I'm pretty ticked off at the moment. The reason, you might wonder? This article. A special thanks to the author at The Pub.

First and foremost, if you read the article, what I write will make a lot more sense.

The church is full of people who hurt, it is full of people who are mentally unhealthy, it is full of people who whose very soul, mind, life is spent dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death. Ministers who have had one or two semesters of pastoral care are not capable or ready to handle the problems that these children of God face. Certainly, ministers can listen, they can care, they can even be empathetic assuming that they are healthy enough to compartmentalize their own stuff in order to help others. But these ministers cannot and should not attempt to counsel people without extensive training in the art of counseling and psychotherapy.

As a minister and social worker with over a thousand hours of counseling and over two hundred hours of supervision under my belt, I find the approach that Southern Seminary is taking to be appalling and grossly negligent.

But it steps beyond that for me; as I read the article and this one that is referenced, I can feel my heart breaking. There is pit in my stomach that is widening and growing deeper with each paragraph. The implications of this program are enormous, at best it is misguided, at worst it is going to hurt people irreparably. I can feel the fear I have for the time when the first graduates of this program enter churches or worse hang a shingle on their door calling themselves counselor. This is not only an attack on counseling and psychology, it is an attack that strikes the very core of my identity and my calling as a minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church.

This world is populated with people-- women, men, and children --who are already demonized because they suffer from mental illness. People who suffer from depression have difficulty keeping their health insurance, because depression is "incurable." Mental hospitals are shut down for lack of funding, their clients returned to a world that does not accept or understand them. Children and women are abused at enormous rates and many suffer with a number of physical, mental and emotional issues for the remainder of their lives.

These are some of the people who inhabit the pews of churches, they are the ones seeking solace from the storms that tear at the fabric of their lives. For these hurting people Southern Seminary wants to populate pulpits with this type of pastor.
“Our churches need pastors and leaders who understand depravity and the Fall to the degree that they are able to see the ways in which fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective ‘science’ -- especially when this ‘science’ seeks to explain and prescribe a cure for the fallen condition of humanity,” Moore said.
Tell me how a pastor of this sort of biblical nature would respond to an autistic child? An abused woman or molested child? Tell me what they would say to someone who is experiencing a psychotic break? How about a person suffering from a manic episode or someone with schizophrenia, mental retardation, bipolar disorder, narcissistic, borderline, oppositional defiant, or anything else mentioned in the DSM-IV? What are they going to do, talk about demon possession, tell them to get off their ass and quit being lazy, or better yet just say a prayer and send them on their way? I believe that pastoral care and counseling is one of the central messages of the biblical narrative, I am also not naive enough to believe that it is the only source of revelation for the healing that people need in their lives...
“This means that Southern Seminary must maintain a commitment to Sola Scriptura [‘Scripture alone’] in our counseling department no less than in our biblical studies, systematic theology and evangelism departments. After all, Scripture claims its own authority and sufficiency in ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness.’ It claims that through the power of the oracles of God the man of God is ‘competent, equipped for every good work.’”
Scripture alone does not mean that God stopped speaking to us 1700 years ago when the canon was completed. If that is the case, then God is truly dead, and humanity is lost. Scripture alone, in my own interpretation, means that the canon gives us the best example of how the relationship between humanity and God works or doesn't. Scripture is not God; and it does not account for the history that has happened since the 300s CE. In that time, God has revealed God's self through the tireless work of preachers, teachers, theologians, and yes, psychotherapists. To deny these voices is to deny God's active power and presence in the world.

Here's the thing, rules don't always work when it comes to healing. Scripture is not a one-size fits all panacea for mental illness. I am a pastoral counselor. That means that I understand and utilize psychotherapeutic theories, techniques, and interventions. It also means that I believe God always has a hand in the healing process.

Pastoral counseling, at its best, is about sturm und drang (stress and storms) of life and how we can ascribe meaning to their presence. It is about struggling with the self, the core of life where God resides, in the hopes that we might someday catch a glimpse of who God created us to be. Pastoral counseling is the place where you and I meet and share in the sacrament of knowing one another in the presence of God. It is prayer, meditation, hope, pain, transparency, grief, reality and fiction all rolled into an hour of life together. These are things found when we take our shoes off in the presence of the holy, not when we apply a verse of scripture to a problem we have.

The way I read this article, scripture is an excuse. It is an excuse not to wade down in the muck and mire that someone is living in to offer a helping hand. It is an excuse to behave like the friends of Job, standing on the sidelines pointing out the faults of the "unfortunate soul" that God is currently punishing. It is an excuse that allows the pastor to separate themselves from a "problem person."

Whenever counseling becomes about a book, a theory, or an intervention rather than the relationship between two of God's children, then it ceases to be counseling at all. The bible is no exception. People will be hurt by these ministers, and that pisses me off. People will be abused by these graduates, and that pisses me off. People will be misuderstood, they will not be given adequate care, they will be demonized, and many of them will lose what little glimpse or hope in God that they may have had, and that pisses me off.

Those who suffer with a mental illness don't need scriptural references, memory verses, or quoted proverbs. They need the helping hand that comes from one who knows how to care, how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to wade into the deep dark places of their lives and help them find a path from which to exit.

grace and peace

PS - Wayne Oates was a pioneer, he was a pastor, he was a counselor. His memory and his work does not deserve to be treated in this manner. If this is what "biblical counselors" do to a person who played a significant role in the present models of pastoral care, who was a Baptist, and who did excellent work with clients and counselors alike, what will they do to people off the street?



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