Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Games We Play--The Illusions We Portray

This is a side-bar of my discussion about mental health within the Church. The premises that I am making here is;

1) The Fall of Adam has penetrated us (physically, emotionally, psychologically and of course spiritually) much more than we realize.
2)The process of sanctification is much slower and arduous that we have been led to believe. Therefore the "Godliness" that we think we are obtaining is often an illusion. For example, I don't think any Fallen/mortal man or woman ever does anything out of 100% pure motives.
3)But don't worry, be happy . . . we ARE fully righteous IN CHRIST.

The Problem: In American "colloquial" (or you could say "folk") Evangelicalism, it is believed that when you are saved, you are instantly a new creature ( a misunderstanding of II Cor 5:17), and all your old problems suddenly disappear. It is also believed that all the effects of sin on you is spiritual, not physical (brain, emotional or psychological insults from the Fall). The problem with this paradigm is that while the "spiritual" is very fluid and changeable . . . simply by changing your will . . . the physical effects of the Fall are much more difficult to change. Alcoholism or anorexia are a prime examples. These don't usually go away over night if you become a Christian.

So, if we live in a Christian culture that believes that you can and should live almost perfectly, when in reality you can not, the options you have are to be yourself and look very unspritual or disguise your flaws through a series of psychological gymnastics.

I recently finished Frank Schaeffer's Calvin Becker Trilogy. Simply stated, it is the story of a normal adolescent boy growing up in a deeply dysfunctional, but very spiritual Evangelical family. I enjoyed reading it as it was well written and from an angle that is rarely explored. The problem that I have, like others, with the books is that it is too close to home . . . Frank's home. The book parallels his own family. However, it is fiction and I am sure that Frank does not believe that his own family, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, were anywhere near this dysfunctional.

In those books, there are some serious psycho-social problems, but smeared over with a super-Evangelical spirituality.

I'm going to take the time to tell one story ( of many I could tell ) to illustrate this point that I'm trying to make.

About 8 years ago, I joined an online forum of my old, college Navigator buddies. One of them was John. He had been my spiritual mentor in college and I've always respected him a great deal. Afterwords, he went to Presbyterian seminary and may even have a doctorate in theology by now. He is also the pastor of a PCA church in Texas.

One day, oddly, John comes onto the forum and wants to share "Something very exciting God is doing in his and his family's life." He said it had to do with their health. Then he reminded everyone that he had studied "medicine" in college. Really he was in pre-med for one semester. Next he shared that "God had showed him some very interesting things about health." For one, he said, "God wanted everyone to be in good health. Everyone (which included me) who prescribes medicine are sorcerers and thus of the devil according to the Bible."

After that post I was offended, and scratching my head. I wasn't sure where he was heading with this and I waited to see.

He next shared that "God has shown him the natural supplement Manatech," which, John suggested, cures almost every disease known to man . . . including cancer.

Up until this point, I had not said anything. But then he went on to encourage someone on the forum to have their friend stop their chemotherapy for breast cancer and go on Manatech supplements. This really concerned me so I started to do research.

What I learned was that Manatech supplement company was started by a "Christian" and is marketed toward Christians, especially pastors in the southeast and Texas. It was also started by a man who had a jaded past in business, selling bogus insulation panels for homes in Texas. Also, most importantly, it is a multi-level-marketing company.

So I asked John to come clean. I asked, #1, was he an "associate" for Manatech, thus part of their sales force? Secondlly I asked, is there any scientific evidence that Manatech does anything?

He hesitated but finally admitted that he was indeed a Manatech sales person. Then the only scientific evidence that he could give for a product that he was telling people to use instead of chemotherapy (and thus putting their lives at risk) was that Dr. Ben Carson used if faithfully and advertised it for the company.

That simply didn't make sense. Dr. Carson is a respected neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. I use to work for Mayo Clinic and I knew that there was no way that Johns Hopkins would allow him to do commercials for a supplement company. So I called Dr. Carson's office.

It turned out that Dr. Carson had NEVER used Manatech products nor endorsed them. The only relationship that he had with the company was that he did a motivation talk for them (which he does for many companies) for a fee of $25,000.

I confronted John on the forum with that information because he was manipulating the old Nav people to buy his products in a fraudulent way.

To make a long story short, John wrote me a long private letter of how I was in sin, that I had disappointed God, that I needed to confess my sin (of gossip, or some obscure sin, which I can't remember). That if I confessed my sin to the whole group and tell them that I had sinned against John and Manatech, then he may forgive me and be able to fellowship with me again, but until then, he could not.

Do you see what's happening here? Let's peel back the layers of the facade. John was trying to con a group of good people out of their money to buy his supplements and to tell them that God wanted them to. Then, when I challenged him, he turned it into a "spiritual matter" of my sin.

I've seen Christians do this over and over. Back when I was in the Navs, we would use guilt manipulation all the time to get our own selfish way and we thought we were saints. I use to play these games all the time. I've seen many pastors over the years do the same. If you attempt to challenge anything they say or do, they will make it a "your sin" issue and their views as "God's way."

I will end with one more brief example. David was a guy I went to high school with. I didn't know him in high school but got to know him as I started college. He joined the same Navigator group.

To save time, I will be direct and share the story in brutally honest detail. I really believe that David was, romantically, infatuated with me. He was obsessed with me, perusing me constantly . . . yet he also portrayed himself as a Navigator disciple.

David was also very smart (IQ probabably over 160). He was my highschool's valedictorian. He was also very articulate and . . . very manipulative.

I was a new Christian myself at the time and very naive. I really thought that God wanted me to be nice to everyone at all cost. Yet, I did constantly try to set barriers to David's sexual advances.

When I would shun his advances, David would then go to the other people in the ministry and start a very well thought out plan to tell them how much he, "loved me . . . as a brother . . . and he didn't know why I didn't love him." He would hang out with the girls in the ministry (whom I wanted to impress) and tell them how mean I had been to him. Then the girls would be angry at me until one would confront me saying, "David really respects you and loves you. You have really hurt him and he's been so nice to you. You need to seek God's forgiveness and restore your relationship with him."

It was my nightmare. I was too embarrassed to explain to the girls that David wanted me to have sleep-overs at his house, then would try to fondle me while I slept. I hated it!. But every time I turned down his offer to come over . . . next thing I knew, these girls (remember the cute girls, which I wanted to impress) would start coming up to tell me how I had sinned against David and had hurt, poor David's feelings. Until this day, those girls think I was some kind of mean jerk.

I would say that David made my 4 years of college a living hell. He went on to become an important staff person with the Navigators (who has a strong stand against homosexuality) and has never appoligized to me, nor do I have any evidence that he's changed.

But this is the kind of games that we allow to happen.

So what's the solution? To consider that we are deeply fallen, that our hearts are decietful and not trustworthy. That none of our motives are really pure. That we are saved by the righteousness of Christ. That when we are honest with our fallen self (homosexuality in David's case, or spiritual manipulation in John's case . . . or, my sins of trying to make my wife feel guilty for not allowing me to get my way) then we can deal with these issues directly.

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