Repentance Must Include Making Amends

In 2 Samuel 21, we read this about the nation of Israel and about King David in particular:

During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
2 The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”

So who are these Gibeonites? In the book of Joshua, we see this group of people called the Gibeonites. They were from a small town in Canaan. Israel’s army had already conquered Jericho and Ai, and it looked like Gibeon was next. They pretended they were actually from a long way away. They appeared on the road as if traveling a great distance. They agreed to be servants of the Israelites if they would swear an oath not to kill them. Continue reading “Repentance Must Include Making Amends”

An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling

I won’t bother giving them fake names to protect their identities. I don’t have permission to share the details of their story and I’ve lost touch with them. But it really doesn’t matter; their story is universal these days. He worked too much and distanced himself from his wife over many years of being married. Every year, she grew more angry at him. She let that anger color her decisions and, as a result, she easily entered into another relationship. Her husband found out she was cheating on him and she freely admitted it.

I do know the details of that initial fight and I don’t really have to share them here. It wasn’t any more dramatic than the confrontations in a million other relationships. Both of them spent a sleepless night wondering if they should contact a divorce lawyer. They both cried. They spent that night in different places, both physically and emotionally. But for some very unusual reasons, their story did not turn out like millions of others.Though each of them did go for counseling at some point, they never went together for marriage counseling. And they never got a divorce. They eventually solved the problems in their marriage (for the most part) even though they both unveiled other secret sins.

By telling their story I am not saying they are better than other people. But their choices do shed light on an alternative approach to marriage counseling. Continue reading “An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling”

The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 2

Opening the Eyes: The Cycle of Abuse

Mike Phillips


Julia Dahl, MD

One of American literature’s most enduring characters is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, the lead character in his novel “The Scarlet Letter”. In this book, Hester has an affair with the parish minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. She becomes pregnant with his child and bears a daughter, Pearl. Because she is a widow, the people of this Puritan community quickly surmise she has had an adulterous affair with someone in the town. They cannot convince Hester to name her accomplice, so, her church and community decide to shame her. Her sentence? She must wear a scarlet letter “A” (for Adultery) embroidered on all her clothes.

She wears this emblem designed to shame her for the rest of her life, choosing to place the needs of the community and her abuser above her own and protect the identity of her abuser.  Hester allows her abuser to continue his life without shame since she will not reveal the father, Rev. Dimmesdale. I have read this book several times, and the final time I came to this conclusion:

“Hester has been duped”. Continue reading “The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 2”

The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 1

Shattering the Lens.  The Grooming Behavior of Pastor-Predators

Mike Phillips


Julia Dahl M.D.

This may be a difficult post for several reasons.

First, this post asks the reader to reflect on what the term “Pastor” means to them. Commonly, pastors are understood to be spiritual overseers.  If what you believe about all pastors is dependent on the image, faith, or charisma of your own pastor, this post asks the reader lay aside the naive ideal that all pastors are divinely-called shepherds.

There are some narcissistic men who lead a church or ministry and use the flock for their own gratification. Often, this will manifest in sexual relations with church attenders.  This behavior by some destroys many decent images of healthy pastors and other church/ministry leaders. I don’t blame anyone for struggling to confront and accept this conclusion.

Here is the reality we deal with:

Pastors can be roughly grouped in three categories:

  1. Divinely called and faithful servants of God.
  2. Divinely called servants, presently tempted, and struggling with personal sin. They deal with their own weaknesses but do not use others for their gratification.
  3. Intentional usurpers of the pulpit and the congregation for the purposes of their own enjoyment and control.4c50b3e8-24ba-4416-b469-b44e0dbd3af8

This third category of pastor are those who most represent pastoral misconduct. In recent days, with the advent of the #metoo, #churchtoo and #silenceisnotspiritual movements, brave victims share their stories of pastors who practice abuse and mayhem.  It will be impossible to ignore this third category of pastor with the growing body of reports of pastoral misconduct on the news and social media.  To clearly understand the problem of sexual abuse by pastors, I encourage you to read the stories of victims in order to accept that some men seek the pulpit with the intention to serve themselves and not to serve God.

Is this just a few men?  Sadly, no. Continue reading “The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 1”

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously. One asked what I did for a living. Since I do several things, I mentioned all of them. When I said “writer” no one responded. To academics, a writer is simply an opinionator without credentials. Then I tried “Pastor”. They smiled politely at that. None of them were interested in religious types. But when I said “counselor” they all seemed to perk up as a group. One gregarious young Master of Nursing Administration graduate piped in: “Oh you mean an MFT” (Marriage and Family Therapy). I politely told her no…I don’t do marriage counseling.

“Why not?” she summarily accused.

Not only was our table looking at me, but several members of the next table were deserting their conversations to listen in. I had a ready audience. So I plunged ahead.

“I don’t think marriage counseling works. In fact, I know it doesn’t. The statistics prove it.” I threw in that last sentence to get them all off the track. Just minutes before, they had all been saying how Statistics was their least favorite college course. I hoped they would get sidetracked on that discussion again and ignore me. No they didn’t.

One of the multi-doctorate professors said, “You’ll have to explain yourself young man”. I instantly liked her. I hadn’t been called a young man since … well, around the time I was one.

“Researchers have found” (always good to start a comment to academics with this phrase) that more people will get divorced if they go to marriage counseling than if they don’t. ”

One of the grads asked, “why do you think that is?”

“Part of the problem lies in the standard format for Marriage Counseling. Traditional three-way counseling involves two people with marriage problems meeting with a counselor they hope will have solutions. Only, that is not why they are there and that is not what happens. What happens is the two of them spend most sessions convincing the counselor they are the righteous party, the injured party or the misunderstood one. And no matter how the counselor wants to claim they don’t take sides, no human being can help believing one person over the other. ” These learned scholars and their teachers were in rapt attention (or comatose) so I took that as a sign to continue.

“The counseling continues until one of the marriage partners deduces they are being identified as the one most to blame. They then drop out and the other marriage partner goes to a few more sessions alone. After that, they usually separate.”

“So is it hopeless?” asked another prof.

“Not if you take a different approach.” My wife returned at that moment, and I decided to include all of them in on the discussion. “Can you imagine if all of you were working in a hospital and realized that a particular procedure was making patients worse instead of better. What would you do?” They discussed the options for a moment as my wife looked at me quizzically. I winked at her and remained quiet until I realized they had come to a consensus.

“We would probably seek to change the way we were doing the procedure until it worked” said the nursing prof who considered me a young man. God bless her.

“That’s what a number of counselors have done. They realized the real difficulty is that no two people have the same marriage story. Even a married couple who come to counseling have different stories about seemingly the same marriage. And for the most part, there is no way to make their stories sync with each other. It is as if they experienced a different marriage. There’s a good reason for this: they have!”

I saved my best line for last: “The truth is, marriages aren’t in trouble – People are. The best a counselor can do is work with them on the details of their story and facilitate them coming to a place of health and it will bring aspects of their marriage into a healthier place.”

We then talked a little about a subject I like to talk a lot on. Most people have hidden motives for going to a marriage counselor. Once they discover in one-on-one counseling what their hidden motives are, they usually are much  more open to solving the systemic problems in the relationship.

In the next article, I will go through the hidden motives themselves. But I was pleased to have several of the profs and students tell me at the end how glad they were to have heard what I had to say. The gregarious red-headed student even said at the end, “You’ve ruined me now…you know that.”