Bad theology plus complacent thinking = dangerous pastoral care

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I’ve been writing a little about Biblical counselling recently. I’ve been particularly picking up on some of the dangers with certain strains of it but I do so as someone who believes that properly used, Biblical counselling does have a crucial place. I intend to write a little bit more about this shortly.

However, first of all, I want to pick up on another danger. This links to articles I’ve written recently about misconceptions regarding gender and the role of Adam and Eve in the Fall. See also my interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick on this.

The danger which I discussed with Elyse Fitzpatrick is that there is a school of thought which says Eve was deceived by Satan because she was more easily fooled. There was something within her nature, distinct from Adam’s nature which meant she was more susceptible. 

This thinking then ends up having an impact on pastoral care. I’ve heard reports from others (primarily State side), that they’ve been told in counselling classes that women are essentially more emotional and gullible, therefore their perceptions are not immediately to be trusted. The risk with this, as indeed we have seen, is that when they talk about abuse, it’s assumed that this is exaggeration and over reaction. Their claims are not instinctively believed.  I think we can see the danger there.

However, there is a twin danger to that one which we would do well to be alert to.  The risk from that faulty theology is not only a risk of being over sceptical, cynical even about what women say but it can also overinflate the confidence of male leaders in their own judgement.  Yet, men are very much capable of being taken in and prone to emotions.

Here’s my observation.  On more than one occasion I’ve seen narcissistic bullies take men along with them and avoid being confronted over their sin, particularly in that area of abuse and bullying.  Why? Well, first of all because there is something about the narcissist, their self confidence and the stories they tell which causes those drawn into their circle to feel good about themselves -for as long as it suits the narcissist’s purposes. The narcissist is seen as charismatic and so manages to build up  a network of chummy relationships. Indeed, they may even claim, may well even believe that this means they are accountable to others.

The other problem is this. Combined with the desire to belong and be part of the charismatic bubble, is the fear of confrontation. Again, the narcissist manipulates this. Busy lay leaders in churches have enough confrontation in their work life without having to face it at church. They’ll do anything to de-escalate a potential conflict. The narcissistic bully plays to our need/desire for comfort, security and approval. It’s a toxic mix.

Now, I’ve said that I’ve seen men taken along by this. Does that mean that men are particularly prone to this area of weakness? Possibly. However, I’ve also seen both men and women equally able to recognise what is going on in such circumstances and call a halt to it. So, it may well simply be the case that it is more often than not men who are in the leadership contexts where such bullies make their play.

My point is not that we should attempt to identify gender specific weaknesses. Rather, it is that we should be alert to the temptations any of us can face. It also means that when we use a hermeneutic of suspicion, then it is best used on ourselves rather than others. In other words, I do well to think the best of someone else’s ability to recognise and accurately describe their own experiences and to be alert to my own weaknesses in seeking to describe them.

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