The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Thank you for the questions—even the pointed ones. For the record, I do think they are most reasonable questions. But the way we answer questions like this reveals, as few other things can, the vast distance between a biblical approach to counseling victims and a secular approach. It is not that the difference is that they tend to offer different “bits” of counsel here or there, but rather that they are cities built on top of different tectonic plates.
Your questions had to do with the propriety of me corresponding with your father, thus causing you to wonder “whose side” I was on. Before getting to the question of “sides,” let me just say that I was thoroughly convinced—before our very first exchange of letters—that you are the one telling the truth about this whole matter, and that your father is tangled up in a web of lies, told first to himself and after that to the world. He is in prison for his crimes, and this is right where he ought to be. He received a full and fair trial, he had every opportunity to answer the charges against him, and he was duly convicted and sentenced. I have talked with your aunt and uncle extensively about all of this, reviewed the court documents and the public reporting of the trial, and it is very plain that you have been the brave and honest one, and he continues to be dishonest and cowardly. All the biblical criteria for determining a just sentence for a man like him have been met.
And so I am certainly on your side—but there is an important distinction. It is not the same way an attorney would be on your side. Let me explain. One of the reasons why I am dubious about our common acceptance of “paid counseling” is that it tends to set up in people’s minds the idea of professional/client relationship, as you have when you engage an attorney. An attorney is hired to represent his client’s interests in a particular dispute, and one of the reasons this can work fairly well is that the other party usually has an attorney as well. We have institutionalized, via this system, the practice of hearing the best case both sides of a dispute can make (Prov. 18:17). We trust the system, and are okay with each attorney doing his part.
But this is not the case in counseling snarls. When I am counseling someone, as a minister it is my task to represent Christ in the situation, as best I can, and not represent one party or the other. If Mr. and Mrs. Murphy have a dispute and come in to see me (or the Smiths, or the Jones), I do not pick which one of them is my client. In the dispute, I might point out that she is in the right, but not because she hired me to make that case. I would say this because they laid out the problem with me, and I compared the situation to the teaching of Scripture (which is the authoritative voice of Christ), which then directed us all to the solution. I am doing this because it is my task to represent the truth of Scripture, and Christ is that truth.
In other words, I have been encouraging you because it is obvious that you are telling the truth. I am not encouraging you because your payments are part of my income stream. I am not encouraging you because your story happens to reinforce my partisan agenda. I am not encouraging you because you are living with some old friends of mine.
You are telling the truth because you are telling the truth, which has been independently confirmed. You are not telling the truth simply because the trial and conviction of your father fits in with the feminist condemnation of the patriarchy. Your story is one in which you really are the victim, but it is crucial that we give it credence because it is true—and not simply because it is a victim story.
I have a pastor friend in another state who has had to deal with a different kind of horror story in his congregation. A young girl accused her brother of molesting her, and he was arrested, tried and convicted, and is now in the penitentiary. He has been there for two years now. His sister was just recently converted, and as a result recently confessed that her accusations against her brother had been false. The sister had the compelling victim story, but her brother was the actual victim. So anyone who says things like “women never lie about rape” is playing politics—and a pastoral counselor who is seeking to represent Christ in a tangled situation must never play politics. You never believe one side or the other “just because.”
Now this brings me back to my correspondence with your father. With all this as the backdrop, simply communicating with him does not mean that I am on his side. I am on the side of the truth, and he is plainly lying. But one of the things that pastors are called to do is to help people confront the lies they tell themselves. The issue is not whether I am communicating with him, but rather what I am saying.
The situation you are in would be much easier—would it not?—if your father were to make a full and complete confession, with no more deceit and evasion. Now of course this would bring our previously discussed question of transacted forgiveness front and center, and that really would bring its own difficulties. But it would also bring the great relief of having your father say, “My daughter told the truth. She was the righteous one in this, and I was the wicked one. My sentence was just.”
A wise employer once fired an employee who had offered to steal something for him. He said that an employee who would steal for me would steal from me. This is real wisdom. And a “friend” who would lie for you is a friend who would lie about you. The thing that kept you in bondage for those years was a network of lies. Those lies, and any other lies, are never your friend. The truth is your friend, and it is the truth that has delivered you from an awful situation.
I hope this helps, but if it doesn’t feel free to follow it up with more questions.
Cordially in Christ,