Biblical Counseling and Horrid Perspectives on Abuse: How Did Things Go So Wrong?

by | Apr 11, 2022 | Abuse | 164 comments

3 Reasons Biblical Counseling is Dangerous for Abuse

Biblical Counseling Can Be Dangerous.

Julie Roys has been doing an expose of how John MacArthur handled counseling Eileen Gray, whose husband was physically and emotionally abusing her children (and later found to be also sexually abusing them). When she went to the church for help because of her husband’s abuse, they told her to reconcile. When she refused and got a restraining order, they put her under church discipline, announced in church services to 8000 people that she was in sin, and excommunicated her.

Her husband later was sentenced to several decades in prison. The church is still supporting the husband over the wife.

Part of the issue in the counseling of Eileen Gray was the nature of the biblical counseling she received.

Biblical counseling is NOT the same as going to a Christian counselor. Biblical counseling is a specific field and method of counseling that rejects secular research and psychology and focuses only on the Bible. Emotional problems and relational problems are viewed through the lens of sin or lack of faith. Depression is seen as a lack of faith, rather than potentially a biological condition.

Biblical counselors are not licensed with the state (unlike licensed marriage and family therapists; licensed social workers; or licensed clinical psychologists). They don’t have ethical guidelines they must follow to retain their license. There is no guarantee of confidentiality, and in fact, when seeing a biblical counselor, most churches will require you to sign a consent form to say that the counselor can share your story with pastors or elders if they deem it important to. (This is what happened at James MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Chapel, for instance).

Master’s Seminary and most Southern Baptist Seminaries are now exclusively biblical counseling; Liberty University offers both a licensed track and a biblical counseling track. Other smaller universities also offer biblical counseling training, while many other schools focus on licensed training.

So when I say “biblical counseling”, I’m not saying counseling by a Christian. I’m saying a particular method of counseling that isn’t trauma informed, doesn’t use evidence based therapies, and often focues on gender roles and marriage permanence rather than proper approaches to abuse that keep the victim safe.

I know that there are good biblical counselors who are abuse informed.

I have spoken to many and they are wonderful. The problem is that the method of counseling as a whole is very problematic and, as Rachael Denhollander has said, often does more harm than good, especially when abuse is involved. I hope that good biblical counselors will speak up and start demanding that seminaries change how they teach about these issues, and start asking for licensing requirements.

In the process of her investigative report of this incident, Julie started looking into the biblical counseling that is offered at MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary.

She focused on John Street, the head of Master’s Seminary biblical counseling program, and published a long article looking at how Street believes women should endure abuse in their marriage for Jesus.

Because of that, Twitter erupted again with the problems of biblical counseling and abuse. I saw some things that really disturbed me, and I made some Fixed It For Yous about them. We’ll start with one where John Street blames a man’s sexual abuse of his 4-year-old stepdaughter on the fact that his wife wasn’t sexually satisfying him:


Biblical Counseling and Abuse Advice

While this may seem horrid, this is actually in line with what Jay Adams, the founder of biblical counseling, taught about abuse.

One cannot understate the importance of Jay Adams on the biblical counseling (once called nouthetic counseling) movement. He was the one who taught the church that using secular practices in counseling was wrong, and the Bible was all we need. His book “Competent to Counsel”, a defence of biblical counseling, is still a big textbook in many institutions. Over his career, he wrote over 100 books, mostly about the movement.

The next two Fixed It For Yous are from his Casebook on how to handle the case “My Husband Molested Our Daughter”:

Biblical Counseling and Abuse: Jay Adams

Most horrid of all, he says that the counselor must entertain this question:

Biblical Counseling and Abuse: Blaming the Victim

The universal reaction when I have posted these Fixed It For Yous (the middle one is going up tonight!) has been horror and outrage and a lot more profanity than is usual in my social media channels! People are absolutely outraged and gobsmacked and sickened.

So here’s what I want to ask today: If a normal person is absolutely sickened by this, how did biblical counseling become so big in Christian circles?

I’m honestly wondering and trying to figure it out. I have three-point theory I’d like to share with you, and I’m hoping that we can start a conversation in the comments to try to figure out the attraction of this.

For context, take a look at this video where the quote from John Street in the first Fixed It For You is taken from. Start at around the 6 minute mark. What amazes me is not just the horrid words he is saying, but the fact that all those men in the classroom are just dutifully taking notes as if this is normal. They don’t seem phased by the horrid things Street is saying at all.

How did we get to the point where Christians–where biblical counseling–failed to see the abuse victim as the victim?

How did we get to the point where Christians failed to see the abuser as the problem?

How did we get to the point where we thought it was appropriate to treat abuse by trying to figure out the part everyone had played–as if everyone was guilty?

That’s what I’m trying to figure out, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. A devotion to hyper-Calvinism sees humanity as inherently disgusting and evil.

Calvinism tends to see humans as “totally depraved”, unable to do anything good outside of God.

Take this to the extreme, and anything that humans would naturally think is good must therefore be evil; or anything that humans think is evil must therefore be good. God’s ways aren’t understandable because we’re so depraved, and so the more confusing and awful it sounds, the more this may actually be proof that it is right. It’s like an upside down world.

Most biblical counseling programs are done in seminaries that are heavily Calvinist, or at least have those influences, and so I’m wondering if this has been taken to an extreme?

2. A devotion to patriarchy seeks to keep men in authority and power, and marriage permanent

Much of biblical counseling is also focused on making sure that women stay in their place. See, for instance, my article on a biblical counseling program at Harvest Bible Chapel that asked a woman whose husband was cheating on her to fill out this form on 98 ways she could be sinning against her husband. The focus seems to be on making sure that women submit to husbands, and that the bad things that men do are not taken as reasons to end the marriage (because we all sin, after all).

Biblical counseling also tends to have a permanence view of marriage, where even abuse is not grounds for divorce. (Again, not all biblical counselors believe this, but it’s far more common among biblical counseling programs than among licensed counselors).

3. A yearning for “secret sauce” makes being counter-cultural a virtue

Feeling like you have access to truth that no one else does is intoxicating. It’s really cool to feel like “I’m in the secret club that gets it.”

When I think about my younger years as a Christian, I remember feeling that the more extreme someone was, the more devoted to God they must be. So those who wanted to give up their lives for mission work were the most Christian. Those who chose to save their kiss for the wedding were more devoted than those who kissed earlier. Those who wouldn’t watch certain movies were more devoted than those who did.

We often see the extremes as meaning that people are more sold out for Jesus. The more counter-cultural you are, the more you’re in the will of God.

When we take these three things together, we have a recipe for dangerous counseling.

If normal, everyday people are absolutely disgusted by this approach to handling abuse, how did they manage to create a whole counseling movement that does this sort of thing?

I think it’s teaching people that the Bible is all they need, and that God thinks in a different way than us. It’s focusing on roles and men in power rather than emotional health. And it’s feeling as if the more counter-cultural we are, the holier we are.

In this school of thought, God becomes almost unknowable, because what He asks of us is so counter to what we would normally think is healthy. And yet instead of that being a warning sign that we’re going off the rails, it somehow becomes proof that we’re on the right track.

I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense, but that’s what I’m thinking about biblical counseling.

Other than that, I’m at a complete loss as to how this became mainstream in evangelicalism and is even growing, with Souther Baptist seminaries eschewing their previous counseling programs that led to licensed counselors in favour of biblical counseling. How did that happen? Why? I’d love to chat about it and try to figure it out.

And again–if you’re a healthy biblical counselor, I would ask you to change things from the inside. Please speak loudly about the harm that Jay Adams did (and I haven’t really touched on how he handled mental illness and depression/anxiety). Please speak loudly against how abuse has been handled. Please speak loudly against the Master’s Seminary counseling program. Please fight for licensure and ethical guidelines and privacy. It’s not enough to say “not all biblical counselors believe that” when this has been the foundation of the movement, and when the head of one of the largest seminaries is still teaching this.

We need change. So what should we do? I honestly want to know!

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3 Reasons Biblical Counseling is Dangerous for Abuse

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. A2bbethany

    My parents used free biblical counseling in the aftermath of my sister’s rebellion. They invited me to one session and I was supposed to talk about how it affected me and if I was praying for her. I thought the whole thing was useless. I wonder what a family counselor would have done?
    Instead of focusing on her rebellion, maybe some re-evaluating?
    Because this was a time of 3 different crisis’s that they were in the middle of(not victims but involved intimately). And it was stressful for everyone involved. I think it’d be a good thing to revisit it with a family counselor and air it all out. After all family secrets caused the beginning of almost all of them.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! If there’s ever a way to revisit it with a good counselor–that could be helful for sure!

      • Bonnie

        I am beyond appalled that there would be a question at all of victim blaming a child experiencing sexual abuse. “Did SHE (a child) ENTICE? DID SHE (a child) CONSENT by WILLINGLY PARTICIPATE??!! This is so ignorant and stupid I can’t believe there wasn’t tremendous fall out from even the most conservative Christians. NO one in the so called “biblical” (in reality an antithesis of solid scriptural application) questioned this? This man epitomizes abuse itself and should be removed, erased from any platform. Sickening, vile. Thank you Sheila for sounding the alarm.

    • Ann

      I am really glad to see that more and more people are looking into what Biblical Counseling is and how it is used in practice. I spent a decade at a church that had a big nanc program (back when it was called nanc). I took the first course to become a nanc counselor as well. The teaching from the church and in the course were pretty much one in the same. To this day I love many of the people from that church but disagree with them in fundamental ways about theology and counseling. It took another decade to work through damage that was done by the things I came to believe while at that church. If it would ever be helpful to your work to correspond with someone who spent years in a church that had a big biblical counseling ministry or who took one of the courses, please feel free to reach out.

  2. R

    #2 for sure.
    And I would add this: We are taught to submit to authorities. And in general, the church tends to fear questions and challenges to its teachings. We are taught to accept what we hear without questions. So even when there’s a red flag, our first impulse is to stuff it, to believe we can’t trust our gut and we have to just trust our leaders.

    • Rachel

      Yes! We were taught at Master’s University not to trust our emotions; because listening to our emotions equaled giving our emotions “authority” — and the only thing that should have authority over us is the Word of God.

      You can imagine what kinds of results this teaching had on many young women as they began dating their future husbands: bad feeling? don’t listen to it. Only listen to the Word of God (which, we were taught, says that wives must submit to husbands; and if you’re on the path toward being married, it was said, why not start practicing deferring to your boyfriend’s leadership now?).

      Same goes for listening to or reading secular psychological research (i.e. child development, abuse statistics, trauma research); because all difficult things in life are “heart issues,” for us to take in secular research is to “give authority” to “the world” (and thus stealing the authority of the Word of God).

        • Maureen

          Also, to take in “secular research” is to learn from women about issues that affect women from a field that is often dominated by women – “biblical counseling” removes the influence and concerns of women since it was created by and maintained by men – even if women counselors practice it.

      • CMT

        “Bad feeling? Don’t listen to it.” “Start practicing deferring to your boyfriend’s leadership now”

        It’s mass grooming is what it is.

  3. AC

    This won’t be helpful to you, but I was not aware that there were different types of counselling.
    I guess I assumed that any counselors or therapists were licensed and accountable to a college or board’s guidelines of practice.
    Otherwise wouldn’t you end up with a lot of potential lawsuits? And so much would come down to the counselor’s opinion or hermeneutics.
    Why would people choose these counselors, are they cheaper? I imagine that to be a big factor for many people. It would be for me.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Often the church offers counseling for free, so the biblical counselors are on staff. So, yes, i definitely think they’re cheaper on the whole.

    • Joe Pote

      I agree with what Sheila said about less expensive. However, that is only part of it. Many churches preach against secular counseling and talk about secular psychology/psychiatry professionals as though they are ignorant and misleading.

      So, it’s not hard to see why one might choose inexpensive biblical counseling, which one has been taught is trustworthy, over more expensive secular counseling, which one has been taught is untrustworthy.

    • R

      Actually, they’re not covered by insurance, so sometimes they’re more expensive. But when you’re a Christian who wants to understand what God says about your situation, you sometimes want someone who will include God’s Word in your counseling. That’s why I sought one of these counselors. Thank God I ended up with one who is both biblically centered and also trauma-informed, open to treatments from secular psychology, etc.

      • w

        Agreed, this is why I’ve been to some Biblical counseling. I’ve had extremely traumatic experiences with licensed counselors who didn’t respect my beliefs. It seems to me that paid counseling is a field that draws selfish, untrustworthy people from both the ultra-conservative side, and also the ultra-worldly… but they do great pretending to be helpful and caring. And they often wield a lot of power in their local area, and are further traumatizing people who were traumatized in the first place. So their victims don’t have a lot of resources to deal with fallout if they try to report and get smeared instead… so it’s rare that it happens. And people who come from relatively normal Christian families have often kept their head in the sand and just unempathetically told me, “find a better one”. Like that’s not a suck of time, energy, and money.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I just want to point out that there are so many licensed Christian counselors! If you Google it, you’ll find so many Christian counseling practices where the counselors are well-trained and licensed as well. It doesn’t need to be secular counseling or biblical counseling. There are Christian licensed counselors.

          • Annie

            As a pre-licensed professional counselor – thanks for this! I am a Christian and my grad program is through a Christian university – we meet all the standards held by the ACA and have a few classes added in to help us better understand what incorporating faith can ethically look like.

    • Katelynn

      Biblical counseling through your church is often free. And the reason there’s no lawsuit is you are required to sign a lot of paperwork that explains, in very flowery terms of course, that if there is anybody in a position of authority over you the biblical counselor has the right to share with them anything they believe it’s important for them to know. If they feel like you’re not repentant enough or that they need to get Church leadership involved the paperwork says they have the right to tell Church leadership. The language makes it sound like you have a reasonable expectation of privacy that will only be broken for like extreme circumstances, but the reality is it’s completely based on the counselors own personal beliefs as to whether or not what you are sharing deserves privacy.

        • Rachel

          A consent form like that seems very aligned with Scientologists audit sessions and using the information as leverage to force compliance. Brilliant in a horrific am-I-showing-my-psychopathy-here sort of way.

    • Cynthia

      Just last week I was looking over a court file where a father who physically and sexually abused his kids tried to claim that he should be able to see his kids because he had a recommendation from his counsellor. Luckily, the social worker who was doing the court investigation figured out that the counselling didn’t address the abuse at all and the father had made it seem that this was just a marital issue. Still, a competent licenced counsellor would have asked some pointed questions and figured it out.

      The guy isn’t allowed to see the kids, but is still trying to coerce the wife into going back to him and he and his lawyer are still trying to portray him as just a loving Christian husband. It’s gross.

      • Vanessa Walters

        I was in an abusive marriage 29 years. At some point, my husband insisted WE go to counseling. Never ever go to couples counseling with an abuser! It only gives the abuser more ammunition to use against you. After 6 weeks, or so, I quit. Thank goodness it wasn’t Biblical counseling!. I had tried to remedy matters by reading Christian marriage books. 99% of their content was the submissive wife verses…pray and submit. These books did nothing! I finally, in despair, turned away from Christian materials to secular ones. In my estimation, these are far more supportive and caring of women being abused than any Christian teaching was, and will be. I still cringe reading the submissive wife Scriptures. I’ve heard several sermons on submission of wives, from. Male pastors of different denominations. I did finally get a divorce. I had to save myself. I would NOT advise any abused woman to get counseling from any trained pastor! Churches like John MacArthurs are horrible to women in abusive situations.

    • Diana

      Yes they are totally free!!! My friend was in massive debt after getting her master’s degree in biblical counseling at masters…. And she could only use her degree as volunteer work and had to get a job at a daycare as a babysitter where she was being severely underpaid!!!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s actually really sad. I’m not sure that getting a licensed degree takes a lot more time either.

  4. Jodi

    All 3 are excellent points. I can see why you went there. I was raised in a very conservative church and yes abuse occurred but thankfully was not tolerated as far as I could tell. We were taught to accept anything a man said. Especially a man who was in authority. That definitely set the stage for my accepting abusive behavior from my exhusband. It would be interesting to have actual research done to dig deeper into this.

  5. Lynn

    My thought is that churches (and perhaps evangelical culture itself) make themselves targets for abusers and pedophiles. This abhorrent evil perpetuates itself in environments it is permitted to grow, and many churches, through a complete misrepresentation of scripture, open themselves up to being vulnerable to this abusive teaching and behavior. In my opinion churches need to loudly expose and stand against abuse and by doing so they also become a less likely target for abusive leaders and teaching.

    When I was a child, DCF was called on my parents more than one time. Neither I nor they knew who called, but they thought it may have been someone at church. They arranged a meeting with the Senior pastor and other leaders (that I also had to attend) in which they explained that if I reported anything to anyone at church about what my parents were doing that I was lying. I got to listen to “Christian” men feel sorry for my parents and assure them that if I ever did say anything I would not be believed and the church would “circle the wagons” around my parents. This was a United Methodist Church. Because of this I feel quite strongly about how churches mishandle abuse and I wish I could do more to help others so they never have to experience this.

    • R

      Check out They have an advocacy training program. You can become an advocate to help people in abusive situations.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Lynn, what a horrible thing to go through as a child! I’m so sorry!

      Yes, I agree. The church can become a haven for abusers–like abusers will be attracted to churches which teach that women are under the authority of their husbands and can’t leave. Abusers want that type of teaching.

      If the church wants to get rid of abuse, it has to stop teaching the stuff that enables it.

    • Kristen

      I am SO sorry you had to go through that. For what it’s worth, the UMC has new Safe Sanctuary policies (at least in my region), and what you experienced would not be tolerated. If you want to get involved in supporting that education and training, it might be rewarding for you. (I know it helps me, because of non-church childhood events.) I too like to stand up for those who can’t, in the way I couldn’t.

  6. Codec

    So a couple of things.

    1. I remember Jesus having some heavy words about abusing children.
    2. A lot of counselors I know christian or not would be horrified at the proposal that a child deserved abuse.
    3. Being rebellious and countercultural just for the sake of it is stomping ground for tyranny and foolishness.
    4. Not everything cultural is bad. In fact a lot of things in our culture have a basis in virtue ethics and biblical teaching such as the right to a fair trial and perjury being a crime.

  7. Licensed counselor

    I don’t necessarily have thoughts on how to fix things (other than that patriarchy and fundamentalist interpretations of scripture are chaff not wheat and need to burn). But to comment on why—the licensing process for counselors in the US is somewhat variable from state to state. There’s an accrediting board called CACREP that is slowly becoming the gold standard for counseling schools and will hopefully simplify the licensure process and make it consistent throughout the country. I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and there was lots of pushback from the administration about getting CACREP-accredited for fear that they would eventually require the school to abandon its convictions about LGBTQ+ issues. They chose to do it in the end, but lots of schools who are more entrenched in the culture wars are choosing the biblical counseling path instead.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an interesting insight. I wonder how much of this trend towards this movement is indeed an attempt to avoid government oversight?

  8. Jo R

    I’ll make a SWAG here and assume all these men are married and subscribe to the idea that in marriage, husbands represent Christ in more than a mere analogical way. In a directly “therefore the husband is exactly like Christ in all ways” kind of way. Meaning that married men are nigh infallible and even omniscient.

    So therefore any ideas they may get into their heads are infallible and these men must obviously know what’s best. By definition, the rest of us must simply understand and accept unconditionally and without arguing otherwise. And certainly no women could possibly have any different ideas on such matters. You know, being mere women and all. 🙄🙄🙄

    • A2bbethany

      Lol your comment reminded me of something I heard a preacher say recently! (I respect him knowledge in one area, but not at all in relationships as he’s seriously screwed his own up)
      He was recounting the Genesis story and mentioned that some believe that Adam chose to eat the fruit, “sacrificially” in hopes of saving her from God’s punishment. You know being the first Adam….being a savior figure to us fallen women. So instead of Eve being replaced, instead he nobly entered into sin with her! (He just said the thing about sacrifice and being a savior, I’m reading the rest out that.)
      Which means that while the female’s sin was really sin, man’s sin was superior and not really sin… he meant well!
      (My opinion? Maybe Adam saw a chance to disobey and blame his wife! Just as likely….more than a savior mindset anyway….)

      • R

        Talk about putting something into the text that isn’t there.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Wow, the attempt to absolve men of sin is just amazing, isn’t it?

        • Codec

          That comes more from John Milton in Paradise Lost but even there it is portrayed as Adam being a fool.

        • Gaylene Sevy

          My husband would say the woman was deceived, not the man, so if we disagreed on anything he was always right because the woman was deceived.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That is spiritual abuse and a misuse of Scripture. I’m so sorry.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I certainly get that impression from many who have studied at Master’s Seminary.

  9. Andrea

    Hyper-Calvinism is the reason they could even come up with the idea that a toddler could entice a grown man sexually. Total depravity from birth. It’s like how Rebecca said some time ago that having babies showed her just how wicked all those people from here childhood were who told her she would truly understand sin once she had kids of her own. If babies are “vipers in diapers” who knows what horrid sins they could commit.

  10. WarriorMama

    I couldn’t even finish listening to that video. All the focus is on the abused, not the abuser. According to the video clip, abusers are agents of God’s will, inflicting hardship on believers to bring them closer to God and teach them obedience. What an appalling idea!

    My former inlaws fully embrace this kind of teaching, and see me as cold-hearted, unforgiving and living in sin for leaving and divorcing their son immediately after finding out he had been raping our daughter for 2 years. They see him as “repentant and spiritually restored,” because he told them he was sorry (while trying to ensure in court he wouldn’t have to pay a cent of child or spousal support because of going to prison). They told my teenage son I was to blame for the abuse for not being a good enough wife sexually, and they told my utterly destroyed daughter that they are still praying for our family to be “restored” and reunited once he is released from prison. (I cut my former inlaws out of my life and did whatever I could to protect my children from them and their toxic thinking, but my older kids have moved out, are so confused and have reconnected with them. I can only keep pray their eyes are opened to the truth.)

    Keep unraveling this mess and teaching the truth, so many need to hear it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, WarriorMama, my heart goes out to you! Good for you for going to battle for your kids. Good for you. I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve gone through and for the confusion your kids are having too. That’s just awful!

  11. CMT

    Yes! The patriarchy bit is obvious. But I do think you’re right about the impact of what I’ve heard described as “worm theology.” Heck, I grew up in a church that wasn’t even especially Calvinist but the belief that humans are evil and worthless apart from God is so insidious. Even if it’s “balanced” with “But God loves us anyway!” it teaches people to devalue or demonize ordinary human needs and experiences. It easily becomes a theological justification for cruelty, masked as “a high view of Scripture” or some such.

    Your point 3 is interesting, I hadn’t connected that with this issue but it’s probably a big factor. It’s sad. Since when is the “secret sauce” of Christianity “be as counter cultural as possible, even if it means hurting people?”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I first heard the term “worm theology” from Kay who comments here occasionally! It does explain a lot.

      • CMT

        It really does. I was actually talking to a good friend yesterday about the differences in our spiritual upbringing and how that has impacted us. Back in high school she went to youth group with me sometimes, but she’s Catholic and she had never heard anything like the stuff some evangelicals say about human nature. Not that Catholics don’t do guilt of course, but she just shook her head and was like, “well that explains some things hon”

    • JoB

      “ it teaches people to devalue or demonize ordinary human needs and experiences”

      If any body is reading through the middle of these comments, I am trying to wrap my head around this. Yes, I grew up in churches of different theological stripes, and I think one of the strongest messages I absorbed is that we are sinners no matter how good we are on the outside. Most explanations of the gospel or evangelism training was trying to make people understand that they were sinners, even if they considered themselves “good people” who “never hurt anyone.” I have heard a lot of non Christians simply scoff at the idea that a hateful thought is the same as murder— but that’s what Jesus said, didn’t he?

      Jesus spent a lot of his sermons emphasizing the state of the heart over external sins. Which left me… confused, guilty and ultimately angry because I have plenty of angry, selfish thoughts and feelings, and according to my understanding of Jesus’ teaching, I am just as guilty as someone who acted out those angry, hateful, selfish feelings. I was just born with/taught better impulse control and have a more cautious nature, so am I just as guilty as someone who commits murder as a result of road rage… I have the rage, after all. I just didn’t shoot anyone on the highway.

      When we say, “I would never…” in regards to someone else’s sin, isn’t it easy to say that because we are not tempted by the same things? Or don’t have the same opportunity to sin on such a grand scale?

      I am probably not making sense, but this is what I have been wrestling with. I am SO TIRED of feeling like I can’t think or do the slightest action without being guilty of having a sinful motivation. I would say it is normal and human to look at something you want and desire it— but the Bible calls it coveting. I would say it is normal to get angry when someone is driving carelessly and almost hits you— but the Bible says that it’s the same as murder if you mutter a curse at the person who cut you off.

      Can anyone help me make more sense of this?

      • CMT

        JoB, I feel you.

        “I am SO TIRED of feeling like I can’t think or do the slightest action without being guilty of having a sinful motivation”

        Been there. I don’t know if my thoughts will help, since when I’ve struggled with this feeling in the past others’s reassurances tended to be water off a duck’s back. But here goes:

        “ that’s what Jesus said, didn’t he?” Well, kinda but remember he often used hyperbole. And he was speaking to a culture in which ritual purity (ie external rule following) was often conflated with genuine holiness. He wasn’t telling someone like me (genetically endowed with OCD traits and trained to endlessly analyze my own internal states thanks to the very teaching we’re talking about) to carry on with the self-flagellation. What’s the fruit of that, anyway? Nothing good.

        The “ordinary human needs and experiences” I was thinking about were things like wanting my needs met in my close relationships (oh no! So selfish!), or people’s protective instincts or trauma responses (Graceless! Unforgiving!). Things that are part of how we’re wired and are GOOD because they are part of our good bodies’ and minds’ mechanisms for keeping us healthy. Not that they always function perfectly, or that we don’t need to learn how to manage them. But they aren’t sinful in themselves (kinda like “noticing isn’t lusting,” ya know?).

        I am still on this road. It’s been several years of serious deconstruction so far (and tbh it really helped to take a break from church because of COVID). I’ve been in therapy, I’ve been reading lots of stuff I never knew existed (would highly recommend Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame). And I’ve been loving my precious small humans and learning over and over again what it actually means that I am a beloved daughter. THAT’s my core self, and yours.

      • Angharad

        The reference to Jesus equating anger to murder is from Matthew 5. If you read it in context, it comes right after He says that He has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. I’ve always understood the passage to be a correction of those who thought that His teaching meant they could ditch the law and do whatever they want. Instead, Jesus is saying that keeping the law isn’t just about not ACTING wrong, it’s about rooting out the bad motives that so often lead to those bad actions. (And while some of us might manage to go through life without murdering someone, none of us is going to manage to avoid getting mad at someone, so we are ALL incapable of keeping the law in our own strength – we ALL need Jesus because He’s the only one who ever kept the law perfectly.)

        I’ve never read it as telling us we’re to be feeling constantly guilty. More as a reminder to avoid self-righteousness and ‘judgy’ behaviour and to stop excusing sin in our own lives ‘because I’m not as bad as my neighbours’. And to remind us that we need to turn to God for help in dealing with those things in our lives that aren’t right. So instead of feeling smug and holier-than-thou because we haven’t committed adultery or murdered ‘like all those other terrible people’, we acknowledge that our heart-attitudes are really no different, and it’s only by the grace of God that we haven’t turned those attitudes into actions.

      • MK

        I think I have something that might help. It’s addressed for believers with certain mental health concerns (OCD, specifically) but I think it can still answer your questions:
        (Here’s hopping the link works)

        • Anna G

          Great website from what I’ve seen so far, and very helpful. Thanks for linking.

      • Copern

        You make sense, and you sound utterly exhausted. I’m so sorry. Perhaps in the 18 months since you wrote this, you’ve found some relief and answers.

        First, not all anger (for example) is sin. Jesus was himself quite angry at injustice. Example 1 was his thrashing the marketers in the Temple and upending their tables.

        Secondly, normal desires are God-given and are innate to human survival. A baby is designed by God to feel hunger and to cry (yes, to wail) for the purpose of alerting his mama that he needs to eat.

        Even Jesus desired. Sleep, solitude, water, food. And absolutely nowhere do we see those desires condemned.

        Jesus came to bring grace, to give us his light and easy yoke. The yoke you are bearing is heavy. It isn’t the yoke of our Jesus who describes himself as gentle, and humble. Matthew 11.

        I grew up with a lot of the mindset you describe. I pray that you are able to find a new way. The book Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded was helpful to me, as was 12 Christian Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy by Henry Cloud.

  12. Angharad

    “Biblical counseling is a specific field and method of counseling that …focuses only on the Bible. Emotional problems and relational problems are viewed through the lens of sin or lack of faith. Depression is seen as a lack of faith, rather than potentially a biological condition.”

    Which is ironic, since these ‘Biblical’ counselors have obviously skipped over some bits of the Bible they claim to be following. Take 1 Kings 19 for example. Elijah’s just had a major victory, but lapses into depression right after. ‘I’ve had enough’. ‘I wish I was dead’. So God sends an angel to rebuke him for his lack of faith and…oh, wait a minute. He doesn’t. God sends an angel to give him some food and drink and the opportunity to rest, and then visits him in person to encourage him and to point him towards someone who can work alongside him and support him! Seems odd that the God who authored the Bible doesn’t seem to be following these ‘Biblical’ counselling principles…could that possibly mean that they are not actually that Biblical?!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that story! It’s like–sometimes you just need to eat and have a nap.

      • CMT

        Even prophets get hangry apparently?

  13. Amy

    I’m starting to wonder how many centuries of off course teachings have snowballed to the point that this type of garbage is seen as normal. The perhaps extreme focus on all Christians being married started with Luther as an over correction to Catholic Church and their emphasis on celibacy being a more holy vocation. The insertion of chapter and verse in the Bible in the 1600s has introduced all manner of proof-texting making anything Christian so long as you can slap an out-of-context Bible verse on it to support your position. The introduction of modern things such as the Evangelical Industrial Complex has certainly made things worse, however the foundation was laid centuries ago.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      OH MY GOSH. I know I should have realized this before, but I never thought about how proof texting could take off that recently when chapter and verse were inserted. Wow. Never thought of that before!

      • Andrew

        This got me thinking Amy. Though I consider the reformation a good thing (at least in intention), I think there are many unique problems on the protestant side of things. One of those deficits seems to be around how the average person discerns and studies scripture.

        For me, as I’ve recently read a bit of Michael Heiser’s works on others, I’m struck by how poorly I understood ideas like Biblical inerrancy, inspiration, and context. For some reason, even growing up with good teaching, I still had this notion that studying was merely reading, praying, and letting the Holy Spirit illuminate Scripture and how it applies to my life. And the mental model I had of inspiration might be better described as Channeling.

        I feel like I was not taught that I impose a foreign modern scientific western (American, even) view on scripture, without trying, and that this ‘simple plain reading of the text’ (…in modern English…) can often impose views into scripture that were never intended.

        I think this problem has run rampant, and allowed for many silly teachings, fads, and harmful ideas, to work their way through the church, and end up causing a lot of problems.

        However, on the positive side, after kinda awakening to the above, my desire to actually dig into scripture, church history, ancient language, culture, archeology, etc has made Bible study infinitely more interesting – and more like an Indiana Jones quest. It kinda feel like that is what we were supposed to be doing as we grow as Christians anyway.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Love that! That’s a journey my family has been on as well too.

          One of the other issues with the Enlightenment/Reformation (not exactly the same, but they influenced each other) was putting reason above all else. God became something to “figure out” and the Bible became a book to understand, like a guidebook.

          It left out a lot of the mystery and the beautiful poetic aspects of Scripture, and the fact that in the ancient world it wouldn’t have been seen as this logical thing that we could work out intellectually.

          • Chris

            Sheila, I am going to look around the site and try to find an email address for you. I want to send you an email about this exact subject. It gets to the heart of Sola Scriptura and how the reformation, while having some noble intentions, just sent everything off the rails.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That would be interesting, Chris! I’d love to see it. I’ll just send you an email!

          • Chris

            Sheila, I sent it. But I used this email address.

      • Kent McAllister

        Perhaps too fine a point, but for your next trivial pursuit party, the CHAPTERS we see today were introduced in 1205 and the VERSES in 1551. Both in the Latin Vulgate.

  14. Sarah O

    I’m going to try and put this gently and also to start off by saying that I have been guilty of this in examples unrelated to this post.

    The problem is cowardice.

    For abuse to occur, there must be at least two people: a victim and a perpetrator.

    And honestly, both Christian and secular resources put 100% of their focus on the victim, because of cowardice.

    The victim is far more likely to want help. The victim is far more likely to thank you for your involvement. The victim is far less dangerous to the interloper. You will probably get “cookies” from the victim if you offer compassion and care.

    But more than this, abuse completely undermines our deep desire and need to feel that the world is inevitably just, that people are basically good and trying their best – things we HAVE to believe in order to navigate life.

    You can almost see a grief process in the terrible abuse responses. “That can’t have happened, such a great person, such a great witness, mustn’t be, or at least can’t be THAT bad.” (denial) “Why are you trying to RUIN this person? Why are you tearing your house down with your own hands? Why won’t you take our advice and shut up?” (anger) “Have you tried not provoking? Not wearing that? Not going there? Giving more? Surely there’s something you can do apart from accountability to resolve this?” (bargaining) “I just don’t know what to do with this. I don’t even think anyone can do anything. I don’t want to hear any more about it.” (depression)

    The reality is, if a wolf attacks a sheep, the ONLY thing you can do for the sheep is to fight the wolf. You can’t educate the sheep out of the attack. You can’t comfort the sheep while it’s under attack. You certainly can’t heal the wounds while the wolf is actively biting and clawing. But in fighting back, you aren’t guaranteed costless victory, or victory at all. Sometimes, both you and the sheep get killed. You might lose your job, or your church, or your friends, or your family. And the wolf runs loose anyway.

    So that’s what we’re trying to avoid doing so desperately. We do “enough” on abuse so we can say “well, I didn’t do NOTHING”…but we never actually fight the wolf. Because wolves hunt in packs. Wolves are dangerous. And we are hired hands who don’t love the sheep and don’t see them as our own. We love our own selves and our comfortable lives and our secure (but inaccurate) world view far more.

    This avoidance comes in a variety of flavors that are the result of other beliefs (Calvinism, misogyny, power-worship, celebrity culture, etc.), but at the end of the day, here’s the test: “what does your organization/program/church do to abusers?”

    Most will pivot immediately to the victims and “investigative process” and never actually answer the question (these are looking for cookies, not justice). Others will recommend counsel, support and care (these are protecting their worldview, holding onto faith that the abuser is basically a good, reasonable person and no one would choose to harm someone else because they like to). The upper crust will actually offer real safety and support to the victims.

    And a bare, bare few shining examples will recommend transparency and accountability for an abuser. “We report them to the police” “We excommunicate them” “We publicly censure them” All of which, weirdly, churches have absolutely done to victims with no fear of the dreaded law suits. Just not abusers.

    Solving for cowardice is hard, but simple. We have to love someone else more than we love ourselves, and to do that we have to be lavishly loved by God. I am not where I used to be, but not where I wish I was on this virtue. For those who are vocationally in the path of victims, let us all pray for them to have great love and great courage.

    • Amy

      Great point! I recently shared with the elders at my church Jimmy Hinton’s memoir regarding the discovery and conviction of his child abusing father. I recommended that they all read it. I got some push back from one of them because it sounded like a hard read. Really?! This man has put himself in a position of leadership in a church but becoming more aware of how child abuse can occur in a church setting sounds hard?! Perhaps being sexually abused by the pastor was hard for all of those young victims. It’s just so much easier for people to hide in their make-believe bubble that “stuff like that doesn’t happen here” than to actually be aware and proactive towards abuse situations.

    • Noel Lokaychuk

      What a great analogy and insight! I think I’m going to print this out to keep for future reference.

      • Noel Lokaychuk

        This was supposed to be a comment on Sarah’s post, but I think I put it in the wrong place.

    • Jo R

      Brava! 👏👏👏👏👏👍👍👍👍💯💯💯💯💯

    • Angharad

      And then there’s the ‘it will bring dishonour to the name of the Lord if other people find out what that person has done’. Guess what? The world acknowledges that evil predators sneak in everywhere – it will respect a church that takes a stand against those predators. What it will NOT respect (and what causes the greatest damage to the church) is Christians who attempt to cover up what the predator has done because they are more worried about what they’ll look like than about the suffering of the victims.

      My mother spent decades trying to cover up her own father’s sin. She tried to push me into covering it up because it will ‘be a bad testimony’. Here’s the weird thing – some of the best opportunities I’ve had to share my faith have come from my willingness to be open about having a grandfather who was both a ‘pillar in the church’ and an abusive husband, father and grandfather. It gives such an amazing opportunity to talk about how not everything done ‘in God’s name’ is from God, and how He can bring healing even when it is those who claim to be His children who have inflicted the hurt. Speaking truth in these situations CAN bring glory to God in a way that covering up sin never will!

    • Boone

      I’ve made a good living fighting wolves for almost 40 years now. I even enjoy it. The trick is to be meaner than the wolf. When the church takes action against the victim you file suit against the church and make sure that the local newspaper has a copy of both the divorce complaint and the the complaint filed against the church. It usually won’t take long for the church to turn on the abuser when they realize the negative publicity and the fact that they’re fixing to get hit in the pocketbook. You then let it slip that you’ll consider dismissing the complaint against the church if they’ll help you get a fair settlement in the divorce case. It’s amazing how fast they’ll encourage settlement in that situation. I’ve used that tactic five times over the years and it’s worked every time.

      • Nessie

        “The trick is to be meaner than the wolf.”
        I hate that that is what it takes. The church has come so far from what it was supposed to be. However, thank you for taking up for others that need help and doing the work you do.

    • Don Hubbs

      You will enjoy Miroalav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. He presents a true gospel that unravel a all of this.

  15. Jenni

    I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I earned my Master’s degree at a secular state university. But I offer Christian Counseling, so after graduation I felt I needed more training in what it means to be a *Christian* Counselor. I read books on Biblical Counseling and a version of Biblical Counseling called Theophostic Counseling. As I read about it, I didn’t see how it would help my clients. But at first, I was intimidated by this and wondered if the problem was that I was such a bad Christian Counselor that I didn’t know how to use Biblical Counseling to help my clients. I think for many counselors or potential counselors, like myself, there’s trust that the “experts” teaching this stuff must know what they’re talking about, so if it doesn’t make sense to me or if I disagree, then the problem must be with me.

    I never used Biblical counseling and I stuck to the Cognitive-Behavioral and Solution-Focused methods that I had learned in my secular university. It seemed to me that CBT and SFBT worked equally well with Christians and non-Christians, and Christians would naturally bring up faith while using these methods. So that’s what became “Christian Counseling” for me. And after being successful with these methods and growing more confident as I gained experience, I was able to see Biblical Counseling for harmful, unvalidated, snake oil.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful! Yes, it’s amazing how when we read stuff we disagree with, we assume we are the problem. That’s certainly how I was when I used to teach curriculum that I thought was a little off. I’d put my slant on it but i assumed that I was being prideful.

  16. Hard to Write

    This is what I’ve seen in churches of late, and it really hurts my heart to write this. I really believe that all of this – the subjugation of women, refusal to acknowledge abuse, etc. is tied to white nationalism in the protestant church. It’s terrible and disgusting to write this, but I’ve seen and heard this pattern a lot over the past couple of years. Once you see and hear it, you can’t unsee it either.

    There is a growing trend in some (not all) Caucasian-dominant churches that Christians must take back power over the government and the best way to do that is to outbreed non-Christians and minorities. How do you do that? By reducing women in the church to brood mares and convincing them that God wants it this way. I truly believe that this is the real root behind the Gothard/quiverfull/patriarchal movements, and there are pastors and church leaders actually coming really close to saying this stuff out loud if you listen closely.

    To turn women into brood mares, you have to deny them educational opportunities beyond what is necessary to breed and raise children, deny them economic opportunities, marry them young to ensure that their fertile years are maximized, deny them access to birth control, and deny that any semblance of abuse exists against women and girls because that gets in the way of constantly breeding women and girls. If you put a father in jail for abuse of a wife or children, then he and his wife aren’t making babies. What are the Gothard/quiverful followers doing – exactly this.

    Once you understand that the objective is power, and that their strategy is growth and accumulation of Earthly power through breeding, everything makes sense. All of it. I’m just amazed that I’ve not yet seen anyone calling this out in Christian egalitarian circles yet. Maybe no one else has made the ugly connection yet. And this is not to say that abuse doesn’t happen in minority circles, it most certainly does.

    I’m convinced that this is why you’re getting attacked so much Sheila, and almost exclusively by white men. You’re saying that women matter, and you’re getting in the way of their agenda that they have to get white Christians are outbreeding everyone else. If they’re going to accomplish their objectives, women have to remain subhuman and convinced that they have no value other than breeding and raising children.

    • Mara R


      But the problem for them is that it is back firing.

      So many of these children resulting from this toxic system are fleeing the system.

      So when with those pushing this come to terms with that?

      Probably never.

  17. Phil

    Here is were I am naive. I never heard of a church publicly calling out a church member by name on anything. Just never heard of it. That is not a church. That is BS. I would NEVER set foot in a church that did that crap. Thats not even a church! Thats people entering a room worshiping what???? So this weekend I had some time to myself and I was trying to reframe some comments I have made here recently about supposed christians. Using my thoughts about my neighbors who are more or less decent people – they claim they are christian. I dont get to decide if they are christian or not only they do. Saying and or thinking you are christian is important. That means you believe in Jesus. There is SO much more to it than just that. YOU HAVE TO LIVE IT! I was thinking well – if they say they are christian and they are two women who are married – thats at least a start? Or they dont act like christians based on their behavior and lack of truly practicing the faith at least thats a start? The hope is they will find the right way? But what we are talking about today is taking a totally different direction. It appears as “I have been given God’s authority over you” thinking. There is only one who has that Authority and not even JESUS did that! I have reframed a thought for a friend of mine who I basically called out on this I am God thought process in his situation. You know what Jesus did quite often when the people just didnt get it? There are plenty of actions he took that we quote often. But one we do not look at much is this: HE GOT IN THE BOAT AND WENT ACROSS THE LAKE.

  18. Jen

    Comment to viewpoint #1. I grew up thinking like this, and “worm theology” makes you ripe for over responsibility because it primes you to take the blame for everyone else’s sin because, hey, you’re a sinner, too. However, this viewpoint forgets that the Bible actually teaches us how to live well with others and what to expect from relationships. It’s important to test our own hearts BUT we must also look at how others are treating us so that we can separate ourselves from “fools” – those with poor behavior. This insight alone – that I can assess others’ behaviors and NOT be in sin – is new to me and blowing my mind. In fact, God calls me to do that (see every mention of fools in the Bible). Wow, just wow. Nouthetic counseling seems to lean toward blame yourself/change yourself. While it’s true that I can only change me, I can still call out the sin in others and hold others accountable, and get myself to safety.

  19. cheryl unruh

    Sheila, please not that when Eileen Gray went to the church for help, she did not know about the sexual abuse. She was only aware of verbal and physical abuse at that point according to what she has said.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very true. But the counselors still were mandated reporters for physical abuse and did not report.

      • cheryl unruh

        Thank you for making the correction. 🙂

  20. Nathan

    > > The focus seems to be on making sure that women submit
    > > to husbands, and that the bad things that men do are not taken
    >> as reasons to end the marriage (because we all sin, after all).

    Also remember to add their belief that when men DO sin, it’s their wives fault for not being good gatekeepers.

  21. Dan

    Some people are trying to dismiss your article because the sexual abuse was not known when she reported, only physical abuse, and your opening paragraph here doesn’t make the distinction.

    I’m not sure how that’s any better, but that clarification may help take ammo away from people looking for a reason to dismiss your larger point.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I amended the first paragraph. It was factually accurate what I wrote, but I amended it to make it clear that the sexual abuse wasn’t known at the time (though they were still mandated reporters for the physical abuse and didn’t report, and the police investigated).

      Seriously, people need to get a life. Why are they so invested in protecting the coverup of sexual abuse of children?

      Also, after the sexual abuse came out, the church STILL protected the husband. Sheesh.

      • Dan

        Exactly. It’s nuts to me people are actually going with, “but they only knew about physical abuse.”

    • Angharad

      Yes, it’s like the people complaining that the quotes are ‘taken out of context’. I wonder in what context they think it IS acceptable to refer to the rape of a 4 year old as ‘sleeping’ with her, and in what context it is acceptable to ask a juvenile rape victim what she did to deserve being raped? There is no context on earth that makes these sentences ok.

      • Renae

        Well, out of context the “fixed it for you” makes it look like he *only* calls this abuse “sleeping” with her, but like two sentences later in the video he labels it sexual abuse. I think it’s only fair to include that.

        But I do believe the awful wording from the “fixed it for you” reveals major issues with this professor, and the rest of the context reveals more issues – he says that because Glenda (the abused 4 year old) understood during the abuse that she was a sinner, she was able to not have a victim mentality. Like that would be the worst possible thing. How awful she was abused, but even worse would be for her to see herself as a victim! Conservative Christians seems to have an obsession with people not having “victim mentalities” and I’m now thinking Sheila’s #1 above might be why.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m trying to wrap my head around this–why is it so important to NOT have a victim? Why does this scare people so much? I don’t get it. I really don’t.

          • G.G.

            What I think they may be trying to say based on counseling I had (but not saying it very well!)–is that a person shouldn’t stay and live in victim mentality, and once you’ve worked through things, you ARE no longer–but you WERE a victim before. So no longer call yourself a victim, but perhaps a survivor?

          • CM

            I guess it’s about not letting a sinner go without proper rebuke.
            It’s like : “this girl should know she’s a sinner and repent, so we never again commits sexual sin. After all she lost her virginity, which is the **WORST** sin ever for a girl, right? Who knows what might she do after that? How many men could she make stumble?”

            Plus, if she’s somehow guilty, it lessens the abuser’s responsibility.

            That’s disgusting.

          • Sandy

            In reference to a husband abusing his wife, Gothard materials state ‘it is important to realize there is no victim because we are called to suffer persecution for righteousness sake’. (That is a paraphrase from memory).
            To involve the police, there must be a victim.

        • Angharad

          Renae, I don’t think his referring to Glenda as being ‘sexually abused’ later in any way diminishes the horror of him referring to her stepfather ‘sleeping’ with her in Sheila’s ‘fixed it for you’ quote.

          I can’t think of another time when I’ve encountered the phrase ‘sleeping with’ and it hasn’t meant sex between MUTUALLY consenting parties. Language is powerful.
          Saying he ‘slept with’ a four year old diminishes the vileness of the act and makes it sound SO much less harmful than saying he ‘raped’ a four year old. And because the phrase ‘slept with’ is used to signify consenting sex, using it in this case also subtly implies that Glenda was a willing participant. As does his later emphasis on her ‘response’ to the rape making her realise her ‘depravity’.

  22. Laura

    #3 being counter cultural is definitely a huge thing in Christianity or should I say “churchianity”? I see it in patriarchal views (both in church and culture, depending on where one lives), politics, child-rearing, and definitely in dating and relationships. I used to think that I should save kissing for after the engagement because I believed it to be the “Christian way.” I also think a lot of American Christians refused to believe the science and didn’t want to abide by the CDC guidelines during the pandemic. I wonder if this was counter cultural as their motto was “faith over fear.” I guess not using common sense is supposed to be the “Christian way” when it comes to science and psychology. Very twisted.

    When my marriage was in turmoil and I suspected I was being abused, I went to a “licensed” counselor and did not care about her religious beliefs. There was no way I was going back to my church for marriage counseling because their motto was “divorce should NEVER be an option.” This church was a nondenominational megachurch in a large city. When my ex and I did go to our church for marriage counseling, there was no abuse taking place during that time. But, when he started sexually assaulting me in the middle of the night, I knew I could not go to church for marriage counseling and I am so thankful I did not. I divorced him almost 20 years ago.

    Going to counseling at church is not great. I have struggled with depression for most of my life and it really sucks to hear a “biblical” counselor say that “depression is just the devil living inside of you.” I believe in the power of prayer and Scripture to help with depression, but it is also a medical issue and medication may be necessary.

    So, I do NOT recommend biblical counseling at all. In the past, I have requested that my licensed counselors be Christians, but I don’t think that matters to me as much as it used to. “Licensed” here is the key word. I used to be a hairdresser, but in order to work as a hairdresser, I had to attend cosmetology school, graduate, and obtain a license. If someone wants a good hair cut or color, do they just go to some random person who claims they know how to do hair? I don’t think so, unless you know them well and while there are unlicensed people who can do hair well, many people are more likely to go to a salon or barbershop where they can see the person’s license. The same should go for counseling. Look for their license which is often posted in their office.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, Laura! I’m so glad that even in the midst of your trauma you had the courage to go to a licensed counselor. That’s great.

  23. Ann

    This may be an over simplification. But I believe it starts whenever a group tries to separate itself from the “world” with rigid religious rules to attempt to keep themselves free from sin usually through misinterpretation of scripture. If you study church history, allll the way back to the beginning of the Catholic Church, and prior, such as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, you see it, over and over and over. The moment we reject the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and choose rules instead, we head straight into corruption and abuse. Study the monks and monasteries of old. Their goal was noble. To keep themselves pure and sinless for the work of Christ. In no time at all they became corrupt, greedy, and abusive. When we try to be sinless by our power, we simply become more entrenched in it. We need the grace and power of Jesus Christ. We cannot do it on our own. I truly believe that’s where it starts.

    As humans, we love rules. We want to be told what to do to get heaven. Jesus breaks all the rules. He doesn’t make sense. Rules make sense, so we listen to and put on pedestals, those who seem to know the divine rules of heaven. We’d rather listen to them (and are taught this way!) than to have a personal conversation with Jesus.

    I was born and raised Amish. This exact same system is perpetrated in that culture. But Calvinism is not where they come from. There is very little counseling among them. What counseling there is, also “Biblical” and completely misguided. Structured around their own belief systems. Focused on protecting the abusers. And when you start looking, you will find unbelievable, horrific, evil abuse swept under the rug of this “peaceful” culture.

    Possibly as you research these systems for common threads, some things I believe you’ll find: the systems are based on unquestioning obedience, patriarchal supremacy, and rigid rules.

    Thank you for opening these discussions. This reckoning for the church has been a long time coming.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! I think authority should likely be #4. Unquestioning obedience to authority.

  24. Andrew

    I have some thoughts similar to your thoughts on hard-line Calvinism (Of course, they are merely that, ‘thoughts,’ so I’m more than willing to consider them greatly in error.)

    I propose that there has been a widespread misunderstanding of the teaching around ‘worldliness’ vs. Godliness. In other words, I have observed a general sense inside Christian sub-culture of “It’s Us Vs. The World.”
    Now, on it’s face, this is not un-biblical. We are called to be people set apart from the world for God etc. However, I think the misunderstanding revolves around what we believe constitutes: ‘The World’ or the “Them” whom we are opposed to.

    If you grew up in American Christian sub-culture, the unfortunate emphasis on ‘Them’ was mostly leveled at things of secular culture and unbelieving fellow humans (the latter, being people we are chiefly called to help God rescue and make disciples of).
    Secular music, secular science (evolutionists), movies and TV, video games, political rivals, atheists (and on and on) – all of these things have been popular targets by Christian media and messages as ‘The World.”

    The result seems to have created an all or nothing opposition to anything outside the Christian community, as deceptions and tools of Satan. For example, much creationist literature strongly emphasizes, “Are you going to take God’s Word, or man’s word?”

    The resulting effect is a general skepticism about science, medicine, therapy and psychology (mental health), child development, …anything…that comes from a secular source. Therefore, those sources cannot be trusted, because they originated in ‘The World,’ and are likely part of the deception of spiritual enemies. In short, I think this has fostered a kind of conspiratorial view of all things that aren’t expressly considered ‘Christian.’ Likewise, and equally damaging, it has allowed for a lack of skepticism inwardly, where things that we clearly wrong and harmful are glossed over because they were considered ‘Christian.”

    I believe God has revealed Himself through His Word, and across all creation. What we learn about medicine, psychology, space (my uncle happens to be an astronomer) are things that God has allowed us to discover – whether that discovery was made by a believing Christian or not. What a non-Christian observes through the Hubble Space Telescope, is no less interesting than what a Christian would see, nor did this discovery catch God by surprise. It is a mistake to relegate these things as of ‘The World,’ merely because they were not taught through Scripture. (The authors of Scripture had a specific audience and purpose, and it was not their goal, nor was it God’s, to teach us everything about the natural world from the Bible.).

    Furthermore, It is crystal clear in scripture that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces – and I think we have made a grave error in shifting to view the non-believing people of this world as THE opposition. In fact, if I was going to credit anything as spiritual deception, I would say this subtle and gradual shift has all the hallmarks as one that was carefully planned and executed to poison the Church from within.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts to add, and I have many caveats and nuances left out, as this is already way too long. And, I could be 100% wrong on this thinking, but I feel it’s worth sharing here.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Really insightful, Andrew! I absolutely agree. Great things to think about. I think us vs. them could be #5 (with authoritarianism was #4).

      • Andrew

        Thank you.
        And speaking personally, I have benefited greatly from ADHD medication, and therapy for addiction recovery that was not expressly ‘Christian.’ But that’s only if your worldview is one that enigmatically separates medical chemistry and neuroscience outside God’s domain.

        For instance, I think ALL Christians would greatly benefit from learning about the neuroscience of addiction. Dr. Kevin McCauley has an all-start talk about this:
        Or consider Patrick Carnes pivotal work on sexual and process addictions.

        What strikes me about the above is that, while nothing either is saying is expressly ‘Christian’ – it’s also not….against ‘God’s way’ or anti-Biblical.
        However, I fear that for many Christians – all problems anyone may wrestle with are over-simplified as only spiritual or moral in nature. Clearly, there may be an aspect of that in many things, but once again, this all or nothing approach, or ‘it’s just a sin problem’ is not helpful.
        Neuro-scientific research, advances in psychology, CBT and various other treatment approaches have very solid track-records at helping people recover.

        Why Christians would view these breakthroughs as anything other than gifts from the Lord, I cannot understand. But I do know, this weird insistence that the Bible was meant to address every single question man has about life, and anything outside is dangerous, seems to me to be a misunderstanding of Scripture’s purpose.

        • CMT

          “ this weird insistence that the Bible was meant to address every single question man has about life, and anything outside is dangerous, seems to me to be a misunderstanding of Scripture’s purpose.”

          Spot on. People who think this way often say they have a “high view of scripture” but I really think the opposite is true. When we reduce the Bible to an exhaustive how to manual, we read it looking for do’s and don’ts. When we see it as a story God and his people are telling together, we read it looking for the face of God.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I completely agree with this: “Why Christians would view these breakthroughs as anything other than gifts from the Lord, I cannot understand.” bravo on the whole thing, but that encapsulates so much.

  25. Rachel

    Another thought: there’s a huge focus in the biblical counseling training at TMU on “heart idols.” We were taught that the main focus of each counseling session is to identify a person (or each person’s) heart idols. We were not trained to differentiate between difficult circumstances leading to counseling due to sin vs. due to oppression, sickness, other trials. Finding the idol is the focus.

    I have heard of abused women being questioned in biblical counseling using this focus. “What are you wanting, but not getting, that you are willing to sin to get, or to sin if you don’t get it?” (That was the question we were taught to use to identify the idol of the heart.)

    • CMT

      Wow. So basically no matter what the presenting problem is, TMU says the counselor already knows the diagnosis? Then I suppose choosing the treatment plan is just a matter of picking from a list of clobber verses based on whatever “idol” the counselee was pressured into confessing.

      Wish my job was that easy *eyeroll*

  26. KR

    I watched a bit further and was just as horrified to hear that he connected a young girl’s abuse, both physical and sexual, as preparation for the “hardships” of the remote mission field. What???? God was preparing her so that her pre-ordained calling would be easier???? Ridiculous!

  27. Hunter

    IMO, reason #2 takes the cake. #3 is also well taken, and I would add that, in addition to needing to have the “secret sauce,” we are extremely ill equipped to do so because, for the most part, evangelical Christianity has distilled the definition of love. “Love” has simply become synonymous with “kindness,” “grace,” and “reconciliation.” Nice stuff. We somehow stopped allowing Jesus to define love and we started doing it, and then hen-pecking parts of Jesus to prove our definition. But if Jesus was the embodiment of love, and he is, then that means EVERY word and action of his is love. INCLUDING where he WAS NOT kind or graceful toward abusive people, and when he had no interest in reconciling codependently with them. Even insulted them and (perhaps) threatened them by saying they’d be better off drowning in the ocean. Those instances were acts of love – not necessarily toward the abusers, but toward the people who were being abused (which means asking “WHO needs love?” can often be a better question than “HOW do we love?”). But today, when we act this way toward abusers, it’s often seen as “unloving” by people in the particular movement you are speaking of. And I think all this goes back to your Reason #2 – Patriarchy. Once the church began elevating leaders above other members, this put a premium on leadership and required leaders to be different (translation: better) than the others. And then the church sold out to patriarchy, which eventually meant women were here to serve men, which eventually meant that men’s actions toward women are almost always excusable, whereas a woman’s actions (or reaction) toward a man are much more strictly scrutinized.

  28. Karen Clark

    Did you watch the video by it gives a different view than Roys.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Children were sexually abused. The church supported the abuser. That is all there is to it.

  29. Emily

    I am currently studying to become a biblical counselor. My training center is top notch, considered one of the best for lay Christians. I do understand and agree with the outrage over the Jay Adams quotes. But you should know that he is considered “old school” and very outdated by many in the current generation of teachers/counseling fellows. None of his books were on my required reading list for that reason (I think it’s pretty telling that a major training center won’t require reading by the founder of the movement. We were cautioned that if we do want to read any of his books on our own to carefully measure it against Scripture. Also, when they asked the trainees by show of hands who even knew who Jay Adams was, it was a very small percentage of the class. People aren’t seeking out training in biblical counseling as a fan movement over the founders or other famous leaders. They’re doing it because they want to be biblically equipped to help people who are struggling.).

    All of my books that mentioned gender roles were very healthy and balanced, and didn’t elevate them above what the Bible does.

    Neither I nor my training center are Calvinists.

    It is very emphasized that if abuse is suspected, we report that to the police, not just to the elders of the church. We acknowledge that our training isn’t in the medical field, so we leave any medication decisions out of our sessions.

    My class was the biggest our training center had ever had, but I think they’ve already broken that record again. ♥️ The movement has already been seeing the problems with some of what its founders taught, and it has been changing for the better. That is why I believe it is gaining traction. 😌

    Also, for what it’s worth, my biblical counseling training lectures were the first place that I heard teaching from the church that sex is to be pleasurable for BOTH men and women, and that my husband’s one job in sex is to bring me pleasure. ♥️ It was the first place I heard the “do not deprive” verse talked about for both men and women equally. And this was before your book was even released. 😊

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad it is gaining traction!

      Out of curiosity, were you taught about the DSM? And about evidence-based therapies that we know work, like CBT, EMDR, and more?

      • w

        That we know work for some people. The percentage of depression that doesn’t abate with treatment is pretty high last I saw. About 30%?

    • Andrea

      Excuse me, a guy who thought a toddler could entice her father sexually is considered old school? Are you freaking kidding me??? THAT’S just old school? Like seriously?

      • Sarah

        Exactly, Andrea. How about ‘disgusting and immoral’ ? And that’s just for starters. I could go on, but it wouldn’t be in polite language.

  30. CB

    One option if you’re looking for a good counselor but don’t have the money, is to go to an intern counselor. Some places offer these services ata discounted rate. I paid $10 per session but got good quality counseling.

  31. Sherry A

    I’m a biblical counselor who, while respecting the biblical counseling movement and have see so much good come during the years it has grown, still see need for growth and change in the Biblical counseling movement as a whole, especially in the area of sexual abuse and domestic violence. No one, secular or Christian, took child sexual abuse seriously when I was a child abused by my own father. That was in the early 1960’s, and I believe was a result of Freudianism that said all little girls wanted their fathers. Wanted love, yes! Wanted sex, NO!
    So all counseling, secular or Christian, goes through cycles and changes, right or wrong! I agree the Biblical counseling movement has much to learn and change about abuse, but so does secular counseling! Can we stop the attack on people and groups, and start attacking the problem of how to help these women and children to a much greater, and Biblical, loving degree? Labeling a whole group or system doesn’t solve the problem, does it? It helps to identify the problem, and I agree it’s a problem, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    The Bible does have solutions and is relevant for today. There is much to say about victims, abused, downtrodden in the Psalms and other Scripture. Always GOD is the true refuge, not any method of counseling! Biblical counselors need to show the same Compassion that the God of the Bible shows to those who are victimized, and the same wrath that He shows to evil doers, ie abusers, whether sexual abuse or domestic violence! Both are evil without excuse! Victims need help, protection, compassion, love and a path to rebuilding. This is true Biblical counseling!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I absolutely agree that the Bible has much to say! I also think that research into trauma and our emotions and evidence-based therapies, like EMDR or CBT, have much to add.

      I think an integrative approach that combines the Bible with evidence-based therapies is the best of both worlds.

  32. Hunter

    Another contributing factor, I think, is the commonly held (incorrect) theological belief that all sin is the same to God (a sin is a sin is a sin). I suppose on one level, that can be defended as true, but it’s not on many other levels. God himself gives a hierarchy to sin, and the Bible clearly treats abusive sin differently, in multiple places (read 2 Peter 2). But somewhere along the line, we lost this – it wasn’t taught in the church and family I grew up in (perhaps because my father was an abuser). So a lot of us just never had a category for abuse created by the churches we grew up in. It was all just good ol’ “sin”. IMO, this is a manipulative tactic first employed by abusers. It makes it easier to get others to enable their behavior if they can convince people that it’s just as bad as any other sin. That little 4 year old girl, for instance, evidently had sin in the situation, too. And evidently, it mattered when analyzing what happened. Because when Street puts her sin on the scale with her abuser’s sin on the other side, the abuse evidently doesn’t immediately sink like a rock. They are, in many ways, not that all that different to him. Her sin was just as significant, in this story, as the abuse was.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! Sin leveling is so wrong, especially when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. Jesus had much to say about those who mistreated children!

  33. Jane Eyre

    I made it about halfway through this post before almost having a stroke.

    1. Those who claim that adultery and abuse are the only acceptable reasons to divorce don’t seem to think the abuse and adultery are acceptable reasons to divorce.

    2. The stepfather raped his stepdaughter because he probably chased the mother to get access to the daughter. This happens.

    3. The home NEEDS to be a safe place and our refuge from the world. It’s where we model God’s love for His children for our children. An abusive, incestuous home is NOT one that shows God’s love.

  34. Tracie

    It’s very much a “good Ole boys” system. The church I attended was “complementarian”. The pastor that was “certified” in Biblical counseling made fun of me, and recommended that my husband shouldn’t talk to me about certain things so I wouldn’t get emotional and upset. Those are just 2 of many, many examples of the nonsense that goes on in biblical counseling. I could write a book about my experience. I know I’m not the only one.

  35. Dr. Ray Shackelford

    Extremely well written article!!! Ya gotta change both HOW and WHAT aspiring pastors are taught. Sadly, I heard way too many preachers display their profound ignorance of Grace!!!

  36. Nathan

    It’s one thing to believe in male patriarchy. It’s another thing entirely to enable abuse , blame the victim (blame the wife), etc. I mean do the REALLY think that a very young child used “wicked womanly wiles” to tempt her father?

    And in many of these cases we have two sets of actions…
    A. A husband/father who abuses his wife and kids
    B. A wife/mother who gets her and the kids to a place of safety.

    When “A” is just a misunderstanding that resulted from the wife not having enough sex with her husband, and “B” is the truly wicked sin, that’s not a church. It’s a cult. Especially when the church closes ranks behind the man and cuts off the woman and children. That’s patriarchy taken to a dangerous extreme.

    And somehow I’m pretty sure that if a husband came to his church saying that his wife was abusing him and the kids, they would hardly say “Well, maybe you need to have sex with your wife more often, so this must be YOUR fault”.

  37. Christina

    I have some thoughts on why this crap is being taught in seminaries (I almost typed cemeteries, and that’s an accurate Freudian slip.)

    My former father-in-law is a pastor in an influential position in his denomination. He teaches that men are 1. inherently less sinful than women and 2. created by God in such a way that they are incapable of sexual self-control and that all men engage in acts that could be defined as sinful. There are so many logical problems with believing both things at the same time. Basically, I think that he redefines sexual sin to only be sinful if he personally doesn’t like the person committing the sin.

    If you teach that the first chapters of Genesis are evidence that men were created defectively, it could almost be true; God created man and then said this creation wasn’t good…but that was because men need women. Once both Adam and Eve were created, God said that it was good.

    If you teach that ALL men cannot control themselves sexually, then you MUST also be teaching that Jesus couldn’t control himself sexually. Heretics teach that Jesus and Mary of Magdala had a fling; maybe this is going mainstream amongst evangelicals?

    I was told by my former father-in-law/pastor that if I didn’t forgive pedophiles to cried a tear and said they were sorry, I was being sinful, more sinful than a pedophile. You need to prove your forgiveness by allowing the pedophile to babysit your children, etc.

    The crazy thing is that how they treat pedophiles is NOT the same way that they treat the LGBT. If a gay person says they’re sorry and cries 1 fake tear, they aren’t forgiven. If they end up in bed with a same-sex person, there is no forgiveness for that, but there is for a pedophile who has a “momentary lack of judgement”. My former father-in-law is not going to prove his forgiveness for gayness by sharing a shower with a fake repentant gay man. But he will sacrifice his own grandchildren gladly.

    The whole viewing women as inherently more sinful than men also means that avoiding being unequally yoked would require that men only marry other men.

    I think that how my former father-in-law avoids calling male sexual sin as sin is that he treats women as deserving 100% of the culpability for the sin UNLESS he doesn’t like the male perpetrator. He told me in a church discipline session that “all men have a girlfriend on the side” and “your husband hasn’t done anything that the rest of us haven’t done” and “I have sinful expectations if I expect my husband to be faithful.” (My ex got an STD.) So I took it from this exchange that my former father-in-law has had affairs and a lot of things make sense because of that.

    For further explanation, Jay Adam’s mentor was an atheist who was constantly having affairs and he felt guilt about it until he realized that confessing his affairs to his wife (repeatedly) completely eased his conscience and he felt free to philander again and confess, rinse and repeat. Jay Adams took that idea, added a few Bible verses because Satan told him to, and ran with it. I hate to think what personal sin Jay Adams was covering up.

      • Christina

        To add to what I said above, my former father-in-law/pastor is a hyper-Calvinist, but I saw the exact same stinking thinking in the Mennonite culture that I grew up in. He also heavily studied UNbiblical counseling in seminary but denied following because he preferred the doormat his wife is while on psych meds.

        I think that what was the deciding factor on whose side my former father-in-law would take was complicated calculus involving power and money. If my parents had been wealthy philanthropists or had friends in high places, my former father-in-law would have protected me in order to get more money and power. But my ex makes far more money than anyone would expect me to make, and my ex cultivates not friends, but people who owe him everywhere.

        My former father-in-law would stick his neck out slightly for other abused women who had parents that were willing to attend his church and contribute financially, or especially when the abuser was a pastor in a rival church and he could siphon up parishioners.

        My ex was praised for acknowledging the authority, omniscience, omnipotence, and other god-like attributes of his father and the church elders (and he was lying to them the whole time). All my former father-in-law wanted was for me to acknowledge the lordship of the church elders because their genitals made them more acceptable to God and then they would allow me to continue to join them in their “Communion.” I declined their invitation to worship their phallus god and requested excommunication. They never did give me the excommunication certificate suitable for framing that I requested.

        Oh, the excuse that my former father-in-law just ate up the most was “that woman you gave me, she made me do it”. God didn’t accept that excuse from Adam and he still doesn’t accept it.

  38. D

    Sheila, thanks for this post. People need to know the downfalls of Biblical counseling. I personally would never be involved in any counseling situation where there was not a guarantee of confidentiality.

    I appreciate the commenters who are involved in a better version of biblical counseling—-but I think as long as there is no professional licensure some will not trust the field.

    We attended a church for a while that had a husband-wife team that were Biblical counselors. We never utilized their services. I could never completely ascertain what their qualifications/education were to hold such a position. I know neither of them had college degrees.

    I had a big problem is that they let others who might not be so discerning think they were educated counselors. I know they had a lot of misconceptions about psychiatry and the mental health field in general so it was hard to take them seriously.

    They were also fans of male-centric toxic teachings—such as some of the ones you have featured on your blog.

  39. Anna

    I think your stated reason 1 is perhaps not broadly applicable as the real answer to your question. Correlation is not causation.

    “Biblical counseling” was and is a thing far beyond and before what we know as hyper-Calvinism today.

    I spent ~19 years growing up in the Gothard/IBLP cult— it’s not hyper-Calvinist, but its counseling was very close kin to nouthetic/“biblical” counseling. (I remember several families going through nouthetic counseling training textbooks together when I was a teenager—I still have mine somewhere.)

    After getting free, I then attended a seminary that was decidedly not hyper-Calvinist and yet it later moved away from a licensed counseling degree program to a “biblical counseling” program.

    I know staunch Calvinists (non-MacArthurites) who are horrified by nouthetic/“Biblical” counseling and believe it to be decidedly not Biblical.

    With the exception of MacArthur- or Doug Wilson-type devotees, I am more often seeing “biblical” counseling espoused amongst non-Calvinists who are heavily influenced by anti-intellectualism/fundamentalism.

    Instead of pinpointing current hyper-Calvinism as a cause, I encourage you to look at the longer history of Christian anti-intellectualism, specifically first as it relates to the history of theological study and higher criticism, and then to how it relates to the study of psychology (and the history of psychology itself in relation to theology is fascinating!).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Interesting. That likely could be a #6! Anti-intellectualism. Definitely a factor.

  40. Lucie

    When I read some of those vomit-inducing comments from so-called Christian leaders, I couldn’t help wondering if they might be among those to whom Jesus says one day, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

  41. Lindsay

    I could be very wrong, but in my experience, there are slight differences between several strains:

    •Biblical counseling (like from IBCD, and associated with Ed Welch and Paul Tripp)

    •Nouthetic counseling (they also refer to themselves as biblical counseling, so it’s a bit confusing, but they are associated with Jay Adams and David Powlison). My very limited experience with them is that they are less grace filled and more sin focused.

    •Christian counselors (sometimes what is available at non-reformed churches), which can vary a lot, but which can sometimes make a person feel like they can be better by applying what they know and trying harder, or sometimes will make people feel like their problems are a result of not having enough faith

    •Christian therapy, which is a licensed therapist, having an education in psychology, but recognizing that there is a spiritual dimension to mental health.

  42. Kay

    One of my very first acts of rebellion before I left my pastor father-in-law’s church was to stuff the entire rack of Jay Adams’ pamphlets from the 70s in the trash and pour coffee grounds on them. #sorrynotsorry

  43. S

    My church (The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints) had their semi annual general conference the first weekend in April.

    There was a talk given on abuse. I know most on this blog do not share my faith but I couldn’t read this without at least sharing some words of truth and hope I think we all can agree on.

    This talk was called “Risen with Healing in His Wings” by Elder Patrick Kearon and was specifically about abuse:

    “There is no place for any kind of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal—in any home, any country, or any culture. Nothing a wife, child, or husband might do or say makes them “deserve” to be beaten. No one, in any country or culture, is ever “asking for” aggression or violence from someone else in authority or by someone who is bigger and stronger.

    Those who abuse and who seek to hide their grievous sins may get away with it for a time. But the Lord, who sees all, knows the deeds and the thoughts and intents of the heart. He is a God of justice, and His divine justice will be served.”

    This talk was a message of clarity on the abhorrent sin of abuse but also hope on the freedom we as victims can claim through Christ.

  44. S

    I shared this post with my husband and he made an interesting point. I wondered what your thoughts might be, Sheila (or anyone else).

    My husband said that if the church teaches husband as the main breadwinner (which we do practice in our home
    I work part-time from home and it is a deliberate choice. But I am just saying we aren’t saying there’s anything wrong with that choice) then the husband pays the bills of the clergy.

    Do you think this also may have an impact on policy?

  45. CM

    Maybe it’s Calvinism in the USA.

    From a different perspective (I’m a French Catholic), I’ve heard the same pattern about sexual abuses by priests (in a particular religious community, it’s not the same everywhere !), but with reverse arguments :

    Secular psychology is EVIL. No reason, just evil by being secular.
    But every king of bullshit if labelled “Christian” or “inspired” and backed by the word “study on the brain” or “neuroscience” is okay.

    Everyone is hurt by intra uterine life and their mothers not being enough, which seems to excuse every kind of sin.

    Hence, there is NO such thing as sexual sin and if you’re hurt by it, you’re the problem.

    PLUS, the moral authority of males in general, and priests being like Christ in particular. So if you sleep with a priest, you’re “”chosen”” and it’s something “”holy””.

    That’s theological bullshit (even from an orthodox Catholic viewpoint) and spiritual abuse.
    I guess people will find every kind of reason to go on sinning …

  46. Fred Perkins

    Our soon to be “officially adopted” granddaughter endured sexual abuse from her stepfather from the time she was a baby. She reported the abuse when she was in junior high. However, the police didn’t believe her. As an adult she opened up to our daughter who encouraged her to report the abuse (again) to the sheriffs’ department. Thankfully within hours the stepfather was in custody. After finally pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

    Our granddaughter lost her innocence, endure the abuse, and felt she was somehow guilty. Her own mother still doesn’t believe her and she has been ostracized by her bio family.

    As the father of two girls who endure 5 foster homes prior to my wife and I adopting them, as well as being the grandfather of several adopted grandchildren, I know all too well the horrible affects this trauma has on these children. The trauma of the abuse and the trauma of not finding someone who believes them.

    I’m only beginning to wrap my brain around this type of trauma. I cannot imagine the negative affects this so-called counseling would have on these children.

    Thank you for bringing this subject to light. Your corrections in the statements are spot on.

    Also, as a pastor myself, I have to say I’m thankful I didn’t attend “cemetery”. (Knowledge puffs up, Love builds up). My training has come primarily from the Bible and from life. My Bible certainly doesn’t counsel me to take sides with the abuser.

    Thank you again Sheila. Keep up the good work.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for opening your home like that, and for raising your kids to do the same thing! What a great picture of the love of Christ. I pray your new grandduaghter thrives with her new family.

  47. Cynthia

    Those ideas are just evil. The trauma of the original abuse is bad enough, but telling a young child victim that she’s also a sinner? That compounds it so much.

    I’ve said this before, but it really highlights an essential distinction that goes beyond our traditional theological divisions:

    Do we believe that God is ABOVE those with earthly power, or BEHIND those with earthly power?

    If we say “behind”, then beliefs are weaponized to compel those without power to obey authority, support the existing hierarchy, never complain or demand better, forgive everything done to them and get blamed for everything bad that happens to them. If they dare to step out of line, they are disloyal and seen as a threat to everyone.

    But if we say “above”, those with power need to be subject to the same rules as everyone else and aren’t above the law. They need to be help to account when they do wrong. Forgiveness comes as the final step in a process of admission and recognition of wrongdoing, genuine repentance, making amends and personal transformation so that the sin won’t recur. In that context, a person who has sinned recognizes and welcomes the fact that measures will be put in place to protect victims and help them and address future risk and deter others. Those who lack power aren’t put down and despised, and are equally able to know that they are loved and deserving of proper treatment and basic human dignity.

  48. L

    Thank you, Sheila.
    I have so much to say about Masters.
    And about biblical counseling in general that tells women to shut up and submit in order to fix whatever addiction/abuse/lust may be happening on the husband’s part.
    So much deception in the last days.

  49. Scott

    I’m a nouthetic counselor by training and practice. I do believe the Bible is the final authority in all things pertaining to life and godliness. Never have the principles I’ve learned or practice lead me to counsel in the pattern described in the quotes you referenced. I have been involved in abuse counseling and have contacted relevant authorities on numerous occasions. I’ve established safe houses for abused women and children. I’ve participated in court cases as a witness against abusers. I guess what I’m saying is that it is possible to hold to the principles of a nouthetic counselor and act according to good conscience and the laws of the land. Maybe I’m the odd one out but I don’t get that sense from my peers. And all this and I am both a graduate from TMU and planted a church under Harvest Bible Fellowship. I’m not defending the excesses or deficiencies of anyone or any institution. I just want to put out there that there are many unsung counselors who are making a positive difference in the lives of others. It may prove to be unnecessarily unfair to paint everyone under that banner with a broad negative stroke, in much the same way a few bad police officers are held up as pervasive evidence of endemic problems. As a consequence this feeds a perception that makes it more difficult for people needing help, to seek it. Where there is wrong being done, it is right and good to shine a light on it. But that glare shouldn’t be used to washout the observation that there are also many good and faithful men and women in the lay and trained counseling ministry.

  50. Maureen

    Your three points resonate with me – the counter-cultural idea is often seen in how churches prioritize ministering to the abuser, and at best, ignore the victims, at worst blame them. Another reason these dangerous ideas have become so mainstream and popular is community grooming – in the same way an abuser grooms their potential victims and their loved ones – they also groom their communities. This why someone like Andy Savage can publicly- from a pulpit – apologize for sexually assaulting a teen under his spiritual care twenty years prior, and yet receive a standing ovation from his congregation.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I would agree. There’s so much grooming going on. When we read the books written to teen girls for our mother-daughter book, it looked like so many of them were honestly written to groom them! It was scary.

  51. Tasha R.

    My experience with biblical counseling has been that the supposed “counselor” has to pick and choose small portions of the Bible to support their position. The Bible gives us a Godly way to handle abuse and, in fact, SUPPORTS leaving a person who is abusing you!

    When I chose to walk away from the relationship with my spiritually and emotionally abusive parents, I was told “I was bitter and refusing to forgive them” by people who believe in Biblical counseling. But the Bible clearly states that I don’t have to have a relationship with a toxic person…Matt 18 and Titus 3:10-11 are just two passages I can think of off the top of my head that say “…have nothing to do with them” or “treat them like a tax collector or gentile”.

    For someone to say I have to forgive an abusive person and continue having a relationship with them, they have to ignore the words of Jesus himself!! My husband and I did have many people who supported and encouraged our decision to no longer have a relationship with my parents. Our pastor and his wife and the couple that we’ve gone to for marriage counseling throughout our marriage believe in using the integrative approach. Any biblical counseling I’ve had given to me was not sought out but the result of someone sticking their nose into our business without really caring about my side of the issue.

  52. Iha777

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this blog! It is true light in the darkness for me right now. I have opened to a so called pastor in a way I have never before to anyone. I was submissive, respectful, honest when to my absolute, absolute shock he took what I have said and turned it against me in a way that probably nothing could have prepared me for. I don’t think I have experienced such a sadism and lack of compassion in my entire life. Especially I would not expect it from the ‘God’s’ profession. I didn’t know what Biblical counselling was before but now my love and heart goes to all who went through this… It has been almost 3 months now but I still cannot recover from the sense of betrayal and cruelty that I have experienced. I sincerely don’t think God who is love wants things this way. Thank you once again for this wonderful blog and keeping the light on!!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad the blog could help you, but I’m so sorry for what you’ve experienced!

      • Iha777

        Thank you ma’am! Your blog is truly helpful and very much appreciated. Humanity does not come for and I do not take it for granted. THANK YOU!

  53. Kristy

    I agree. I’m a Calvinist but I have seen sooooo many, in fact, the vast majority, take the understandings of Calvinism to such an extreme that it actually abuses not only Calvinism but also the Bible and the Bride of Christ. Often, I have seen the Bible twisted so horribly to force an extreme view of Calvinism that actually elevated Calvinism above the Scripture. For many years, I rejected Calvinism without actually studying it simply based on how the professors of Calvinism behaved. Once I became a Calvinist, I swore I would never behave the same way however, after a few years of surrounding myself with others who believed the same as me, I became hardened & as detestable in my behavior as any of them. I was a huge fan of MacArthur and other high-profile Calvinists (ironically, I never got a good feeling about Mark Driscol) even starting to be influenced by Doug Wilson before I started waking up to how depraved much of this tribe has become (including myself). I am still a Calvinist but have personally witnessed the dark underbelly of what people do when they take Calvinism to the extreme. Sadly, this seems to. be a vast majority of Calvinism at least seems that way from interactions online and IRL. Having separated myself from this view including deconstructing much of what I was taught, has put me on the outs with almost all I have known over the years. Our family lost our church, lost almost all our IRL & online friends, have had our salvation questioned, told we were not trustworthy, even told we should have church discipline enacted against us for not agreeing with every secondary and tertiary view even if they were just cultural and political ideas found nowhere in Scripture. It has been painful but we are thankful to God for revealing the human doctrines and revealing our own behavior over the years. I have apologized to many who I once treated dishonorably and so far, all have graciously forgiven me and many I have a renewed relationship with.

    All that to say, at first I recoiled a bit about #1 but the more I think about it the more I believe I agree with you. Sadly, many who claim to be Calvinists have brought so much dishonor to the ideology of Calvinism to the point that I hate to even call myself one. I guess it would be more accurate and maybe more palatable to those who have a bad experience with Calvinism to call myself a monergist.

  54. Joretha Taljaard

    Did you mean how John McArthur handled the case of Eileen’s counseling by one of his church’s elders?

  55. Terra Edwards

    “Biblical Counseling” – What it does is simply provide a way for someone to become a self-proclaimed expert (in God Himself, no less) and then anyone who contradicts is in sin and rebellion. What higher platform can one stand on than to claim their counseling is “biblical?” It’s another form of hierarchy masquerading as an angel of light. It automatically shuts people out of the true kingdom because from a “biblical counseling” viewpoint no person is ever actually “seen.” Even if there is the appearance of listening, it is always a “bait and switch” – a means to an end to gain conformance to the man-made pattern. And it is man made.

    There is a lot of emphasis on sin, rebellion, authority, submission, sovereignty, “dominating” sins. It’s in the language. The idea of dominance. Even in the seminary name : “the Master’s seminary.”

    Our righteous Father has made us alive together with Christ and has CANCELED the certificate of debt consisting of decrees AGAINST us, which was HOSTILE to us; and He has taken it OUT of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had DISARMED the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Jesus). Therefore, NO ONE is to act as your judge…. the Substance belongs to Christ. All things are ours and we belong to Christ.


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