A letter to Bob Wood regarding his teachings on sexual abuse counseling
posted by Rebecca
In March of 2013 I watched this video, a lecture of Bob Wood to a counseling class, called “Scriptural Principles for Counseling the Hurting.” Though the video was from the 1990s, it was still for sale in the BJU catalog in March of 2013. I then wrote the following letter to Mr. Wood about the video, sending a copy to Marshall Franklin, one of the vice presidents there. I never received a reply to the letter. I am publishing it here with only very minor changes for clarity.
March 2, 2013
Dear Dr. Wood,
I recently listened to “Scriptural Principles for Counseling the Abused,” a class taught by you c. 1990, which is available through the current ShowForth catalog.
Sir I would ask you to listen to that lecture again, now thirty years later, and try to see it through the eyes and hear it through the ears of the victims of rape and incest (you preferred to use less offensive terms for actions that are nothing but horrifically offensive). If you have the heart of love of Christ for the weak and helpless, I think you will be ashamed at some of the things you said thirty years ago. I think, if you have the heart of Christ, you will be as appalled at this lecture as I was.
You took that group of students through the change that needs to take place in abuse victims in what you called four areas of the soul: Reason, Imagination, Conscience, and Love.
I was dismayed to hear—even though you expounded at length about love from I Corinthians 13—that you yourself seemed to show no love in your description of your counseling of the victims. You never asked your listeners—many of whom I suppose were future pastors—to try to understand the terrors of rape and incest and grieve with the victims over their horrific experience, to empathize with them, to ache for them. I got the impression that you yourself had no empathy at all.
In the area of “reason” the only way you addressed the counseling of the abused was the victim saying to you “I want to know why this happened to me.” Instead of showing any empathy, you said, “I’ll tell you exactly why. It’s because that man was controlled by his flesh.” Sir, I would agree with this statement as a cold, hard, calculated fact, but it fails to see and respond to the deeper cry, “Who is God? Is He good? Where was He in this my hour of tragedy? How can I trust Him now when He allowed me to be so hurt then?” You ignored the need for empathy with this deep cry of the soul. How could a competent counselor do that?
You then compared the horrors of rape and incest to your sorrow over losing a friend that you loved, as you watched his body (his “throwaway part”) waste away to a hundred pounds. By implication, you compared your questioning of God at that time to the questioning of God experienced by rape and incest victims. Surely your experience was sad, but it was not horrific. It didn’t cause flashbacks and nightmares. It didn’t cause you to be afraid that you would never be able to trust men again, especially men of the church (since a number of these young women who would have come to you would have been raped by men who claimed to be models of Christianity). I thought that in your using of your own situation as an example, when it was not the same, could be seen to abuse victims as belittling their horror.
Also, the testimony of the man who ordered God to spare his infant daughter, who was granted his demand only to see his daughter go on to destroy her life and commit suicide at the age of 21—to use that testimony to say God always knows best so we should just accept His will in cases of rape and incest is, how can I put this politely, not at all helpful in the thinking of rape and incest victims. The implication is that if the girl didn’t just passively accept that massive evil of rape or incest, then she probably would have had something even worse happen to her. What kind of representation of God are you trying to give, sir? As you look back on it now, thirty years later, can you not see the damage you were causing in the thinking of your listeners?
In the area of “conscience” you said victims may or may not have sinned—they may feel guilty because they didn’t tell someone about their abuse. Is not telling someone a sin, really? Did you consider describing to your listeners what terrors abuse victims often endure because they want to tell about what’s being perpetrated on them but are afraid to? But no, that was only given a bare mention. (And there was no followup to exhort counselors to report crimes of child abuse.)
You also said that victims may feel guilty because someone else gets hurt. By “getting hurt,” of course you’re alluding to the perpetrator raping someone else, but in this entire lecture of almost an hour, the perpetrator appears to be a non-person to you. He doesn’t even figure in to your counseling. If a victim feels guilty because she didn’t tell someone or because a sibling is now being preyed upon and she feels powerless to stop it, is she guilty? You said, “Some of them have sinned and some of them have not. But you handle a guilty conscience always the same way. By confessing to God your sorrow for your failure and by not doing that same thing again.” I was absolutely aghast to hear this. She is supposed to confess her failure? She is supposed to stop doing what she was doing?
As your students were studiously taking notes on your lecture, I wondered how many of them were going to go out into the ministry to teach rape and incest victims that they needed to confess false failures that were not sins, and then afterward lecture them for sinning because they can’t get free of this false guilt.
Since you very emphatically taught that the body is the throwaway part of the person, I wondered—after I recovered from the shock—why you think prostitution is wrong. After all, the prostitute is only following through on treating her abused body as a throwaway. And didn’t Paul say–—to insert your terminology as a synonym for “body” in the Scripture—“Your throwaway part is the temple of the Holy Spirit”? And, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore honor God with your throwaway part.” Actually, it makes me sick to think of Paul talking about our bodies this way. If they are only throwaways, why doesn’t Bob Jones University allow all kinds of sexual immorality?
You said, “Even people confused and hurt can see that [the body is just a throwaway].” I’ll venture to say that it’s only because the victims are so deeply confused and deeply hurt that they would think that they were supposed to agree with you in such an appalling statement. Abuse victims who try to stuff their torment into the corner of their hearts because they’re told that they’re the ones who sinned by allowing Satan to get to the soul through the offense of the throwaway part will eventually be driven to despair. You probably know that this is why some abuse victims begin cutting. They’re trying to achieve through their throwaway part—which they now see as filthy and unredeemable, especially through teachings like this—the release of the pain in their soul.
Finally, in the last point, you said, “It’s very simple to teach the Biblical truth about love and begin to practice it.” Really? This is not a lifelong journey as God transforms us into the image of Christ? I marveled that I didn’t see you practicing the love you preached in your description of your counseling of victims. In your description of them, even in the mocking tone of voice you used when you mimicked their hypothetical words, “Me me me,” you showed an appalling lack of love.
You yourself should have shown that you suffer long (with words such as “these victims have been deeply traumatized”), that you are kind and not easily provoked ( with words such as “we speak gently to them and of them”), that you think no evil against them (with words such as “we will listen to their story without judging the truth or falsehood, but will allow the police and investigators to determine that”), that you will not be puffed up (with words such as “we know that we don’t always have all the answers, but God does”), that you grieve over the monstrous iniquity perpetrated against them, that you rejoice in the truth (with words such as “we help them report to the police if they choose to so that these crimes can be justly punished and truth will prevail”).
But no, in every instance you’re not telling these future counselors to be loving, you’re not representing yourself as being loving, you’re only talking about how the victim needs to get over her trauma and become a loving person. Of course this is ultimately the goal that we pray for in the lives of the traumatized, but it must be modeled first. You said “Love will judge well and entertain a good opinion before it will a bad opinion.” But you presented it as a requirement for the counselee rather than for the counselor.
You said, “You develop the ability to love as God has taught you to love by practicing what the Bible says love is, being unselfish and doing for others.” But this is not what Scripture teaches. We develop the ability to love by truly knowing the love of God (not just intellectually but experientially), by believing in Jesus Christ—not just for our initial salvation, but for our moment-by-moment walk—by crying out to Him in utter dependence on Him to make His truth real in our experience, by the transformation of His empowering grace. But what you’ve taught here is the concept of developing Christlikeness through outward actions only, the sanctification by works that never works but only leads to hypocrisy and despair and even rebellion.
Toward the end of this lecture, you made an astonishing statement that turned on its head some of the things you had said earlier: “The number one thing that gets sex offenders turned in is having a younger sibling in the family when the older one leaves the family. They [the abused one] could tolerate that thing [meaning the incest], they could tolerate that sorrow [we might better say horror], they could surrender to that fear, but the fear of having someone else come along behind them and suffer that sorrow becomes greater than they can bear. In reality that is an expression of love, one of the utmost expressions of love.”
This is what I’ve seen in the lives of victims. Though they may have many issues they’re still working through, though they may be, in the eyes of some, “messed up,” at least partly because of wrong teaching like yours, many of them have a God-given strength and a fierce love and protectiveness for those who are weaker than they. They have a desperate need to tell their story, not only because they simply want to be believed (which is a legitimate desire), but because they want to protect others. This is love. This, I might even say, is the love of Christ. This sounds completely different from the selfish whiners you portrayed abuse victims to be.
Again I ask you, sir, please listen to what you taught twenty years ago. Please renounce it publicly. Love is not puffed up and does not seek its own, but rejoices in the truth. I pray that you will rejoice in the truth and will patiently endure all things as you are justly criticized for these wrong teachings.
I am writing this as an open letter. I look forward to your response.