A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

There is a virus of bad theology in the church — an analogy with Hepatitis C

I used to have Hepatitis C. The Hep C virus rarely kills you. Most sufferers die with it, but not of it. It only causes death in a few cases where the infection so afflicts the liver that the person gets liver cancer or full-blown cirrhosis. Being a heavy drinker increases the risk of getting Hep-C-related cirrhosis or liver cancer. Males are at higher risk of dying from Hep-C-related cirrhosis or liver cancer. Alcohol is like a fertilizer for the Hep C virus because alcohol is a liver poison.

But for most folk who contract the virus, and I was one, they have the Hep C virus in their bloodstream without being aware of it. It may cause almost no symptoms. Or it may cause fatigue, a bit of depression, minor gasto-intestinal problems, a little brain fog from time to time. Nothing that shouts “liver disease”. That’s just how the church is with its bad theology. Nothing to really pinpoint that there’s a virus (unless you are a victim of abuse and at the pointy end of that bad theology, that is).

Most Christians don’t wonder much about why the Church is a little fatigued, a little depressed, a little unable to digest stuff from time to time… In fact, they’re so used to this state of affairs they think it’s normal. But it’s not normal. Not by the Bible’s standards for what Christ’s church ought to be.

How does one contract the Hep C virus? It is a blood-borne virus and is only transmitted by one person’s blood making direct contact with another person’s blood. The main modes of transmission are

  • IV drug use where the users share needles and other injection equipment; that’s how I got it back in 1975 when I was a heroin addict.
  • Receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1989. The virus was discovered in 1989, prior to that they were not testing donated blood for it because they didn’t know it existed.
  • Tattooing that is done without proper infection control procedures.
  • Occasionally it might be transmitted by a needle-stick injury to a professional in a hospital setting. But health professionals are meant to observe infection control procedures regardless of whether or not the patient has any infectious disease, so this is pretty rare.

I was diagnosed as having Hep C nearly thirty years after I’d become infected. I decided to have treatment. For me, the treatment involved a gruelling year of drug therapy. This brought about a cure — but they don’t call it ‘cured,’ they say I ‘cleared the virus’. Same difference. As the side effects of the treatment drugs wore off, I began to feel truly alive and amazingly well for the first time in my adult life. (I’d contracted Hep C when I was 19). It was like bubbles of spritz were sparkling through my veins. I could not believe it. This is what it is like to be healthy! I’d never known! 

No wonder I’d felt awful! No wonder I’d found life much harder than most other people seemed to find it! They were well; I had been sick. I’d had a virus eating away every day destroying my liver cells, and my liver had been attempting to grow back every single day. It had been an ongoing battle between my body’s capacity to self-restore, and the virus’s ability to kill liver cells. Before treatment, on days when I’d felt particularly fatigued, that was when the virus had the upper hand for a while.

There’s more to this analogy. The treatment I underwent to clear the virus was horrific. The side effects of the drugs were far worse than my symptoms of Hep C had ever been. But once the treatment finished and my system cleared out the drugs, I felt an astounding quantum leap upward, into realms of energy, optimism and effectiveness I’d never known before.

Treatment for bad theology is pretty horrific too: you have to humble yourself and be willing to examine and if necessary jettison your pet Christian-ese crutches. It will expose and demolish long-held doctrines and presuppositions if they are false. It will be scary. It can make you feel ashamed of how self-satisfied you’d been with your theology. Not to mention ashamed of the harm you might have done to others while spouting that virus-ridden theology. Renewing one’s mind can be hard work. It can make you feel inadequate. As an individual you realise you are swimming against the stream and you may get stigmatized. But if the church undergoes treatment, the cure can be incredible.

Another point: my treatment for Hep C took nearly a year back in 2005. My genotype (subtype) of the virus required me taking a combination of two drugs for 48 weeks. The side effects for me were depression, brain fog, body aches, vomiting, fever, circulation problems in my extremities, lack of oxygen in my bloodstream so I couldn’t walk except really slowly, I’d get out of breath, often I couldn’t even stand up for long, I had to give up work — and that’s only some of it. Different people get different side effects from treatment, and there is no predicting who will get which side effects. The only ‘good’ thing about the side effects was that they were never super-intense all at the same time. Each side effect could intensify or diminish for no apparent rhyme or reason. I learned to ride the waves and only got through it because I had lots of support from the medical and mental health professionals and the Hepatitis Victoria hotline.

Since then, new drugs have come on the market which have shortened the length of treatment and have fewer unpleasant side effects. But at this stage, even with these improved drugs, treatment for Hep C is still not guaranteed to clear the virus.

One last point in this analogy: If a person has had Hep C and undergone treatment and been cleared of the virus, they can catch it again. If the blood from someone who has active Hep C virus gets into their bloodstream, they may have no defence against this new infection because the genotype (subtype) of the virus may be different from the genotype they had before.

I’m sure we can all see the parallels here between the Hep C virus and the virus of bad theology in the church.

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This post is an adaptation of a comment I wrote on a post by Jeff C,  back in 2012.

 

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10 Comments

  1. To carry the theology a little further, the aspects of engaging in risky behavior often entail denial that anything bad will happen to the person. They continue to engage in that behavior because they either feel compelled to, or they enjoy that behavior so much that they will minimize any risk involved. They will often justify their behavior saying that it is their business and their life, so bug off.

    The same is true with bad theology. It is insidious. It seems so plausible and is often tied to the personality of the teacher. People who pick up this “virus” often overlook the small warning signs, stating, “I can handle that as it is such a small thing”, or, “He is so anointed and gifted, how can he be wrong?”. When you try to sound alarms, you are told to bug off because this teaching is “safe” or you are not supposed to touch “God’s anointed”.

    I am seeing more and more how the doctrines of man are being confused for the Word of God and tradition has trumped critically thinking about what we have been taught from an early age. It took me a while to fight the permanence virus when I was confronted with abuse in my family and walking with a family member through divorce. The side effects were hard, but I can see more clearly now that what I had been taught by well meaning, but also duped people, was the doctrine of man setting up idols.

  2. kind of anonymous

    Sadly so true. Many years ago, even when in my early twenties, I knew something was wrong but was often told to bug off too, in the nicest christian way of course. Coming from a background of abuse which had effected great bitterness and resentment in my life, it was communicated to me clearly that my attitude was only the result of sinful rebellion; that I was an embittered and hurting malcontent who felt the way I did because i had been affected by bad authority and therefore had a problem with obedience and submission. All of this was true, but it was used to say that THEREFORE my observation about the church and the run of the mill church christian was coming from my sin and could not possibly be valid. Someone can be reeking of a sin problem or two and still have good eyesight. Like one funny shirt said, “just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they still aren’t out to get you”.

    Yet secretly I thought the whole church thing reminded me of the fairly tale The Emperors New Clothes. I saw how threatened people were when I suggested that I needed to be away from church because my mind was overrun with everyone else’s thoughts and I had no idea what i thought. I actually got healthier by leaving the church despite the threatened denial of others that this could even be possible. Apparently thinking authentically from your own heart and mind has little value in the kingdom; it is not necessary for lockstep obedience. I noticed blatant dishonesty in leaders and that they got away with it by virtue of the instant credibilty being ministers gave them. Some knowingly traded on it and used it to their advantage to control situations and perspectives while knwoing full well they were concealing truth. They could be liars, gossips, power mongers, ego trippers, people pleasers etc but as long as they had that pastor/elder/deacon/leader card they could proffer it to another pastor and they would be respected and believed. They loved the respectful greetings in the market place and received honor from one another. Sound familiar? I found that nauseating..

    I noticed great claims of change but saw evidence that in fact, these people’s issues were not only still around in spades but now they were hidden behind the whitewash effect of ministerial robes. I wasn’t condemning the people mind you, though being hurt by such hypocrisy made me angry, but it made me wonder why, if meeting Jesus is supposed to bring such change, why that change didn’t seem to go very deep in my life or theirs. NO one had an answer, no one liked the question either. Good obedient godly woman don’t ask such things and if they do, they need to know that they are grossly out of line. I found myself saying things as if I agreed with them, even though I was aware of some significant cognitive dissonance. I remember condemning my mom’s divorce and by extension, my mom even though inwardly I couldn’t see how she could have stayed married to a man who as hitting her, lying to her and mentally abusing her and cheating on her and was a bit of a perv, for instance. But I didn’t want to go against God. My head was in a box I wasn’t even aware of. Ironically it is those who really do care about righteousness that are easy prey for man-made systems of teaching that sound like the truth to the point where you are afraid if you disagree you are disagreeing with God.

    I noticed that despite claims of God’s Spirit and power being present, there was little manifestation of what used to be called fire on the altar, that true evidence of the presence of God that results in awe, reverence, holiness and people being touched and changed. Eventually I began to wonder if there ever had been GENUINE manifestations of God’s presencea and power in church history aside from the miracles in the OT and NT. Slowly the Sunday evening services went, then the wednesday, then the choirs all began to disappear except in some churches. Programs began to replace holy passion and expectant faith-filled prayer. Folks prayed for rain, but no one brought umbrellas anymore. If you ask me, I think this kind of smug deadness and locked in, head in the sand denial has something to do with the institutionalization of the church.

    I think the same thing happened to Israel; they began to trust in the fact that they had the temple and their own land and were free to worship there, as well as in the form of the priesthood, and their heritage and of course the outward rules they followed. Their trust became anchored to the association with the temple. I see the same kind of cultural christianity today that breeds christian country clubs full of programs , attracts the right kind of people who behave properly but who couldn’t help anyone beyond being able to try and point out their sin and show them how to get back in line. It is dead religion that has some sincerity and even at times kindness in its form but is yet devoid of the life and power of God. That is the only way I can word it. Barb is right. It is indeed idolatry.

    Surely Jesus died for more than creating church christians who are too nice to understand the realities and power of sin and are as useless as the proverbial teats on a bull as far as helping others escape the entanglements of evil with wisdom and Spirit-led insight goes. If you look at the NT church, it wasn’t a passive affair where everyone dutifully sang from pre-selected stuff and then heard one guy deliver a message sunday after sunday that lasted for precisely forty five minutes on a subject that may or may not have scripture and may or may not have anything to do with how to walk with God, before hitting the local eateries. It was an interactive, all members contributing live, raw realtime affair that seemed to have more in common with an underground church meeting in a communist country where you could die for having a Bible, then a westernized church meeting in terms of the earnestness, reverence and awe goes.

    1 Corinthians 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

    We are missing something and whatever this placebo is that we have instead is, it is lifeless and lacking, is about as satisfying as a mouthful of sand, about as helpful as lemon juice poured into open wounds. There is a verse that describes most of the churches I know of today:

    Rev. 3::17nBecause thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

    Truly I am beginning to feel as if I would not be walking away from God if I didn’t attend church. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

    • WELL SAID ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

    • Seeing the Light

      Wow, Kind of Anonymous. I agree with Barbara. Well said.

  3. healinginhim

    Thank you, Barb and commenters for speaking the truth. What more can I say? 🙂

  4. standsfortruth

    Thank you for this post and comments.
    This is why it is too hard anymore to step into a standard brick and mortar church.
    They invalidate the truth by claiming it doesn’t exist.

  5. Greater Glory

    Barbara,

    Damage control needed, please! Dear Lord…… Gary Thomas’s post “Why Men Don’t Change” [Eds TRIGGER WARNING, we do NOT encourage readers to read that link, unless they want to use it as a case study of what NOT to say to victims of abuse] —

    Thanks to your teachings on “Crying Out For Justice” the triggers from Gary Thomas’s post were not lethal to me at this point in my life, but to some others who might come across this post…ugh.

    • Hi Greater Glory, you are right, that post of Gary Thomas’s is terrible. It would be very very hurtful to victims of abuse who are not well and truly out of the fog and able to discern the false teaching in it.

      In that post Gary Thomas is denying the reality of the new birth and maintaining that a man can be a Christian and keep right on abusing his wife. It is totally self, self, self centered. It also directs wives who are being mistreated by wicked selfish husbands to ‘just keep praying’. And that, as we know, is a recipe for years or decades of more suffering, where the abuser just gets worse and the victim gets more debilitated.

      And it couches it all with such fancy spiritually superior language: Thomas and the female marriage counselor he approvingly cites, are telling such women “You haven’t been praying right. Listen to us. We know how you SHOULD be praying.” They have the magic formula:

      More than simply praying for a change in the way your husband treats you, pray for a change in his heart toward God. In the end, that’s the most effective way for him to change the way he treats you and looks at you. He’s spiritually bent, so that needs to be your focus before God. Instead of trying to “fix your marriage,” ask God to overwhelm your husband’s soul with the presence of the Suffering Servant, Jesus.

      Garbage. Haughty patronising offensive garbage.

      And remember Ellie’s post euphemisms for sin? Gary Thomas and this foolish counselor are spruiking another euphemism for abuse: “functional fixedness”. Clever fools them!

      Good for you for letting us know. We will be mentioning that post in our Hall of Blind Guides. And on the strength of that post, we will be mentally adding Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Influence to our Bad Books list.

      • Before an abuser is “overwhelmed with the presence of the Suffering Servant, Jesus,” he needs to be overwhelmed with an apprehension of God’s wrath and judgement for his sin!

      • Greater Glory

        Thank you, Barbara, for responding and addressing the post on Gary Thomas’ site. Yes, I do remember well the “euphemisms for sin” list. When I first read the article and came across that term, “functional fixedness” I thought, “Oh, some new term in the psychology/counseling world? Wow, if it were 2 years ago I would have taken that new term, researched the heck out of it, applied it a million different ways to me and how I needed to change to make the marriage work, etc., taken a trip of God only knows how many years deep into that rabbit hole and, even possibly taken my life.” I was and am still mad at the “medical malpractice” of their advice.
        Advice to all: DON’T GO DOWN THAT RABBIT HOLE!

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