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Mad Cow Disease

by Tim O'Hearn

The news in recent years has brought awareness of a condition known as Mad Cow Disease. This is not a new condition, although it may be new among domestic cattle. In this disease, the brains of cattle become, as some researchers describe it, like “Swiss cheese.” The brain tissue degenerates. It will develop an unsteady gait and unpredictable jerking movements. Eventually the animal becomes unable to move and dies. The specific cause of this disease is a “folded” protein which, when consumed by a susceptible animal, causes similar proteins to fold on themselves. The specific agent by which the disease is spread is, to put it simply, cannibalism. Cows are normally herbivores. They eat only plant material. In Europe the feed of cattle was, for a time, supplemented with protein in the form of bone and meat from other cows. While there is no cure for a diseased animal, the protocol for the prevention of spread of the disease is simply to remove animal protein from the feed given to the cattle. A similar disease in humans, known in Papua New Guinea as Kuru, is also spread by cannibalism. In both cases, it is primarily spread by eating brain and neural matter.

Congregations may develop a spiritual form of mad cow disease. They come to find that some parts of the body do not work together, thus producing an uneven walk. As the disease progresses in a congregation there may be uncontrolled emotional outbreaks. The personality of the congregation may change. Eventually a form of paralysis sets in, in which the congregation can accomplish nothing. Even effective worship is shut down. Holes in the congregation become unpleasantly evident. Finally, the congregation dies. The strange thing about mad congregation disease is that a small part of the body may appear to continue to live for many years, even though they are really dead.

Unto the messenger of the church in Sardis write: These things say he that has the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev 3:1)

Those are the symptoms of Mad Congregation Disease (MCD). But how is it spread? The answer is simple. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” (Gal 5:15) Paul predicted that the onset of MCD, like its more mundane counterpart, was because of cannibalism, or more precisely autocannibalism (eating oneself).

How does a congregation devour one another? A common form of cannibalism is gossip. One person says something negative, and someone else spreads the tale. Someone else takes offense, and takes sides. As accusations fly, anger changes the personality of the congregation. People having the same goal refuse to work with each other, resulting in paralysis. Then some people move to other congregations; others simply stop attending any assembly. Holes appear, resulting in eventual death.

As in the case of Kuru, usually the disease spreads by eating the brain and spinal column. Paul was afraid of just such cannibalism. “For I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” (2 Cor 12:20) It is in there: backbitings. Eating the spinal column.

A similar disease to mad cow can be found in a lizard that is known to bite the tails of others of its species. That can also be a problem in congregations, although it is usually the eating of a tail of a different spelling. “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.” (Prov 26:20) Some people in a congregation may not eat another’s tail, but they certainly eat up any tale they can get. And MCD spreads thereby.

When the backbiting and the talebearing continue, the disease progresses to a state where it is virtually impossible to cure. Like cancer, though, early detection can halt the spread of the disease. All it takes are members who will say, “No, thank you. I am no congregational cannibal.”