Nate Brooks – Expert Contributor
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the executive director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

 

Ann Maree
It is my privilege to introduce to you my colleague and friend Dr. Nate Brooks, although I’ve known him since before he finished his doctorate in record time, and I didn’t have to call him a doctor. But I am pleased to do so. Dr. Brooks is currently the Assistant Professor of Christian counseling at the Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. He is here today to help us as counselors, how to best help survivors of adult clergy sexual abuse. Nate is the founder of Courage Christian Counseling, where he counsels both in person and remotely across North America. He coauthored ‘Help, Our Sex Life Is In Trouble By Past Abuse,’ with Anna Mondal. And most recently, Shepherds Press released Nate’s ‘Identifying Heart Transformation: Exploring Different Kinds of Human Change’. Nate and his wife Kate, and their children live on a mini farm in South Carolina. Nate, welcome to Save to Hope.

Nate
Oh, thanks so much for having me here, Ann Maree and yes, the days of the mini farm are numbers.

Ann Maree
Yeah. I’m anxious to hear more about that. But so maybe with that you could add to some information about you, your work, a little bit about yourself and tell us all these new exciting changes that are coming?

Nate
Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to. My wife and I are both native Californians who just continue to move east. I think we’re running out of real estate here, before getting too much further east. So we’ve been in Charlotte for seven years. Like you mentioned, I started as the coordinator of the counseling program at RTS Charlotte and then earned a doctorate and was elected there as full time faculty. And we’ve had a very good time here. But like you mentioned, starting June first, I’m going to be an associate professor of counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary up in Wake Forest, North Carolina. We’re excited to go back into one of the denominational schools for our denomination, which is the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s always interesting to mention that in the middle of a discussion on abuse, as we have been in too many newspaper headlines, and I think one of the reasons I’m excited about going back is to probably help just some of my people think better and wisely about this, and I’m seeing more energy towards that. So I’m looking forward to that. Also going to be going back into working in the church. So I’m going to be the counseling minister at Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, which is just north of Lake Forest there and then a focus a lot on training lay counselors and student counselors in our church there. So we’re really excited for that transition. Thankful for what the Lord has done here for us at RTS and excited to see what he does in the next stop. My wife Kate, and I’ve been married for about 10 years, we have three children, seven and under – so I’m recording this in the one corner of the house that doesn’t have toys everywhere – and love them to pieces. My wife is actually a counselor as well. She works for Christian Trauma Counseling with Esther Smith there and specializes a lot and just the categories of chronic pain and illness grief and loss and is really fantastic at that. So there’s a lot of changes that are coming for the Brooks household. But we’re excited for where the Lord has us heading.

Ann Maree
I have to admit I am excited for you because I know you are going to your people and that will be a good place for you and Kate. But being in Charlotte, being a grad of RTS, boy am I sad to see you go as our – I know – many of the students. But we look forward to seeing what the Lord is going to do with you both because I just see a future ahead of being influential in the biblical counseling world, but also just caring for people well, from both of you, out of you know both your education and your life experiences. So, again, very bittersweet, but I do understand that this will be a good fit for you.

Nate
I appreciate that.

Ann Maree
Thanks for sharing. Thanks for sharing your future with us. And I will take notes and put down some of those connections in our show notes afterwards, so you can get more information about where Kate is and where Nate’s going as well. So, taking a turn towards our story – our last version of the story on older adult clergy sexual assault, abuse, actually – and some of the things that we have heard from Tamra throughout this three-part series that she told – but also some of the things that we heard from the other expert contributors on the podcast, Dr. Heather Evans and Dr. David Pooler. So just to list some of the ways I listened to the podcast and heard how she was harmed in her situation. She was shamed by her abusive spiritual leader, but she was also shamed by her biblical community. She was conditioned by her abusive spiritual leader, and also by an abuse of Scripture and an abuse of doctrine. She was blamed by her abusive spiritual leader, diminished by him, also blamed by her immediate social community, blamed by biblical communities in general. And to be honest, she probably still has some of that going on to this day, when people find out about her story. She was held responsible for the abuse by her leader, held responsible for abuse by the biblical community in general things like, you know, hearing things like ‘it was an affair,’ or ‘she must have consented’ are very harmful for survivors trying to heal it, obviously she was groomed by this leader, none of this would have ever happened. She was gaslit, emotionally manipulated by him, isolated, kept against her will, she had a loss of agency. She was afraid. She was afraid to report she was confused, hopeless and unsure of who she could tell. So Nate, here’s the big question, then. What do you do in your counsel to not perpetuate any of those characteristics, I guess that I just read?

Nate
That is a really – just horrifying list, isn’t it, Ann Maree? I mean,  when I hear that list, I just think of it’s, it’s 360 degree suffering. Where pretty much anywhere she turns, there are active contributors to her troubles, challenges and abuse, which, of course, is just part of the playbook, right, where an abusive individual is trying to isolate someone into that kind of situation. So I think in my counsel, how do I seek to – how do I seek to avoid putting myself in a situation where I am – you know, whatever percentage of those degrees, that would also be creating those things in her life and experience? You know, I think the first thing is to trust people who come to me, telling me about their experiences. You know, I come from a theological tradition that very strongly emphasizes the doctrine of original sin, and very strongly emphasizes the doctrine of indwelling sin. So right, the idea that human beings are broken deep down on the inside, that we are not born good. We are born with hearts that walk away from faithfulness to God that rebelled against God. And then even after the Holy Spirit has stepped inside of us and regenerated us, as we express faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial life, death and resurrection. Even after that, there is still indwelling sin that we wrestle with through the for the rest of our lives. Sometimes the emphasis on that doctrine can lead us to be distrustful of people’s interpretation of their own events. I think sometimes we do that for ourselves, right? I remember reading the story of, of one of the massage therapists who was abused by Ravi Zacharias. Right. And he or she described a particular event where he touched her in some inappropriate ways. And her first immediate thought was, I must have imagined that, because there’s no way this godly man would do such a thing. Despite the fact that she was in her body she had it happened to her, she felt it happened to her, her first thought was to distrust herself. Because it was easier to do that than to imagine that what actually happened was real. And I think sometimes in our churches, and Christian counseling, and counseling practices, we can take the doctrine of indwelling sin – original sin and say, ‘Well, you know, all of us are broken. And all of us have inherently selfish hearts.’ I think of Jeremiah 17, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked who can understand it. And sometimes we take that and we look at someone and say that doctrine means that their interpretation of what has happened to them is going to naturally be self-serving or in error. And I think that’s even magnified when we’re dealing with the kinds of situations that are harder to believe, because they we don’t tend to see, that doesn’t tend to be part of our own experiences, I grew up in a very sanitized home, which was a good thing, right? Like I remember, when the Twin Towers were run into by the hijackers. My first thought I was 15 years old at the time, though – my first thought was, ‘who would ever do such a thing?’ There just wasn’t that category of that level of wickedness that I had run into before. And I realized that that dates me is very young for some of these listeners and very old for others of the listeners, right. You know, and, and so I think sometimes, especially those of us who come from more clean backgrounds, many of whom are in some kind of vocational ministry, or counseling practice, we tend to, we tend to almost be suspicious of other people’s stories, because it seems almost far fetched due to our experience. And that doctrine of original, indwelling sin tends to make us more suspicious of people stories, because the heart naturally is selfish. But that’s not really what those doctrines are saying. Those doctrines are talking about our moral brokenness before God. It’s not saying that an individual is incapable of accurately understanding what has happened to them. So I think that’s probably the first cornerstone piece there, Ann Maree.

Ann Maree
Those are really great points, Nate and trusting what a survivor says about their experience is crucial, especially because, as you stated, when the abuse occurs, survivors often distrust themselves. They blame themselves. Unfortunately, the abuser reinforces this lie and we want to do the opposite of what the abuser does. It’s also helpful to realize that some counselors or people helpers can’t fathom this kind of wickedness based on their inexperience with heinous acts like adult clergy sexual abuse. So they fall back on the idea that since we all have indwelling sin, we should be suspicious of the survivor story. They distrust what the survivor says because they don’t have categories for adult clergy sexual abuse, right? I mean, that’s why educating the church about this topic, and giving language to it is so important. Trust is the key word, and trusting the work of the Holy Spirit and the survivor as well.

Nate
You know, statistically, we know that the number of false accusations is really quite low. Because any kind of accusation tends to have a pretty significant cost to the accuser. And our worry of falsely believing – a false accusation – is actually oftentimes out of step with the data. We’re far more likely to ignore a real accusation than we are to believe a false accusation. Um, what is it the FBI states that about 8% of accusations of – I think in that study, it was physical and sexual abuse specifically -are false accusations. But we just need to understand that our default tends to be suspicious towards the wrong thing. I like to think of taking every accusation as a credible accusation. Right, by the by the fact that it’s an accusation it is credible. That doesn’t mean that every situation of accusation is automatically an abuse situation. But it is credible in that the fact that someone who’s reporting something 92% of reports are, are valid. The fact that someone is reporting it means that it is probably, I mean, overwhelmingly probably true. I think my main concern is that the church in our era and Counseling Ministries in our era, we viewer more towards the maximal danger, not towards the minimal danger. If you start with trusting that person in front of you, you are far more likely to keep yourself from error, rather than distrusting the person in front of you.

Ann Maree
And you brought up something interesting, I’m thinking about maybe not having thought through it carefully enough. Yeah. But innocent until proven guilty. Which one the accused? Or the accuser? Yeah, you almost can’t, right.

Nate
Yeah, it’s very true. Because, you know, if someone in front of me is laying out their narrative, or their story, whatever words you want to use, I know those words carry different connotations in different contexts. If they’re telling the story of what has happened, for you to step back and say, ‘I don’t know’, ultimately, that is a certain amount of shade thrown towards that person. And I don’t think you’re a reliable witness. But there’s a difference between someone being malfeasant and then not being a reliable witness. And the overwhelming, overwhelming percentage of individuals saying such things are reliable witnesses.

Ann Maree
Let me ask another question, if you don’t mind. What do you look for, as you’re counseling the victim to help you identify when counsel might have been or might be upsetting? Like, do you look at their physical person? Or do you listen to the statements? Do you ask…do you listen to the questions they ask or all of the above?

Nate
I think it’s important to remember in counseling, or counseling the person. And all of those different elements that you’ve just mentioned, are facets of that person. Right? So that person is their body. And that person is their spiritual heart. And that person is the way that they mentally engage with the world around them. And that person is their adrenal glands. And that person is their history, that creates a lot of, that can create a lot of distress in the moment. You know, we can’t parcel ourselves out to where when, you know, I can’t step into a counseling environment and be like, you know, I’m just, I’m just counseling this person’s soul. And I’m not going to touch any concept or any idea that relates to their body or relates to the way that they tend to process information in their minds or things like that. Because they’re all interconnected. I celebrated this Thanksgiving by getting the stomach flu. My Thanksgiving feast this Thanksgiving was drinking half a bottle of Pedialyte. I hope your meal is better than mine. But, right, but I did not feel particularly spiritually close to Jesus, during the 24, or 48 hours of pretty intense stomach flu symptoms. Why it’s not because my heart was distanced from God, it’s because that my physical flesh was significantly disordered at the moment. And, and so, like, that’s maybe a little bit of a window when I have someone sitting in front of me telling a story that they haven’t told someone before. And they have a thought pounded into their head, ‘Will this person believe me or is it going to be another situation of harm?’ I know that there’s probably a pretty strong chemical cocktail, all kinds of stuff running through their body. Their heart rate is probably elevated, they’re probably very much on edge. Their voice may carry some sharpness to it that it normally wouldn’t. Or perhaps it could be very flat and kind of due to just feeling like they’re shutting down, right. I think that we need to be paying attention to the holistic human in front of us not simply only what’s going on in their spiritual heart or in their physical body.

Ann Maree
Yeah, good. You know, I’m your cheerleader on that one. Whole person care? What would you try not to do?

Nate
I think there was a couple people who wrote… I think there was a couple people who wrote a couple articles for Biblical Counseling Coalition on that, don’t you?

Ann Maree
I remember something like that. Yeah.

Nate
Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Ann Maree
I’ll put that in the show notes.

Nate
I’m sorry. What was the question about to ask me?

Ann Maree
I asked, (I know our air for the audience. I’m so sorry. But our internet seems to be a little blinky right now.) But what do you try not to do in a counseling session?

Nate
Oh, man, ah, a whole lot of things. Is there anything more specific that we can narrow that down? Or do you just want the broad brush?

Ann Maree

Whatever you’re comfortable talking about, I guess what would help the audience the most?

Nate
I’d say one of the things that I don’t want to do, is I don’t want to immediately seize control of the counseling session, right. And the reason for that is that this person is coming, and they’re telling their story. And their story is theirs to steward. And they have invited me in to participate in the telling of their story. And, and I think they get to, I think they get to drive the bus on that one. Right. So it’s not my responsibility to know absolutely every piece of the ins and outs of what’s happened to them. Right, I’ve had some counselees that I have met with for six, nine months. And I know there’s a significant happening in their life that they have not shared. They know, they know that I know that it is there, because they’ve mentioned that it’s there. And we both know, they’re just not ready to talk about it yet. And they may not ever be ready to talk about it with me. And that’s totally fine. Because I’m a invited guest into their space. And as an invited guest, you just don’t go barreling through every room in someone’s house. Right? We understand that there’s ways to respect someone else’s space. And that’s not the same thing as me saying I would never push towards anything in counseling. Right. We’ve had conversations, I’ve had conversations with counselors of you know, I know that there may be that, I think we both know that there’s an issue here. If I’m not the person to talk to about that, that’s totally fine. I can help you identify another counselor that maybe you’d be more comfortable with? Or if you say, ‘no, I think this is something that I would like to share with you. I’m just not ready to go there yet.’ That’s fine. I think we both know that that issue needs to be addressed at some point. So let’s work on maybe bringing it so that you are ready to talk about those kinds of things. But I want to be walking alongside someone for their own growth and development and godliness. And that doesn’t mean that I am the one who controls the speed of things. Because ultimately, I’m not the one who has to deal with the fallout of in their own body, in their own life, in their own mind, of what it’s like to divulge some of these things. And I want the person who is going to have to wrestle sadly, right, sadly, wrestle unjustly wrestled through those things – they should be the ones who are determining the speed of a lot of this and not me. So I think that’s one large thing. I think a second thing is to is to rush too quickly into, into trying to say hopeful and helpful things. Before actually, I understand enough to be able to speak well or have earned the right to speak into such situations, right? People receive things from people that they trust, and relationships, trusting relationships take some time. I think maybe in our biblical counseling spaces, sometimes we’re too eager to run towards – here’s God’s revealed truth – without recognizing that the truths that we receive are usually spoken through someone we trust. And so how I engage with someone’s story, they’re watching me, they’re seeking to understand is this a safe person to talk to? Is this someone that I can trust? Or is this someone that’s going to turn around and eventually hurt me in some way, shape or form like that abusive pastor did that I trusted and things like that. So it can be slow going, and I find myself honestly needing to have the godly fruit of the spirit of self control. As a counselor, I need to be self controlled enough to trust God’s timing to trust his work and someone else’s heart as counseling and growth is often pretty slow. It’s often a lot slower than we would want it to be or imagined it to be. And yet at the same time, we’re called to be invited guests into someone’s space to walk alongside them at their speed.

Ann Maree
Those good things. Yeah, thank you for saying them both. I’m going to play a little clip from Tamra’s last piece of her story, I think what we were just discussing kind of flows into this. And she was talking about, like the after impact of having lived in this abusive situation and how difficult it is for especially survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to go back to church, and I want to interact with you on that. So let me just play that real quick.

Recording of Tamra
Many cannot tolerate being in a church environment, and they deserve much grace regarding this not further condemnation. Many of my survivor friends have held on to their faith while not being able to sit through service because the trauma, the constant triggers that cause such distress. Even when we try to block out the thoughts the body remembers and reacts, we should not be shamed for that.

Ann Maree
So Nate, how do you navigate incorporating Scripture when you know that the victim has been previously harmed by their, by the church, by the clergy of the church where they were abused? Or, and or talk to us a little bit about entering into that church environment again? So Scripture and church?

Nate
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we know from Scriptures testimony, and thinking of Psalms. Scripture was given to us for our benefit. And those benefits are pretty significant. The law of the Lord renews our life, it brightens our eyes, it’s like honey dripping from the honeycomb. These things are all really I mean, intensely positive. Words that as to say like it, it, it renews our soul when we’re weary. And one of the terrible things about spiritual abuse is that it can take something that was meant for life, and instead, give it a sense of fear or death to an individual. It’s, it’s a double stealing, right? It’s this, it’s stealing what someone is owed in the sense of there’s abuse, but then also, it has a way of, of making the Scripture in the Bible feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, because people who use the Bible have heard me right or have used the Bible to hurt me. And that, I think we want to step back and just recognize that that’s not someone’s, that’s not any faithful believers desire to be there. Right? Like someone who is describing that kind of relationship with Scripture, they’re not going to end up with saying, and it’s awesome, because a note of grief and a note of loss there and the sorrow over it. Um, so for that kind of individual, it could be that other ways of encountering God, are the safest for right now. So when we think about it, God has given us more than just one way to know Him. I can even think of Psalm 19, where it talks about the heavens declare the glory of God. That does mean that nature is speech from God. Now it stops far short of what the Scriptures give us. But we are we’re actually cutting ourselves off from something that’s meant to be part of how our hearts are stored. If we cut ourselves off from thinking of those other things as helpful ways to see God. We see God in Christ’s people in fellowship, and things like that. We see it in art and literature, I think of there are times that that even, you know, say something like the Chronicles of Narnia or some other beautiful picture of who God is, in fiction, literature, can strike our hearts, hearts in ways that are more healing and less terrifying. What we don’t want to do is throw out the Scriptures and say, ‘well, it’s pointless’, because that is the greatest source of life. But if we recognize that because of things that have happened inside of us, it becomes hard to be around that. What are some other ways that we can continue to engage with God right now? And I think the ultimate goal or the ultimate aim, and our ultimate goal ultimately, a healthy aim is to be back in a place where Scripture is helpful, where Scripture is healing. But it may take some work to do that. When I wind up using the Scriptures in counseling with a individual that has found it to be that the Scripture has been misused and have been a source of abuse, we’re always going to be talking about it first. Right? I’m not going to spring that on somebody in a session. Okay, if someone’s disclosing the Scriptures feel scary to me, okay, like, in some sessions before we actually open the Bible, for the first time, I’m going to be talking with them about that and seeing what their reaction is, seeing their thoughts about it, like, do you think you’re in a place where we’re willing to, to open the Bible and to see what happens? That sounds too glib, not just see what happens. But are we at a place where you’re kind of baseline steady enough to open something that has been triggering in the past? And that’s going to be like a intentional, controlled kind of engagement. And I might ask them a question like, ‘hey, when if I were to ask you the question, What’s this scripture passage that has ministered to your heart, even when you’re a little girl or a little boy, or what’s just a Scripture passages that you have some positive memories around?’ And then we’ll go to that passage. Because that may be something that has more happy memories than just terrifying memories behind it. And then I’m going to be consistently checking in with them, we may open a Bible and read it and office or via zoom, or whatever. And then a lot of my questions are revolving around the content of what the Scripture said, necessarily, but what happened inside you, as we read this? What’s going on? What happened to your heart? What are your emotions? How’s your how’s your heartbeat right now? Was pulse, right? Like as a really high? As it really started talking to you? What do you think about that? What are your feelings about your feelings about what just happened? Right? Say someone’s heart rate elevates and spikes and they start feeling all panicky, there could be a lot of feelings of guilt and shame that that’s even happening. And then we want to talk to those feelings of guilt and shame. Right. So I guess in situations like you just described, Ann Maree, and like we’ve heard from the prompt, I want to be pretty clued into what is someone’s experience of their experience. Because in a lot of ways that creates other realities that can be talked through. And I think it’s similar when it comes to church, right? Like, I don’t come across many spiritual abuse survivors that are sitting there wanting to have church be a struggle, right? Instead, it’s usually a point of deep distress. I think we want to recognize that as a church, sometimes we can hold church attendance up as being the proof of faithfulness, without much recognition of struggle. Now, I mean, I, I think that the church is essential for ultimate flourishing in life, like God gave us the Church for our benefit. And at the same time, I also recognize that, tragically, we’ve seen many churches have not acted towards the benefit of their people. We see that in the news too often. And that creates a lot of challenge there. And so when I see things that talk about church membership, as though, or church attendance as though just as absolutely flat – If you are a faithful Christian, you’re attending every week, etc, etc, etc – I just wonder if those pastors who write those articles know many individuals, that the idea of going to church can induce a panic attack? I wonder if we just I think we flattened that experience there. I’d say there’s a significant difference between a family who is consistently prioritizing, you know, some other endeavor over church, whether it be ballgames or family vacations, or whatever, right, we’re just too busy for church. That’s a very different scenario than an individual that, you know, if you could give them a magic wand, they would say, I want to get rid of my feelings that make church destabilizing. For me, those are just two really different experiences. And I see a lot talked about the former that I don’t see much talked about the latter one. Our conversations about church don’t recognize that there can be people who really struggle for good reason. I think we can get out of balance there. I know for some of my counselors who have really struggled, I have encouraged them at time and again, at this point there to kind of have a baseline of health that they’re ready to start pushing themselves into some environments that they know maybe challenging. I have friends who have changed church traditions, because the patterns and rhythms of whatever their old liturgies were just harder for them to actually hear God’s voice. And switching to a different church, a different liturgy style was less activating of triggers and trauma responses. And they’re able to hear God’s voice there more easily in a way that actually helps their soul, as opposed to church being consistently a struggle. Right. So I think just a word that keeps coming back to me again, and again, and again, as we talked about this, it’s just nuance right? Abuse Counseling is not cookie cutter, it can’t be cookie cutter. I would say no counseling can be cookie cutter, but especially this topic, because the way that it impacts people is so different. And for me to be a wise counselor, I need to know that person and be able to work through their challenges with them at the speed that they’re ready to go at.

Ann Maree
That was good. Thank you for saying that. And if you didn’t say it, I was going to remind our audience that when Darby Strickland was on the introductory podcast, she mentioned that idea of asking the counselee what verses the Lord brings to their mind and, and maybe even what verses, you know they came to salvation, knowing any of the verses that God used to comfort them in, in their situation. And starting at that point I thought that was that’s just so wise. But also somebody brought up recently and I thought this, I never… You said it was unique to each person. and this just makes it makes that point even more clear… she couldn’t look at her Bible anymore, because it was the Bible that she used for 40 years, back and forth to church. And when she looks at it, now, she sees the notes that she made from the sermons from the abusive pastor, and they just, they hurt. And, you know, I said, 40 years, so you can imagine she’s a little bit older, so it’s hard for her to just, ‘Oh, I’ll look on my phone instead. Or I’ll just get a new version of the Bible’. Because not everything she wrote in her 40 year old Bible is gonna, it’s gonna be harmful. But there’s so many things in there that are and what you’re saying we have to put that into our council thought process.

Nate
I think it’s interesting Ann Maree, that we’re really willing to acknowledge the idea of triggers across a lot of other avenues of life. So my boys and I went to Tiger World, just north of Charlotte, a few weeks ago. And, and then we came home and watch the movie, we bought at the zoo, with Matt Damon in it from a while back. And, and, you know, one of the one of the scenes in that movie, it’s Matt Damon’s character, he’s talking with his brother said, Hey, let’s go out to eat at this restaurant. And Matt Damon’s character says, ‘I can’t do that.’ Well, why not? ‘Well, that’s where I met my wife, who had recently died of cancer or something like that.’ Right? Like, and is one of those scenes that just crystallizes the fact that, yeah, we understand why he’s not willing to step back in there. Because even though there’s the happy memory of meeting his wife, the pain of losing his wife has made it so much… It’s just, it’s… it’s more than he can handle to step back there. And we wouldn’t look at that person and say, Well, if you really faithful and trusted God’s providence, you’d be okay, sitting back in there, like, so why would we do that in this situation? We tend to be pretty okay with triggers for maybe grief, or things like that. You think of a family who’s whose child dies, and they haven’t touched the room for 15 years? Is that a sign of unhealth? I wouldn’t say so unnecessarily. Um, so why would we? Why would we press that? Kind of, ‘if you were really faithful, you wouldn’t have these negative feelings’ on someone who’s an abuse survivor.

Ann Maree
I have another cue here that I’m going to put on from something else Tamra said. I’ll have you interact with this one as well.

Recording of Tamra
When people victim shame and blame, they reinforced the same weapon of lies that the abuser used. Comments like, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have been along with the pastor, you should know that he would be tempted by you.’ Or, ‘yeah, she has a past. So hearing about her, the pastor doesn’t surprise me’. These lies feed into the shame that a survivor experiences sometimes for a lifetime shame that says there’s something inherently wrong with her. And the abuse is therefore a result of who she is. Shame is felt emotionally and physically, it produces physical pain and discomfort, in order to avoid feeling that many spend their lives hiding, not living in the freedom Christ has given them.

Ann Maree
I think we just touched on that in what we were just talking about. So I’m gonna let you interact on something that maybe you heard that you’d like to emphasize further.

Nate
Yeah, I think the very beginning of that clip, the two kind of statements that she repeats of ‘Well, I knew I mean, I know she’s got a past so of course’, or ‘she shouldn’t have been alone with the pastor.’ You know what both of those do is that actually that that routes the problem in the person who has been abused as opposed to actually dealing with the heart of the abuser? Right, So, I mean, the first one of all, ‘she shouldn’t have been alone with the pastor’…why is that being said to the victim, instead of to the pastor… shouldn’t have been along with her. Um, okay, that’s like a that’s like a basic level one response. But I don’t think that that actually gets at the most important thing. Because here’s the deal, shouldn’t a pastor be able to be alone with a woman without taking advantage of that woman it’s just, it’s interesting how those kinds of thoughts, they perform a little bit of a misdirection, a dodge, to avoid talking about the most important thing. And, you know, I’m, I’m a seminary professor and, and one of the things that I tell my students who are going to be pastors and teach students who are going to be pastors and students are going to be vocational counselors, and probably everything in between. One of the things that I tell my students is, look, if you are incapable of being alone with a woman, and not having sexual temptation rise up within you, you do not belong anywhere close to ministry, because that is actually showing that something is pretty deeply broken inside of you. And that that’s something that you need to address before you, yourself before yourself, meaning, you know, find someone to talk to you about these things that can help you, right, grow in that level of holiness. Because if, if a individual is incapable of being with someone alone, and not having these sexual desires, that’s it speaking of a lot of sexual brokenness in that person who’s having those desires. Um, we want to think more about the predator pastor, not the individual that happened to be the victim of the predator pastor. The second one, ‘well, I know about her past. And so it doesn’t surprise me’. You know, again, I come back to our theology is that really what that is, is that’s a functional denial that somebody can change. It’s a functional denial that someone’s that someone can’t have one spin one thing, and now is something else because of Jesus. Ah, every Christian has some degree of past, every Christian does. That’s the whole point of the things we were talking about beforehand, the document of original sin. Not everyone expresses that sinful nature, in the same ways. Some will have perhaps more spectacular expressions of sinful nature than others. But the reality is all of us believe that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. And that Jesus does incredible things in people’s lives. And so to come at that woman and say, ‘Well, I know your past. So it almost seems like it was inevitable’. That’s actually a functional denial of the gospel. And of course, that’s shame inducing. Because what it functionally says that Jesus works for everyone else, but he really didn’t work for you. And so when I want to hear this, clip it it makes me sad. Because this kind of victim shaming or victim blaming, I might use the term just victim centralizing… It centralizes all the problem on the victim, as opposed to actually asking the questions of why does the community think that having a past marks you out? Why does the community localized things, not in the spiritual leader who has demonstrated himself to be unfit to be in ministry? Why does the blame fall on the person who should have been just fine in that situation, and would have been apart from the fact of someone else’s unrighteousness?

Ann Maree
Yeah, wow. Way to turn the table. Yeah, that was very clearly stated, very helpfully stated. Okay, so now let’s, let’s turn our gaze upon the victim for a moment and say, asked I should say, what do you do for her having heard those things, and now having been what we call like secondary, secondary abuse, secondary harm, re-traumatizing. What do you do for her?

Nate
What do I do for her and in the moments where she’s disclosing these things?

Ann Maree
Well, yeah, I mean, not that she’s coming to you. She’s sitting in your office telling you not just her story of abuse, but also how the… her social community has responded…how do you how do you help that harm?

Nate
Yeah, I think the first thing is to be different than what she’s experienced. Because back a little bit, oh, you’re talking about earlier, but I mean, I want to communicate to her that was wrong. And God hates what happened to you. And I am so sorry. Right? I am. Every time I hear stories and people who come to me, I just It breaks my heart, I am so sorry that they have experienced what they’ve experienced. Because no one, no one deserves that. No one earns that. Right. They have the right to not be treated that way. But they were. And I find it just to be deeply sorrowful that a fellow human being has had to walk through those things. I want to genuinely express that to them. I am deeply sorrowful over what they have had to walk through. But I think it’s also important for them not just to know my sorrow, but to know God’s anger is that, you know, the angriest being in the Bible is God. He’s the one whose anger is most attributed to. And if you think about it, there’s a big chunk of our Bibles that strongly emphasizes God’s deep displeasure at oppressors who stomp on people, for abusers who harm victims. And that’s most of the prophets, both major and minor. I don’t, I don’t necessarily think it’s coincidental that those are also the Bible, sections of the Bible that we tend to flip through the least. Maybe one of the reasons that we don’t handle abuse well, typically, is because we have underdeveloped our theology of oppression, because we don’t read the books of the Bible’s that the books of the Bible that mainly deal with the theology of oppression very much. Yeah. That’s probably a tangential point. I want her to hear, God hates what’s happened with you. And that what has happened to you is not a sign of His divine displeasure with you but rather His divine displeasure falls on those who have harmed you, have worked towards your exploitation. And again, there’s there’s always the question of wisdom of how do you communicate this, especially in spiritually abusive environments? Or environments where they’ve stepped out of spiritual abuse? What is their conception of God right now? There’s wisdom there, right as and part of that just being a good counselor. Listening well, asking questions. But I’d say in an ideal situation, those are two things that I’m wanting to engage with pretty quickly.

Ann Maree
I hear a book in that. I hear a book that’s necessary.

Nate
I can’t wait to read it after you write it..

Ann Maree
No, no. Well, just one more clip from what Tamra talked about and that is focusing on – in this clip – she’s focusing on some of the fallout for these victims. We talked so much about having to have a safe place before you can heal, right. You have to be safe before you can heal. That’s what we’re taught. And yet some of these victims never are. Let me play the clip. And then I’ll ask your question.

Recording of Tamra
Some survivors were married at the time of the abuse and their marriages don’t survive. Some survivors have to live with the fact that their abuser is still leading a church and embraced by his flock or selling books or on the speaking circuit. Some are afraid to leave their house because they may run into those who have cruelly shamed them and blame them. Others are trolled on social media or sued by the abuser, financially draining them. Some have to deal with the news media or the general public watching and commenting. Oftentimes in favor of the abuser. Many have to fight against a powerful church institution or entire denomination.

Ann Maree
Yeah, for me, the weight of thinking about sitting in those places and then never having the sense of safety. So then how, how do you know when the victim is ready? Ready to hear ready to heal?

Nate
That’s a good question, Ann Maree. I think we have to recognize that what we’re not aiming for is 100% certainty. Right? Because here’s the truth, the abuse survivor isn’t going to have 100% clarity on their own readiness. And I think that’s why it’s wise to – when you go to start moving forward – you do it in minimal ways to begin with. And in the safest, most controlled environment you can set up, right. So go back to the individual who is saying, ‘I think I’m ready to try and open up the Bible and see where this goes’, I’m not going to send him home and say, ‘hey, just do it’. There’s got to be a plan. We’re going to talk to the plan, we’re going to stick to the plan. And we’re going to make a plan of what to do if things go a little haywire. And we’re going to set the expectation that it’s not failure, if, you know, starts producing more panic attack-like symptoms or something like that. That’s not failure. We tried. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be and this way. You know, in terms of judging safety, I think there are times that we can definitely say this is this person’s not ready person can say I’m not ready. And then there’s other times that it’s pretty clear, they are ready. And then there’s just a whole lot of murkiness in the middle. And that’s, I mean, that’s one of the reasons that I talk about counseling, the nature of counseling as being collaborative, is it’s me and the counselee, walking forward together. And I want to listen to them, and they want to listen to me, and we’re going to do our best estimate our best guess. And sometimes we get it wrong. And that’s okay. Right? Again, we’re just in the field of messiness here, and it’s okay. It’s okay, if we overestimated how stable someone was. That happens sometimes they thought they were further along, I thought that they were further along. That happens, right? And that’s, again, one of the reasons that you want there to be that kind of trusting relationship there, as those kinds of relationships are durable when people make mistakes and such. So that’s maybe all my immediate thoughts are Ann Maree. Do you have other thoughts to fill that in?

Ann Maree
No, I didn’t. That’s why I asked you the question. I wanted to hear from you.

Nate
And I think… can I say one more thing on that too? I think we’re also understanding that there is degrees of safety?

Ann Maree
Yes, that’s a good point. Yeah.

Nate
Because we live in a world in which the whole world is groaning, all creation is groaning, waiting for deliverance, waiting for release. Right? I mean, the last line of the Bible is come quickly, Lord Jesus. Why is that the case? Because it’s going to be better when he’s here than not. And it’s not just like taking something awesome and making it more awesome. It’s taking something that is broken, and repairing, restoring it, and making it better than it ever was. And so, you know, I hear all of these categories that Tamra has just listed there, and just being realistic… some of them you may not ever be able to get away from. Because it’s outside your control, that that man may pastor for another 30 years and sell a million books and not gonna be able to touch that. Okay. I think one of the goals that I have for for counselees is to be able to look at that and not have it be personally destabilizing. I don’t mean that it doesn’t produce anger. I don’t mean that it’s not troubling. I don’t mean that it’s not a point of frustration, sadness, fill in the blank. But there’s a difference between having those emotions, and being able to have a healthy relationship with those emotions versus them just destabilizing you consistently. So I think we do need to recognize that being… it’s not a category of being unsafe, or being all the way safe. There are various degrees and gradations of safety, even in the way that someone who has fled from an abusive marriage, they are safe… maybe they’re safe physically, at a different place in the country or at a women’s shelter or in a church or family member’s home or something like that. But that doesn’t mean that the sum total of their life is safety at this point, and eventually they will probably walk into safer environments, spiritually safer environments, emotionally etc. ecetera, as the case progresses there, but we recognize that there’s gradients, there’s gradations of of safety there. And we don’t have to rely on just entire safety to begin a growth and healing process.

Ann Maree
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. That is, for me, it’s very helpful. Thank you. Well, that’s about all I have. I just, I think I want to just finish with one more question. And that’s just, is there anything else that you think would be helpful for our audience to hear?

Nate
Oh, probably just this, if you’re listening to this, I just want to say thank you want to say thank you. There are so many good resources out there now. And not enough, but the number continues to grow. And I’m really grateful for your investment and seeking to be wise about these really, really difficult matters. And I would just encourage you to continue to seek to grow and your ability to care for others. And that’s good and well pleasing to God. And I don’t think anyone would ever say that they’re a absolute expert on abuse. These things are hard and challenging. And I continue to learn and grow and gain skills and wisdom and all of that. And I’m just I’m really grateful that you as the listener are seeking to do that as well.

Ann Maree
Thank you. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Nate. Your wisdom is always so much appreciated. And thanks for helping our audience serve these women in crisis well.

Nate
Well, thank you for doing what you do Ann Maree, and it’s a joy to partner with you this way,

Ann Maree
Same hear.

That’s all for today. Our next season begins in May, when we will be talking with Michelle, a victim of domestic abuse, and specifically sexual abuse. Make sure to join us again as we explore how, despite sharing in Christ’s sufferings in a fallen world, we can be safe to hope. You can learn more about Dr. Brooks on his website Courage Christian Counseling.com. The links to Nate’s books are included in the show notes, and can also be found on Amazon. An additional link will be provided to access Nate’s and Ann Maree’s Biblical Counseling Coalition two part series on the whole person care, ‘Emotional Abuse Is The Abuse Of A Person’ and ‘Emotional Abuse Harms The Body Too’. You can also find additional articles on this website, including Nate’s ‘The story of David and Whom?’ Nate will begin training and counseling at his new home church in Youngsville, North Carolina beginning this summer when he starts his new position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as the Associate Professor of counseling. More information can be found on the church website in the show notes. Nate’s wife Kate serves with Esther Smith, author of ‘A Still And Quiet Mind’, as a support group leader at Esther’s practice, Christian Trauma Counseling. For anyone concerned about adult clergy sexual abuse and looking for more information, go to the Clergy Sexual Misconduct website link in our show notes.

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Dr. Brooks website www.couragechristiancounseling.com. Links to Nate’s books Help! Our Sex Life Is Troubled By Past Abuse with Anna Mondal and Identifying Heart Transformation are included in the show notes, and can also be found on Amazon.

An additional link to access Nate’s and Ann Maree’s Biblical Counseling Coalition 2-part series on whole person care, Emotional Abuse Is the Abuse of the Person and Emotional Abuse Harms the Body Too. You can also find additional articles on this website, including Nate’s The Story of David and Whom?

Nate will be training and counseling at his new home church in Youngsville, North Carolina beginning this summer when he starts his new position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as the Associate Professor of Counseling. More information can be found on the church website in the show notes. Nate’s wife Kate serves with Esther Smith, author of A Still and Quiet Mind  as a support group leader at Esther’s practice, Christian Trauma Counseling.

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