The outward manifestation of this disease is truly horrible and a loving parent's worst nightmare. You can see how hard they fought against the disease, hospitalization after hospitalization, piles of drugs . . .and still, the demons could not be slayed or even tamed.
I can also see why many more conservative (and uninformed) evangelicals would assume that these really are demons and what the child really needs is an exorcist. If only it could be that simple. But it does beg the question of why would God allow such a horrible condition on such an innocent child?
Of course it must come back to the fall. We are full of imperfections and some of those are in the genetic fabric of the brain. While some of the mutations may result in things like, personality disorders, higher or lower intelligence, seizures, tendency towards depression . . . or schizophrenia. The child is an innocent victim as well as the whole family. One little girl had attempted to kill her normal sister . . . yet she loves that sister. It is a nightmare. Those families were exhausted and had done every thing they humanly could do to stop it. Some of the marriages were coming apart at the seams because the mom and dad were physically spent. These people were heroes in my book.
I've seen schizophrenia play out in an evangelical church setting three times that I can think of. Once in Marquette, Michigan and twice in my previous church on our island. In all three cases I had an court-side seat because I was an elder. In all three cases, the response of the leadership was the same . . . demons. The last time I was involved with a schizophrenic in the Christian setting was in my previous church. A man went nuts in the service and began screaming profanities. The only one other person recognized it as schizophrenia and that was a friend who was paramedic. Everyone wants the simplistic answer of casting out the demons and seeing the person become totally normal in an instance. I also see this as part of the problem of dualism. When you believe that the only important realm is the spiritual, then someone screaming profanities in the middle of a church service must be a spiritual problem . . . it can't be a brain problem . . . or can it?
I want to move the discussion to the more typical experience of most Christians.
Mental illness of course can come in a variety of unrelated forms. Most of us, or maybe all of us, suffer from some form of mental illness at times. The severity of these illnesses vary along a spectrum as well. On one end they are very much under our control. In the middle of the spectrum it is still possible to treat the mental illness with behavior and cognitive work and/or medications but, as you approach the bad end, the mental illness falls more and more outside the box of our control. Those who end up there are typically abandoned by the Church because the Church likes to make the assumption that all of our behavior, like screaming profanities at invisible monsters in the middle of the church service, is a moral problem . . . personal sin of some sorts. Seeing the victim as an innocent sufferer doesn't fit in our paradigm. But it should if we really understood the consequences of the fall. So, in some mental heath issues, we are on the back of a wild horse but we do have the reins in our hands and can exert some influence on the course of the runaway. However, in some disorders you have one foot in the stirrup and are being dragged with virtually no control. The little girls in the 20/20 story, as well as their families, are being dragged . . . almost to an emotional oblivion.
I will make this a bit personal. In my life I have a moderate level of anxiety which is garden variety. In that situation I'm in the saddle and the reins are in my hands and I can take actions, re-frame thoughts, pray and over time see a difference.
I also had one bout of clinical depression which started when we had a missionary experience failure (about 21 years ago) and it lasted three years. While in the beginning I was being dragged, I eventually was able to get back in the saddle and wrestle the beast . . . not quite into submission but to a fragile control.
However, I also went through an experience 15 years ago that was very traumatic. I don't want to talk about the specifics here but just as an observer. The best way you could describe it--in mental health terms--was PTSD. Now, the good news it that I'm much better now with some echos of worsening anxiety every since.
But here is my point. I was overwhelmed at the time with the new notion that what was happening in my brain, in response to the trauma, was completely out of my control. I had one foot in the stirrup and was being dragged through hell. I fought the horrible and extreme anxiety (constant terror) with all my heart. I honestly, for the first time in my life, prayed without ceasing. I had continuing flashbacks and intrusive thoughts which I had absolutely no control over. I felt totally mentally ill. Each time a flash of the memory came into my mind it was a terrible and very real jolt as if I had been hit with a cattle prod. This happened very 2-3 minutes all day long, and all night (with no sleep for days). I am a very rational person and not a big believer in tissue paper miracles or demons behind each bush, but I was begging for the demons to removed from me and that's how scared I was. It was a 1-2 year nightmare . . . then slowly the majority of the symptoms improved. But I've never been the same. Something concrete changed in my brain . . . I assume, forever.
So, I'm reflecting on the intrusive mental illnesses and how we as Christians view them. I know that when my body was "possessed" by the extreme . . . I guess I would call it constant terror . . . it was in control and I had none.
But how do we as Christians handle this in others? In my old evangelical paradigm, we always made the sufferer responsible. That made sense to us. We were good and strong Christians because of our hard work and obedience to God. Those who heard voices . . . well they must have done something terribly wrong, or, because they are weak (morally) they were possessed by demons.
I just think what what would happen if anyone of those families on 20/20 attended one of our churches? Now, I know that there churches and Christian people who would accept them, love them, and not see the parents as failures of the James Dobson School of Perfect Parenting, but giants and heroes. I know that there are good Christian people out there who would take the healthy sisters for the weekend to give them a break from the chaos, and some brave ones who would even take the schizophrenic child for a week so the parents could come up for air.
But I remember sitting in a elder's board meeting at my church in Marquette after a different man with a thought disorder yelled out profanities in the previous Sunday's morning worship. One of the members, a surgeon who should of known better, said the most ridiculous thing. "I have a bad feeling about Jack (the screamer). There's a dark spirit about him and I sense something satanic."