Jesus Addresses Victim-Shaming

Joleen’s parents marched into my office with their daughter trailing behind. Dad’s hand wrangled her wrist so tightly I could already see the marks forming from his fingers. They flung her down into the chair in front of me.

“Tell Mr. Phillips what you did!” Her mother spat these words at her. Joleen never raised her head or spoke.

“I said tell him!”

Immediately, I got up and came around my desk and stood between the parents and their sixteen-year old daughter. From the intensity of their anger, I guessed she was either pregnant or they had discovered she was sexually active. As I came around to stand beside her, Dad said something under his breath. I realized he had just called her a name associated with shaming someone who is sexually active. I got angry. I asked her parents if they would leave my office and go into the waiting room so I could talk to her.

Hesitant at first, she admitted she and her boyfriend had sex the night before. She was frightened and angry about her experience, so she told her sister who promptly told her mother. Within an hour, they had come to my office.

I sat down beside her and asked her not to give me the details about the sexual experience, but how she felt about it and herself. She began by using the same disgusting label her dad had used. I asked her not to do that. Then, she explained how the sexual encounter happened. I didn’t allow her to give me explicit details, but even without them, I realized something awful.

Her date had raped her. Continue reading “Jesus Addresses Victim-Shaming”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2

In the late 70s and early 80s a group of well-meaning Christian leaders formed an ad hoc accountability group. Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, along with Ern Baxter met regularly to hold each other to certain ethical and moral standards. They were independent church pastors and yearned for the accountability of denominational allegiance.

More and more pastors from around the country joined with them and each of these men helped their “lines” to form these groups. Soon however, these groups went beyond accountability and eventually they devolved into control. Shepherding went from the pastoral level to the congregational level. Church leaders were soon given authority to tell people exactly how to live their lives.

They could direct how much they gave to the church, where they could live, who they could associate with, and even who they could marry. Some groups went even further, and abuse situations were common. Cults were even formed as groups like Community Chapel ruined the lives of many.

At the same time, many evangelicals continued to practice strict authoritarian methodologies at the local church level, even if they didn’t resort to the extremes of the Shepherding movement. Over the years, I have been involved with holding churches and individual accountable for how they abused their authority over their members. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1

22 months into my first assignment as a pastor and I was smacked in the head with a horrible story of pastoral sin. I had no idea what to do with it.

I had been hired as an assistant pastor of a 100 year old church in Canada. The senior pastor believed this old church could use some young blood as we moved out of the old downtown location to a brand new one on the edge of the suburbs. I had no idea I was to be cast as the new lead pastor within two years of coming on staff.

After he announced his resignation, one morning he came into my office and slapped down a two-inch thick folder on my desk. “You need to read this before agreeing to take on this job” he told me. He voiced it in such an ominous way, I was afraid to crack the cover.

After I had read the contents thoroughly three days later, I was very sorry I had done so.

This folder contained just a summary of the events scattered over three years. This had happened over 20 years previous, but the repercussions were still being felt by that congregation. Here is the summary.

The pastor of the church was an internationally-known speaker and writer. The church had over 1500 members, qualifying it as a mega-church in its day. One of the older ladies, a widow, had asked the pastor to help her with putting together the details of her will. About six months later, she passed away. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1”

Combining Blogs together

Dear Reader:

Some of you are wondering if I’m the same Mike Phillips that used to post at both theopengates.com and natomaschurch.wordprss.com.

I am.

I owned both of those sites and this one, as well as my business site mikephillipsministry.com. I have decided to move in a different direction and I’m consolidating all the blogs to this one.

This blog will continue to promote the following three concepts:

1. The dangers of Patriarchy and the exciting possibilities as we enter a new era of gender cooperation.

2. Concepts related to counseling and protecting victims of abuse

3. The beauty of God’s image stamped in each person, and what that implies regarding violence and pacifism.

I believe these three concepts have not been given enough notice in today’s church. Oh yes, there have been crusaders for all three–valiant people all–who have toiled away on the fringes of God’s family, telling us about these things happening. But now is the day when prophetic and justice-minded people are standing up in the center of churches to say “Listen Carefully”.

Thus, this blog.

Why You Can’t Remember Traumatic Events Clearly

Let me get the scientific part out of the way first. To understand the rest of this article, I need to define three things:

Traumatic Event: Any happening which effects major change in our emotional, physical and memory functions

Glucocorticoids: Substances produced during trauma that help our brain cope with the overwhelming nature of the event

Hippocampus: The central core of our memory system that allows us to take events and store them in long-term memory.

Armed with those definitions, let me walk you through recent discoveries with memory research. In about a dozen studies (but most recently in this one by Benno Roozendaal et al), it has been shown that when we have a traumatic event in our lives, the body produces major amounts of glucocorticoids. This helps to calm us down so we can cope. It also gives us that “numb” feeling that many people describe during stress. But glucocorticoids have a transverse effect. They destroy neurons in the Hippocampus. This means that the more stress we are under, the less we will be able to store the traumatic event in long-term memory. This partially explains how some people who endured years of trauma through abuse have very little memory of the entire season of events.

However, there is one other effect of Glucocorticoids. They enhance the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system helps us store our emotional reactions in events. Our brains can actually store our emotional output during a traumatic event much more completely than we can store the facts of the event.

The implication of these two findings is huge for MPT (Memory Processing Therapy) counseling. MPT counseling accesses emotional reactions in the present time and follows them back to their original memory. Since emotions are actually heightened during trauma, they are a more accurate way to access traumatic memories than any other method.

I consider this a true endorsement for MPT and EMDR approaches to emotional and spiritual well-being. Each of these counseling methods relies on triggered emotions to go back to false beliefs and decisions that are still affecting our lives from those trauma.

Like or Dislike Whomever You Want

I wasn’t trying to shock the students. But that is what happened anyway.

I started off by telling them “I like some actors and actresses more than others.” That statement didn’t affect them at all. They looked bored. Then I followed it up. “I have friends I like more than others.” Once again, few students even acknowledged I had said something significant. However, I was just warming up.

“There are people in my church I like. There are people in the church I pastor that frankly I don’t like.” Now I had their attention. Some of them agreed with me. Other students appeared to be uncomfortable.

“And to be frank, I like some of my kids better than others.” Now they all seemed confused and a little indignant. “Actually, the ones I like are not necessarily the ones I liked last week. It keeps changing.” Now they just looked confused.

I then started my teaching. I explained that our likes and preferences are one of the great rights each of us have. Even God does not require that we like everyone–or anyone at all. The beauty of the gift of free choice God gives us is that we can exercise our preferences any way we want.

There is a curious transitional verse in the New Testament which displays this truth. In Mark 3:13 it says,

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.”

‭(‭Mark‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭NIV)

The word “wanted” means “wished”. Jesus looked over all the people who were following him and he chose some of them he preferred. This was his choice and his preference. He wanted these people in particular.

I get the impression that some in God’s family think we have to like everyone the same. How is that even possible? I know in my life that my preferences are always changing. I used to hate sushi. Now, I actually like it and seek it out. There are days I like some genres of music and certain artists and other days I change my preferences. There are friends I have always liked and probably will never stop. My wife is one of those. So is my brother Dave.

Here, however, is the sober reality. In my walk with God, he points out I am to show every person the same level of dignity and respect. Even when I don’t like them, even when I truly criticize them or even bring them to account for their actions, I must still hold a place of respect and treat them with human kindness, regardless of whether I like them.

That includes politicians I really don’t like. That includes church members whose actions cause others real problems. It includes men who have abused women and children. And I have sought to do this when I have gone to the police to report child abuse. I still want to hold a place of respect for the humanness of another.

Why?

Because all humans fail at some level. I do, you do, they do. And when we refuse to treat another person with dignity, we are demeaning our own humanity.

It is hard–in some cases, it feels impossible. But God does this for us and God requires of all who have committed their lives to God.

And you may not like me after reading this. That’s okay.‬‬

The Day We All Got Angry In Church—And Grew Up!

I instructed everyone in the congregation not to hug him, not to tell them they loved him, not to make him feel overly welcome. There were tears and much sadness, but after I had explained why we were doing this, everyone reluctantly agreed it was what God wanted.

Yes, God wanted us to be cold and unsympathetic that day.

Here’s why.

Our town was only 1500 people. The church had grown considerably, largely because of an influx of hippies and drug addicts who found a place at God’s table and a group of loving Christians who didn’t judge them.

It really was a temple of Grace. But grace can have its problems too. We were about to discover what that looked like.

This couple took in a 13 year old foster girl. They had fostered two boys before and this girl seemed the most broken of them all. She had been abused both physically and sexually by her mother and father and the province of British Columbia where we were living wanted an experienced home to place her in. This couple had passed all the tests and were exemplary candidates to host her.

I was the only counselor in that town, and I had only started counselor training that previous year. But because I had some training, the province used me to do intervention work with families and children in unsafe environments. They sent me to several training events and I became acquainted with all the laws regarding child abuse. This was in 1983 and I had no idea the torrent of abuse revelations which would begin to surface that decade. I was at the beginning of the wave.

After the foster girl had been with them for about 6 months, the congregation had come to know and love her. They felt protective of her and even put up with some of her acting out. She could get angry at the drop of a hat. As I learned more about victims of abuse, I instructed people on how to help her. We learned together.

Then, one day shattered my learning environment and brought me into the real world. An RCMP officer who attended our church told me that the girl had disclosed to the police that someone in the church had molested her.

It was the man in her foster home. By the time I found out, they had already arrested him and he had admitted it all.

Of course, this devastated the congregation. We were about 140 people and every one of us knew the young girl and her foster parents. This man went immediately into the jail system and because he did not contest the charges, he was sentenced quickly. He spent the better part of a year in jail for his crime.

But when he was due to get out, several members of the church wondered how we were supposed to act toward him. We had rallied around his wife and the young girl (while she was still around…they removed her of course and put her in another home and we lost touch with her). Our focus was on his wife for that year. I was proud of how the congregation helped her.

But now he was coming back to their home and wanted to start attending church. He first told me about this and I asked the Elders board what they thought. They were all for showing grace to him. One of the elders suggested we have a potluck to welcome him back.

That didn’t sit right with me. Let me explain.

Churches make two grand mistakes with those who sin. We either castigate them and shame them to the point of ridiculousness. We can be so cruel as Christians at times. We are especially hard on those who get divorced, have had abortions, have had premarital sex, use drugs or alcohol, or have affairs. We often do not accept their repentance and we shove them rudely out the door of our lives.

But we also make the opposite mistake. We may indeed love the offender so much they will get the impression we don’t really object to what they did. Oh, we say things like “We’ve all made mistakes” and “God forgives, so should we” or “David committed adultery and Paul was a murderer, so how can we judge?”. These are not helpful approaches however, especially when children are involved.

Jesus was pretty clear about his attitude toward someone who causes a little child to stumble. It would be better for them if a millstone was hung around their neck and that they be thrown into the sea. Is he saying this is what should happen? No. But he is saying that the person and their victim will have to live with this crime forever. It would be easier to just end it all than face the knowledge of offending a child. However, there are many offenders who have learned how to ignore what they have done by blaming the victim.

This man tried to do this in his mind when he described what happened with the foster daughter. He talked to me about her seeking to seduce him the first time. She admitted to a case worker that she had tried to do that. But as I teach, it doesn’t even matter if a child is seductive or flirtatious. They learned that behavior by the way other adults manhandled them. No child is responsible for the act of molestation in any way.

I finally got through to this man that he was minimizing and rationalizing his behavior. He agreed with me and it began the long, painful process of working through his shame and remorse. He finally arrived at a place where he was willing to start making amends. I will leave that part of the process for another blog entry.

But now he was leaving jail and coming back to church. I didn’t want us to overdo the grace aspect. He needed something from us and we needed to give it. He needed the Truth in love.

Here is what I asked the congregation to do. When he came to church that Sunday, I was going to tell everyone what happened and what he had paid as a price for his sin. We were not going to give him a chance to speak. Afterwards, he and I would be in the community room and anyone who wanted could come in and talk to him. I instructed them to tell him how they felt about what he did. I told them they could get angry or sad or disappointed all they wanted. I put this limitation on it. No extreme name calling. No violence. No profanity if possible. (It wasn’t, I’m afraid a few “f” bombs were dropped).

I warned him this was necessary to get it all into the open. He and I prayed together for many days prior to that Sunday. I told the congregation he and I would do that for three Sundays. After that, I asked them not to bring it up again. I informed the man he would never be in leadership again. He would never be allowed to be anywhere in the church building except the sanctuary. He could not hang around in the foyer afterwards where there may be children. He could not attend any church event where children might be present.

He agreed to all these terms. And I believe in the long run this is why he never re-offended. And as far as I know, no one who was in the church at that time ever committed that crime either. Over time, people began to express to him that there was forgiveness and love. But it didn’t come at once. Some people never really had much to do with him after that. This is okay.

As I watch more and more churches wrestle with their pastors being accused of these same sort of crimes, I advise them to treat the offenders the same way. Be harsh, Be swift to condemn the sin. Do not allow them to victim-shame, to minimize or to rationalize their behavior. It passes on the concept that the victim should not have “brought down” the man of God like this.

There is a time to be angry and a time to be gracious. Learn the difference.