, they fall back on the standard in Ephesians 5:4:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

The Greek word here for “obscenity” is eischrotes which refers to shameful talk. But it probably means shaming talk. Shaming others or speaking of things which bring shame on yourself or others. The guy who talks about screwing 50 women in a year or the woman who talks brazenly about her drug use, or the teen who brags about beating up a child in the playground are entering into eischrotes. Also, shaming other people, putting them down, calling them names–are all examples of eischrotes.

Coarse joking is exactly what it sounds like. It is every variation of sex joke you have ever heard. On top of that, it is speaking about sexual things with a flippant, careless attitude, not recognizing the sacred elements of the sexual act. It is treating sexuality as a meaningless thing instead of a gift for showing love to our partner.

So, what about cussing? And what about the word “fuck”? Is it okay?

It depends. Fuck used as course joking would not be biblical. Fuck used to curse someone else (i.e. “fuck you”) is completely inexcusable. If you used it to refer flippantly to the act of love between partners, I don’t believe this honors God in any way.

However, there is another category. And that involves emotional release.

I know many conservative Christians who have told me that cussing helped them get through hard stress. When they were in great pain–emotional, physical, sexual, relational, spiritual pain–they found that cussing gave them relief. They were completely surprised to find that they were not immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit or even felt one bit bad about it.

One young lady, struggling with the after-effects of a brutal rape, told me that the ability to exclaim “fuck this shit” out loud began the process of healing for her. She never said it to anyone else, but saying it to herself was freeing.

Great emotion requires a release and a response. Saying “Oh poop” probably won’t accomplish it. Saying “crap on a stick” is not going to get the purge started.

I do think we need to be aware of our surroundings and our context. Even in writing this essay, I realize that I need to keep it away, potentially,  from people who are not willing to accept this yet. I also know that saying “fuck” in front of crowds is just showing off. I don’t need to be Sam Kinison to get my point across. And children are often not ready to handle any emotional outburst, let alone cussing.

But if you can cuss without cursing, cuss without swearing, cuss without putting God’s name in your own container, I think you will find it to be one legitimate form of emotional release.