Friday has become the best day of my week. I’m finally self-employed again, which means I can schedule a half-day of work followed by a half-day of reflection over cigars and Guinness whenever I want. I look forward to it like a 7-year-old looks forward to Disneyland, only I don’t wind up screaming and crying halfway through it because my feet hurt and I’m jacked up on sugar.
It’s great because I get to do two things that I’m most passionate about outside of faith and family: I get to counsel and then reflect—a practical, embodied experience (counseling) followed by abstract reflection carried to its highest degree via Nicaraguan stogies.
Yesterday I was happily joined by a good friend of many years who shares my appreciation for the latter. We’ve never spent time together when excellent discussions did not ensue, and this time was no exception. Usually we bounce around from topic-to-topic hitting history, philosophy, theology, psychology, pretty much anything with an “ology” at the end. We are nerds to the max who recently introduced cigars into the mix hoping to lower our nerd meter by a few dials. And on this day, we happened onto a discussion on counseling in the Evangelical Church.
We are both ex-Evangelicals, both were in the movement for decades, both had our share of joy and jading over the years, experiencing the full range of leadership from amazing pastors to the extreme clinical narcissistic pastors, we even abandoned Evangelicalism around the same period of time.
It seems to be common knowledge that Evangelical pastors are often against professional counseling, Christian or otherwise. Many pastors will take it upon themselves to offer various forms of counseling for their congregants (one church I briefly attended offered this only to tithing members) but steer their congregants clear of any outside counseling.
As my friend and I pushed into the topic we covered all of the usual explanations, such as: they fear their congregants being influenced by secular ideology; they distrust any form of psychotherapy not derived strictly from Biblical teaching; they distrust other Christian organizations or therapists because they might have a different theological spin on things; etc.
After kicking these ideas around for a bit, it dawned on me that maybe they are fearful of counseling because counseling serves to challenge their own repressed emotional issues. Maybe it has little to do with care for their flock and much more to do with their care to maintain a state of internal dislocation—a ‘safe place’ from their own inner mayhem.
Many of the pastors I grew up with were phenomenal preachers precisely because they had developed a knack for remaining oblivious to their own emotional suffering. They could preach that all Christians should experience an endless march of victory, that right-believing faith (and tithing) should eliminate all potential disaster and tragedy, illness and destitution, and they could preach such things with a straight face, exciting their congregations into bursts of inspiration, because they had thoroughly distanced themselves intellectually from their own suffering.
We identified several pastors who shared this conviction that faith is a shield from suffering, and without exception each of them had this ‘emotion-avoidance’ way about them. Each were narcissistic masters of abstraction, disembodied minds—what Kierkegaard would call “phantoms of pure reason”—whose emotional lives were unidimensional. They were men who used faith as a magic forcefield against the scariest of all enemies—their own emotions.
For these pastors, counseling is a worrisome reminder that there is more to their own lives—that they themselves have many personal dragons haunting the halls of their souls, dragons who gain power when they are given any attention whatsoever; like a medusa who turns a man to stone when he looks her in the face. So long as they can remain fixated on the Bible as their only authority (which of course, when played out, means little more than that their own bias remains their authority) then they can ward off any and all challenges to their ego (challenges that all good therapy is bound to produce), and with the ego in charge they are safe from emotional vulnerability.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be careful when pursuing counseling. And actually, all of the reasons we initially ‘kicked around’ were solid reasons. But when a pastor shows a blanket angst for counseling in general my advice is to be suspicious that he is avoiding his own stuff.
For the reader who holds this suspicion for his or her own pastor, my sincere advice to you is that you need to be careful. The likelihood that you will suffer some form of emotional abuse by such a pastor in the future is very likely. My friend and I could (and did) wax on for quite some time about our personal experiences on this account.
Thanks for reading.