PCA Church Receives Rebuke from Therapist/Life Coach: Get Educated! Part 7 of Persistent Widow’s story
Leaving the problems behind
After receiving the church’s final decision letter in the previous post (part 6), although I shouldn’t have been, I was stunned. I had still held out hope that the church would reconsider how poorly they had handled this situation, and would uphold discipline. It was now apparent to the child that was negatively influenced by his father, who had been the main reason that I brought these issues to the church in the first place, that the church approved of his father’s abuse.
My husband had ceased attending their church the year before the church’s final letter was written and had also stopped financially supporting the church and his family. However, I was still tithing and teaching Sunday school as I had done consistently for years. Throughout this process, I had flare ups of a hacking cough that antibiotics did not cure. Now the cough was continuous and I felt that I needed to get away from these problems and reflect on what I was going to do next. I called the pastor’s phone and left him a message that I was going to take a “spiritual vacation” and attend the next service at our PCA “sister” church. I asked if he would please find a replacement teacher for my class that Sunday. Without calling to verify if my leave was permanent, he put a help wanted call for my position in the bulletin. The very next day, my daughter was confronted by children from his church at the public swimming pool with them chiding her that God hates divorce. I noticed that people from that congregation began to shun me around town.
I was unsure what kind of reception we would receive at the “sister” church . It was a PCA church we left year ago when my husband got into an argument at the church picnic and had other issues with the members. This church is 15 miles from even a small town and sits in a remote, rural area on a seldom-traveled highway 35 miles away from my home. Previously belonging to a liberal denomination, they had only joined the PCA in the past few years. The small, aging congregation had always shown extraordinary kindness to my children and myself, but I was uncertain of how they would receive us after all this time.
When we opened those creaky wooden church doors and stepped in, every head turned around. I was so relieved to see that joy swept over the faces of those sweet people. The church organist rushed up to me and gave me a big hug, but then she turned serious. Concerned she asked, “Where is he?” And she kept looking to the doors as if my husband might walk in at any moment. I told her that I had troubles at the other church, left him behind, and that I was filing for divorce. “Thank God”, she said, greatly relieved.
Since we had left, the much beloved pastor of this congregation had died and left a tremendous void, but there was a recent seminary graduate who transferred from the other church (the one I had taken a spiritual vacation from) to become the new pastor. He and the entire congregation were welcoming and seemed to be glad that we were back so I transferred our membership, but it wasn’t long before it became evident to me that he and the previous pastor were friends…
Therapist/Life coach rebukes former church
Meanwhile, I sent a copy of the final letter to my life coach. You will remember how I mentioned in Part 5 that my life coach was a mental health therapist and a Christian woman, and how she had asked me a profound question which turned me towards scrutinizing the church’s accusations against me, rather than remaining focused on the burden of false guilt and introspection which the church had been foisting on me. Following are excerpts of the letter she sent, reproduced with her permission:
Dear Pastor [name],
This letter is written in response to your handling, or mishandling of serious problems that have occurred in the marriage of [my and husband’s names]. As a practicing mental health therapist and life coach…I have become intently concerned about the lack of professional expertise and care extended to her, [her husband], and their children by you and your associates. Although [she] and her children have moved to another church at this time, I believe the following information needs to be shared with you in an effort to help you become better equipped in dealing with these issues when they arise with others.
[She] first told me about the problems with [her husband] last fall and I encouraged her to seek help through the church. Certainly this seemed a logical first choice as you have known this family in your small congregation for five years. I shared with [her] the importance of staying connected to the church, as Christ intended for the body to minister, providing strength during difficult times as these. [She] agreed to do that and continued to share more about the problems. She described [him] as “going up and down” with odd, unstable, angry, abusive manners varied by times of withdrawal/runaway behaviors. Based upon this information, it seems that a professional in the clergy or mental health field would give consideration to the diagnosis of Bipolar, a serious mood disorder.
Her additional descriptors truly seemed to fit manic and depressive symptom cycles and I told [her] that having the church counselors conduct an assessment and biopsychosocial in conjunction with a mental evaluation would be beneficial. She said [he] cursed out his doctor the last time he was there but I thought you or your associates could assist him helping him understand the importance of getting medical help. After all this time, it has amazed me that neither you nor your associates have had insight to recognize the need for medical and mental health intervention. Does anyone there have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV)? If not, it would be good to get it. I would expect a pastor to have an overview knowledge of the material and a therapist/counselor to have extensive training and strong working knowledge of this information.
Although ‘peace keeping’ counseling is a nice concept, it cannot and will not address serious problems such as these. This is a very serious mental health condition…In addition, [she] has described unusual and bizarre behaviors within the family members such as cruel manipulation, angry outbursts, and fugue behaviors by [his] father and grandfather, etc. that understandably frightened her and gravely concerned her all of their married years. The validity of [her] statements were never questioned in my mind and thoughts that she was delusional, psychotic, or an unsubmissive wife didn’t total up either. [She] continued that the children were well aware of these problems as they have witnessed these abusive behaviors towards her and some of the children for years. The input from the adult children, along with spouse statements, are critical to those who truly seek to help the ill person understand symptoms, behavior patterns and ultimately develop a treatment plan and safety plan for everyone’s protection.
With regard to [her], I believe that she has suffered trauma for a long period of time to the extent that it could be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would highly encourage you to research this as it will explain many of her statements and fears…This is the most common diagnosis given to victims of abuse. This makes sense that [she] cannot function in the area of marriage when she is declaring it abusive! Also, the fact that [she] is afraid of [his] anger, didn’t want to see him at an inappropriate “mediation” and that she has stated the marriage has been broken to the point of divorce makes sense. Again, it truly amazes me that you and your associates have not identified the pain and suffering that [she] has experienced! I don’t believe that you have even begun to ‘hear’ her story and minister compassion and love that a victim and her children deserve.
The issue of the ‘peace keeping’ counseling is another area of serious concern. [She] went forth in good faith thinking quality services would be provided but instead she was exposed to inappropriate humiliation and financial exploitation…I charge $60.00 per hour and offer a sliding scale to some who need assistance. My fees have gone as low as $30.00 for some individuals. Many times I provide additional time to individuals and couples as I can see an urgent need to help. It’s reprehensible to consider the fees have been charged [here] during this time of crisis. For a total of 20 hours they were charges $2685.00. That would be $134.00 an hour! Not only do they have financial needs with [a number of] dependent children, and [he] was unemployed for a long period of time, but there was originally an offer for the exorbitant fees to be paid by the church. Apparently that verbal agreement has been withdrawn with both of them feeling scalped by their church family. What other agencies do you recommend that truly offer ministry work with prices to match?
There are numerous other oversights that need to be addressed…the longstanding abandonment of his family by [him]. It is apparent that you and your associates have not even begun to address the needs in this family or just plain don’t care. That’s amazing!
After reviewing the [final decision] letter you sent, which she finally forwarded to me, I can clearly see why she has been so hurt, humiliated, and frustrated dealing with incompetent people such as yourself and your associates. The letter reads more like a small town tabloid rather than a professional or clinical document. Statements such as, “And each person looking for the church (and other relationships and authorities) to agree with them.” Shows how illogical the process of your thinking has been in regard to this couple’s intentions or needs. Statements spoken to you in confidentiality should not be included as part of an open letter to any other party. This letter clearly violates confidentiality and ethical boundaries upheld in the ministry and counseling professions.
With regard to statements about adultery it is most unwise to use people’s names in your correspondence-initials at best would be appropriate. The church just might get sued if this information is attained by others. Also, your misconstrued statement that [she] said that she was never married is completely out of context and very offensive. The fact that [she] brought tangible evidence of [his] indiscretions is a serious breach of trust and covenant in a marriage. That is extremely difficult to repair and reinstate in any relationship. Additionally, concluding that [he] only had a ‘lust of heart’ fascination is unsubstantiated yet treated as truth with statement. “Although inappropriate relationships have occurred, physical adultery has not.” How do you know that?
…Please see the World Health Organization pages that I’ve included for your reading and information. Also, you could benefit from googling “Wheel of Violence” and Domestic Violence and its impact upon the home (including Christian homes).
…I do not know if [she] will report these gross “oversights” to the Presbytery or not but do believe that it would be justified….best wishes to you and your associates. I am able to fly there if you would like to discuss these issues face to face or you can contact me by phone or e-mail if needed.
At this point we will be breaking from this series to cover other topics. When we return, the story continues as we learn of a providential visitor to the rural church, discover other issues discovered from the first church that led to intervention by the Presbytery. We will see what “Taking it to the Presbytery” actually looks like, we will explore the official policy and procedure of the PCA concerning abuse giving a definition of what the PCA “process” is, and the Presbytery’s final decision on my case.