Light in the Darkness, Biblical Counseling and Abuse. This was the theme for the 2018 national conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. I must admit that when I heard about the theme I was bit concerned. Biblical counselors have not always had the best reputation when it comes to addressing the problems of abuse. In fact we tend to mirror the church at large which has traditionally misunderstood and mismanaged the issue. My concern was shared by many in the work of intervention and prevention, as well as, many victims and survivors that have reached out to us over the past year anticipating the conference. ACBC announced a record attendance of over 2,000 for this year’s conference I believe highlighting both the interest in the topic and intrigue in our response. So, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the event and summarize where I think we stand as a movement.
First, allow me to reiterate how much I love Biblical Counseling and how desperate I have been to see this wonderful movement and the people who call it home become better equipped and competent when speaking and counseling on abuse. These are my people, this is my tribe, and I dearly love them. I want to share with you three highlights that encouraged me this week.
Dr. Heath Lambert gave the opening plenary session entitled, “What every victim needs to know.” Dr. Lambert skillfully walked us through the story of Joseph highlighting all the ways in which he was abused by those more powerful than he such as his brothers, potipher’s wife, and the Egyptian prison system. Dr. Lambert drew very clear lines from Scripture, and possibly from his own experience as a survivor to free Joseph and therefore any other victim of the responsibility for the abuse. Clearly, precisely, and often Dr. Lambert reminded us that abuse is not the responsibility of the victim, but solely the sin of the perpetrator. He then offered words of hope to those who suffer abuse knowing that even when sinned against “what others meant for evil, God can use for good” by declaring…
“By the grace of Jesus, wonderful things can come from the horror of your abuse.
There are some things that God teaches his children in the school of affliction that he will not teach them anywhere else.
God uses the horror of your abuse to increase your ministry faithfulness. Ministers are forged in the fires of affliction.”
Survivor Story: One of the things I have found lacking in most, not all, Christian responses to abuse are survivor stories. Most events feature keynote speakers who will define terms, unpack cases, or walk the audience through a related passage of Scripture, all of which are good but lack the power of story. ACBC correctly asked my friend Pam Gannon to share her story and the hope she found in the gospel. Pam delivered a near perfect blend of personal narrative and Scriptural insight to clearly show the devastation of abuse and the greater hope of redemption. This was for me the key event of the conference and well worth the time and investment if this plenary is offered. And, to my knowledge received the first standing ovation ever at an ACBC conference.
“Just as God can grow a pure white daisy from the charred remains, so can he grow a soul from the charred remains of abuse.”
Dr. Dale Johnson is the new executive director of ACBC. He was installed Tuesday afternoon and had the pleasure of offering the last plenary of the conference, “Counseling the abuser.” I’ll admit that when I heard that someone else would be delivering this talk I was a bit taken aback, didn’t they realize this was my wheelhouse? Honestly I had never met Dr. Johnson, and this topic can offer so much hope or can really rob people of hope. I sat nervous as the session began but was soon over taken with emotion. I can honestly say I’ve never heard the content delivered better. I was struck by Dr. Johnson’s high view of accountability and responsibility, his call to Biblical repentance, and insistence that we (Biblical Counselors) take the lead and cultivate safety in our churches. Two-thirds of the way through his presentation I sunk into a sense of relief and following the closing prayer I rushed the stage to thank him.
“An abuser is someone who demands his wants rather than submits to his responsibilities at the expense of someone else’s dignity.”
It’s inappropriate to declare Biblical counselors in general safe for victims of abuse, but after this week I do feel confident saying there is much reason to hope. I know there are no perfect interventions or counselors, and that we have a long way to go. But, if what I saw this week is any indication of where the Biblical counseling movement is headed, then I AM HOPEFUL.
Pastor Chris and Dr. Johnson following the last plenary session.