Trump Admin Ordered to Provide Basic Needs for Children; AACC Lauds Administration’s Record on Trauma

On Wednesday, I noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been booked to speak at the October Tim Clinton (aka American Association of Christian Counselors) conference in Nashville. Clinton touted Pompeo’s record on trauma in his announcement. See below.

However, the Trump administration has a rather dismal record on trauma in our own nation. In fact, yesterday a federal court had to instruct the administration on basic care for migrant children. Among other things, the Trump administration had argued that soap and dental care were not basic needs for children. An appeals court said otherwise:

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety,” the appeals court panel ruled.

Why would anyone need to be ordered to do this for children?

It is no secret that Tim Clinton supports Trump and is on his evangelical advisory committee. He is the owner of AACC and can do what he wants with it. However, he markets the business as a trade organization of a diverse group of counselors, some of whom work with children and many of whom work with trauma. There are experts in trauma resolution speaking at the conference, such as Diane Langberg. Break out sessions on trauma are scheduled. In my opinion, it is an insult to have a key representative of an administration generating trauma speak to a group who every day tries to prevent and heal that trauma.

Sec. of State Mike Pompeo to Speak at American Association of Christian Counselors Conference

Tim Clinton (aka The American Association of Christian Counselors) is holding a conference for counselors in early October of this year. It is a huge undertaking and generally draws over 5,000 counselors. Clinton has taken heat in past years for politicizing the conference by inviting non-counselors to speak. This year he has outdone himself by scheduling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Trump administration has been widely criticized for the way it has handled support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Arguably, the Trump administration has a mixed record when it comes to the issues Clinton raised in his praise for Pompeo.

I will raise just one illustration on religious persecution: North Korea. No president has coddled the North Korean dictator like Donald Trump. There is religious persecution in North Korea and the U.S. has done nothing to make that an issue there.

In any case, Clinton owns the AACC and can bring in anyone he wants to. It is beyond belief that psychology or counseling CEUs could be offered for listening to a political speech but that is how Clinton runs his show. I want to remind counselors that you also have a choice.

AACC Sponsor Promotes Bible Soaking for Mental Illness

The American Association of Christian Counselors bills itself as a professional association, but it is more like an online infomercial for various educational, health, and mental health products. The creators of the products pay a premium to get before the AACC audience as sponsors and endorsers of the organization. Owner Tim Clinton reaps the benefits.

A new participant in this marketplace is Christian Healthcare Ministries. As I have pointed out previously, CHM is an odd partner for AACC since CHM as a rival to health insurance doesn’t reimburse participants for costs of counseling or psychotherapy. AACC owner Tim Clinton advocates his members buy healthcare coverage which doesn’t cover the services they provide professionally. Why would a licensed counselor who values professional mental health treatment purchase health coverage which doesn’t cover professional mental health treatment?

The mission of CHM and mental health advocacy is actually more at odds than I have previously reported. Not only does CHM not cover mental health treatment, the group significantly minimizes the need for treatment and the reality of psychological disorder.

In an article on the CHM website, CHM board member and OB/GYN Carol Peters-Tanksley encourages CHM members to avoid negative people and soak in the Bible to prevent mental health challenges. After noting that the prevalence of mental health problems is significance, she offers her answers:

When facing challenges like fear, bitterness, poor self-image, lust, money troubles, grief, worry, marriage conflict or any other issue, delving into what the Bible has to say about a specific struggle will change you. Soak in God’s word. Spend time reading and contemplating it. Let the power of Scripture penetrate your soul, wash out the junk and fill you to overflowing with God’s truth and grace.

If your mind needs transformation, pay attention to the media, the people and the Scripture you take in. You’ll experience a different kind of GI-GO: God in, God out.

That’s it. CHM is getting access to 50,000 (at least that’s what Tim Clinton says) Christian counselors to sell programs without mental health treatment as a benefit. Couldn’t CHM at least suggest members go see a counselor?

However, a search of the website for counselor turns up no such recommendation. A search for depression yields a couple of articles on stopping SSRIs. The fact is that CHM isn’t friendly to Christians in mental health or mental health treatment generally speaking. Thanks to AACC, as CHM’s subscriber/members increase, the potential clients of AACC licensed mental health professionals decrease. Why is AACC recommending this to members? Whose interests are being considered first via the promotion of CHM?

AACC Pushing Healthcare Coverage Without Counseling

The American Association of Christian Counselors is promoted as a trade association for Christian counselors. However, in fact it is the for profit business operation of Tim Clinton. The AACC doesn’t elect officers or  involve members meaningfully in the management of the organization.

Because business is the main focus, one must carefully consider what AACC offers to members.  Currently, AACC is pushing a healthcare program which seems to run counter to member interests.

Christian Healthcare Ministry is a cost sharing program which enrolls people to pay each other’s medical bills.  AACC is pushing this program on the front page of their website:

CommentaryPutting aside other concerns about CHM, a big problem for the members of AACC is that this program doesn’t cover (allow members to share the costs of) counseling or psychotherapy. That’s right, AACC is pushing a substitute for health insurance that doesn’t reimburse for mental health services. CHM apparently is able to bypass the mandated mental health coverage required by the Affordable Care Act and that’s just fine with AACC’s Tim Clinton.

In a long list of services and procedures (including pregnancy for “unwed mothers”) “ineligible for sharing,” this exclusion is listed:

10. Psychological treatment, tests, or counseling: Only emergency room bills incurred to physically stabilize the patient are eligible for sharing.

I am past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. I can’t imagine AMHCA promoting a service which failed to recognize our members. Actual trade organizations advocate for their members as well as for the work their members do. In this case, there is clear discrimination against mental health treatments. Why is this being recommended to a group of mental health professionals?

The recommendation of a healthcare option without counseling runs counter to another initiative of AACC. In the past, Clinton has promoted certification as a way to attract third party payments.

The BCCC credential is now for Clinical Professionals who are state-licensed mental health professionals and want or need this practice certification in order to:

give managed care and other organizational providers a respected credential—one that certifies both competence and ethical practice—that they are increasingly demanding in response to subscribers who want Christian counseling.

So AACC wants members to pay for a board certification to help gain insurance payments for counseling services but now advertises a service which doesn’t even pay for those same services.* I don’t know what Dr. Clinton is getting from this advertisement on the AACC website but I can see from the CHM guidelines what counselors and their clients won’t get. Since the AACC isn’t member controlled, there won’t be answers to any questions about it.

 

*In fact, no managed care organization I know cares about this certification. Managed care organizations require state licensing. In both cases, the benefit of the pitch isn’t for the members.

**Hat tip to Aaron New for pointing out the CHM ad on AACC’s website.

Aaron New: Questions for Students and New Counselors to Ask AACC

As students approach graduation, they often consider the next phase of their work. Joining a professional association is one aspect of professionalization. I hope psychology students at grad and undergrad levels consider what Central Baptist College Prof. Aaron New has to say below.

The AACC has been promoting its upcoming World Conference this October.  One of the special events of the conference is the “Connect U & Young Professionals Panel” targeting college students and recent graduates.

1. As I noticed these promotions last week, it occurred to me that I wish I would have known about the AACC as a recent graduate what I know now.  I invested in the AACC for many years, and did so rather blindly for three reasons. One, the organization seemed to be the only (or main) show in town. Two, AACC conferences had all the big names in Christian counseling. Three, my professors encouraged me to be involved.  I didn’t ask any questions or pursue any other options.  But I regularly gave the AACC my money in membership dues and conference expenses to be part of the club.

If I had it to do over again, I would want answers to some questions before making the same commitment. What follows are some questions I encourage students and new professionals to ask AACC leaders and supporters. I will begin with those for which I already have some answers, then I will suggest others.  The AACC may not like addressing these questions, but it is not unreasonable to ask them to do so.

Is the AACC a member-driven organization? How do members participate in the group?

The AACC is *not* a member-driven organization. It is a for-profit business owned and operated by Tim Clinton.  Members don’t vote on anything or participate in governance of the organization. Principally, they form a pool of consumers for AACC marketing efforts. There are no requirements or pre-requisites for membership other than a willingness to pay membership dues.  https://www.aacc.net/memberships/

In most professional associations, members serve on committees which serve the profession. Policies are suggested to the governing board made up of representatives elected by members. Those representative deliberate and vote on items suggested by members. Members have input into the rules, ethics and policies that govern the profession. Not so in the AACC. All decisions are made by Tim Clinton. He may use input from others but there is no requirement that he do so.

2. Does the AACC have officers?  Who are they?  How are they determined?

The AACC does *not* have elected officers. Though Clinton promotes himself as the “President” of the AACC, this is a self-appointed title and the position is not voted on. Any other officers are staff hired by AACC and are not elected. The president and staff are not accountable to members.

3. Does the AACC have a board of directors?  Who are they?  How are they determined?

The AACC does *not* have a typical elected board of directors – one that oversees the operation and direction of an organization.  Dr. Clinton is not accountable to a board and may run his business in any way he sees fit.

4. If there is any other kind of board?

The AACC has advertised several different boards over the years.  For many years up to 2018, the AACC claimed to have 1) an Executive Board, 2) an Editorial Board, 3) a Business Advisory Board, and 4) a Clinical and Pastoral Advisory Board (see: http://old.aacc.net/about-us/leadership/).  In 2018, the AACC began to promote a different set of boards.  1) an Executive Advisory Board, and 2) a National Board of Reference (see: https://www.aacc.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/AACC_Board.pdf).

I will make two observations here.  First, I have been told by multiple sources that the AACC boards only serve in an “advisory” role. They give input when asked, which seems to be a rare occurrence. Second, the boards do not appear to be updated very often.  In 2017, I brought it to the attention of the AACC that William Backus was still listed among the members of the Clinical and Pastoral Advisory Board even though he passed away in 2005.  After repeated requests for a more current list of board members, I was told by a customer support representative, “I have asked 2 different people for lists of the board members, and all the lists I have received do include the gentleman you listed below. That is the most up-to-date list that we have.”

5. How are ethical complaints against AACC members submitted and how are they handled?

The AACC does have a code of ethics.  But I am suspicious of how well they enforce this code.  Consider this correspondence from September 2018.  Readers will notice that it takes some time for the AACC to respond.  In the end, the AACC refuses to indicate who serves on the Law and Ethics Committee or how to submit a complaint to them directly (as I think is instructed by the code of ethics).  Instead, the AACC states that ethical complaints are to be funneled to the person in charge of public relations for the AACC. 

6. How does the AACC decide when/where to be active in political debates and races?

The politicization of the AACC has been a concern of mine for some time now.  I began asking Dr. Clinton to avoid politicizing the AACC back in 2016.  I felt strongly enough about this issue, that I attempted to write AACC board members.  This letter became incorporated into an online petition that gathered 190 signatures, though I’m not sure it was very effective. 

7. The AACC Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the AACC.  What does it do?  Where is the data/evidence of this work? Does the AACC profit from the AACC Foundation?

The publisher of this blog has looked into the relationship of AACC to the AACC Foundation in two articles (here and here). In summary, the AACC Foundation is a nonprofit means of getting income to the AACC. A miniscule amount goes to charitable purposes. 

8. The AACC lists several colleges and universities as “partners” (https://www.aacc.net/schools/). What does this mean, exactly?  How does a college/university become a partner?  What advantages or benefits do these partners have for AACC members?

9. Since the AACC isn’t a nonprofit like other professional associations, where do the profits from the AACC go? Why doesn’t the AACC disclose financial statements like other organizations do?

10. Who serves on the Law and Ethics Committee of the AACC? How are members determined/appointed?

11. How many AACC members have had their memberships revoked (or been otherwise sanctioned) for ethics violations?  For what reasons?

12. What is AACC’s “Christian Care Network” and how does it differ from the new “Christian Care Connect” (that charges clinics/organizations $749/year and individuals $249/year)?

13. To become a member of the CCC, is anything required beyond paying the annual fee? How is the integrity of this referral source maintained? What assurance does the public have regarding the legitimacy of these referrals?

14. What is the relationship between the AACC and all of these organizations? Is there one or more parent companies involved?  What loyalties (formal or informal) do these organizations have to each other?

    1. Light University – https://www.lightuniversity.com/
    2. International Board of Christian Care – http://www.ibccglobal.com/
    3. Board of Christian Professional & Pastoral Counselors – http://www.thebcppc.com/
    4. Board of Christian Crisis & Trauma Response – http://www.thebcctr.com/
    5. Board of Christian Life Coaching – http://www.thebclc.com/
    6. International Christian Coaching Association – http://www.iccaonline.net/
    7. Ignite Men’s Ministry – https://www.ignitemen.net/
    8. Extraordinary Women – https://www.ewomen.net/
    9. Life, Love, and Family – http://www.lifeloveandfamily.org/
    10. James Dobson Family Talk – https://drjamesdobson.org/

15. About these organizations: Do AACC membership dues (or any other AACC revenues) support any of the other organizations?  What staff are responsible for working at multiple organizations?  What resources do any of them share?  Are there any financial conflicts of interest for any of those parties?  Where these organizations are not entirely independent, is that information made available to members/users?

16. There have been concerns about Tim Clinton and ghost-writing and plagiarism. Has this been addressed by the AACC via their ethics committee?

17. The AACC has made Christian Heathcare Ministry a ‘premium elite partner’ but CHM is an insurance alternative that does not cover psychological treatments or counseling. Can you explain the nature of this partnership? How does it promote Christian counseling? How does it benefit AACC members (especially those who are licensed and accept insurance reimbursements)?

For myself, I have concluded that the AACC is not a professional organization worth my affiliation. Elsewhere, I challenged my colleagues,

So here is my call to Christian Counselors. Leave the AACC behind. You don’t need their expensive conferences or memberships. You can do better than their borrowed and recycled materials. There are better, more authentic ways of navigating your professional affiliations.

I would likewise encourage college students and recent graduates.  As the AACC comes courting you, be wise.  Ask some hard questions before you settle on your professional affiliations.

Nori Media Group Refuses Comment on Plagiarism in Tim Clinton’s Ignite Your Faith. Guest Post by Aaron New

Guest post by Aaron New

Tim Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Executive Director of the James Dobson Family Institute, faced questions of plagiarism and ghost-writing last year.  Blog host Warren Throckmorton has documented many of those questions here.  I have compiled a long list of my questions and concerns here.  Clinton has consistently denied, through a spokesman, plagiarizing any material. On more than one occasion, Clinton has declared a “zero-tolerance policy on plagiarism.” Clinton “is just not a plagiarist” his spokesman said. That’s the “bottom line.” Instead, Clinton has blamed grad students, interns, research assistants, employees, “posting errors via some third party partners,” and even co-authors for the “mistakes” in various writings and publications. In addition, he seems to describe some “mistakes” as inevitable since at the AACC “[we] do touch a lot of content, mountains of content, in fact, between what we put online, what we distribute to members, what goes into books, and other publications.”

Not Me

So, if I understand correctly, there have been “mistakes” for which plenty of others are responsible.  Clinton himself, however, is not accountable for any of them.

This is not the sort of personal responsibility Christian counselors need to model for our clients. But I digress.

In an August 2018 statement to Inside Higher Ed, Clinton’s spokesman mentioned that one book in particular was “under an immediate editorial review.”  Later, I became curious about the outcome of this review, so I contacted the publisher to follow up.

The book in question is a devotional by Clinton Ignite Your Faith: Get Back in the Fight, published by Destiny Image in 2014. The parent company of Destiny Image is Nori Media Group. After several attempts, I exchanged brief correspondence with a couple of executives at Nori Media.  I provided 8 different examples of potentially plagiarized material I found in the book.  I highlighted each of the “Ignite” passages I found questionable and also provided what I believed were the original sources.  Some were only minimally questionable, others were clearly problematic, with the most blatant example being a devotional on day 35 where large amounts of the entry appear to be a cut and paste job from a newspaper article in 1999 (see this post for extensive documentation of the cut and paste job).

One executive acknowledged my concerns and thanked me for bringing them to his attention.  He promised to “review the documents you have provided for cases of possible plagiarism and take the most appropriate course of action based on our findings.”  Since then, I have asked for an update several times, focusing on just 2 questions.  (1) Was Nori Media previously aware of the potential plagiarism?  (2) What was the result of their investigation and what actions will they take, if any?

After over a month of inquiries and a phone call from Warren Throckmorton to Nori Media yesterday, I finally received the briefest of responses from the Vice President. Jonathan Nori wrote:

It is contrary to Destiny Image policy to comment on potential issues of plagiarism or any actions taken related to such.

I’m disappointed by this response and wish there was more transparency regarding their findings and actions. As it is, the public is left to just make guesswork of it all. The book does not appear on the Destiny Image website, but a customer service representative said the website has undergone some recent changes and Ignite Your Faith has yet to be added back to the online catalog. The book is still available for purchase from Destiny Image (as are two other works by Tim Clinton).

If Tim Clinton and the AACC take plagiarism as seriously as they indicate, I would have expected Destiny Image to be aware of problem and be willing to make a statement accordingly.  Without any further details from them, I cannot say with certainty they were unaware of the potential plagiarism, but I suspect that the AACC’s “immediate editorial review” did not include a notice to Destiny Image or Nori Media.  Definitely of note, the book is still available to purchase on the AACC website. This is curious, given Clinton’s “zero-tolerance policy” on plagiarism.

As I have said elsewhere, I refuse to believe this is an unimportant topic.  Our field deserves better than this.


Update to Aaron’s article by Warren Throckmorton (1/10/19)

As part of reviewing Aaron’s article, I contacted Nori Media Group by phone. The person who answered said Ignite Your Faith was still offered by Nori but, as Aaron noted, the website was incomplete. She then said she would pass along my questions about possible plagiarism and copying to someone in production. She told me that she or another person would call back with an answer. I didn’t get a call. I also wrote Nori and asked why other publishers commented on plagiarism when found in their books. I have not received an answer.

It is relevant to point out that Tim Clinton’s co-author/collaborator on this book commented to me about this book almost five months ago.  Below that entire post from August 2018 is reproduced:

Defending himself against charges of academic misconduct last week, American Association of Christian Counselors president and Trump advisor Tim Clinton blamed a former employee for lifting material from other sources for use in articles which carried Clinton’s byline. Even though AACC’s code of ethics discourages ghostwriters, Clinton blamed an employee who functioned in that manner for material in his articles which came from other sources.

One online article by Clinton [see this article for evidence of copying in Press On from Ignite Your Faith], “Press On,” (cached)* which contained plagiarized material was first published in the book Ignite Your Faith by Clinton and Max Davis. Because I wanted to find out how the copied content got into “Press On,” I contacted Davis for comment (I also contacted Clinton with no response).

When I contacted Davis, he said he did not have any part in writing the devotional “Press On.” He added that he always checks his sources and “never once in all my years as a writer has this happened” referring to copied content ending up in one of his books.

He also wanted me to know that he was not the fired AACC employee blamed by Clinton for academic misconduct to the Christian Post.

*The same article with the title “Strive to Excel” was once posted on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk website. It is archived here.

 

Guest Post by Aaron New: More Citation Problems at the American Association of Christian Counselors

“I started looking because I was curious.  I kept looking because I was suspicious.  I continue looking because I am incredulous.”  I wrote these words over a month ago in the middle of discovering significant number of problems in the writings of Tim Clinton.  But they are still true today – I continue to look and I am still incredulous.

Warren and I have been documenting citation problems in the writing of Tim Clinton and the American Association of Christian Counselors.  My Twitter thread grew long enough, it became nearly impossible to follow without being threaded into a single page.

I refuse to believe this is an unimportant topic.  And so, despite a tepid response initially from many readers, I haven’t let it go.  In fact, I began to wonder if I needed to broaden my search.  Questions began nagging me.  If Dr. Clinton is setting this kind of example, who is following?  Is this a common practice among other leaders (both formal and informal) in the AACC?  Is what I have found reflective of a broader culture within the AACC?  I didn’t like the questions, but I decided they needed answers.  What I have found so far has been disappointing and Warren has been gracious enough to give me space to share some of my discoveries.

Enter Eric Scalise

Eric Scalise has long been involved in the AACC.  For many years, he was the Vice President for Professional Development.  A quick glance at his LinkedIn profile suggests he was heavily involved in leading the AACC.  After that and for some time until very recently, he was the Senior Vice President of the AACC.  His LinkedIn profile does not describe his duties during that time, but it is reasonable to assume they were leadership responsibilities equal to or greater than before.

Since Dr. Scalise appeared to be Dr. Clinton’s right-hand man for many years, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by what I found in some of his writings.  But I was.

In Christian Counseling Today (vol.17, no.1), Eric Scalise and Tim Clinton co-authored an article, “Manifesting Christ: The High Call of Every Christian Counselor.” (click the link for a large picture; a pdf is here.)

The material in yellow shows up word for word (or nearly so) in one article by Eric Scalise here (below highlighted in yellow). And the material in orange shows up word for word (or nearly so) in another article by Eric Scalise here (below in orange circle). Unless I am mistaken, it seems the most likely possibilities are 1) Scalise used large sections of the original article without giving any credit to his co-author, Clinton.  Or, 2) The words in yellow and orange always belonged to Scalise, but Clinton’s name was added to the first article anyway.  Either way, there seems to be a problem of author attribution.

Late Insufficient Citation

Even more notable is an article in Christian Counseling Today (vol.20, no.3) by Eric Scalise, “The Neurobiology of Trauma and Traumatic Relationships.”  It was published in 2014. (A reprint of that article is still available on the AACC website.)  Here are some highlighted excerpts from that article:

While not always in the same order as in the source articles, the material in yellow comes from another source word for word (or nearly so), “Understanding Complex Trauma, Complex Reactions, and Treatment Approaches” by Christine Courtois.  It was published online in 2010. And all the material in pink comes from yet another source word for word (or nearly so), “Complex Trauma in Early Childhood” by Kim Cross.  It was archived online as early as 2008. Excerpts are below for comparison.

It is worth noting that Scalise does make a citation (#1) for a different Courtois source in his article.  I have two observations about that: (1) A significant amount of copied material shows up well before that citation.  (2) Scalise says the “observations are based on the work of Courtois.”  In reality, they are the observations of Courtois.  It appears that he or someone working for him copied the words of Courtois and added the words of Cross to them.

I have discovered other, perhaps less serious infractions (like where Scalise appears to co-opt the words of Jay Neugeboren).  But this is enough for me now to read all of Scalise’s writings with suspicion.

More to Come

In addition to Scalise, I’m on the trail of at least one other AACC insider..  If/when I can complete that research, perhaps Warren will allow me another post to provide an update.  And at some point, it may be also worth re-visiting the story of Les and Leslie Parrott using ResultSource to boost their book sales.

All of this has left me profoundly disappointed.  The AACC certainly is not the only show in town for Christian psychologists and counselors.  But the leaders, speakers, and authors affiliated with the AACC are well-known and influential.  I have a vested interest in the field of Christian counseling and I wish that these questions did not have to be raised concerning AACC. If AACC was an actual professional association where the member voted for leaders, then members could express themselves via election of new officers. However, since AACC is Tim Clinton’s business, the members have no ability to bring change.

As it stands, there is a path forward for those involved and I’m sure they know what it is.  Some semblance of an honest and contrite apology along with a promise and a plan to do better in the future would go a long way to restoring some trust.  Until then, I’m afraid AACC and by association Christian counseling will suffer from the appearance of untrustworthiness.

 

 

Does Plagiarism Matter to Christians?

Judging by reaction to recent plagiarism cases, I don’t think plagiarism matters much to most Christians.

Of late, professor Aaron New has brought forward multiple clear examples of plagiarism involving Tim Clinton and the American Association of Christian Counseling. I have published most of them on this blog. The response has been interest from the Christian Post but other than that, a resounding yawn. The AACC’s response has been to blame interns and employees and buy software to find plagiarism before they publish it. Tim Clinton’s other organization, James Dobson’s Family Talk has removed articles with plagiarized material but without comment or apology.

Two days ago, Publisher’s Weekly first reported a settlement between Christine Caine and Carey Scott in a plagiarism case. Caine took some of Scott’s work and used it in a recent book. While Caine’s publisher settled with Scott, Caine has remained silent, without comment or apology. She hasn’t explained how Scott’s material ended up verbatim in her book and promotional material (see my post where I demonstrate Caine’s copying). Outside of a few familiar voices on social media, there is little pressure on Caine to explain herself or take responsibility for her actions. Her publisher has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Silence is the strategy.

Yesterday, World magazine’s Mindy Belz examined the tepid apology offered by author Anne Voskamp for plagiarism on Twitter. The apology for one instance of plagiarism (now deleted) was buried in a blog post in such way that it could easily be missed. She hasn’t had much else to say about it. But why should she, very few people seem to care.

And let’s not forget Mark Driscoll who was responsible for citation errors in several books. In 2013, Janet Mefferd first accused Driscoll of borrowing concepts from Peter Jones without appropriate citation. From there, I discovered additional problems in several of his books. Although Driscoll didn’t acknowledge wrongdoing, one of Driscoll’s publishers quietly corrected most of the problems over the course of a year. Today, Driscoll is back with a new book from Charisma publishing.

What is the Solution?

For her article, Belz spoke with publishing industry insiders. She reported that one answer was better plagiarism detection software. My answer is to hold authors to a high standard. They should do their own work. Fewer books would be published but given the repetitive nature of many books published by Christian publishers, that would be a good thing.

I suspect that part of the reason plagiarism is a mild sin among Christian writers and publishers is that enforcing the rules would require Christian authors to write their own material. Thus, ghostwriters and researchers would be out of work. Pretend experts and Christian celebrities would have to develop actual skills and find something novel and interesting to say without the help of paid experts and researchers.

As illustrated by the above situations, publishers aren’t regularly accountable to the public, nor do they require authors to be accountable. Scott had to go to court to get justice. She couldn’t count on Caine and her Christian publisher to do the right thing. Now that the situation is public, Caine isn’t talking. Although I don’t know what is in mind, her silence gives the appearance that she hopes her popularity will get her through this rough patch.

What has surprised me is that lack of response from Christians on social media to these cases. Only a very few members of the American Association of Christian Counselors have called for AACC leaders to be accountable. Very few evangelicals have directly appealed to Clinton, Caine, or Voskamp to take responsibility for their actions. Given the social media reaction, I suspect Christian publishers are content to ride out the few emails and calls they are getting in advance of the next book release. If many Christian consumers cared, they would go to the social media accounts of these authors and ask for answers.

As the Caine case demonstrates, plagiarism is actionable. However, in Christian circles it doesn’t appear to matter as much as it does elsewhere. Plagiarism leads to job loss or sanctions in the news room (e.g., here, here, here) and academia (e.g., here, here). When I contacted the Colson Center about Tim Clinton’s near verbatim use of a Chuck Colson op-ed in one of his articles, their response was to say nothing and let it go.

In academia, we will continue to enforce high standards of plagiarism. However, it is jarring to realize that our students will enter a world where plagiarism matters less when they work in media organizations which promote Christianity than in places which do not identify as Christian.

 

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Image: Warren Throckmorton

What Does the American Association of Christian Counselors Foundation Do? Part Two

On September 24, I started a series of articles on the American Association of Christian Counselors Foundation. Specifically, I am examining what the foundation does. In that first article, I wrote that the AACCF exists to serve the American Association of Christian Counselors, the private business owned by Trump advisor and Family Talk Radio director Tim Clinton.  In this article, I compare the stated mission of the AACCF with the expenditures reported on the organization’s IRS 990 filings.

AACCF’s Mission

What the AACCF is supposed to do depends on the audience. To consumers, the AACCF funds programs which aren’t a priority “in a for-profit business model” which is what AACC is.

The AACC Foundation IS OUR NON-PROFIT WORLDWIDE RESOURCE that exists to encourage the development of Christian counseling worldwide through funding of various programs that are not priorities in a for-profit, business model, but are nonetheless crucial to the comprehensive development of a Christian counseling ministry.

What are those programs? Currently, the AACC website lists the Christian Care (referral) Network, the New Century Marriage Initiative, the International Association of Christian Counselors, and student scholarships to AACC conferences.

Elsewhere in the past, AACC included disaster relief in the list. A current website lists a suicide prevention program called Suicide Pair Initiative. I can’t find any evidence of any activity by AACC to put this into motion but AACC has been promoting it since late 2016.

In contrast, on the 990 forms submitted to the IRS, AACCF declares their mission:

In case that’s hard to read, here it is again:

To assist in providing a biblical, Christian ministry of the gospel, hope, encouragement and strength to as many people as possible by providing books, tapes and supplies to counselors who can benefit from this service.

To the public, the AACCF mission sounds charitable and benevolent. To the IRS, the main activity is more accurately disclosed as a vehicle for the sale of books, tapes and supplies. About 96% of AACCF’s revenues comes from sales of books and supplies; the rest comes from donors. About 98.5% of all revenues ends up going back to the AACC (Tim Clinton’s business) via various fees (employee rental, office rent, etc.). According to the 990 forms from 2002 through 2016, only 1.4% ($122,387) has gone to the charitable causes described on the AACC website.

AACCF’s Priorities

So what charitable purposes did AACCF help? There are so few I can list them by year.

2004   Conference scholarships –       $ 2,424

2005   International scholarships – $20,800
Hurricane relief- God Chasers –      $20,000
Mission Trip- Bev Iglesle                     $10,000

2010 – Tuza Project Seminary scholarships $16,427
Tuza travel expenses                                                $ 1,827

2011 – Johnson City TN (tornado relief)     $10,507
Charlottesville, VA (tornado relief)               $12,957

2012 – (Not listed – unknown)                              $ 142

2013 – Tuza Project – travel expenses $23,423

2014 – Tuza Project – travel expense    $ 3,880

In some years, the AACCF declared nothing on their 990 which matched up with any of the purposes listed on the AACC website (e.g., scholarships, marriage initiative, suicide prevention, international counseling associations, etc.). For instance, in 2016 the AACCF took in over $222,000 in contributions but didn’t show grants to any of the priorities listed on the AACC website. The funds went back to AACC via fees for services provided by AACC to AACCF. Of course, there is no bidding process for AACCF to get a good deal on these services. People donate money so that AACCF can spend those funds on services provided by AACC. At least, that’s the story told by the 990 in 2016.

There was one other expenditure listed as a grant in 2014. However, it was given to a for profit business belonging to Tim Clinton. I detailed this arrangement in my last post. Clinton’s men’s weekend adventure Wildfire Men’s Weekend lost money in 2014. Two donors gave $220,000 to the AACCF apparently with knowledge that the nonprofit would give those funds to Tim Clinton’s for profit business. The AACCF also took $10,000 of unrestricted funds to give to Clinton’s for profit business. Imagine the surprise of donors who thought they were helping international counselors get to a conference, or maybe pitching in for disaster relief. Instead, some of those funds went to the “for-profit business model” that the Foundation isn’t supposed to fund.

It is hard to take AACCF’s public mission statement seriously when the charitable giving goes to support the for-profit business. An examination of the 990 forms shows clearly where the priorities are.

Anyone can review AACCF’s 990s at ProPublica.

Professional Associations Should Be Accountable and Transparent

By most measures, the American Association of Christian Counselors appears to be successful. The AACC conferences feature big name Christian celebrities and, according to AACC owner Tim Clinton, often sell out. Although there is no way to verify it, promotional material boasts that the business has “nearly 50,000 members” (see Tim Clinton’s president letter on the About tab).

Mental health professionals and students familiar with other professional organizations might wonder why Tim Clinton has been the president of AACC since he took over in 1998. There are no past presidents, or a president elect as with other associations. This is because the AACC is Tim Clinton’s for profit business. Members don’t take part in governance of the organization, there is no governing board or council, and no member involvement in setting policy.

Disadvantages of the For Profit Model

Over the years, I have studied and been involved in professional associations. In the late 1990s, I was on the board of the American Mental Health Counselors Association as president elect, president and past president of the association. I have served on committees of the American Counseling Association, an umbrella group for several counseling associations. For awhile, I was on AACC’s do-nothing advisory board. From these observations, I can say that there are some advantages to member driven groups (ACA/AMHCA) over a private business model (AACC).

Transparency

An obvious advantage is that typical nonprofit associations* are more transparent than for profit private businesses. Members pay dues and can get access to financial records showing how their dues are spent. Tax exempt organizations file 990 financial disclosure forms with the IRS which are then made available to the public. Not so with the AACC. The AACC did spin off a nonprofit foundation which does report operations on IRS 990 forms and I have started a series analyzing that Foundation.  However, the AACC Foundation doesn’t collect membership fees. Members can guess but they don’t know how their dues are spent by AACC. They don’t know how much are spent on salaries, or member services or any important measure of organizational efficiency.

Accountability

Transparency serves accountability to members. In a member driven organization, members can raise concerns about how staff and officers spend money and make policy. They can have input into the budgeting process. If members don’t like what is happening they can voice their discontent directly to those who make the policies via processes spelled out in the by-laws.

In member driven organizations, officers are elected to represent members. These officers rotate and allow wide representation of interests. Clinton may create a board as a part of the illusion that the AACC is a professional organization, but it has no power. The members of the board of reference could vote to do something but if Clinton doesn’t agree, it doesn’t matter. In a real professional association, the members matter. Their voice carries weight via a vote for state officers, regional officers and national officers. In this way, the organization’s leaders are accountable to the members.

Another aspect of accountability is a functioning ethics process. AACC has a code of ethics. However, I know an individual who wanted to file a complaint but was routed to the public relations director instead of the ethics committee. In such cases, the sensitive matter of an ethics complaint should go to the ethics committee charged with handling such cases, not to a gate keeper. The members of the ethics committee were never identified.

Pushing Products or Providing Services?

AACC constantly pushes dubious products and certifications. Through AACC, you can become certified as a Professional Life Coach through the Board of Christian Life Coaching. Dina Jones is the executive director; she’s also the director of professional relations for AACC. There are four certifications one can achieve, each with a $199 application fee and a biennial $149 renewal fee. Of course, AACC has something called Light University which offers courses in life coaching which will help meet the requirements.

There are more. You can also be certified by the Board of Christian Professional and Pastoral Counselors, and the Board of Christian Crisis and Trauma Response. Just like the life coaching certification program, these boards all have levels of certification with high price tags and renewal fees.

The problem is that there is no assurance that these credentials mean anything to anybody. A license with a scope of practice for independent work in a state is what is needed to legally operate as a mental health provider. Health insurers don’t require any of these certifications. These certifications didn’t arise due to a need among professionals or clients; they came about because they generate income for AACC.

Nonprofit associations spend time working on member needs. Members are involved in meaningful ways developing policies and practices that respond to actual needs among the members. Different incentives operate in the for profit sector. Instead of responding to what members want, AACC has to sell members on the idea that these certificates are what they want.

What We Need

Christian mental health professionals have professional associations to join (e.g., APA, AMHCA, NASW, AAMFT). However, many also want to come together with a group of professionals of like belief for fellowship and reflection on our vocation. I am leaning toward Christian Association for Psychological Studies as a place for that.

For many students in graduate programs, it will take courage to ask hard questions about AACC. Some grad programs are affiliated with the organization. Some professors pad their resume with presentations at AACC conferences and are reluctant to speak out. Some leaders in AACC don’t like the situation but are likewise afraid to give up the benefits of being in a favored position.

The fear of speaking out that I continue to hear from psychology professors and students around the country highlights some of my concerns about AACC. Dissent in professional groups should not result in shunning. It clearly does in AACC world. I am rooting for the graduate students to do things differently.

 

*I realize there are differences between nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations but I am referring to all groups which are not in business to make a profit for the owner or shareholders.