Full Text for Pastoral Theology and Practice- Volume 30 - Ethical Dilemmas in Pastoral Counseling (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY LUTHERAN PASTORAL THEOLOGY & PRACTICE LPTP-30 Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 www.captionfirst.com *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> ERIC: What about some of the ethical issues in pastoral care? Do I have a duty to report cases of abuse to local authorities, for example? What if a church member, or any person from the community for that matter, approaches me for absolution and then confesses a crime? I know there are other ethical dilemmas which must arise, too. What guidance can you offer to help prepare us to handle these as we ought? >> PROF. SENKBEIL: Great, Eric. It's important that the pastors be ethical. They uphold the standards of the profession. And certainly part and parcel of that would be to understand one's responsibilities both before the church and before the state. And, actually, I think that it would be quite helpful in addressing your question to go back to some fundamental issues regarding basic Lutheran understanding of who Christians are, that is, the doctrine of vocation. We live, as you know, according to our Lutheran doctrine, in two kingdoms at the same time´┐Ż-- god's kingdom of the left hand in which he rules by way of order and by ways of reason and through the state and through the levels and the orders of the society and government and also in the kingdom of the right hand where God rules by way of his word and through his sacraments. It is a ministry of grace within the church. It is a ministry of law within the state, that is, in terms of social order, in terms of public law. Now, the question you posed is a very specific circumstance. And it really places the pastor in a certain quandary because he has a conflict in his vocations. He is, to be sure, a citizen of the state. He is in obedience to the laws of the state. He certainly is also governed by the law of love in which he wants to do no harm to the neighbor. At the same time he holds the office of the public ministry within the kingdom of the right hand and his vocation as a shepherd of sheep. He has specific responsibilities. Now, it's interesting that our secular government here in the United States has, until this point, almost uniformally upheld the historic practice of pastoral confidentiality. And so, therefore, if a given conversation can be demonstrated to be of a spiritual nature, such as in the case of individual confession, that kind of conversation is excluded from inquiry by courts of law. I'm aware, of course, that there are exceptions to that general rule. But by -- in general, one can safely say that is the stated position of our government. One can also look within our own church body at a very helpful document. I think it was in the year 2001. A statement by our CTCR regarding the pastor/penetant privilege and a very helpful survey of the whole history of this practice and the unique nature of this conversation that takes place in just the circumstance that you suggested, namely, in the context of a confession. So in that document the general direction is clearly in the side of the fact of upholding this unique confessional seal; that is, that the pastor must under every circumstance not divulge sins that are confessed within the context of that confession. In fact, if you remember in the ordination rite that's exactly the words that are used. In inquiring of the candidate for the office of the ministry, "Will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?" And I certainly would hope that no pastor would have a small asterisk to that, unless in certain circumstances. Now, having said that as a general principle, let me address in particular that circumstance you talked about. If an individual in the context of pastoral care, in this case individual confession, confesses genuine sorrow and contrition over a sin which is also a crime in the area of the state and the laws of the state, part of his contrition would certainly be that he would seek to make restitution or in this case to face the consequences of his crime. Part of the rite of confession, after all, is the indication on the part of the penetant that he not only is sorry for his sin but that he wants to do better. This, again, is not a condition of the absolution, the forgiveness of sins, but is rather a proper preparation to receive that. And so, therefore, it's not by his contrition that he earns forgiveness, but it's rather by contrition that he acknowledges his sin and seeks the help which only that Gospel of forgiveness can give. So, in other words, as part of your exhortation, encouragement to that person would be to lead him to seek the authorities of the state and to be responsible to them. You, yourself, in your office of pastor are not his accuser. Nor are you a policeman, nor are you a judge. But God has instituted those authorities in our society who have those specific roles. And, therefore, it's their responsibility to see to it that those laws are upheld and that justice is done, if you will. Your vocation is to see that before God, as the fathers used to say "corum deo," in the presence of God, this sinner, contrite as he is, is absolved and stands fully clothed in the righteousness of God even as he or she might face earthly consequences for his actions. I hope that helps. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***