Posted by: Botolff | April 16, 2009


Corey and I swap book titles.  He told me about Anne Jackson’s book “MAD CHURCH DISEASE”.  So I picked it up…and then put it back down about half way through.  Anne reads our posts from time to time, so if you’re reading Anne, I hope my words feel like an opportunity to jump in, not an attempt to scare you off.

I’ve determined I have a like/dislike relationship with Anne’s book.  As someone on the front end of a book project myself, I want to commend her on all the thought, research, conversations, time and heart she put into “Mad Church Disease.”  Anne is very obviously a creative and passionate woman who loves the church, as can be seen on the pages between the hard cover of a very powerful project.  At times I saw her vulnerability, and I always have appreciation for a vulnerable writer.

One short story particularly caught my attention in the book.  When Anne was a little girl, she hid in a janitor’s closet at the church her father was pastoring at and listened in on a deacon’s meeting through the wall.  She did this in order to find out why her family was so disrupted and hurt by the church “politics” (or abuse as I would call it) that seemed to take place in those meetings.  As I was reading, I was intrigued and emotionally connected to the image I had of her leaning up against the wall waiting for words to be exchanged in the meeting.  Maybe because I knew what was about to take place, and I believed that the impending violence that was likely to surface on the other side of the wall would set up a horrifically valuable stage for what I thought she would be writing about in the rest of the book.

But then something happened.  It felt to me like the focus of the book shifted away from naming who and what caused the disease, to the people hosting it, and their responsibility to take responsibility for “catching” it.  It was almost as if the flu became the catcher’s responsibility instead of the spreader’s.  Maybe I misunderstood the disease.  Is the disease the “burnout” that people sign up for themselves, or the abusive way people treat ministers that leads to their burnout?

I understand the importance of owning our own immune deficiencies, and accepting that sometimes we aide and abet burnout.  However, what I have found more often then not is that the disease (from my perspective) is spread through the individual and communal dysfunction of real people who would rather choose to be abusive than loving.

I guess the bottom line for me is that I felt like by Part 2, the book abandoned the disease (as I thought it was being originally presented) and the victims of it, and instead made the victim responsible for it.  It seems as though the remedy, according to Anne, is to accept your own responsibility, change your purpose, work on your new plan, create your boundaries, get your accountability, and then “refill your cup” with more prayer, meditation and study of scripture, worship, service and submission, a better diet, more exercise, additional hours of sleep, some key de-stressors, safer relationships, more community, a good plan to process pain and preserve unity, an understanding and implementation of forgiveness, and then look for more opportunities to trust again.  Oh my, I think after writing that last section, I just figured out what happened between me and Anne’s book… I burned out on it.

Although I believe the pieces of Anne’s recovery process are good things in their proper place, in light of the title, I feel like they put a whole lot of responsibility back on hurting people, and take the focus off of people whose dysfunction is spreading the disease.

Anne, if you read this, and are willing to respond, I’d love to know more about what Mad Church Disease is from your perspective.  Maybe I just missed or missunderstood something.  Can you help me out with this?  Will you also help me better understand what you were hoping I would receive from the book?  Maybe my emotional state just stood in the way of me picking up what you were trying to lay down.



  1. I think I see what you are saying here Jamie. I enjoyed the book. However, where the book frustrated me was only on a personal level. I kept getting the nagging sense that we were dealing with symptoms instead of systemic causes.

    In other words, maybe there is a systemic/environmental reason why pastors are burning out. While certainly some of it is within the ministers themselves, the Church system must also be addressed.

  2. I edited a trackback in there, Jamie. Just an FYI

  3. I just ran across this blog. I will definitely look for the “Mad Church Disease” book. Sounds very interesting. I am a pastor at a church in Illinois so this topic is very intriguing. I recently started my own blog on wordpress. If you have a chance, please jump over and check it out. It’s at Thanks! I’ll be back soon.

  4. Can an environment contribute? Absolutely.

    Can an environment be a source for healing? Absolutely.

    I look at my own past of sexual abuse. Am I responsible for the abuse? Not at all.

    Am I responsible for doing what I need to do to recover from it? Absolutely.

    Let me go through the principles and apply them to sexual abuse (because there is no question where the responsibility lies there — with the abuser).

    1) Own up. Obviously I didn’t abuse myself, but by not taking the proper steps to heal in a timely manner – by getting counseling sooner, or talking about it sooner, or not covering up the pain…those are the things I need to own up to for the reason I am not as whole as I need to be.

    2) Change your purpose. My purpose is to not feel the hurt…which is not good. I need to grieve and also forgive.

    3) Make a plan: What steps do I need to take to work on the issues the abuse has caused me? Counseling, medication, support groups.

    4) Set boundaries: I won’t google the name of my abuser. I won’t dwell on things that remind me of what happened. I won’t place myself in situations I know will cause me to go back to those places in my mind.

    5) Find accountability: Who is making sure I’m still on that path to heal?

    So…we are responsible for our own healing. External factors may have contributed to our pain and could have even been beyond our control, but that is no excuse for not doing what we can to get healthy.

    Hope that helps.

  5. Anne,

    Thanks for jumping in again. It was good to see you back in the mix.

    Let me just say that I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to mention your own abuse. I have to believe that those moments were horrific times for you. I for one am glad you survived. I believe this world is a better place because you are here, and have spoken to something of the abuse that has taken place. I hope you will be able to continue finding healing as you press on in your journey.

    I also agree that we play a very significant role in the direction of our journey, and our own healing. I guess I just feel like it’s often easier to dismiss much of a person’s experience, as well as the people most responsible for their experience, and quickly move on to creating a system that the individual is responsible to implement in order to do something about their experience.

    I’m still interested in hearing more about what you think the “Mad Church Disease” is, if you’re willing to share.

    Thanks again for dialoguing Anne.

  6. […] Jamie’s comments on Mad Church Disease […]

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