Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been released as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

The first time I met with “Jake” he put me to the test. He peppered me with hundreds of details regarding his abusive behavior. I didn’t think I should walk out on him at the time.

I should have, actually. His behavior was classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder symptomology. The Narcissistic offender loves to self-aggrandize and make his exploits worse and more deviant than anyone else. I was feeding his lust for an audience. I have since learned not to do that.

After his first disclosure to me, I ran into the bathroom and threw up. This was something repeated several times over the next six months with others of my “clients”. I learned so much about sex offenders. I learned about their disordered thinking, their sociopathy, their lack of basic human empathy, the deviant nature of their inner parts.

After that internship, it was only a year before the first person came to me for counseling regarding sexual difficulties. Though this was not a strict abuse situation, it regarded the actions of a pastor and a congregant. I now know that his actions were a breach of his authority over this woman. I now know he may have broken the law. But, like other advocates, I was learning about these things and realizing we needed new labels for this behavior.

Though he was not as deviant as the men I had interviewed in the offender’s program, he did have some of the same tendencies, though in lesser form. In my work with him as a pastor and a therapist, I sought to integrate my spiritual understanding with my psychological knowledge. He became the first of almost 100 people I have worked with who have committed some kind of sexual crime. I have learned a lot.

And I apply a lot of that knowledge to my work in advocating for victims. I do have a good sense of what goes into the making of a sex criminal. I also know how the sociopathic, narcissistic, and borderline personalities work as they groom and control their victims. I know this because they have disclosed their messages in our private sessions.

This perspective gives me the tools I need to help the victims not be victims any more. It helps me to work with organizations and institutions to figure out how to guard against predators among them.

At the same time—and this will shock and anger some of you—I also have compassion for the sex offenders. I don’t excuse them. I don’t defend them. I don’t sin-level or rationalize their behavior. But they are human beings for god’s sake. I am going to be the one who shows them a shred of decency in our society. They are one of the only groups that no one—NO ONE—will show any compassion for, for the rest of their lives.

Some of you are saying: “No one should show them any decency. They have done the worst thing you can do to another human.” I don’t disagree. I have worked with more victims of child sex abuse than maybe anyone reading this. I know the damage that offenders do to others. I don’t want to see them hurt anyone else, which is why I work with them. Most therapists refuse to work with offenders.

But they are virtually the only ones left in our society with Scarlet A’s on their chest. Even in prison, the other prisoners beat them up, rape them, murder them. Once they get out, they will never ever get a decent job. For the rest of their lives.

If you cannot have any compassion on someone in that situation, I don’t know how to help you have some. Some of you reading this are thinking, “Mike has lost it”. I have not. I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. That is my choice.

You are allowed not to.

You are allowed to have a scale on who the worst people are.

That is your choice.

I choose to work with both victims AND sex offenders. That is my choice.

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).


“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”

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. Continue reading “How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.”

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

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 Churches Disbelieve Victims and Believe Pastoral Abusers

He was the principal of the Christian school which met at the church. His dad was the Senior Pastor. He had four years of teacher training and all the obligatory certifications, internships, and education needed. He added a Masters Degree in Theology and another Masters in Educational Administration. He was fully qualified to do the job he was doing.

During the five years he had been principal, his dad’s church had grown from 200 members to almost 1500. In that medium-sized town, the church dwarfed all the others. The main draw for newcomers was the Christian school.

And that’s when the accusations started. Continue reading “Why Churches Disbelieve Victims and Believe Pastoral Abusers”

Why I Have Delayed Writing Lately…

This is the reason.

My new home.

I have about ten articles rumbling in my belly these days and I would love to get them all done. But a long process of extraordinary length, peppered with the occasional act of God, has made it difficult to write what I want to write.

Many of you are new to this blog and are here to read about victimization, egalitarianism, pacifism, or marriage success. And we will get back to all of those subjects shortly. But, because you’re new, I want to give you some perspective on my recent journey.

After starting a church in Sacramento in 1999 and pastoring it for 16 years, I resigned in 2015. I devoted myself to writing, teaching, and counseling. At the time, I anticipated moving to Oregon to teach in a college there. But I learned some things about the college’s viewpoints on church, counseling, and certain elements in our culture which I could not truck with. I stopped pursuing that teaching position.

We had already sold our house and moved into a rental. I wasn’t sure what I would do, so I kept doing what I was doing. Then, a church in Hayward, CA lost their pastor to cancer. They asked me to help them work through that.

That’s when the whirlwind started.

  • My counseling load exploded
  • The rental house sold
  • Our daughter moved home after finishing grad school
  • We found the perfect house. Problem: It wasn’t built yet.
  • Moved into an apartment while the house was being built.
  • Began working half the week in Sacramento, half the week in the Bay Area (70 miles apart).
  • Speaking requests increased.
  • Victim advocacy requests started to pour in.

Finally, two weeks ago, our house was completed and we began to move in. 40 years of marital stuff came from the apartment, the storage unit, and our friends’ garages.

We are now in and setting up house.

I am starting to write again with a renewed vigor.

The antics of pastoral abusers like Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, Andy Savage, and several others are pissing me off.

You’re going to hear about a lot of this.

Matthew 25 Spoken to the Pastors of Today”

sheep-goats

You can read Matthew 25 yourselves.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Son of Man, now called the King, accuses the religious leaders of not helping the poor, hospitalized, homeless, hungry, and thirsty. He lets them know when they withhold these things from people, they are really withholding them from Him, their Creator.

We do have other necessary things we are withholding from people today in the Church. Though not all of us do this, enough of us do that it is worth revisiting Matthew 25 to see if it could be re-imagined this way: (Please note: All of these are based on actual court cases from the past two years)

“Depart from me, you who are cursed with trying to get more butts into the seats, and burn with the eternal knowledge that you caused one of my little ones to stumble.

For I was slapped by one of your husbands and you refused to believe he could do such a thing; and then you elected him to the Deacons board.

I was molested in the Sunday school classroom, and you said there was not enough proof.

I was led down a dark road by the youth pastor and forced to have sex, and you covered it up and made it all go away.

I told you that your pastor had an affair with me, and even though the evidence was overwhelming, you said there was nothing you could do.

I was taken advantage of by a narcissistic church leader, and you all ganged up on me and told me if I had dressed more modestly, none of this would have happened.

I was photographed by your children’s pastor and used for child pornography, and only when the fifth victim came forward did you do anything.

I was raped, and even though the law says you must tell the police, you hid behind Matthew 18 and handled it yourself. And he has now raped four women and he is still a member of the church.

And what will you answer?

How Pastor-Abusers Choose their Targets

In her 1998 novel, “Where the Heart Is“, author Billie Letts tells a dark story of two victimized women, Novalee Nation and her friend Lexie Coop. Both of them have suffered hardship and heartache at the hands of the  people closest to them. Novalee has been consistently abandoned by everyone. Lexie has been beat up by the men in her life.

In the climactic scene, Novalee gets a frantic call from Brownie, one of Lexie’s kids. When she arrives, she finds Lexie barely alive with the two older kids huddled in a back bedroom. She had been dating a good-looking man she met at a gas station. One afternoon, she got off work early and went home to be with the kids. She walked in on this man molesting her oldest son and daughter. In protecting them, she was beat into unconsciousness.

Days later, Lexie and Novalee are going over what happened that fateful afternoon. “How did he find me, Novalee?” Lexie gets out between sobs. “How do they always find me? Men like that somehow know that I will just invite them into my life and will let them hurt me and the kids. How do they find me?”

That is the same sort of question every victim of clergy sexual abuse has asked me.

It adds insult to pain when the victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse (CSA) realizes they were not chosen at random. The pastoral-abuser targeted them specifically because of certain characteristics. This thought weighs on the victim’s mind and often leads to anxiety and confusion. In many cases, it produces guilt and shame. “I must have done something wrong to cause this.” “What is wrong with me that he would do that just to me?” It also doesn’t help that other Christians ask the same question: “What did you do to cause this Man of God to commit such a sin?

Those questions are some of the forms of victim-shaming and blaming. It is still victim-shaming when the victim does it to herself. Continue reading “How Pastor-Abusers Choose their Targets”

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”

The Grooming Behavior of Pastoral Predators – Part 2

Opening the Eyes: The Cycle of Abuse

Mike Phillips

with

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”