The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.
Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?
Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.
“It will be fun”, they thought.
“It will be instructive”, they hoped.
“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.
[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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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”:
Drug and alcohol treatment
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2016, I published my book “Overcoming Porn”. At this time, it has sold over 20,000 copies even though I did little advertising and published it only in e-book format.
Over the next month, I will be excerpting selected portions for this blog. This second article reviews the role that dopamine plays when people use porn.
Porn does stimulate the production of dopamine, but in a much different way than opioids and chocolate. This difference changes the way we must approach kicking this habit.
To understand how porn causes unique brain reactions, we need to review a few things about how the brain works. At this juncture, it would be best to discard most of the metaphors you have ever heard about the brain. It is not a telephone switching system or a complex computer. There are no switches in the brain. You don’t remember things the way a computer does. There are no memory banks ready to spew out information like a laptop.
The brain is a complex chemical soup, able to differentiate between chemicals which some laboratory instruments could not detect. There are hundreds of different chemicals rolling around in the brain, and each of these can affect how you react to information and how you perceive the world. Every time your external senses detect something, the brain releases chemicals from the end of neurons to signal other neurons how to react. You do this a million times an hour, billions of times in a month.
I don’t want to get too technical, but this next part is crucial. Electricity is produced in the brain via biochemical reactions. These reactions take place in the tiny gaps between neurons called Synapses. The signal is carried across the gap by chemicals. When the chemical hits a receptor on the other side, it causes the message to be carried electrically down the next neuron to the next synapse. Think of Paul Revere passing word about the coming of the Redcoats. Your brain sends signals by chemical Paul Reveres. Continue reading “The Dopamine Factor in Porn”→
In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.
I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.
But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.
But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:
One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.
Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation. Continue reading “The Five Lies that Victims Believe”→