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‘Generational sin’ — Is it real or is it myth?comment (0)

September 8, 2005

Struggling with alcoholism? A failing marriage? An abusive personality? Psychologists might say you can blame dad, grandpa or someone even further back for your personal problems.

Familial patterns of behavioral or emotional issues are a key component of modern psychology, but one counselor and author now says the theory is older than most experts think, and she has the biblical verses to prove it.

Beverly Hubble Tauke, a licensed clinical social worker in Fairfax, Va., grounds her sessions in the scriptural lessons of “generational sin,” the belief — particularly prevalent among some evangelical and conservative Christians — that sins committed by one generation will be repeated in the next three.

Tauke, author of the recent book “Overcoming the Sins of the Family: Becoming the Redemptive Generation,” said people can understand the problems plaguing their lives by mapping out genealogical patterns through a process called transgenerational therapy.

She said the Bible provides the blueprint for how to do it. “There is just kind of a remarkable overlap between biblical concepts and what is now known scientifically. These seeds planted in the family reflect not only in that family but then in the next phase of the journey.”

Tauke leads sessions at churches and in practice in Virginia with titles like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph: What a Family and Family Forensics: How Did I Get Here?

At Gospel Rescue Ministries in Washington, where Tauke has counseled homeless men and women for eight years, Director Don Melvin said sometimes people need professional help to realize patterns and work to stop them. “She brings the Scriptures into play,” Melvin said. “For almost every one of these clinical theories, there is a scriptural foundation where you can find this information given to you from the Word of God.”

Evading responsibility?

But not everyone is buying it. Some evangelical leaders eschew generational sin and modern psychology, holding that both prevent Christians from taking responsibility for their actions.

“Much talk these days of generational sin is rooted in an evasion of personal responsibility,” said Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “That’s true from a mystical religious standpoint as well as from a psychotherapeutic point of view.”

Many counselors are troubled by the idea of using the Bible to map out family dysfunction — especially for nonreligious clients — or adding the baggage of guilt that is often associated with sin. “It concerns me very much to hear that there is actually ... a book entitled ‘Overcoming the Sins of the Family,’” said Laura Forman, an expert in transgenerational family therapy in private practice in Norfolk, Va. “I don’t see family dysfunctions as sins.”

Still other counselors think Tauke may be on to something, at least in theory. Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist with an independent practice in Austin, Texas, and a specialist in family conflict, said in his experience, it is impossible to address current issues without first addressing the past. “If you want to help someone understand their adulthood, you help them understand their childhood,” Pickhardt said. “Either you recover or you repeat.”

Tauke looks especially at Deuteronomy 5:9­–10, in which generational sin is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Tauke, a practicing Baptist, is heartened that families can practice righteousness for three generations as well but takes even more inspiration from the book of Nehemiah, which says that confessing the sins of the fathers expiated sin in biblical times. The same method, she said, is also effective in modern-day therapy. Tauke has seen it work in her own life: Tracing her family line revealed an alcoholic great-grandfather who had influenced the life of her fundamental Baptist minister father and then her own life.

She admitted some personal discomfort with the implications of the word “sin,” since it implies more blame and shame than she wants to associate with the process. Yet she argues that couching the practice in biblical terminology helps people to understand the concept.

Weighing the choices

“I end up with more resources so I’m able to tap into these factors that really resonate,” Tauke said. “Ninety percent of Americans do believe in God and 60 percent attend church on a pretty regular basis, so the population is really wired to consider the spiritual factors that are helpful to them.”

But there are critics. Moore said some evangelical Christians misinterpret these biblical lessons. He said people always have a choice not to repeat their ancestors’ sins. “You have the sons of Solomon, for instance, who continue in his idolatry,” Moore said. “It’s not because he’s being held for his father’s idolatry, it’s because he’s continuing in that sin.”

In addition, he said the idea seems less a product of scriptural teachings than of psychotherapy.  Moore said it doesn’t seem much different from the counseling promoted by Dr. Phil or Oprah Winfrey. “Evangelical churches have been extremely susceptible to every psychotherapeutic fad one can imagine,” he said. “I think it’s less often preached in religious circles than in secular settings influenced by a psychotherapeutic worldview.” (RNS)

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