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017 Interview with Debbie Dewart {Transcript}

About This Transcript

This interview was recorded live on-site at the 2016 IBCD Summer Institute entitled Disordered Desires: Bringing Grace to Modern Sexuality. Our guest Debbie Dewart spoke at the conference on effectively ministering in a world with a rapidly changing legal landscape. In this episode host David Wojnicki talks with Debbie about her choice to pursue both law and seminary degrees, including how those two worlds overlap in her work as an attorney writing briefs for the Supreme Court. They also discuss the need for churches to be aware of various laws and how they can work to protect themselves and their ministries from possible litigation.

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David Wojnicki:
Welcome to The IBCD Care and Discipleship Podcast. My name is David Wojnicki, I serve on the advisory board here with IBCD and am privileged to be a pastor at Valley Center Community Church. With me today as part of the Summer Institute 2016 is Deborah Dewart. Deborah, it is so good to have you with us, thanks for being here.

Debbie Dewart:
Thank you, thank you.

David Wojnicki:
For those of you that don’t know, let me just give a little bit of a background, and then I got a question for you. Deborah, you went to Westminster Theological Seminary, got your training there.

Debbie Dewart:
That’s correct.

David Wojnicki:
Then you went on to become an attorney as well, so …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
Some more education. Here’s my first question, it’s not every day I get to talk to somebody who’s a biblical counselor and an attorney, so I don’t know how long that story might be, but share with us. How did that come about? How did you go from seminary, to then being an attorney, to then working with biblical counseling? Share with us a little bit about how that came to be.

Debbie Dewart:
I’m actually a former psychologized counselee.

David Wojnicki:
Okay.

Debbie Dewart:
In the late 80s, I saw a psychologist leave her profession and go into ministry. I heard her make a comment about how the psychology that you need to learn to get a license is diametrically opposed to the Bible, and I had never thought about that before, but I knew psychology wasn’t working. I knew I had to explore this issue, so I began to read. That reading eventually led me to Jay Adams books, and those books were just resonated with me, helped me tremendously, even though they were for counselors …

David Wojnicki:
Yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
I could apply them.

David Wojnicki:
Absolutely.

Debbie Dewart:
I saw CCEF in San Diego, and that wasn’t too far away, I lived in Orange County, California at the time. I started taking some of there classes. One of the classes had an assignment to write a critique of a Christian psychologist, and a critique of a secular psychologist. When I had to put it down in black and white on paper, it helped straighten out my own thinking. I got on a roll, and the result is now a website, it’s christiandiscernment.com. Anyway, a lot of those classes were held at the seminary, at Westminster Seminary. I was hanging around the seminary all the time talking to people, doing research in the bookstore on the floor, instead of the library, and picking up brochures. Next thing you know, I thought, “I need to enroll.”

David Wojnicki:
Wow.

Debbie Dewart:
If I’m going to write these critiques, I need to have the same level of theological training as the Christian psychologists who are taking Greek, and Hebrew words, and making them mean things they don’t mean in English. I went to seminary for 6 years and took everything I possibly could. Meanwhile, as I was writing these publications, and sending them out to people, occasionally I would get a request from a prisoner. There was a prisoner in Wisconsin who read some of my stuff and wrote me a letter that just blew me away. He had been told that if he ever wanted to get out of prison on parole, he would have to go through some psychological counseling program, which he realized was un-biblical. Here’s a guy in prison that realizes that psychology is un-biblical. He said, “If Jesus could go to the cross and die for my sins, then I would rather spend the rest of my life in prison than compromise His word,” and I, “wow,” I mean if only we had more testimonies like that. That got the wheels turning because he also mentioned the first amendment and said, “There must be a first amendment challenge here,” and he quoted the Wisconsin constitution about the right to worship God.

David Wojnicki:
Wow.

Debbie Dewart:
A little preview of what I would be doing as a lawyer.

David Wojnicki:
Yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
When I finished seminary in the fall, I enrolled in law school.

David Wojnicki:
Were you a glutton for punishment?

Debbie Dewart:
I guess so. The kind of thinking that you have to do …

David Wojnicki:
Right, true.

Debbie Dewart:
For seminary and for law school are very similar. Actually seminary was much more work than law school.

David Wojnicki:
Shh, don’t tell anybody.

Debbie Dewart:
I won’t. I loved both of them, and they both came to me naturally, and going to seminary, it was just such a blessing, even though it was hard work …

David Wojnicki:
Right.

Debbie Dewart:
I like intellectual work …

David Wojnicki:
Yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
Every class was just personally a blessing, and it was a blessing to be around all these Christian people. Even the classes that weren’t counseling classes, I could see them through a counseling lens, and how they applied.

David Wojnicki:
When you graduated then law school, so now you have your seminary degree …

Debbie Dewart:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

David Wojnicki:
You have your law degree. How has God been using you, and using those two things since that time in your life, what kind of ministry opportunities has God been doing?

Debbie Dewart:
Well there are a couple of things. I mean besides the publications that I just mentioned, one thing that I started doing when I was going to seminary is ministry with young children, so I’ve kind of got more than one hat that I wear here. The writing, the law, and a music ministry to kids. I learn ventriloquism, and started to write songs, and did volunteer work with abused children, and I have a little rabbit that sings. That has grown over the years, and that’s something that I use my seminary training there to … For ministry to young children. That actually ties in with the legal work that I do, because … Well, the ministry ties it all together, but we have a lot of challenges in our country right now, as you know, from just turning on the news, and we need to reach the younger generation. That’s kind of how it ties together. One of my law professors formed a nonprofit corporation, and I got started writing these briefs, friend of the court briefs, on constitutional issues, first amendment issues, religious liberty, and things like that, and that’s become so vitally important. Only God knew how important that was going to be when I started that. This law professor started me writing in the Supreme Court, and I’ve been working my way down ever since.

David Wojnicki:
Wow. It’s a very unique mix the way that God has pulled those things together in you, in one person, but so very timely right now. There’s a number of avenues, of questions I’d like to ask. I mean I got my …

Debbie Dewart:
Okay.

David Wojnicki:
Pastor hat, I got my biblical counselor hat, I could just have my Christian hat. Let me just kind of start with a … Maybe with a broader one. When you see kind of the lay of the land right now, as far as law is concerned within our country, what are some of the things that you’re encouraging churches, and specifically their leadership, just saying, “Here are the things that you need to be aware of.” I want to come back to what things do biblical counselors need to be aware of legally, but let’s first just talk about the church as a whole. You’re saying, this is what I see is coming, or this is what you need to be thinking about if you’re not.

Debbie Dewart:
Well churches certainly need to be aware of what’s going on in the culture, and what’s going on in the courts, like the … All the issues with the homosexuality, and transgenders, and right to life. I mean, there’s some really critical issues there. They need to be aware of it, and help educate people so that they can be good citizens, and not just hide in a church bubble. I would love to hide in a bubble, I don’t like this … I used to not turn the news on, I mean …

David Wojnicki:
Yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
We can’t be clueless anymore, we need to be aware of what’s going on, and know how to vote intelligently, and biblically, so that would be one thing. Also, churches need to be aware of how to protect their own ministries, so that they don’t become broiled in litigation that they don’t need, and yet they still want to be an outreach to the community.

David Wojnicki:
Yeah. Is there any one particular area, one or two, that you say, “I find that most churches maybe might be ignorant of protecting themselves in this way.” If you had the opportunity to speak to church leaders you’d say, “Here’s one or two things that, if you’re not protected, or if you’re not aware of, you should have these things in place.”

Debbie Dewart:
Well they need to have well written governing documents, and written policies. For example, for the use of their facilities. A church might want to invite people from the community in for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. If you’re going to do that, there needs to be a religious fence around it, so that you’re not hosting a ceremony that conflicts with your religious doctrine. Counseling, I mean it’s wonderful to minister to the community, and I know Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, Steve Viars, they have a wonderful outreach, I mean it just blows me away to hear about it. The important thing there I think is distinguish between the people who represent your ministry, and the people who are potential beneficiaries of your ministry.

David Wojnicki:
Interesting.

Debbie Dewart:
You’ve got your pastor, and your elders, and your employees, and people that volunteer and represent your ministry and your mission, they need to be on board with your mission and your religious doctrine. Then you want to minister to people.

David Wojnicki:
Yes.

Debbie Dewart:
Of course you need good standards for membership too, and make sure people understand, and if you counsel … Counsel, well we’re going to talk about that in a minute, similar idea though.

David Wojnicki:
Yeah, yeah. I think that that’s helpful. The landscape is changing, and …

Debbie Dewart:
Yes.

David Wojnicki:
We don’t want to be unaware. I really appreciate what you said there, we want to be liked, we want to love our community, but there …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
Are things we need to be wise about, and …

Debbie Dewart:
Yes.

David Wojnicki:
Ministry that you’re a part of, and those out there, if pastors don’t have that, it would be wise …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
To be engaged. What are some of the things that biblical counselors, or biblical counseling ministry …

Debbie Dewart:
Yes.

David Wojnicki:
Might say, “You know what? Here’s things that they need to be aware of, or ways in which maybe biblical counselors might overstep their bounds.” Are there cautions that you’d give to biblical counselors, just even on a legal ground? It’s kind of two questions …

Debbie Dewart:
Yes, yes.

David Wojnicki:
Whether brought from a biblical counseling platform, then for a biblical counselor personally, are there things that we should be thinking about, that we should be aware of?

Debbie Dewart:
Yes. One thing to think about is churches have the highest level of first amendment protection. It is better to have a counseling ministry under the church, than to have a separate corporation, if you can possibly do that. I believe that for theological reasons too.

David Wojnicki:
Sure.

Debbie Dewart:
It’s best also not to charge fees, and I know they’re different views on that, and that’s another whole issue …

David Wojnicki:
Yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
I don’t mean to open a can of worms, but that can make a difference legally, depending on the state.

David Wojnicki: Okay.

Debbie Dewart:
Those are things. Informed written consent, it’s real important for people who come to you for counseling to know what your position is, even though you may …

David Wojnicki:
Okay.

Debbie Dewart:
Be open to counseling people, and/or helping people who are not even believers, there you evangelize, as Jay Adams points out, but you want to minister to people. You want people to come to the Lord, that’s so important, but you need to make them aware of who you are, and what you do, and what you don’t do. I would draw wide separation between biblical counseling and any kind of psychology, or state license counseling. There are some laws that pertain to state license counselors that you don’t want anything to do with.

David Wojnicki:
Got it.

Debbie Dewart:
Like the laws against helping minors with same sex attractions. Besides the fact the goal is entirely different from the goals of biblical counseling, legally you don’t want to be in that position, you want to distinguish yourselves as biblical counselors.

David Wojnicki:
Just for clarity sake, at least right now as it stands, making that distinction, or not making that distinction can open you up to certain regulations and things …

Debbie Dewart:
Yes.

David Wojnicki:
That you otherwise wouldn’t be open to, so it’s important to be clear about that both in your documentation, and …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
Your presentation too.

Debbie Dewart:
In distinctions. In fact, one good distinction has to do with confidentiality. Psychotherapists have to hold things in absolute confidence pretty much, there are few exceptions. If there’s a threat to harm a specific person, but generally it’s just absolute confidentiality. Whereas in the church, you might have a biblical obligation to go through Matthew 18 process of church discipline. You could have conflicting duties. There was actually a case in Texas where a person was … A man was a minister and a psychotherapists, I think he was a therapists, and then he went and became a pastor of a church, and there was a counselee that he counseled … A person that he counseled in both roles, and there was a conflict that went to the Texas Supreme Court.

David Wojnicki:
Wow.

Debbie Dewart:
Yeah, so it’s real important to make that distinction as to who you are.

David Wojnicki:
I think that’s helpful for those listening to hear that. Some people might walk away from our conversation and they might say, “Hey, who do I turn to if I have additional questions on this?” Are there some resources that you would recommend to those listening to say, “Here’s where I would turn if you have questions, if you’re not currently seeking the wisdom or counsel from others, here are a couple that I might recommend.”

Debbie Dewart:
There’s some great resources, Christian legal resources. I don’t know of anybody else that’s in the biblical counseling movement per say …

David Wojnicki:
Sure.

Debbie Dewart:
That has that angle, both the theological, and the legal, but there’s some great organizations. The Alliance Defending Freedom is a great resource, they do litigation all over the country, that’s a wonderful group. Then the Christian Legal Society has some good resources, both ADF and the Christian Legal Society have some great resources.

David Wojnicki:
I think that that’s important for people to know that they’re not alone, these questions …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
Are being asked, these situations are arising, but don’t go after it by yourself …

Debbie Dewart:
Right.

David Wojnicki:
Because that’s … That can lead to a world of hurt, and that.

Debbie Dewart:
Yes.

David Wojnicki:
You’re having an opportunity to speak at the Summer Institute, a couple of different seminars, and in doing that, what’s one of the hopes that you have if you could say, “Here’s a message, here’s a thing that I hope people are hearing from me as I have the opportunity to speak,” and I’d be interested to hear, “This is my burden, this is what I’m hoping to communicate in the time that I’m here.”

Debbie Dewart:
Well pretty much what I’ve talked about, just to protect your ministry so that you don’t find yourself, your resources drained in litigation, and to help your … To be aware of what’s going on in the world, so that you help people that you counsel, or minister to, if they’re faced with situations say in their workplace, or their school, or their families that are related to what’s going on in the culture and in the courts.

David Wojnicki:
It’s a good reminder to hear these things, and I just continue to be marveled at how the Lord helped to prepare you in His kindness to do what you’re doing now. One final question that I have is, how have you seen your theological training impact your work as an attorney? What perspective has it given you, and how can you say, “Yeah I see that the … ” Has it given you a different perspective?

Debbie Dewart:
Well yes it has given me a world view, and some of the apologetic training that I had at Westminster has been very helpful. When I wrote a brief for the Supreme Court in the marriage case that they decided last year, I used my theological training to show that there was some logical problems in the way the same sex couples were arguing their case. They were presupposing the new definition of marriage that they wanted to establish, and without that presupposition, their legal arguments were incoherent. I don’t know how carefully anybody read that, but …

David Wojnicki:
I was going to say … Sadly, sadly.

Debbie Dewart:
Sadly. The dissenting justices may have read it, but the case was about the definition of marriage.

David Wojnicki:
Yeah, yeah.

Debbie Dewart:
What marriage is, as opposed to, who can marry.

David Wojnicki:
I think what you hit on there is something that we must never forget, any theological training, and I’m not just talking going to seminary, I’m talking about the training that IBCD does …

Debbie Dewart:
Sure.

David Wojnicki:
I’m talking about the messages that we hear on Sunday mornings, and part of our church communities, that world view helps to shape us, and doesn’t matter if you go on and be an attorney, or something else …

Debbie Dewart:
Right, right.

David Wojnicki:
Having that is so essential.

Debbie Dewart:
Amen.

David Wojnicki:
In this next season, I’ll close with this question, this next season, how are you hoping to see God continue to use you? Where do you get looking out to kind of continue to give your energies and your efforts to?

Debbie Dewart:
Well I continue to write briefs as cases come up, and I also have a real heart to develop the music ministry for children to teach. That’s a good way to use the theological training. One of my professors, my Greek professor said, “If you cannot explain a theological concept to a five year old, you probably don’t understand it.”

David Wojnicki:
That’s very true.

Debbie Dewart:
I have a real heart to continue that, and to leave a legacy after I’m gone, because we need to reach the young ones, that’s important.

David Wojnicki:
Well that’s so wonderful, I pray that God will continue to bless and flourish that ministry. Thank you for all that you have done, thank you for all that you’re doing, and for coming out here, and sharing with us, being a resource available to the counselors that are here. God bless you Deborah, thanks so much for being a part of this.

Debbie Dewart:
Thank you very much.

David Wojnicki:
Take care.