Mentally ill & the church
In the past few weeks, much has been said about gun control and the mentally ill after the incident in Newtown, Connecticut. I have even heard one person say we ought to round up all the mentally ill and put them away. Obviously he had no idea what he was talking about, in addition to being rude.
As a bipolar, mentally ill person myself, I felt it necessary to discuss questions regarding the mentally ill and the church.
The mentally and emotionally ill are part of every church. They make up part of the body of Christ. They are persons baptized, professing faith, participating in fellowship, worship and ministry. They are ministers, teachers and pastors. They are fathers, mothers, young adults, college students and singles in our churches. At times, they are our children. Certainly, they are part of the community the church seeks to reach.
Churches that choose to ignore mental illness are making the decision to deny a part of the human story. In many cases, the behaviors and struggles of the mentally ill are interpreted from spiritual warfare to worldly influences. Such phrases as the “victorious Christian life” and the “spirit-filled life” lead to simplistic understanding that any mental or emotional illness can be “fixed” by prayer, scripture memory and church attendance.
While I still maintain my belief, and by my experience, that prayer and faith are important in any healing process, I do also believe that medicine and prayer/faith go hand in hand.
Most of this backward behavior by Christians is often due to the stigma that is affiliated with the mentally ill. Stigma can do terrible things to our misunderstanding of mental illness. Stigmas are difficult to overcome and can do irreparable damage to the psyche of the mentally ill.
It is time that churches, from national leadership right down to the local church, become more responsible in its ministry and acceptance of those among them that suffer from one of these disabilitating illnesses. The life stories of those who suffer are depending on it.