Excerpt from Got Questions.org:
“Secular psychology is based on the ideas that man is basically good and that the answer to his problems lies within himself. The Bible paints a very different picture of man’s condition. Man is not “basically good”; he is “dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1), and the unregenerate heart is “deceitful and beyond all cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, the biblical counselor takes a drastically different approach: rather than seeking solutions to spiritual problems within one’s own mind, he seeks to confront sin, obtain wisdom from above (James 3:17), and apply the Word of God to the situation.”
This isn’t the post I had planned to publish next. It’s in draft, almost finished, but my mind got distracted. I have a lot of emotions stirring and memories surfacing because of the gut-wrenching posts I’ve read lately from courageous bloggers, mostly ex-Christians, who’ve unfortunately been exposed to a biblical counseling environment.
Some attempted suicide. Some have been in therapy for years. Some may never fully recover.
Where is the accountability?
Where is the outrage?
Why doesn’t this get the attention and exposure it should?
? ? ?
I came upon this article yesterday in the Pacific Standard. It highlights a 24 year old undergraduate from the University of California-Los Angeles who became a member of Grace Community Church, considered the largest Protestant congregation in LA. at the time. Its founder, John MacArthur, remains a titan in American conservative Christianity.
This is a pastor who advises parents of adult gay children to:
Refuse to have a meal with them.
Turn them over to Satan.
To my knowledge, Kenneth Nally was not gay. But he was experiencing clinical depression. In March of 1979, he took an overdoes of his antidepressant medication. He wanted to end his pain. His parents found him unconscious and rushed him to a San Fernando Valley hospital, where he had his stomach pumped. His doctor advised Kenneth’s parents that he should be admitted to a mental health facility, but apparently, neither Kenneth or his father thought that would be in Kenneth’s best interest. After his release from hospital, Kenneth’s pastor, from Grace Community Church, invited him to stay at his home. He accepted.
He stayed six days at Pastor MacArther’s house, spending much of his time reading the Bible and listening to tapes of MacArthur’s sermons. Six days later he returned to his parents’ home. A week later he put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Apparently, the only suicide note he left was a piece of paper with verses of scripture written on it.
From the article “The Rise of Biblical Counseling“:
“In their grief, the Nallys began looking into the sort of help Kenneth had been receiving at Grace. It was a form of Christian therapy known as biblical counseling. Developed in the 1960s, biblical counseling rejects conventional approaches to mental health and holds that the Bible is sufficient as a guide to treatment.
Many of its adherents think of it as a strict but hopeful alternative to what they view as the permissive and guilt-absolving premises of psychology. In biblical counseling, most psychological distress is rooted in sin, and the path to healing lies in confession and repentance.”
A year later, Kenneth’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Grace Community Church, MacArthur, and three other Grace pastors. They believed that the “counseling” Kenneth had received from MacArthur and his ilk had “exacerbated (Kenneth’s) preexisting feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression”.
“Over the next nine years, the case wound its way through the legal system—dismissed twice in superior court, reinstated by a court of appeal, then rejected by the California Supreme Court. It was hard to prove malpractice where there was no clear practice; biblical counseling fell into a gray area between religious teaching and therapy.
By the time the Nallys took their claim to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1989, the case had become a national cause for Christians, with thousands of churches and religious organizations expressing support for Grace. But the high court declined to hear the case. The lawsuit had run its course.
Biblical counseling had overcome its first great challenge. Now it was freer to expand without worry—and so it did. Today, it is a major force among conservative American Protestants. It is so popular, and so widespread, that in 2005 the Southern Baptist Convention’s theological seminaries—the pastoral schools of the largest Protestant denomination in the country (U.S.) —announced a “wholesale change of emphasis” in favor of biblical counseling over an earlier “pastoral care” model that had drawn in part on the behavioral sciences.”
For those who don’t know, my late husband suffered complications from a traumatic brain injury and would have bouts of major depression. He was also subjected to biblical counseling. He was told his problems were caused by “unconfessed sin”, therefore opening himself up to demons.
In his fragile and vulnerable state of mind, he believed it. Like the Nally’s, I didn’t learn about the extent of this biblical counseling, a.k.a. psychological abuse, until it was too late—and like Kenneth, my late husband put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. My partner was in his late 20’s. From the article:
“FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF most mental health professionals, biblical counseling is at best a murky phenomenon. Among many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, though, it is central. Since the mid-1960s, when Presbyterian pastor Jay Adams first laid out its principles, biblical counseling has become dominant in conservative Christian denominations that follow Reformed (or Calvinist) theology.
It is relied upon by conservative Presbyterians, Calvinists, Baptists, and thousands of non-denominational Christians, including those who fall under the category of Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. For millions of Americans suffering from anxiety, depression, bulimia, anorexia, bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even schizophrenia, biblical counseling is the sole form of treatment they are likely to receive.
Indirectly, the influence of biblical counseling is wider still, and echoes of it can be heard across conservative culture. In 2012, when Adam Lanza slaughtered a school full of children in Connecticut, Fox News host and onetime GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor himself, slipped into biblical counseling territory when he laid blame for the killings in part on a society in which we “stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders”.
And when Southern Baptist research organization LifeWay Research conducted a survey of evangelical Christians in 2013, 48 percent of self-identified evangelical, born-again, or fundamentalist Christians said they believe that conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be treated with prayer alone.”
Another person mentioned in the article is John Weaver — an English lecturer at Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY). Weaver’s family, on his father’s side, had a history of mental illness. Unfortunately, Weaver experienced biblical counseling firsthand. He attended a Christian college in 2001 and sought biblical counseling at a Christian counseling center in rural New England.
“Weaver recalls, on his first day of counseling, two college-age counselors took him into a room and asked him what he thought his problem was. When he suggested he might have a chemical imbalance, his counselors told him no, his problem was his pride. “They kept me in two rooms for six hours and kept telling me to repent, yelling at me and berating me,” Weaver says.”
Weaver was profoundly affected by this experience which prompted him to further investigate biblical counseling. In November of last year, he published his findings in a book titled The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care: Treatments That Harm Women, LGBT Persons and the Mentally Ill.
Study: Demon or Disorder: A Survey of Attitudes Toward Mental Illness in the Christian Church Matthew S. Stanford, Ph.D. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798
In his study Stanford found that negative interactions included abandonment by the church, equating mental illness with the work of demons, and suggesting that the mental disorder was the result of personal sin.
“Analysis of the data by gender found that women were significantly more likely than men to have their mental illness dismissed by the church and/or be told not to take psychiatric medication.”
From Dan B. Allender, PhD, a prominent Christian therapist:
“[Biblical counseling] Must insist that the image of God is central to developing a solid view of personality; that our sinfulness, not how we’ve been sinned against, is our biggest problem; that forgiveness, not wholeness, is our greatest need; that repentance, not insight, is the dynamic in all real change.”
From Dr. Standford’s study:
“The present results suggest that while a majority of Christian churches are sympathetic to members with mental disorders far too many are not. Education and collaboration are our best tools to overcome this problem. Ignorance is simply not an excuse for a community of believers that has been called to “bear one another’s burdens”. While significant strides have been made towards bringing the Christian and mental health communities together, more work is clearly needed.”
To grasp the enormity of this conservative Christian movement, just Google biblical counseling.
To those courageous bloggers and commenters who’ve cast light on these dark, abusive teachings —
To those who are confused, hurting and/or have been harmed…