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August 21, 2005

The Therapeutic Gospel

Douglas Corkhill on January 8, 2008 02:01 AM EST writes:
Having read this article and your writing in Touchstone Magazine "Spiritual Morphine", I believe the Episcopal Church got it right. You want to attack anyone you don't agree with in favor of your view of what religion should be. Definitely not Christ inspired. I think more than therapy you need an anger management course, and a class in humility that your high powered degree may not have taught you about life.
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HQ on July 8, 2006 12:57 AM EST writes:
I feel that psychoanalysis is questionable as a modality because of criticisms from Karl Popper and others about its scientific validity. Nonetheless I dont find a nonChristian criterion as offensive for deciding wether someone who will be in a position of responsibility esp. if its a criterion for determining health. I believe that the episcopal church may be reacting to a history of having people in authority with major issues displaying those issues in an unhealthy manner. It may be harsh and a difficult process but from a practical point of view would you rather place the stress on one person becoming ordained and wanting almost perfection or would you rather have someone there who has issues and have many people who depend on that person have issues? All in all i consider the fact that if a less questionable form of therapy were to be used there would be nothing wrong with it at all. That being said I dont mean to criticize the author as I feel the author did what was best for her
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Gary Manning on November 30, 2005 05:45 PM EST writes:
From an Episcopal priest

The "process" we're repeatedly told to trust is not particularly uniform. While the "canons" (rules) of ECUSA provide the official benchmarks leading towards ordination, the way in which the path between those benchmarks is blazed varies from diocese to diocese. My hunch is that, in dioceses that are "larger" (more communicants, more congregations, etc.), the process is more complex because there's a greater number of applicants, while in "smaller" dioceses the process is more streamlined. Nonetheless, this is a sad story...and yet another anecdote of how my beloved church seems to be completely unaware of itself. I take comfort in the fact that the author was persistent enough in following her call that she didn't let denominational short-sightedness stand in her way. Sounds to me as though the PCUSA will be blessed with a clergyperson whose fierce patience and inner resolve will serve her Lord and her new church well. Blessings to you in your ministry. Peace!
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Lesley on November 22, 2005 02:47 PM EST writes:
A friend sent me this article today. I went through the wringer this summer with the psych eval and have taken some self-imposed time off to decide if I really am called to the priesthood. I have to ask though -- did you go to NECC? I would be willing to bet my next paycheck you went to that center, as I did. I am still debating whether to file charges against that center.
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JJO'S(tm) on September 21, 2005 03:32 PM EST writes:
Newark?

I merely have to ask—did this happen in the Diocese of Newark? I've heard horror stories similar to this. A beloved priest was initially told that he was "psychologically unfit" for ministry because, and I quote him, "He talked about Church and Jesus throughout the entire thing." He's now rector of one of the few parishes in the Diocese of Newark that's actually *growing* instead of *dying*.

I know you probably didn't wish to intentionally out the particular diocese...but it would not surprise me if this was the case with Newark.

-j
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Michael Gail on September 8, 2005 08:51 PM EST writes:
Unfortunately, I have had a similar problem in The United Methodist Church. I met with my District Committee today, and they all but told me that they would not recommend me to the Conference Committee unless I went to a therapist. This, of course, was based on the standard psychological exams (with very Freudian interpretation) and a half-hour interview with people who did not know me. My District Superintendent told me that part of joining and Order meant being willing to comply with the "will of the Order." If God is supposed to be in this process, why did I not once hear about the will of God??
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Kristina Robb-Dover on September 5, 2005 07:55 PM EST writes:
My differences with Mr. White are similar to the ones I expressed in response to Mr. Messer's comments. Like Mr. Messer, Mr. White puts more faith in "the process" than I can muster- which may explain why they're still Episcopalian and I'm not!

In response to Mr. White's closing question, "Does anyone truly believe that everyone is fit for ordained ministry?": In answer, I certainly do not. I do believe, however, that the Episcopal Church's discernment process is about discerning whether one is called to ordained ministry in, specifically, the Episcopal Church (as opposed to other denominations). I discovered, through self-reflection, prayer, and the input of those I respect, that while I am called to ordained ministry, it is not to ministry in the Episcopal Church.

One additional note of clarification: the Diocesan-appointed psychologist- (not the Commission, as Mr. White inferred)- recommends therapy to over 98 percent of the people she sees.

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Stephen White on September 5, 2005 10:00 AM EST writes:
A few facts might help readers evaluate this essay.

I have been a member of the commission on Ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey for five years. I cannot comment on this author’s experiences specifically, but I can say a few things in general about the process in this diocese.

First, I have seen many young people come through the process without a hitch. Several of them are now ordained and others are still in seminary.

I can think of two recent cases of people who have been asked to wait a year, have done the work they were asked to do – therapeutic or otherwise – and have grown enormously as a result. Each of these people acknowledged that they did not like the decision that had been made but they came to realize that it was the right one for them and thanked us. Some may say “Well, of course they said that – they had to “brown nose” and play the game to get through.” I can only respond that these two people were as sincere as could be in thanking us.

The statement by the author “Apparently 98.5 percent of those tested by my Freudian inquisitor are prescribed therapy for various issues.’” does not square with my experience on this Commission. A more accurate figure would be about 25%.

A thoughtful reader will realize that this author –and anyone who has had a negative experience of the ordination process – only gives her version of a very complex story and that those with alternative versions are constrained from responding with specific facts.

I want to say a word in response to the author’s assertion that the process in the Diocese of New Jersey has been “hijacked” by a therapist. The fact is that decisions of the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey are based on interviews of the person by the Commission and our direct experiences of that person. The Commission does not have access to the psychological report for any candidate and the results are never discussed – even in general terms – with the Commission. Only the Bishop has that information. The Commission makes its recommendation to the Bishop independently of the psychological report and in almost all cases it coincides with the Bishop’s final decision.

You would not know it from this essay or from most of the comments it received, but the fact is that there are those who actually have a pretty easy time going through the process. These are the people who are willing to engage in some prayerful and thoughtful self-examination. This does not mean that only the compliant get through the process and the resistant do not; far from it. But the church knows from bitter experience that it is healthiest when its priests have the capacity for self examination.

On a personal note I can that say it is always – always! – heartbreaking when the Commission feels compelled to vote to delay or turn down a person seeking ordination. When someone feels called to the priesthood it is not much of a comfort to be told that every baptized person can exercise a ministry in the church – most without being ordained. I myself, and most others on the Commission, have shed tears on those rare – yes rare – occasions when we have had to say “wait” or, worse yet “no” when the candidate expects to be told “yes.”

The Diocese of New Jersey has worked very hard in the last several years to streamline and simplify the process toward ordination. Does anyone truly believe that everyone is fit for ordained ministry? And if not, then how are we do discern who is and who is not? Such discernment could never be perfect, for we are only humans trying to do God’s work as best we can. But I can say that the process in this Diocese works as well as anyone could expect.
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john p on August 31, 2005 07:24 PM EST writes:
the process

the episcopal church has been in denial about the process for years. I went through 4 bishops in five years with each having his own little way of being involved in the process. my mentor kept saying "pay the ren.t" it became such an unholy process that all of the joy of ministry was sucked out of me.I left teh denomination after 40 years and now am very happy in a non-episcopal environment in which i am thriving. the Episcopal church survives due to its maintaing the "iron rule of oligarchy." This is a dictim that states that those within an organizational hierachy will go against the will of the majority to maintain the organization.The hubris of newly elected bishops as they attempt to become shephards is cruel and un-Christian. The uneducated lay people on the COMs are unexcuseably ignorant and their votes determine your path and call.
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Kristina Robb-Dover on August 31, 2005 02:32 PM EST writes:
Chuck: Now I remember you. Thanks for the reminder.

Regarding your comment: I am not sure whether or not God is "in the process," as you put it. I am more sure that God reveals God's Self in Scripture. Our irresolvable differences may chalk up to the fact that you're taking a more Catholic view, ceding as much authority to church as processes as to the Word of God, whereas my more Reformed sensibilities will not let me do that. Fortunately, we don't have to agree, and the church is big enough to accommodate our differences!

Sarah: Thanks for your comments. Points well-taken. I don't know if my gender was a factor in my situation, but I've heard similar stories shared by other women.
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Chuck Messer on August 30, 2005 02:04 PM EST writes:
I was an Anglican Studies student at Sewanee in the 2001-02 year. After rereading the article and thinking about what I said, and reflecting on my own tumultious ordination process (which I was told to wait a year after seminary and seek some therapy before ordination)I still stand by my opinion. God is in the process. God works through "non-Christian" therapists for those of us entering into the ordained ministry. The article left a bad taste in my mouth.
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Sarah on August 26, 2005 02:54 PM EST writes:
non-Christian, unchurched therapist

Kristian,
I would go even further than requiring a Christian therapist and specify that the therapist should have similar view of the bible as held by the denomination. My therapist was an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and I am female and divorced. But someone from the presbytery says he has agreed not to discriminate, so it's okay. It wasn't okay for me. This man has a life long participation (church and college education) in a faith community whose statement of faith reads "...the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
Mission Presbytery doesn't discriminate, but hires someone to do it for them. I had some harsh words about his motivation for numerous statements in the report and he removing the most offending statements. I could have continued, but I choose to walk away from this ugly mess, because I do believe I was not called to serve the Presbyterian church. Have you noticed how many women have "unspecified" issues?
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S on August 26, 2005 01:35 PM EST writes:
Wondering - was this the diocese of NJ or diocese of Newark>
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Kristina on August 26, 2005 12:57 PM EST writes:
clarifications- sour grapes

Chuck-
What is your last name: I don't believe I recall when/if we met at Sewanee. Thank you for your critique. Unfortunately, I fear that you may have misunderstood my main point: I firmly support the church's duty to discern corporately whether an individual is called (I've been unanimously forwarded on to ordination by two discernment committees now, as a matter of fact); however, I vehemently reject the notion that the church should allow a non-Christian, unchurched therapist to hijack the process. If this is the point on which we really disgree, then we can chat a little more....

Julia: thanks for your charity, and for understanding how ludicrous the "Captain Hook/Hobbit" diagnosis was! :)
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Julia on August 26, 2005 12:38 PM EST writes:
Chuck M: I don't know Robb-Dover, but "sour grapes" didn't occur to me as I read her piece. We're talking about playing a childhood tickling game and reading "The Hobbitt" as the basis for a diagnosis of "slightly repressed anger and sexuality issues” and a prescription of " a couple years of therapy" with a "seasoned male therapist." I think the writer might be forgiven if she didn't write a puff piece about a process that worked for you.
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Chuck M on August 26, 2005 12:08 PM EST writes:
I am a graduate of Sewanee and a priest in the Episcopal Church. I knew Ms. Robb-Dover for a short time while at Sewanee. I find her accusations of the process for ordination a bit of sour grapes. By SUBMITTING yourself to this process you and the church partner in the discernment process. Ms Robb-Dover surely should understand that it is within community that those who wish to serve in Christ's Church as ordained persons test their call. The process is not perfect. The process is extermely difficult. In essence you are putting your heart's desire in the hands of other people. But the process works. There is a reason for the hurdles to jump. I can appreciate Ms. Robb-Dover's epxerience, and can sypathize with her, but while she knocks the Episcopal Church for it's shortcomings and ordination process maybe she should do some navel gazing as well.
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Jack Stephens on August 26, 2005 12:14 AM EST writes:
Holy Cow!! I'm in the discernment process right now (in California, I still need to finish college). If I ever sense this happening to me you bet I'm following in the authors footsteps and going Catholic or Methodist. Yikes!
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John D. spalding on August 24, 2005 04:09 PM EST writes:
The "Salty Vicar" has written a great blog about Kristina's artcle, and he, too, is getting some interesting responses in his comments. For example:

"No one likes the process. Some dioceses are better than others. Some are downright abusive. When we add more hoops to the process, the well connected, the lucky, and the stubborn seem to be the ones most able to get through. Not all of them are fit candidates for ordained ministry. Many are. Teaching in a seminary, I can tell you that the vast majority of seminarians I see are faithful people with considerable gifts for ordained ministry. As a group, they will do at least as well as any other generation in doing God's work. They will have some of the same problems as any other generation of clergy, and some will overcome these problems better than others..."

Read more at:
http://saltyvicar.typepad.com/salt/2005/08/ordination.html#comments
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Cari P. on August 24, 2005 11:49 AM EST writes:
KUDOS!

Kristina, you couldn't have said it better! I just had a "negotiating" discussion yesterday with the woman who wrote up my psych. eval. summary, and realized that your husband Paul's analogy is true--it's like going to the mechanic to have a basic check-up on your car, and they find way more "wrong" with it than you imagined. It costs money and time, and ultimately may not "fix" much! I'm praying my committee on preparation for ministry takes the report with a grain of salt, evalating my readiness for ministry primarily by the Holy Spirit's leading, and their corporate understanding of me as a person. All the best to you in Atlanta, girl! I hope that even in the PC(USA), you will continue to be a voice of constructive critique and truth. Blessings, Cari
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Kristina Robb-Dover on August 23, 2005 04:16 PM EST writes:
All of these remarks have been edifying. Thank you!

To Rich: I'm not sure what the real profit would be of telling the therapist what they'd want to hear- mainly, because if they're exclusively wearing the 'therapeutic lenses,' literally every juicy detail has the potential to lend support to some psycho-babble theory.

St. Augustine believed that faith seeks understanding, that is, that all knowledge springs from some sort of faith commitment. In a sense, my Freudian interlocutor had faith, too, just faith in something else, and that faith fostered her own (albeit fallacious) interpretation of reality.
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Steve on August 23, 2005 02:47 PM EST writes:
3 years of therapy

The story is compelling. Anyone who can write this well--personality disorder or not--will make a good minister in my book.

It took me three years of therapy to discover that my church was the problem. I wonder what would have happened had I switched demoninations. (I should really learn to spell. Nah.)
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Matthew on August 23, 2005 12:28 PM EST writes:
I loved this piece. In particular the reference to the high altar of psychotherapy. While I do approve of some kind of psychological screen for the sake of weeding out people with major personality disorders, the process we are told to trust too often takes over. There is a balance to be struck. Ordination is not for just anyone with a wild hair up their ass. But as a mainline pastor I recognize how denominational bureaucracy that is supposed to serve the church is too often an unwieldy, self-serving stumbling block to many.
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Rich on August 23, 2005 11:57 AM EST writes:
A few minister friends have told me that to get through the ordination process you just have to fake it sometimes--tell those who give you the thumbs up or thumbs down what they want to hear. I wonder to what extent that happens in the psychological/therapy component. Anyone know?
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Recovering-from-Div-School on August 23, 2005 09:12 AM EST writes:
On the other hand...

I'm sensitive to the "worship" of the therapeutic and how pervasive that has become.

However, I tend to think some denominations err more toward "loosey goosey."

Take in point a former Divinity school chum who sported some several dozen "multiple personalities." The experience on our dorm floor included holding a, errr, birthday party for one of her personalities, a 4 year-old "inner child."

Years later, I learned that this individual did in fact go on to be ordained in a major denomination.

Perhaps loads of therapy did her some good and she was able to become a productive and capable clergy. Or, perhaps these difficulties were glossed over, because no one wanted to deal with them! My suspicion is that the latter was the case, but who knows.

Additionally, I'm aware of a well-known theological institution that now glosses over whether a student has earned a BA, crediting instead, "life experience."

Standards? No wonder the profession has lost credibility
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Sarah on August 23, 2005 06:26 AM EST writes:
If the Episcopalians gave her a worse time than the Presbyterians, it's only because she gave them first crack at it. I had the same experience with the Presbyterians and am also switching denominations. It's amazing that the same people that decry the Patriot act as unreasonable will engage in the same abuses in the name of protection. Christian institutions engage in some very un-Christian like behavior. I like Kelley's comment about the house churches.
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Kelley V. on August 22, 2005 01:44 PM EST writes:
Why stay in a denomination?

I am hearing these stories more and more thanks to the web. Why would you stay within the confines of a denomination? Unless developing a quick income is a priority, starting a house church is a brilliant solution. My wife had a hundred people coming regularly to a home Bible study before we were ordained by ambush by several ministers who had visited our little work. I have great respect for both the denominations you note in your article, but when there is a calling on your life, sometimes you have to take it by force. Great writing---thanks.
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Julia M. on August 22, 2005 12:17 PM EST writes:
What a wild experience. It sounds like the Church, or at least this writer's diocese, really hammers priests into what it wants them to be. What humiliation. I don't see how you could go through that process and come out feeling very good about yourself.
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