I, along with some colleagues have been working toward writing a book to help Christians learn to work with people groups that they may not agree with in regards to life choices, values, and politics. The book is also meant to serve as a hand reaching out to the American culture at large, so as to say; We love people and though we may not agree with you, we still want to live in relationship and be a help to you when you are down, hurting, and oppressed. What is often lost on both followers of Christ and those who deny His deity is the empathetic life he lived in regards to the poor. The following is a small portion to the books first chapter and is fresh from my brain:
” Jesus Himself was born to a poor teenage girl and a day laborer from a town of which is was said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”? His country was overrun by Roman soldiers, the government run by dictators willing to kill a whole generation of boys two and under in the hopes of killing Him (Matthew 2:16-18), and later the government would crucify him despite his innocence (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). Jesus knew what it was to suffer, to be denied freedoms, lack opportunities, and ultimately to be wrongly convicted. He knew as well as anyone the need for social justice and spiritual renewal.”
Spiritual renewal is indeed needed not for the sake of spirituality but for the sake of relationship with Christ. Relationship with Christ grows love for and care of the poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. Love for the poor and love for Christ is inseparable. To take care of the poor, the oppressed, and downtrodden is to live as Christ, it is become more and more in His image.
Question: “How can you be a Christian counselor in a secular setting?”
The question here is not how a counselor conducts Christian counseling
but how a Christian conducts counseling in a secular setting without betraying one’s own values. This is an especially difficult question to answer considering societal positions on social issues that are in direct contradiction to Biblical claims and growing hostility toward Christian values. Further complicating any answer is a counselor’s responsibility to avoid imposing “personal” values on clients (The American Counseling Association, 2014).
One of the fathers of Christian counseling, Gary Collins (2007), claimed Christian counselors have many of the same goals as that of secular counselors but go further in attempting to “stimulate spiritual growth in counselees; to encourage confession of sin and the experience of divine forgiveness; to model Christian standards, attitudes, values, and lifestyles; to present the gospel message …” (pp. 17-18).
At Colorado Christian University, we train students to be highly qualified with the additional abilities to implement strategies that stimulate spiritual growth and understanding (see the end of this blog for more information). This is what makes Christian counselors different from secular counselors.
Maintaining Integrity in a Secular Setting
Initially the task of maintaining integrity seems impossible for a Christian whose loyalty lies with Christ, but there are ways to navigate these waters without violating the rights of the client and the commands of God. There are many ways that Christian counselors seek to integrate Christianity and Psychology (i. e. Ethical Integration, Levels-of-Explanation, Christian Psychology, and Integration approach), but on a broader level and in my experience, there are two main ways that a Christian counselor approaches integration in a secular setting.
The first is Explicit, where a counselor is working with a Christian client who desires to participate in Christian counseling. Here, prayer, scripture, and discussions of God may be used in session. The second is Implicit and can regularly occur in a public setting. The counselor does not lose who they are in Christ. They believe someone has external value simply based on being created by a loving, just, and compassionate God. The client should feel the difference in how the Christian counselor approaches them when compared to a non-Christian counselor.
A deeper question here is when conducting counseling with implicit integration how does one properly work with a client of opposing viewpoints and maintain integrity? Afterall, conducting value free counseling is impossible as encouraging the absence of counselor values is a value in itself. Nearly all counselors have some areas of struggle when working with those who have different values and beliefs. Even still Christians have great examples of Christ’s interactions with the hurting and broken where He forgave and exhorted his counterpart to make changes in their lives. Let us consider then what examples the gospels give in regards to our discussion.
The Example of Christ
Jesus knew the Pharisees were upset that He was making disciples and that his Disciples were baptizing followers (vs. 2). Because the time of his death had not yet arrived, he went away to Galilee (vs. 3). On his way, Jesus stopped in Samaria (vs. 4-5). Around noon, the Disciples went to buy food (vs. 8) while Jesus rested by Jacob’s well (Hart, 2014). Hart labeled this journey as divine obligation where “Jesus violated social, cultural, and religious conventions to demonstrate Gods’ love for an outcast people” (p.1617), as like most Jews of that time, He could have gone around Samaria. Jesus, already in violation of societal expectations, sits as the woman approaches to draw water at an unusual hour. Customarily, women drew water in the evening so this was seen as an attempt to avoid others, because even in her culture, she was considered immoral (she had five husbands and was having an affair) (Hart, 2014). Jesus asked the woman for a drink (vs. 9), and she responded with amazement that Jesus would speak to her (Hart, 2014). Jesus then offered her “living water” (Johnson, 1999), a sign that he was the Messiah (vs. 13-14). He was also able to dig deeply into her life (vs. 16-18), offer forgiveness (vs. 39-41), and extoll her to make personal changes (vs. 22-26).
Jesus was in the temple when the Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery (vs. 3). They did not bring the man though the Law required the stoning of both men and women in adulterous situations (Leviticus 20:10 & Deuteronomy 22:22). Hart (2014) claimed this showed the Pharisees malicious intent and disregard for the Law. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such [adulterous] women. So what do you say” (vs. 5)? Hart (2014) wrote, “If Jesus called for her stoning as an adulteress, this would put Him in defiance of the Roman government’s sole authority to try capital cases and carry out executions. If He chose to free her, He would be disobeying the Mosaic Law” (pp. 1630-1631). When asked, Jesus bent down and wrote in the sand (vs. 6). What he wrote in the sand coupled with the statement “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (vs. 7) convicted those in the crowd and they walked away. Jesus offers no condemnation but extolls her to “go and sin no more” (vs. 11).
In both of these examples, Jesus is ministering in a society that is hostile to everything He teaches and to His very existence. Both the woman caught in adultery and the Samaritan woman represented brokenness and hurt. They made mistakes, committed sins, were affected by their respective societies, and were entrenched in their pain. Jesus authentically empathized with them, understood their pain, did not condemn them, but extolled them to make changes. Any changes were made not because of anything within themselves but because of their relationship with Him. We know that we are not Christ (though we are in Him), but we know that if we believe in the person of Christ, receive the Holy Spirit, and enter in the process sanctification, we can become more and more like Him every day (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The answer to our question is simple: A Christian counselor generally does not practice in a secular setting. However, a counselor who is Christian can practice in a secular setting by utilizing implicit integration and by exhibiting the characteristics of Christ. The Christian may run into situations where the values of an organization or client are in opposition to their own. It is the job of the counselor who is a Christian to then do their best to maintain professionalism as outlined in the ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association, 2014) and ultimately to follow the example of Christ by listening and learning about their client, valuing their personhood, acknowledging their free will, and offering clients love that only one who is indwelled with the Holy Spirit can give.
American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Collins, G. R. (2007). Christian counseling: A Comprehensive Guide. 3rd ed. Nashville, TN:
Thomas & Nelson.
Hart, J. (2014). John. In M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (Eds.). The Moody Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible by the Faculty of Moody Bible Institute. pp. 1605 – 1664). Chicago, Il: Moody Publishers.
Johnson, L. T. (1999). The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Revised edition. Minneapolis, Mn: Fortress Press.
We need a change in mindset even within the evangelical church:
“In addition to perpetuating empty self, modern philosophies’ view of the human condition is the second factor contributing to the developmental dilemma. This empty self is a product of the modern project – the pursuit of truth, universals, freedom and control. The modern project has become the modern predicament, resulting in an era of fragmented, lonely, isolated people. One of the main moves of modernity has been to displace God from the transcendent to the immanent sphere, shifting the locus of the divine from a God who is Other to impersonal forces within the human mind and will – into human subjectivity” (Bailiwick, King & Reimer, 2016, pp. 20-21).
**Note: This was written just after the election this last November.
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately in part because of the political landscape and how many dear people are afraid of what is to come. I’ve also been thinking about this because how we label ourselves has a lot to do with how we see ourselves and how we relate to others. I’m still growing in this area so I make these statements humbly and ask that a reader might be thoughtful and slow to respond.
I am grateful for the sacrifice that others made for my freedom and for the positive aspects of our country but I do not first identify myself as an American, as White, as Conservative, or any other demographic that might needlessly divide me from others. My only true identity is in Christ (which I admit can affect how I connect to other identities). He is the only thing that is worth division from others (though I hope that my love for others because of Him will connect me to those who have a different identity than I) and He should unify me with other believers. After all he sat with the lost and hurting in each of the gospels under the shunning eye of the Pharasees. He didn’t care about those things – He simply wanted people to know Him, to know the Love of God, to find salvation, and be unified in the truth that is found in Him. We (Christians) are not called to identify as a race or political party but we are called to identify with Christ. I pray that the events of the day will call us to serve others, to love others, and reach out to others different from ourselves.
The context for Luke 17: 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.
Though I think I knew it, I never connected with the fact that the disciples said “Increase our faith!” in regards to forgiving others. Such gentleness and kindness is ordinarily beyond me, but I need Christ to treat others not just kindly, but as created people with innate value whom He loves. People come with baggage, pain, regrets, and selfishness amongst other things (so do I). Still, none of it should affect how we treat people. We do not compromise standards or approve of what God has said is wrong in the Bible, but we still love as God would. I am not naturally gentle, I am not always oozing with kindness, nor am I friendly in all situations, it is hard to trust God for his provision in ministry and life, and it can be really hard to forgive others when I am wronged. Lord! Increase my faith!