I was reading up on an old friend from the ministry the other day. He went back to his roots in ministry and is providing counseling to people burdened by anger, depression and other issues. I recall his teachings and how they influenced me and others in ministry. Looking back I now see how narrow his views were and apparently still are.
It is unfortunate that people tend to look to pastors for a lot more than the pastors can offer. My friend sees much of the world through the eyes of religion and his unique version of counseling. He equates depression, addiction and financial problems with harboring secret or not so secret, hatred, un-forgiveness and anger toward people who hurt you. His solution is to talk people into reliving the emotional pain of past experiences and then encourage them to forgive. This brings up a whole host of issues regarding his method and his proof that it frees people from things like depression, addiction, etc. On his website, promoting his book, one of his claims is that his form of counseling sets people free from addiction to pornography. He claims there is a link between anger and viewing of pornography. So the theory goes that if one forgives the person they are angry at then they will be free from sexual addictions like pornography. As an ex-Christian, I know this type of shame based thinking regarding pornography. I'm sure he will have lots of youth ministers, pastors and missionaries clamoring for his special brand of counseling. Lustful thoughts and the guilt Christian males have over viewing pornography and masturbation runs rampant in Evangelical Churches. A good friend of mine told me about an alleged prophet of God who called out a spirit of masturbation from a young Christian man in his congregation. I don't even want to think of the shame that guy suffered from after that experience.
I remember telling my pastor friend about some of the classes I was attending in college. One of them in particular was anatomy of the brain. I was surprised when he wanted to know why I was taking that class for my counseling degree. He couldn't understand why it was important for a counselor to know about brain structure and chemistry like serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
Finding out that he is still into this type of counseling with no formal training in psychology other than a Masters in Divinity, is unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that many people who surround him speak highly of his counseling. The down side is that there are many who left his church and no longer count him as a friend because of the damage this type of counseling and viewpoint has done. It should be noted that when people disagreed with him and left his church, he often wrote them off as being unforgiving and angry. I remember him telling me how he forgave this person, or that person, for hurting him or leaving the church. It was like a shield against personal examination and responsibility for his part in the relationship. This type of rationalization was often married with the belief that the ex-parishioner was in sin and rebellion against God. Sometimes he would elaborate and state that they were influenced by the devil because they were angry and unforgiving. He liked to quote the Apostle Paul:
"Be angry, but sin not, because you will give the devil a foothold in your heart."
I think you get the picture. Some of his counseling involved casting out demons that lived in unforgiving Christians. That's a whole other theological debate that evangelical Christians have.
I recently spoke to him and asked him to testify for me regarding an issue involving my ex-wife (one of those people he counseled many years ago). He promised to meet with me when I flew down to Diego. I called him two more times to set up a dinner appointment with him and his wife. He never returned my calls and we never met while I was down in California. I did meet with an old friend who still attends his church. He informed me that my old friend, the pastor, finally gave up (after 10 years) on helping he and his wife with their marriage problems because he didn't know what else to do to for them. I guess the inner healing from bitterness and un-forgiveness didn't work and neither did the Christian teachings about submission and husbandly authority. I'm sure the pastor wrote them off as being unable to apply his counsel or God's word to their marriage because they were not dealing with some form of sin in their lives. I happen to know my friend's wife and I am fairly certain she suffers from an Axis II personality disorder. Only the pastor knows what reason he used to justify God's inability to change their marriage. Whatever the reason, I'm sure he washed his hands from any responsibility he might have had from preaching Biblical authority dogma and inner healing counseling to his church for decades.
Why he never returned my calls, well, maybe he never got them because his wife erased them or they had a power outage and my messages were deleted. Whatever the case, we did speak (he had my number) and he knew I was coming to San Diego. Maybe all the fires they are having in San Diego right now are a result of his un-forgiveness toward me. Don't Christians often claim God is judging us when calamity strikes? Knowing him has I did, my guess is that since I did not ask his forgiveness for leaving his church when we last spoke (I simply said lets just call it water-under-the-bridge and move on), he doesn't want to "cast his pearls before swine."
My experience with religious people is that they are very individualist regarding their beliefs. You can have 5 churches on the same block (much like in some areas of Alaska) and each with their own view on theology, ministry, counseling and spiritual gifts. What usually sets them apart isn't so much these type of beliefs as much as the image the pastor projects of himself/herself. If the image is what first attracts them, then it is the pastor's handling of relationships that usually repel them. This is not always the case, but it is often the case.
In my experience, people gravitate toward a church where the pastor's image makes them feel comfortable and accepted. That was how it was with me when I first attended his church. It wasn't until many years later that I was able to see through this image (and my own allegiance to him) and evaluate him without bias (he is a nice person, albeit, a mislead and self-protective religious person who often does as much harm as good). As Christians (especially Evangelical ones) we are taught to respect the pastor and revere him as "one who hears from God, or knows the Word". Obedience to God is first and foremost in the Evangelical Christian's mind and since the pastor "hears" from God.... well, you get the picture. At least I hope you do!
It's been at least 11 years since I attended his church and I remember how confusing and painful it was leaving it. I was ordained and licensed through his church, and my most formative Christian years, as a young adult, were in his church. Now, thankfully, I rarely think about him and that church. When I finally came to my senses and put religion behind me, I was able to look at him, and many of the other pastors I knew, with a different set of eyes. The only regret I have, about my time as a Christian, is the amount of time, money and quality of life I wasted trying to be a one. We are what we believe and if we go against what we believe we will reap the effects. It's called cognitive dissonance. People will go to great lengths to fight their own internal beliefs or justify them. Some beliefs, such as religious ones, are false and when we realize this, those beliefs gradually or suddenly lose their power over us. That was how it was for me.
In conclusion, I must confess that my life experiences have made me what I am today and today I am much happier then I ever was as a Christian. To be bitter or unforgiving one must have an emotional attachment to someone or something, but when that someone or something doesn't matter anymore then there isn't anything to let go of. When my belief about life, religion and God changed, so did my inner life. I realized that what I used to hold dear, or value didn't mean much to me anymore. I gradually replaced them with reason and personal responsibility. When I did this, I became free from doubt, false shame and false guilt and I my confidence grew. Forgiveness wasn't in the equation and neither was bitterness or anger. Reason was the answer.