Disease or Idolatry?*

-  The world views "codependency" as a "disease" (and one reaching epidemic proportions at that). The term was first coined in the 1970s by those associated with the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement; AA recognized that some families become locked into a pattern of "pathological dependence" upon one another. [It is true that people become wrongly or excessively dependent on others or things other than God (John 8:31-34; 15:4,5; 1 Cor 1:12), but this is simply idolatry, not a disease.] The codependency concept, along with the 12-Step recovery process, was first applied to spouses of "alcoholics" who supposedly enter into an addictive relationship with the "alcoholic," but is now applied across the board to anyone who might feel compelled, for whatever reason, to put others before himself.

-  Today the term "codependency" is used to describe almost any relationship with another person or group that is demanding or requires sacrifice. It has been dubbed the psychological disease of those with a "caretaker" mentality, who are over-committed and over-involved in the lives of needy individuals; i.e., they "have a high need for keeping people dependent on them." Because the "codependent" is supposedly neglecting essential personal needs to meet the demands or needs of another, this relationship is viewed as "unhealthy." One author described a codependent as "being totally concerned with others and neglecting [himself], accepting their problems as [his] own ..." Thus, a codependent is "guilty of excessive compulsions" to fix the wrongs of another or to be controlled by another. This has even resulted in some "Christian" opinion leaders teaching that persons can even find themselves in an "unhealthy" codependent relationship with their church (e.g., Toxic Faith, by Stephen Arterburn).

This is a strange concern since Scripture never warns us of the harm of excessive love, but persistently pleads with us to love God and others as passionately as we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). The implications for the wife who is seeking to win her husband to Christ in obedience to 1 Peter 3:1-6 is interesting. If he is labeled "addictive," will she be found codependent? Will her gentle and quiet spirit and submissive demeanor cause her to be labeled an "enabler"? The answer from the codependency crowd would be a resounding, YES! In fact, the feminist propagators of this viewpoint would consider any "non-liberated" woman to be codependent.

-  The codependency movement's theoretical presuppositions (as to the model of health, the symptoms, the cause, and the treatment methods) are for the most part diametrically opposed to the Word of God. What we most strongly object to is the codependency movement's tendency to classify as disease what has traditionally been referred to as sin. Its proponents have rejected the traditional or moral model of behavior, which is the Biblical model, in favor of the medical model. Whereas the moral model asserts that addiction is either the direct result of one's own immoral behavior, or indirectly, one's sinful response to the immoral behavior of another, which in either case, one is spiritually depraved and thus guilty of sin, the medical model asserts that addiction is the result of amoral biology, in which one is psychologically and physically diseased and thus a victim of sickness. "Codependency" is merely the disease model of addiction extended and applied to those who live with "addicts." This mislabeling of sin as disease, with an ever-expanding set of symptoms, has created an insidious and lucrative deception:

"Since behaviors which would be identified as sin in the Bible are relabeled 'codependent behavior,' the answer is not Christ and Him crucified, confession, forgiveness, and repentance. The answer given by the sirens of codependency is to change yourself by taking care of yourself and putting your own needs first. Thus people identified as 'codependents' are simply urged to move from one form of self-centeredness to another, rather than from self to God. ... In so-called recovery groups for so-called codependents, people replace one form of idolatry with another. And they remain enslaved to self" (PsychoHeresy Update, Fall 1990, p. 3).

-  Codependency theorists believe the danger for the codependent is a loss of identity due to an inability to establish personal boundaries or limits. These are essential, they insist, to keep people from coming into our space, and to keep us from violating theirs. But is a loss of identity possible because a person is consumed with love and care for another? Should the Christian be counseled to establish boundaries around himself to insure his needs are always met? Must he seek his own freedom and happiness independent of serving others? This is the egocentric madness of raw paganism popularized by Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow. Their dogma insists that self-needs always come first. (To be consistent, one would also have to conclude that even many of Jesus' teachings were pathological!)

-  What are the characteristics of codependency? One "Christian" author lists over 200 characteristic features of codependency -- and that, we are told, is not a complete list. Minirth and Meier in their book, Happiness is a Choice, list 130 traits for what they call the "obsessive-compulsive" personality, 118 traits for the "hysterical" personality, 101 traits for "depressed" types, and 71 traits for a "cyclothymic" personality.

-  A secular book that has done more than anything else to "Christianize" codependency is Codependent No More by Melodie Beattie. It has been recommended by many so-called Christian counselors and sold in many Christian bookstores. The very first page of the book is blank except for a quote that very well expresses the goal of this psychological/religious philosophy (i.e., put self on the throne) -- "It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere."

Codependency guru John Bradshaw (an unbeliever who defines codependency as the internalization of shame) blames codependency in part on Christians who teach doctrines of original sin, total depravity, and eternal punishment, adding that Adam's problem was the result of "toxic shame" rather than sin. This theory holds that virtually everyone in this country is a product of a "dysfunctional family," a whopping 96% of us, and that we have all experienced some form of traumatic abuse as children. In turn, this childhood "abuse" inevitably results in some form of adult dysfunctional behavior -- often some form of addiction -- the solution for which is a concerted effort to "heal the inner child" through 12-Step programs. This is the same John Bradshaw who "heartily recommends" Love is a Choice: Recovery for Codependent Relationships, a best-selling "Christian" recovery book which Minirth and Meier co-author with Robert Hemfelt (of Serenity Bible fame). [Toxic Faith, a book authored in part by professing believer Stephen Arterburn, the CEO of New Life Treatment Centers (now Minirth-Meier New Life Clinics), teaches many of the same concepts as Bradshaw, only dressed up in Christian terminology.]

-  The codependency movement actually believes that the cause of codependency is the practice of self-denial or sacrifice (e.g., Beattie, p. 109, states that "'Love thy neighbor as thyself.' The problem with many codependents is we do just that.") Yet the Bible teaches that we are to deny self (Lk. 9:23-26), love God with our entire beings (Matt. 22:37), and love others as we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:39; Eph. 5:29). The psychological mind that dominates the codependency movement misunderstands the Biblical concept of denial of self and sees it as merely sacrificing self for another person's whims. Jesus, however, commanded us to sacrifice self for another's needs (not his wants or desires) and then only according to God's will.

-  It is estimated that there are well over 300 different recovery organizations across the country which employ the 12-Steps. As is typically the case, professing Christians have seized the methods of secular counselors, "integrated" the 12-Step approach with Biblical principals, and now present it as an "effective, scientific, and Biblical way" of recovering from everything from overeating to incest. Even so-called Christian, hospital-based "recovery clinics" (such as Rapha Hospital Treatment Centers [Robert McGee] and Minirth-Meier New Life Clinics [Stephen Arterburn]) have exploded upon the scene, operating as privately owned, for-profit corporations -- a trend which one author describes as "franchising hope" (Tim Stafford, "Franchising Hope," Christianity Today, May 18, 1992, pp. 22-26). The rapid spread of the movement within the professing church is even causing true believers to ask: "Can psychotherapy help solve the ancient problem of sin?"

-  As mentioned, an organization that is heavily promoting 12-Step codependency/recovery programs as a "Christian" methodology for the cure of "dysfunctional" relationships is the Rapha Ministries and Hospital Treatment Centers of Houston, Texas. Rapha debuted in 1986 and claims to have treated over 30,000 psychiatric in-patients since. Today it is estimated that Rapha operates approximately 120 hospital beds in twelve psychiatric units with an annual income of more than $12 million. Rapha specializes in the "treatment" of so-called codependent and/or addicted Christians (by employing an amalgamation of Adlerean-Maslowian need psychology and the Bible). Rapha also claims that over 2,000 churches in the U.S. are using its materials. (See Chapter 3 of 12 Steps to Destruction and the November-December 1996 PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter for a more detailed discussion of Rapha and its programs.) [Some of the more prominent "Christian celebrities" that have endorsed Rapha are Jerry Falwell ("It has been good to know that we now have a place to refer persons we counsel who are in need of hospital care for emotional, spiritual and substance abuse problems."); D. James Kennedy ("Rapha offers a unique blend of clinical competence and scriptural authority. They truly live up to their biblical name."); Beverly LaHaye ("I am confident that the Rapha Hospital Treatment Centers are a gift of God for our generation. I am pleased to be able to recommend the Rapha program everywhere"); and Charles Stanley ("I am grateful to God for all Rapha is doing to help hurting people. Those of us who are pastors are thankful for an organization like Rapha.")]

-  "Christian" recovery centers don't offer an alternative as much as an extension of their secular counterparts. AA's 12-Steps -- which are wide enough to include virtually any philosophical or religious viewpoint -- are definitely not Christian, having more in common with the all-inclusive Bahai faith than with Biblical Christianity. This should not be surprising, since it can be thoroughly documented that the founders of AA, in spite of "Christian" recovery industry' claims to the contrary, were not Christians. [Professing Christians who author recovery literature naively assume that the result of Bill Wilson's (AA's co-founder) "spiritual awakening" (Step 12) was regeneration. The Bobgans document that AA's founders practiced spiritualism, necromancy, and conducted sťances. They (Wilson, et al.) deliberately kept their religious viewpoints low-key so that their organization would appeal to Christians of all types, as well as to those of other religions -- including Jews, Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists -- as well as to atheists (12 Steps to Destruction, pp. 106-117).]

-  In late 1992, a popular so-called evangelical journal (Leadership) dedicated its entire issue to the recovery phenomenon, noting that one-half of the church leaders which responded to its survey stated that they attended or led at least one recovery group within the past 12 months. Professing evangelical church fellowships/denominations are also corporately buying into the religion of codependency/recovery. The most obvious evidence of this is the June 1991 issue of The Evangelical Beacon, the "official magazine of The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA)." The issue is titled "Power Through Grace: Freedom From Addiction and Codependency." It contains ten pieces of "literature" (articles, editor's letters, interviews, columns, etc.) that could easily serve as a philosophical guide for any church desiring to switch allegiance from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the gospel of codependency/12-Step recovery programs. It is a perfect example of "heresy called sound doctrine." (A letter to Dr. Kenneth Meyer, the then president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (now Trinity International University), the official Seminary of the E-Free denomination located in Deerfield, Illinois, criticizing his part in the codependency heresy, drew the following, almost unbelievable, response: "Your letter ... showed an arrogance and total lack of biblical sense in regard to codependent and addictive needs. ... the issue of the Evangelical Beacon you criticized was probably the best in their recent history. Your letter shows your need for the ministry of a Christian psychologist or psychiatrist." [Emphasis added.]) So, to criticize those in the codependency industry, you're labeled as a nut.

-  Part of the recovery process of a codependent involves committing himself to a support group, practicing the 12-Steps in every area of his life for the rest of his life, and seeking to share his experience with others in an attempt to convert them to the 12-Step way of life. The parallels to Christianity are striking. But what you really have here is a pagan substitute for Biblical conversion, teaching, church membership, and witnessing. Twelve-Step programs are a counterfeit of Christianity and compete with it for the souls of men. Professing Christians who become involved in 12-Step recovery approaches have lost confidence in the efficacy of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, and have misunderstood the gospel and what it entails.

-  The ridiculousness of the codependency movement is even being recognized by the secular press. Mark Lacter, at the time the Business Editor of the Daily News (a suburban Los Angeles newspaper), quotes child psychologist Robert Coles' comments printed in the New York Times which read: "I have a feeling we're soon going to have special groups for third cousins of excessive sherry drinkers." Dr. Stan J. Katz, a noted secular psychologist, in his controversial book The Codependency Conspiracy (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1991) makes the following charge:

"By creating so many different disease characteristics, the codependency leaders offer a slot for everyone. We all must be codependent because we all fit at least one of the descriptions. This tactic is very good for book sales and lecture attendance. ... But the tactic is also irresponsible. Most of the feelings and behavior listed as codependence traits are perfectly normal. They do not indicate that we came from dysfunctional families or are in one now. They do not prove we are addicts. ... All they prove is that the authors of these lists have conceived a theory so broad, so multifaceted that it is virtually meaningless."

To summarize, the "12-Step/codependency gospel" is, pure and simple, a religious humanism gospel of self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance, and self-nurturing (formulated by such humanistic psychologists as Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers), whereby original sin is recast into "disease" and habitual sins are "shortcomings," "character defects," or "addictions." It is truly a model of transpersonal psychology which seeks to combine the psychological with the spiritual (12 Steps to Destruction, p. 230).

This emphasis is humanistic rather than Biblical; people's problems are not a lack but an abundance of self-love, and thus, most people who allegedly struggle with these issues in reality are afflicted with the sin of pride. Not only are the individual steps unbiblical, the whole goal of the recovery movement is wrong. The Bobgans contend that 12-Step programs:

"... do not hold a common doctrine of God and His creation. Instead, each group holds a common goal, centered in saving self. In AA it's sobriety; in Codependents Anonymous it's feeling good through unshackled selfhood. ... The goal takes precedence over the One True God. Whatever god or goddess is chosen as the higher power is subservient to that goal. All of these fit into the New Age spirituality: no absolutes, many ways, self-enhancement" (12-Steps to Destruction, p. 116). (Emphasis added.)

The codependency movement offers an alternative "way" for producing abundant life. In virtually every codependency group, recovery is promised to those who surrender to a "Higher Power." This invariably means a New Age, pantheistic god of one's own understanding (that teaches self-deification), not the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ. When the Lordship of Christ is replaced by a man-made image, then the efficacy of the cross, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of His Word are replaced by idolatry. God's "way" to both prevent and treat so-called pathological dependence is to depend wholly on (i.e., trust and obey) Jesus Christ, through His Blood, His Spirit, and His Word.

Note on Melanie Beattie: Beattie claims to be a Christian, but is teaching self-love psychology and New Age perspectives. Author of the best-seller Codependent No More, Beattie says that we "suffer from that vague but penetrating affliction, low self-worth" and that "self-love" is the cure. One of the chapters in Codependent No More, in fact, is entitled, "Have a Love Affair With Yourself." She suggests we stop torturing ourselves and try to raise our view of ourselves. How do we do that? She says: "Right now, we can give ourselves a big emotional and mental hug. We are okay. It's wonderful to be who we are. Our thoughts are okay. Our feelings are appropriate. We're right where we're supposed to be today, this moment. There is nothing wrong with us. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us." (Beattie must have missed Romans 3:23 -- "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.")

In an excerpt from her original meditation in The Language of Letting Go, Beattie writes: "Trust yourself. Trust what you know. Sometimes, it is hard to stand in our own truth & trust what we know, especially when others would try to convince us otherwise ... Ask to be shown the truth, clearly -- not by the person trying to manipulate or convince you, but by yourself, your Higher Power & the Universe."

In a 1997 interview, Beattie reveals more of her "New Age spirituality" by erroneously comparing the holiness of the crucifixion with the "holiness" of human despair. She stated: "The crucifixion has become one of the holy places, but I'm sure it didn't feel all that holy going through it. But he (Jesus) took his pain and made it count for something. He owned his power within that situation, he did what he wanted to do and he handled it creatively. That night when we bottom out on drinking and we've never hated ourselves so much, that's a holy place. That day when we're ready to blow our brains out because he won't change and do something differently so we can be happy, and someone says why don't you try Al-Anon, it becomes a holy place." 

In this same interview, Beattie implies that people living today had the opportunity (before their birth) to choose to live at this particular time in history: "I know it sounds kind of new-agey [she rubbed her hands together and grinned gleefully], but I think there are some of us who just went: I know there's going to be some stuff happening there [on earth in this time] and I want to be part of it. We might be having second thoughts as we grind through the nineties, but I do think it's going to pay off. As we go around the tip of this decade, I think we're going to see and remember why we're here." -- The Power of Self-Love: Conversations with Melody Beattie, Phoenix, Vol. 17, No. 10, Oct. 1997. 

* Unless otherwise indicated, the material herein is excerpted from "'Codependency' or Idolatry?" (Sid Galloway, The Biblical Counselor, November, 1990, pp. 1 & 8); 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency/Recovery Heresies (Martin and Deidre Bobgan, EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1991, 247 pages); Christian Psychology's War on God's Word: The Victimization of the Believer by Jim Owen, available from EastGate Publishers, 1993, 274 pages); and a book review ("Serenity: A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery") written by Gregory Mazak (Biblical Viewpoint, The Critics' Corner, November, 1992, pp. 113-121).

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 2/2004