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Archives / 1993 / April

 

Book review: The Codependent Church

Len McMillan

 

The title intrigues, the introduction titillates (with a promise of revealed secrets), but the content often gets lost in a maze of Catholic theology. As might be expected from a theology teacher at Loyola University (Chicago), Hoffman bases her examples on the Catholic Church. But that doesn't mean Adventists have nothing to learn from this volume.

Codependency is a popular term for a kind of dysfunctional relationship with addictive qualities. The author builds a strong case for the existence of codependency in the church institution. In the process she makes a statement that most Christians will find alarming: "To the extent that a church assigns its members roles to play and expects them to live by rules that rob them of their inner selves, it is dysfunctional and teaches codependency. To the extent that a church is a closed system, it is dysfunctional and teaches codependence."

After wading through 1,600 years of Catholic history that can be as interesting as the begats, the reader is jolted by this statement: "In the name of religion, we have committed another act of insanity. We have claimed to have the only franchise on God. This underlies all other claims made by closed and rigid Christian denominations." Hoffman sees the "idol of conformity" in Protestant as well as Catholic camps, the only difference being the title under which this god reigns. The author suggests that in some denominations the idol of conformity can be a literal biblical interpretation that if consistent would force twenty-first-century persons to live as ancient Middle Eastern people.

Hoffman builds a challenging case that much of what we call Christian fundraising is actually codependent behavior because the institutional church pushes all the codependent buttons: guilt, diminished self-worth, gullibility, willingness to be manipulated, and the need to be needed.

Another symptom of codependency is dishonesty and denial. She says that rigid Christians lie to themselves about being happy with the denominational menu they are offered. They perpetuate the lie with their children and new converts because the pain of confronting the truth is too much. And so they continue to repeat doctrines they no longer believe valid.

Hoffman summarizes by saying, "Security seekers and the power seekers complement each other and have a vested interest in keeping one another in those roles." It is at the end of the book, where she speaks about intervention and how to break the codependency cycle that her rather extreme view comes to light. Her desire goes deeper than eliminating codependency. She appears to advocate the breakup of the institutional church.

Hoffman's idea of recovery would be to work through small community groups with no permanent leaders, no property, a simple structure, and complete anonymity. For many Protestants and Catholics, the cure could be worse than the disease.

Realizing how radical this sounds, Hoffman vacillates in an attempt to maintain some structure. She distinguishes between faith (a personal relationship with God) and religion (a community relation ship with like believers). She concludes that if we can come to see that God and the institutional church are not the same, we can start seeing contemporary churches as successful attempts to support their members' faith relationships with God.

The Codependent Church serves its greatest purpose by inspiring conservative Christian leaders to address codependency within their religious communities. For those who wish to learn more of the inner workings of the Catholic Church and about the 12-step program for recovery from addictive and codependent behavior on the institutional level, this book is worth having.

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