So, You’re a Christian Perpetual Victim and Great Big Christian Loser? Regarding Worm Theology
(This post has been edited at the end)
A few years ago, I was listening to conservative Christian (and later to become a pastor) Chris Rosebrough on one of his podcasts.
On one podcast (sorry I cannot recall the specific one, or I would link you right to it), he was critiquing mega-church preacher Joel Osteen – or, one of Osteen’s sermons, I should say. (Though Rosebrough did sometimes make fun of Osteen’s big teeth on his program.)
I need to qualify a few things up front.
I do not believe in or agree with prosperity Gospel teachings.
Osteen is seemingly a “prosperity Gospel” believer, much of his theology is shallow, and he’s so keen to be well-liked by everyone, he is hesitant to tell national television journalists that Christianity is, in one way, an exclusive belief set (that is, belief in Christ, and only Christ, is necessary for salvation, and there is no other way – not Christ plus someone or something else).
During the podcast I listened to, Rosebrough played audio of a sermon by Osteen, complete with Osteen’s old opening theme song, which had a woman singing, “Bring out the Champion in you!,” if I remember the lyrics correctly (it had lyrics with something to do with being a champion).
During TV shows, Osteen usually tells his viewers, “You are a victor, not a victim!”
I would assume that this phrase (or the one in his old TV show theme song) is based upon the following verse:
7 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (source)
During play back of this audio, Rosebrough would pause, after phrases such as “you’re a champion,” to say, “No, you’re not,” or after, “You’re a victor…” to say, “No you’re not.”
My memory is hazy here (and I am in no mood to re-listen to any and all Rosebrough programs to double check this), but I believe he also may have added the comment, “You’re a sinner.”
While on the one hand I am not in agreement with all things Osteen, I do appreciate that he’s one of the few Christians I have seen who offers encouragement.
He’s one of the few preachers I’ve seen who tells people they are loved by God, in spite of any mistakes they’ve made.
In the last few years, I’ve seen more and more studies and articles such as these:
I saw a flurry of these articles that were published in the last few years claiming that narcissism is on the rise.
I’ve personally known a few extremely self-absorbed people over my life.
I’m aware of Bible verses such as:
Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.
I concede there are probably some types of people out there who need to be reminded that they are not fabulous all the time – they already have enormous egos.
May I suggest, though, that some of us (I would include me here) have struggled with feelings of low self worth over our lives, we were brought up in families (even conservative, Christian families) that shamed us and made us feel bad about ourselves, so these sermons or comments that we are worms who have no worth doesn’t help us, but harms us?
I remember reading a few years ago that disgraced preacher Mark Driscoll actually walked into one of his Mars Hill church services singing, “Jesus Hates Me, This I Know” to his audience.
(Edit: or, possibly, Driscoll sang “Jesus Hates You” to the tune of the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s been awhile since I read an article that mentioned this.)
For people such as myself, who were raised being told we have little worth and that our feelings don’t matter, these critical messages make God seem farther away than he already does.
I reasoned in my mind when I was younger (and this carried through to adulthood) that since my family was telling me they did not value my feelings and other people were not to value my feelings, that God must not value my feelings either – or me.
When Chris Rosebrough stops the Osteen audio after “You’re a victor” to add the comment, “No, you’re not,” what is he saying here?
It sounds to me as though he’s saying you’re not a victor, you’re a perpetual victim.
When Rosebrough stops the tape to say, “No you’re not” after Osteen’s theme song says, “You’re a champion,” the only alternative I can see to that is, “you’re a great big loser.”
Is Rosebrough trying to convey that Christ and Christ alone is a victor and a winner? I disagree, in a sense.
I don’t think many to most Bible – believing Christians are going to dispute that it’s by Christ’s sacrifice alone that they will enter the presence of God some day.
Speaking from personal experience here, but I can tell you growing up hearing that Christ alone is the way to heaven did not instill self-confidence in me. I still felt lacking.
It’s not enough to hear a Gospel-y, “rah rah!” message from the likes of guys such as Rosebrough that “Jesus is a victor and winner,” if I myself have a hard time believing, seeing, or accepting that I am loved by God, when I feel that I am a piece of trash, and Jesus only died on the cross for me not because he wanted to, but because he had to – I was part of the package deal, he really had no choice.
I grew up hearing how wonderful Jesus is from Christian sources (sermons, in articles), and that I should base my self-esteem or worth in Christ, but I never really understood what that meant.
Even if I were to grasp what that meant, the constant “God loves you” talk my devout Christian mother would utter out of one side of her mouth towards me was cancelled out by her telling me out of the other side of her mouth that other people had more value than I did.
I was constantly taught by my mother (and other family) that other people’s feelings mattered (even people who mistreated me), but my feelings did not matter.
I was brainwashed quite often and deeply (especially by my mother) to always put other people and their feelings, needs, and concerns before my own, and I was never to consider myself, because to do so would be “selfish.”
I would just like for people to understand how emotionally abusive all that is.
I now know my mother taught me this due to her faulty views of the Bible (which were entangled with traditional gender role views and codependency).
My mother meant well. I don’t believe she was intentionally trying to harm me. She was raising me to be a sweet, loving, caring little girl, but the constant emphasis upon the importance of other people’s feelings vs. my own never- the- less imparted in me this sense that I don’t matter.
My other family members would blurt out at me, from my childhood to my adult years, that they did not care about my feelings, and that my feelings and opinions don’t matter, and so on. The end result of this made me feel as though I do not matter.
And yet, some of these same family yelling this at me would periodically claim to be Christians. My mother would often tell me – while negating me the rest of the time – that “Jesus loves you.”
My mother used to give me little Christian trinkets at Christmas when I was a kid, along with whatever toys I had asked for. Giving me Christian-themed presents that mentioned Jesus or the Bible was her way of reminding me that the holiday was about Christ’s birth, not just a day to get presents.
I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, going through some of my smaller gifts, on one Christmas morning, to see a small, metal cross my mother put in among the other presents that said, “God Loves You” on it. I still have that cross to this day.
Do you know what happened when I saw that cross on Christmas morning, though?
I never told my mother this, but I felt a great twinge of sadness (eight or nine year old me felt a twinge of sadness), because I did not believe the message on that metal cross that God loved me.
Because even by this age, my mother was already drilling the idea into my mind that other people have value and are more important than me, that I do not matter.
My father was already rejecting me at a young age and being overly critical.
If my own earthly parents didn’t really value me in the sense they were teaching me my feelings didn’t matter but others did, and one didn’t want to spend time with me, how could I believe that God loved me or cared about me?
I am one of those audience members who watches a Joel Osteen sermon and benefits from it – where he’s reminding viewers that God does in fact love us, even when we make mistakes.
This is the complete opposite message I received while growing up.
Not all of us out there have large egos that need to be stripped away, or stomped on, or chipped away at, with reminders that we are lowly, dirty worms who God barely tolerates.
I never had an ego, or anything even resembling one, until a few years ago.
I don’t need to hear that I am a not a victor, that I am not a champion, because I had those views nailed at an early age and carried them with me for years.
I have watched dozens upon dozens of Christian testimonies on television by people who are former alcoholics, drug addicts, gang members, or prostitutes, and many of them say due to childhood abuse, or a tragedy or some other painful event that took place when they were small, that they grew up feeling worthless, rejected, and unlovable.
I remember one such individual interviewed on one Christian program who ended up on drugs in adulthood say what finally brought him around was attending a church one day where he heard a sermon where the preacher told him, in a sermon to all, how much God loved him and valued him.
This drug addict said this was surprising to him, because the church his parents took him to when he was little delivered the sort of “you’re a filthy, lowly, gross, wormy sinner, and God barely stands you” sermons, so this guy grew up feeling God did not want him or love him.
It was hearing another sermon years later, where he heard that God liked him, loved him, and wanted to know him, that helped turned him around.
I’m not sure, but isn’t there a Bible verse (Romans 2:4?) that says it’s God’s goodness that leads to repentance? If that is so, why do guys such as Rosebrough and these other worm-theology pushers keep trying to convert people by telling them God thinks they’re great big losers?
Or, it seems more accurate to say that since it’s mostly the already-converted who listen to Rosebrugh’s show (how many atheists listen? I’d assume not many), he’s basically telling people who are already-Christian that they are trash.
It’s my understanding of the Bible that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and the Father sent Christ to die, not out of, or only due to, mere obedience, obligation, or duty, but out of love, because God does not consider me trash, or a loser, or a worm, or annoying, or worthless, but because He loves me and believes I have infinite worth, and He wanted to have a relationship with me.
I needed, and still need, to hear God-centric messages that built me up, not ones that knock me down and tell me I’m a nothing and nobody. I heard plenty such messages growing up, some of them unintentionally from my well-meaning but misled mother.
Every time Rosebrough pauses an Osteen audio to say, “No you’re not” after Osteen, or his theme song, insists we are valued, we are victors, and we are champions, what I’m hearing him say or imply instead is that we are all losers and victims.
Some of us already spent a life time feeling like unlovable, worthless worms, and victims, and don’t need guys like Rosebrough or Driscoll telling us yet again. Who really wants to believe in, or continue to follow a God, who merely tolerates us and who secretly thinks we’re slimy garbage?
I find the only pastors and Christians who feel comfortable espousing “Worm Theology” are those who have a healthy level of self esteem or who have way too much self esteem – narcissists and the self-absorbed.
A guy like pastor Mark Driscoll, for example, comes across as a very arrogant man. I doubt Driscoll (and others who preach Worm Theology) know what it’s like to suffer a life time of low self-esteem.
I would be willing to bet that other preachers who advocate Worm Theology or any of its watered-down variants (such as telling listeners that they are not victors or are not champions, as Chris Rosebrough does on his podcast) have never had a feeling that they themselves were worthless.
I came from a family where I did not receive affirmation. I was only picked apart and criticized constantly as I was growing up, which damaged my self esteem.
I can assure pastors and Christians such as Driscoll and Rosebrough that hearing “worm theology” only made me feel worse about myself and worse about God. I had a hard time accepting that such a God would really want to have a relationship with me.
By preaching Worm Theology, you are driving more of a wedge between some people and God.
If your goal as a Christian or as a preacher is to convert non-Christians to your faith, you’re not going to have a great deal of success telling people that “Jesus hates them” or that they are trash, have little value, or are not victors.
It’s very easy for a man or woman who has healthy self esteem to run about in sermons or pod casts telling the rest of us that God does not love us, barely puts up with us, or that we are nothing but maggot-ridden, trashy, worthless sinners.
If you are preaching such a message and have never struggled with crippling low self esteem, depression, and suicidal ideation, as I have, you are preaching from a place of privilege.
You have no idea what you’re talking about. You are oblivious to the damage you are causing to those already hurting, to those who already feel they are trash who God would never accept.
Only a person with too much of an ego and a grandiose sense of self would not have a problem, or see a problem with, preaching to other people that they are not worth much, have no value, and that God barely tolerates them.
I don’t think a lot of preachers and Christian laypersons stop to consider the practical outcomes their teachings have on every day people.