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Archive for February, 2019


Unhealthy Church Counseling

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019



pastoral

Religious counseling through pastors/church counselors seems to always find a way to hide from legal ethics. There is an entitlement to freedom that lives within it. I’ve heard many pastoral counselors say things like, “We submit to a higher authority and we don’t want to be licensed. We can’t do what we do if we were licensed. The restrictions of professional licensure could prevent us from holding to our biblical standards.”


That is very scary to me!


With church counselors, there is also often a mandate to uphold biblical standards. In some of their counseling cases they could find what they deem sin in the life of their client. So, the counseling office becomes a place of discipline rather than neutral support and counsel. Professional counselors would be obliged to maintain a neutral and supportive relationship with the client. This would be a far different atmosphere for counseling for sure.


One really should never be in a counseling relationship with someone that is their pastor, church leader, or fellow parishioner for more than three sessions. When an individual goes to someone they have a current relationship with for counsel it quickly becomes conflictive for either the helper, or the helpee. These types of dual relationships (a professional term for when the client has a relationship with the counselor outside of the counseling office) are a set up for terrible harm! It creates a conflict of interest at the least and the potential for poor judgment.


This has nothing to do with free speech!


It has a lot to do with the religious system protecting the abuser and not protecting the abused! Far too many times someone goes to the religious counselor from their church to ask about help for having been abused. The abuse may be from a fellow parishioner! For the counselor to truly help their client it would require them to uncover something that may upset the entire milieu of the church community. So, there is a great temptation to attempt to help their church member in ways to avoid uncovering the abuser. Since they are not licensed, there is a perception that they are not subject to the same laws that a licensed counselor would be.


It can really be a struggle for the client in this situation. They may feel fearful of their story being told out of the office, or fearful of being judged or scolded by someone that has been an authority in their life. Or what about the young person going in for counseling from someone that is in a social relationship with their parents? How can a teen fully trust a counselor that plays golf with their dad? Or what about a young woman going to a counseling session with her mom’s bridge club friend? This is likely one of the most significant reasons for someone to seek out a neutral and non-related counselor instead of a pastoral counselor from their church.


Even more potentially threatening is when a young man is having struggles with a sexual matter and his parents arrange for him to go to his youth minister. In this situation, he’s been to summer camps, shared social events with them and knows his parents well. There are all sorts of pitfalls here. Or what about the young lady who has become sexually active and her parents discover her circumstances. The typical church goer might be tempted to take their daughter to the youth minister or women’s counselor at their church. This can be horribly embarrassing, and threatening to this young girl. These types of situations can set a young person up to a life full of shame and unhealthy and shaming attitudes regarding their sexuality and development as a young adult!


Then there is a young couple who are seeking help with their marriage due to one of them having had an affair. I know of someone who was in this very situation. The young woman discovered her husband had had an affair with another church member. When the story came out there was no possible way there could be neutral and helpful counsel for this couple. The man was judged, his wife was pitied and the entire situation involved several members of the church. This should have never been handled through their church counseling office.


I have experienced this myself.


I wanted to sort out some childhood memories that had been troublesome for me. So, I went to a church sponsored counseling center at a church where I knew most of the church members and I’d had a working relationship with the counseling director I had chosen to go to. I didn’t think about the previous relationship or that I knew not only people in the church, but had a relationship with most of the office staff and pastors.


So, as we began to dig into the painful memories I felt some deep emotion beginning to surface. I said to the counselor, “I don’t feel safe enough here to allow these emotions to come up!” I really didn’t understand why I was feeling so distrustful. But the counselor’s response was, “Well, if you can’t trust this process enough then I can’t help you!” I was surprised and felt judged by his response but it wasn’t until years later I figured out what the struggle was based on.


We were meeting in an office next to a hallway where I’d hear people walking by and sometimes even talking with each other. I knew these people! I felt fearful that I’d fall apart and others would be aware of my emotional expressions. And I also never realized that I should have never chosen to go to a church friend, in a church counseling office that was in a church building where I knew everyone!


But something even more significant came up as I thought about the situation. This well educated counselor who had a high level of credentials, should have NEVER allowed himself to be my counselor! He should have known better than to have crossed that line with a church member and friend. I also realized that this counseling center focused primarily on the church members in this church of 4000 people! Almost all of their clients were people they knew and who attended their church.


Sure, they thought they were doing a great thing in providing biblical counseling and care for their church members. But how many of these people were also uncertain as I was and felt fearful and distrustful about their sessions only to feel judged and scolded when their natural inclinations to safety came up?


I was involved in counseling as the director for a recovery ministry. We talked about dual relationships. We were careful to maintain best practices with our counseling relationships such as the requirement to report sexual abuse or broken laws. But what we never took into consideration was that often a client of our program or a one on one counseling client was someone we already knew from our local community or our church.


I can remember times when I was a personal friend of someone that I believed could be helped through our ministry. I’d talk with them and recommend to them that they take advantage of our services. And with some, we experienced some struggles that were an extension of our previous relationship. This was clearly a result of the dual relationship and just plain unethical from the beginning!


I also experienced the entitlement myself of resisting authorities when I was challenged. The mental health authorities questioned us after a very public protest of our ministry. I believed I knew better than professional associations, and I believed I held to a higher authority, meaning God. I didn’t believe that the professionals would agree with our biblical viewpoint and that they didn’t have the same viewpoint due to their secular positions.


In my evaluation of the 20 years I was in leadership of this organization I can now look back and see so clearly how unethical we were in many dual relationships. We were unethical in not allowing the client to self determine their course of action. We certainly were not neutral in the ways we led the client through their journey with us.


Since that time, I had the experience of a three month counseling program with someone that was truly neutral, allowed me to self determine my goals and decisions. I have to say that was one of the most productive things I’ve ever done to help myself find a healthier life.


It’s no wonder that people have so many unresolved feelings as they look back at their counseling situations that were connected to a religious pastoral counselor.


Sure, there is a place for a church led mentoring, Bible teaching, and spiritual development. A church leader can help in exploring the development of a person’s gifts and talent. These are all things that a church mentor can do wonderfully, and should do! But a church pastor or counselor must learn to determine when a life struggle has gone outside of their scope of responsibility or into unethical relationship practices. When it comes to a deep wound, a sexual or intimacy issue, or certainly  something like mental illness must all quickly be referred out to those who are trained, equipped, and neutral.


 

Was Love In Action Double Minded?

Monday, February 18th, 2019


double


Since the film “Boy Erased” has been released I have had many conversations with people who were involved with Love In Action, the ExGay ministry that is the focus of the film. I’ve read quite a few comments that have questioned whether or not the film was an accurate portrayal of the ministry that I led for over 20 years. There are those who are critics, saying that the film maligned the ministry and others who felt the film wasn’t strong enough against the organization.


The film shows a strong, loud leader and many forms of abuse of clients. It’s easy to be angry about the negative portrayal of Love In Action based on the overt extremes of the film. But honestly, this was not Love In Action’s personality, or reality.


I can say, though, that the harm done through Love In action is far more difficult to pin down because it’s much more covert. Love In Action portrayed outcomes and theories that were filled with mixed messages.


Why is there such a disparity? Why are there such a variety of reactions? I’d say because at the core, Love In Action sent mixed messages through its public image, the teaching materials and lectures, and the literature we produced.


I read a comment from someone who has a close loved one who went through the men’s residential program. She had attended some weekend conferences in support of her friend. She said, “Love In Action never portrayed that they were intending on changing someone’s sexual orientation but rather, they offered tools for people who were making the decision to not act upon their homosexual desires.”


Throughout the years I read headlines in newspapers, magazines, and video media saying “Love In Action, Praying away the Gay!” Churches supported Love In Action having the expectation that men and women were finding “freedom from homosexuality.” Financial supporters often asked us what our success rate was. Program clients came to the program with mixed expectations, hopes and dreams that their struggle with homosexuality would be gone through their application of the materials and principles they’d find in their program.


JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1I’ve taken a look at the teachings and messages that may have been conveyed in conferences and lectures. My findings reveal that honestly, Love In Action did convey a double message with little clarity for what the outcomes really were to be.


First of all, it was common to see in our materials the statement, “Finding Freedom From Homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” The word, freedom, itself is nebulous. What does freedom mean? What do people hear when they see it? What did we mean when we made it a mantra? There is room for a wide reaction, everything from total deliverance from homosexual desires to a freedom to make choices on how someone responds to their desires.


Frank Worthen, the ministry’s founder began the ministry with a recorded testimony titled “The Brother Frank Testimony, Let Jesus break the chains of homosexuality.” This would convey that there could be a dramatic change from compulsive homosexuality to something different. But what would that look like? What would ones’ life be like if Jesus broke the chains of homosexuality?


Some of our lecture topics were; The Essence of Change: Obedience; Tools for Overcoming Homosexuality; and Tracking the Change Process. These topics can definitely convey that people will find significant changes in their homosexual orientation.


We had a class topic of “Masculinity and Femininity” where we’d flesh out the differences in traditional roles, manifestations and stereotypes. I remember teaching that there was a spectrum that people would see and experience. I tried hard to negate the potential of shame from a man being more feminine or a woman being more masculine along those lines. And yet, there were clients that would come away with the understanding that we taught people to live within a physical stereotype! Maybe this is because our rules didn’t allow women to wear plaid shirts, or men to wear pink pants! Once again we conveyed a double mind, and a mixed message about these stereotypes.


Many others have said, “I never heard anyone say at Love In Action that our sexual orientation would change. As a matter of fact, I often heard that we would experience homosexual temptations for the rest of our lives.” I remember saying many times that I still had homosexual attractions. I shared my own personal story of how my sexual orientation had not changed. It was my desire to be as authentic as I could be. But I also said that someone could experience an attraction to someone of the opposite sex and that a fulfilling heterosexual marriage was possible. This could easily say that someone could in fact experience a change in his or her sexual orientation. Even though in my own marriage I had no heterosexual attraction for my wife at all!


In the 1990’s, there was an increased emphasis in the network of ExGay ministries on how the child development process impacted sexual development and potentially caused homosexuality. Frank Worthen often taught on how a man’s overt curiosity of his own gender during adolescence could create a same sex attraction. There were leaders within the Exodus ministry network that believed if it was caused by a broken development that God could heal that brokenness and initiate the development process to completion where a heterosexual desire would be the result. If wounds or pain caused it or a disjointed family relationship then the belief was that healing could bring a complete orientation change through prayer, counsel, and obedience to God’s will.


I taught child development theories in almost every program and conference. I believed in those theories. I believed that homosexuality was often caused by a broken development cycle. In this teaching it could easily be accepted that parents could in fact cause their kids to end up being gay if they didn’t raise them in a healthy and balanced family life. And yet, when addressing parents, I’d say emphatically, “Don’t pride yourself too much, you do not have enough power to create a gay child. It’s not your fault that your child is gay.” Talk about mixed messages! This is clearly a double mind. What in fact did I really believe? It’s no surprise that many parents were grief stricken, and wrapped up in shame.


Some ExGay ministries focused much of their energy on “Inner Healing Prayer.” This was a practice based on the belief that God could do a great work inside a person’s soul that would free them from the bondages of homosexuality. Sometimes it included a thorough evaluation of a person’s genogram, a study of their family history. Breaking family curses or patterns of behavior was believed to bring freedom from the negative patterns in a person’s life today. Again, it was believed that through inner healing prayer, God could do the deeper work of changing a person’s sexual orientation.


Most ExGay ministries, Love In Action included, believed that if it was caused by sin, brokenness, or painful experiences then God could heal those experiences and forgiveness would follow. This would then open up the door for a natural growth progression bringing a person to a new healthier sexuality. And yet, throughout the decades of experience with gay men and women, I’ve never heard of one who made that transition from gay to straight! If our theories were correct, I’d think we see not just one, but many who found this kind of transformation. “You can change!!!” but none we know of ever have.


Throughout my experience with Love In Action I avoided the questions on success. I’d say things like, “Well, when people leave our program they are most often closer to God than when they came. I’d say that’s success!” I knew that we had not seen any change in anyone’s sexual orientation. I knew that our success did not lie in eradicating homosexuality from the lives of our program clients. But in my denial, it was very hard for me to truly admit that, or even think it. I continued to hold out hope that we’d see the miracle! We couldn’t lose that hope. Along with our board and staff, we’d most often attribute a lack of personal success in a client’s life to a lack of application of the tools, or a lack of obedience to God. We certainly didn’t accept the limitations of our programs. We did not take responsibility for our double-mindedness or our mixed messages. We did not do a thorough evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. We did not consider that a VERY high number of men and women ended up right back where they started before the program and often times even more wounded.


We made the assumption that personal bitterness and rebellion created a negative reaction to the program in those who spoke negatively about their experience. And yet, we also taught Family Systems theories in our programs and conferences. I remember very often saying, “Listen to the Scape Goat in the family system. They are most often the ones that point out the underlying truth and they draw attention to the Pink Elephant in the middle of the living room.” And yet, we didn’t listen to the program critics for a valid message about the lack of effectiveness of the program’s outcome.


It’s often heard that God cannot love LGBT people and that they may end up in hell if they don’t repent. I’ve personally never believed that anyone would go to hell for his or her actions and during my time at Love In Action, I’d often share my thoughts on that topic. But, there are doctrines and religious denominations that preach that someone could go to hell for being gay. There are many LiA clients who came into the program motivated by their fear of hell if they didn’t change. It was not rare that parents believed their kids would go to hell if they didn’t fully repent of their homosexuality. The disparity that lay within these conflictive doctrines was hard to navigate and no matter what we said in our program lectures about this, there were always some who would be more impacted by their church pastor’s opinion, or their parents fears. It’s a fairly common conservative Christian doctrine that people lose God’s favor if they live an active homosexual life. This is something that we taught.


It was my belief during those years that homosexuality had the power to cause spiritual or even physical death! We truly thought we were fighting for the lives of those who came to us. We took this very seriously and these fears impacted the things we taught. They affected our ability to rationally think through what people heard from our messages.


Personally, I was afraid to hear the truth about the outcomes of our program. I invested most of my adult life into the program. I heard many good things from some participants and put my focus on them. Yes, there were things that people learned that really helped them to discover a healthier life. Personal honestly about their behaviors was very helpful for them. Family Systems theories taught at Family Weekend conferences helped many to find reconciliation and forgiveness for each other. Yes, parents discovered ways for them to love their children who were gay. In the midst of the double messages, there were nuggets of truth and help.


There are men and women who chose to marry the opposite sex. Many of them have children today and say they are living a fulfilled life! I admit that there is also an element of bi-sexuality that can be true for some. This would allow for some to experience satisfying opposite sex marriage. But from my experience this is not a manifestation of change from gay to straight, but rather evidence of a sexual continuum in humanity. I also know those who married with the hope that God would bring about the healing they desired, only to discover that to never occur ending up in a tremendously painful reality to navigate. Many of those who chose to marry the opposite sex ended up in terribly personal conflicts and the marriages ended up on divorce. Frankly, only a very few have appeared to be successful.


Was Love In Action double minded? I’d have to say absolutely, yes. Our double mindedness caused many personal conflicts and a lot of painful outcomes. I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d been able to be completely honest and present a consistent message. No doubt, the program would have been smaller, and we’d not have been nearly as successful in our fund raising efforts! But maybe less harm wound have been done.


 

Wedding Venue Says NO!

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019


JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1A Dallas wedding venue, “The Venue at Waterstone” said “no” to a gay couple. Their website says they serve any bride and a groom “whether or not they share our beliefs.”


Any man and woman desiring to join together and make public this most sacred covenant,

whether or not they share in our beliefs,

are welcome to join together and celebrate at The Venue at Waterstone.


Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 9.00.09 AM(Pic from their website)


What bothers me is that they clearly say they’ll allow people whether or not they share their convictions…..unless…. they’re gay. So they could be way across the map from them spiritually, but no deal if they’re gay. There are many gay couples who are very conservative spiritually and they might be totally in alignment with this organization spiritually!


It’s just sad. A wedding venue that could represent itself well by loving all people equally, showing service to all.



the+venue+at+waterstoneTheir beautiful facade has a stench I can’t get out of my mind.


Regardless of differing beliefs, to show a universal loving care for their community in my opinion, would be the best witness of Jesus. Sharing their beautiful venue with others without any conditions on circumstances would be amazing. To love others without conditional judgment is, in my opinion, the way of Jesus.


Hmm. It seems the was the witness of Jesus!


Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 9.02.17 AM





I’m sorry, i don’t think I’d want to work with them.