The death of my brother Jim when he was only 19 was the worst sorrow my family had ever experienced. Having been diagnosed with “schizophrenia” a few months before, he had been confined to a mental institution. The medical professionals had been treating him with “insulin shock” to relieve his depression, but he was then diagnosed with “juvenile diabetes” and died within 36 hours. We never expressed our suspicions to his treatment team, but we were quite convinced that the “insulin shock” treatments were what killed him – especially since none of our family on either side had ever had diabetes.
We had been a close family of six children and to lose a son and brother was more than any of us could bear. As long as I live I will never forget the heaving sobs of my Mother, utterly overwhelmed by this sorrow. On a cold February day in 1958 we buried him in a country church cemetery in Kansas where my Father had once been pastor. But this did not end our sorrow.
I was 25 years old at this time (1958), recently married to my dear wife, Lorraine, and a graduating senior at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. As well as struggling with the sorrow of my brother’s death, I was in the process of deciding whether to remain a Baptist or to make the move into the Presbyterian church. Dr. J. Oliver Buswell was my Systematic Theology Professor at that time and his emphasis on the “Unity of the Covenant” was impressing me. As my wife and I discussed this great Biblical truth, it became evident to both of us that this grand Biblical realit had been missing in both of our lives. It began to dawn on me that our failure to understand the Covenant had been a deep flaw in my Father’s preaching and in our home environment. We became Presbyterians.
It is really a longer story than this brief paragraph above, but the deepening conviction about the Covenant as taught throughout the Bible, moved us to make our move into what was then the BIBLE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a call to a little mission church in Huntsville, Alabama, and the rest is history. I was pastor of that growing congregation for the next 43 years.
To me it is of great importance to remember my earliest years. I dearly love my parents, and believe that their genuine Godliness is the basic reason why I came to know Christ and why I have been able to remain faithful to Him over these years. At the same time, however, I must confess that the “snake pit” description my Father gave to schizophrenia, in some ways characterized our home. When both my older sister and my younger brother fell victim to this dreadful disorder, it seemed evident that something in our home had to be at least a part of the cause.
Genetics? Most psychiatrists today see genetics as the root of psychological disorders. They believe that people can inherit genes that cause chemical imbalance in the brain. These chemical imbalances are the root cause for depression, schizophrenia, paranoia and manic episodes. The minority report is that it is not genetics but environment that lies at the root of such disorders. Parents or other care-givers can, by their negative behavior, create living environments that cause all these unhappy and unhealthy psychological states of mind in children and young people.
My years of reflection on the dynamics in my own early family life, observing life in other homes during my years in ministry, studying the behavioral sciences and scripture has brought me to the firm conviction that the minority is closer to the truth in this matter. I do not deny the possibility of genetics and chemical imbalance having some influence here, but I am convinced that the principle cause of what we call “mental illness” or “psychological disorder” comes from negative relationships in the home. I have come down on the environment side of the argument. I believe this is the Christian answer.
My parents did not understand the COVENANT, its message of God’s great love for his people. They loved the Lord but misunderstood those great truths which could have enabled a more Biblical love for God, each other and their children. That made a dreadful difference in our home, the difference that led to the terrible sorrows of both my older sister and my younger brother.
How my wife and I have rejoiced over the grand truth of the COVENANT. It was God’s instrument to bring us, our marriage and our children into the Joys of the KINGDOM OF GOD.