Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power

Everyone agrees that Clergy Sexual Abuse is a bad thing, yet clergy are still abusing.

We have trained thousands of congregational leaders on clergy sexual abuse, yet many churches continue to deny and minimize when a beloved leader betrays their trust.

What is going on here? Why is this problem so stubborn?

Some people say it is just human sin. Individuals enjoy abusing their power to manipulate and control others.

Some say it is because of our confused ideas about sexuality. We can’t talk about sex in church without creating a mess.

Some say it is theology. As long as we promote ideas like sacrifice, servanthood, obedience, and forgiveness, we create clergy who put themselves in the place of God and expect others to serve their needs.

I say that it is all of the above, and the thing that links them together is abuse of power. The problem the church doesn’t talk about is power and how God wants us to use power.

Human sin can be understood as the abuse of power. In our failure to find the nurturing relationships and prosperity we want, humans engage in manipulation and power plays to get what we think we need. In this sense, clergy sexual abuse is just one among many forms of abuse of power in the church, one of “the many temptations that inevitably accompanies power.”

Sexuality can be understood in relation to power. Sexuality is a human drive that permeates all our relationships. Sexuality as a commodity drives advertising and U.S. values. Because we don’t talk about sex in a sensible way, we push sexuality into the unconscious world where its power multiplies. The structure that creates this mess is male dominance or patriarchy.

Theological doctrines are forms of power. All the terms above – sacrifice, obedience, and forgiveness – depend on power – who is sacrificing for who; who is obedient to who; and who is asked to forgive who. Who decides these questions is a matter of power.

So what do we mean by power and the abuse of power? What is power for, and how can we recognize the abuse of power? These questions are important because at this conference we are talking about how to use power to prevent clergy abuse of power. Through our public debates, our policies on sexual misconduct, our training programs, and our response teams, we are challenging the usual power arrangements to provide healing for the victims of clergy sexual abuse and accountability for everyone.

Every reform movement is a claim on power, and the movement to prevent clergy sexual abuse is no exception. We are here because we don’t like the way things have been for many generations. We want to change things – where male and female leaders are excused for abusing power even before they repent and change their ways. We want to change the way the church mistreats victims – by silence, by shunning, and sometimes by forcing them to leave the church. We want to change the ethics of church leadership so that vulnerable people will no longer become victims of sexual exploitation in the church family. We want true repentance and rehabilitation for offenders as they are restored to membership in the community. We want to restore the faith and trust of the congregation so it is empowered to fulfill God’s mission of love in the community.

We are here because we believe that we have power to change all of these things “through Christ who strengthens us.” (Phil 4:13) If we want power, we need to understand what it is, and what God intended when God gave human beings power.

I believe that all power is from God. Abuse of power is the abuse of a gift that God gives to us. God created us; God put us in this garden, the earth, on which we depend for food, warmth, shelter; God gave us loving communities of support and challenge and called us to be witnesses in the world. In Jesus Christ, we have been redeemed from our sinful ways and shown the way of loving power. In John 13, Jesus called us to be servants by kneeling and washing one another’s feet, thus showing us one way of empowering others; in John 15, Jesus called us to stand up and become friends, no longer servants, thus inviting us to claim the power of leadership in the name of Jesus. Whether we are kneeling down as servants or standing up as peers, we are exercising the power God gives us. In Acts 2, God sent power in the form of the Holy Spirit so that we no longer fear the violence of evil forces and the threat of death. We can look even at the horrible event of the crucifixion of Jesus and know that God is with us through whatever happens. We live in the power of the Holy Spirit that has called us into this conference and calls us every day to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) We have received power from God to live fully in the excitement and challenge of this world until God’s kin-dom comes.

See the full article under Articles and Lectures, “Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power”

Pastoral Care of Men

In 1999, I was co-lecturer with Dr. Christie Neuger at a UCC sponsored conference with the title, Women and Men: Sharing Holy Ground. My presentation focused on the history of men’s movements in the 19th and 20th centuries and some of the current pastoral care needs of Christian men today. The presentation was an outgrowth of my book with Christie Neuger, The Care of Men (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1997)

My presentation touches on some the following issues. First, I call attention to some of the history of the gender crisis over the last 175 years. The U.S. Women’s Rights and the Abolitionist-Civil Rights movements started in the early 19th century, and the implications of these movements continue to be important for Christian theology. This will give a context for understanding the issues that men bring to pastors for consultation and care. Second I identify five areas where men are in need of pastoral care: grief, couple and family relationships, work, sexuality, and aggression. The first set of issues can be approached in a fairly straight-forward way – namely, grief, couple and family relationships, and work. We need to be assertive in inviting men to discuss these issues, so they can find better support and begin to deal with their insecurities when gender issues are raised. Sexuality and aggression are more challenging because many men are already defensive and feel unfairly blamed. But there is more at stake here than embarrassment. What is at stake is a just world for both women and men in a rainbow of cultures and religions.

Hope is the thing with feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)  
by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
I've heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.

What is Christian Counseling?

What is Christian Counseling?

James Poling, November 22, 2003

[Note to Reader: I presented this lecture in Seoul, Korea to 250 Christian counselors gathered at Yonsei University School of Theology. I am trying to bridge the gap between Christian counseling and pastoral counseling, the divide of liberal and evangelical theologies. Many of the ideas also apply to the United States pastoral counseling communities.]

What is Christian counseling?

INTRODUCTION: Consider the following persons who call themselves pastoral counselors:

Counselor # 1 believes that Jesus came to save sinners from eternal punishment. Therefore he believes that Christian counseling is primarily an opportunity to invite persons to confess the name of Jesus and become active in the work of the church. He is particularly interested in pastoral counseling with non-Christians so they will come to know the gospel. His favorite Bible verse is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31

Counselor # 2 believes that Jesus came to reconcile persons who live in broken relationships. Therefore she believes that Christian counseling is primarily a work of communication and mediation in interpersonal and family relationships. She is particularly interested in helping Korean American families who have returned to live and work in Korea. Her favorite Bible verse is: “God gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

Could these two counselors be active in the same Christian professional organization? They have two different theologies and two different approaches to clinical work. They might have some conflict. What would the theology and identity of that organization be?

Counselor # 3 believes that Jesus came to liberate those who were oppressed by violence and poverty. Therefore she believes that Christian counseling is primarily empowering victims to seek justice. She is particularly interested in helping women who are victims of domestic violence and sometimes calls herself a feminist. Her favorite Bible verse is: “There is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ.” Galatians 3:28

It would be even harder to find a single Christian organization that would be open and fair to all three positions.

There is a fourth counselor, a Buddhist monk, who graduated from one of the best pastoral counseling programs in Korea and wrote a comparative religious dissertation on the Christian concept of trusting in the Holy Spirit and the Buddhist concept of the empty mind. He practices cognitive-narrative therapy and helps individuals find their true vocation in the world. His favorite Bible verse is: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth Comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12-13

Now we have a huge dilemma. Even the name of our organization is in jeopardy if we invite all four of these counselors to be in the organization. Yet, all four practice competent, recognized forms of pastoral counseling; all four are religious persons who know and use the Bible to support their viewpoint; all have skills for helping people examine their lives and find healing. Yet, they have different clinical approaches and different faith assumptions. Is it possible to organize a professional organization of pastoral counselors for different varieties of Christians and other counselors in Korea? Let me share some of our experience in the United States and make a proposal.

For the full article, see writing>articles and lectures>What is Christian Counseling?