When I became acquainted with them, one could almost say they were at the peak of their ministries. They were respected authors. Even though each had their own respective ministries they were close friends and partners in the ministry. They worked together. They did seminars together, they went to the same church together. They had thousands of people on their mailing lists, buying their books from all over the world. They would hold these week long conferences where almost 1,000 people would come and absorb their mature wisdom on coming out of relational brokenness, codependency, homosexual and lesbian behaviors, sexual and relational addictions, etc. They would each speak several lectures during the conferences. They were the archetypes of mature, seasoned Christian spiritual guides helping those who were struggling with relational brokenness. They had blurbs on the back of their books from respected authors like Os Guinness, Dallas Willard, Paul Vitz, and Andy Comiskey.
At these week long conferences, there were book tables filled with all kinds of books dealing with relational brokenness, addictions, boundaries, codependency and then the author's own books. I had gone to three of the conferences in consecutive years.
The fourth year I went, one of them was missing. He was nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, the book table where hundreds of his books would be waiting for eager buyers during the conference was now filled with other books. In fact, his books were nowhere to be seen at any table. What happened? Where was he?
I have some reflections on the sad story of Leanne Payne and Mario Bergner.
Leanne Payne, author of several books including Listening Prayer, The Healing Presence, and The Broken Image and Mario Bergner, author of Setting Love in Order were friends, partners in the Gospel, working side by side with each other for over a decade or more. In her book Listening Prayer, Payne acknowledges among others, thanks Bergner "besides praying for me and with me, have lifted heavy loads from my shoulders and encouraged me in every conceivable way." In his book, Mario dedicates it to two women, one of them being Payne, "whose love for Jesus and love for me have made me a better man."
Having attended the same church as Bergner and Payne did the previous year, I came into the conference where Bergner was MIA knowing why he wouldn't be there. I could hear though, the chatter amongst some of the conference attenders (people who had come previous years) wondering why Bergner wasn't present this year.
Bergner's absence would have been baffling for any intelligent Christian who had seen them work together in conferences from year to year and read their books. They were so close in their philosophy of ministry, in their philosophy of healing prayer. If you took one step back from their immediate sub-culture, one could see how close they were. If you took a couple of steps further back, as it were, one would couldn't imagine any closer team doing ministry together than Bergner and Payne.
It was difficult for the church to handle the sudden split in differences between Payne and Bergner. It shaped me. It helped me to see psychology in a much different light--especially when Christians even "seasoned" (Dallas Willard's description of Payne) Christians who are mentoring and teaching others about relational brokenness apply psychological insight into another brother and sister in Christ.
I did not have an insider's view as to why they split. I am sure both of them would appeal to their understanding of psychological insight as to why it was for the good that both of them separate.
They both continued their ministries separately. But there were many deeply troubling things for these veteran mentors over relational brokenness in their own relational brokenness. Bergner's wisdom from years earlier, which Payne supported was nowhere to be found in the conference. Payne's conferences address homosexual issues--and in Payne's Foreword in Bergner's book she writes "There is not a book that better describes (and from the standpoint of one who has suffered intense confusion) what it means to come out of denial about what in fact one's real problems are--nor about how one's defenses against evil and deprivation contribute to broken sexuality and development as a homosexual." But after their split, that book was nowhere to be found on any book table in that conference--when in previous years hundreds of them were stacked on tables. There's been no documented, explicit sin between done by Bergner for his presence to be eviscerated--nor any documented sin on Payne's behalf--but apparently Payne's psychological interpretation of their "differences" caused her to ban Bergner's wisdom and presence from the book table.
Bergner's presence, even though he was ordained, and still ministering, still preaching, still leading others, was "unsafe" and "unhealthy" in Payne's world of psychological interpretation. How else could one interpret such black and white contrasts from the previous ten years to this conference where he was absent? Where was healing prayer for this relational brokenness? And yet there had to have been a couple of hundred therapists on hand, drinking up Payne's wisdom on how to heal relational brokenness.
I have not kept up with the Payne/Bergner split. That split helped me to see flaws when Christians bank too much on the therapeutic culture to be their wisdom. "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' (Dan inserts: or 'I follow Payne,' or 'I follow Bergner,') or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Sure, there were other issues here, pride, egos, etc. but at the heart of this was psychological interpretation.
Here's an interesting point when you build and cultivate a presence of fear in the therapeutic culture concerning relationships. My subject heading on this post is actually derived from a subtitle taken from one of Payne's students who also wrote a book: Sheep in Wolves' Clothing: How Unseen Need Destroys Friendship and Community and What to Do about it. This book was written several years prior to the Payne/Bergner split. Indeed, in the Acknowledgments section of the book she writes "Special thanks are also due to Rev. Mario Bergner for the way he tells his story at Pastoral Care Ministry Schools (this week long conference I mentioned earlier). His example of honesty has inspired courage in me--first to write out my story truthfully in the presence of God, and then share it publicly."
According to McIntyre's psychological world, one of the biggest issues of sin and pride in our lives is "unresolved transferences." When there are unresolved transferences, one of the biggest fruits involves, ironically, factiousness. She observes, "Sometimes ministers are the ones transferring onto others...Because their position lends them power and authority, their transferences will often go unchallenged. Obviously this is extraordinarily harmful to the person who is the object of the transference, who is often compelled to leave the church...Perhaps the most common scenario of this occurrence happens when male pastors transfer onto women in their congregations." She talks about "Others reported the loss of relationships with friends, family, and ministry partners who had been stealthily drawn" into transferences.
One of McIntyre's tidbits of advice is if you "see" these unresolved transferences begin building stronger and higher boundaries to protect oneself against unresolved transferences.
Since this split happened in church--the fruit of it was "public." Interestingly, the women in Payne's closest circle left the church with her, including McIntyre. I will not go into detail how they left the church. That's another sad story for another post, another time.
From their psychological world, using their own language, one would have to say that what destroyed this friendship and brought deep pain and hurt in their community was their ultimate inability to deal with transferences and counter-transferences between each other.
There are particular schools of psychological theory which inspire Christians to always be looking under the surface of another's behavior and interpreting it according to unconscious forces of transference, etc. These same schools, if you listen very long to them, cultivate a presence of fear in their psychological view of transference, addiction, codependency, etc. Christians who are faithful but not perfect become "dangerous" and "unsafe." This happens with people in the pew, and as the Payne/Bergner split shows, it happens among mature Christian leaders. Christians exhibiting certain behaviors are labeled "dangerous" or "unsafe," Pay attention to what people mean when they talk about "healthy" and "unhealthy" descriptions of behaviors. If you listen long to the psychological theory, the theory becomes the be all and end all of how to view relationships. Before long, several choices Christ made and the Apostles made would be labeled "unhealthy" and are--by secular psychologists!!!!!
This story inspired me to rethink the cultural interpretations of transference and counter-transference.
Pay attention to psychological projections about your unconscious realm and anything anyone identifies as your being in "transference." It could be their own counter-transference. Worse yet, and powerfully more subtle to detect, it could be a collective sub-culture's projection or counter-transference onto you. A behavior could be a "splinter" in the outward appearance but the interpretation behind that splinter--the unconscious realm--could be a projected and huge log (Matt.7:1-3)--asserted with robust psychological authority. Hence this deep need for separation and high walls between "faithful" Christian brothers and sisters.
This could fall on racial, gender, or other issues. The unconscious realm is a mystery from many angles. Could it be that we have suffered from many divorces and church splits and losses of friendship over our entrenched views of psychological interpretations? The Payne/Bergner split opens the door for such possibility. Perhaps humility over our individual and collective psychological interpretations of transferences and counter-transferences would preserve some marriages, communities and friendships.
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but be united in the same mind and same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).