Talking Faith and Mental Illness
My friend, Amy Simpson, passed this along to me and today I want to pass it along to all of you.
From blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock:
The people who run Patheos have asked me to host a broad conversation about Mental Health including bloggers from across Patheos and beyond. You are invited to contribute by answering the question below any time this week. There are also two more questions which will follow.
Bloggers are asked to join in the discussion and answer the questions as they are posted. The first question is:
How has your religious community historically seen mental illness? – And how does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental illness?
Christians don’t have a good track record when it comes to mental illness. We used to assume that mental illness was nothing more than demon possession, and we banned people from church attendance and treated them like the devil itself. In all fairness, humanity, in general, does not have a great track record when it comes to mental illness. People fear what they don’t understand. But the fact that Christians’ reaction to people exhibiting confusing behavior was to treat them like yesterday’s trash is heart-wrenching and pathetic.
Understanding and acceptance has been a slow process for the Christian church. It still seems that while there have been major steps forward in most of society, the church continues to lag behind. Old habits die hard, old fears even harder. There are concepts in the Bible that have been twisted used to push mentally ill believers away (driving a herd of demon-filled pigs off of a cliff does not mean that’s how we should all respond to people with schizophrenia, and hopefully if you’re reading this you don’t believe that.)
My own church is a wonderful place that is on-board with modern-day medicine. They run a theophostic prayer ministry that I attended for some time, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they believed not only in the existence of mental illness, but in treatment. No pigs careening off a cliff for me. My church believes in the healing power of the Holy Spirit, but also believe that healing takes many forms.
This, of course, does not mean that every single member of the congregation falls in line. There is still backwards thinking and there are still people who are afraid to let go of their death-grip on the belief that a saved heart is a perpetually happy heart, and that anyone who lacks joy or self-control is a spiritual weenie. They mean well, they’re just wrong. That’s the problem with churches – there’s always someone around to make it imperfect. I’m hoping that years from now, those people will really be the exception and not the rule. I’m praying that enough of us will speak up and insist on education and understanding that we will start driving those ideas out of the pews. Rome wasn’t build in a day, though.
But those people were not the reason I accepted Jesus as my Savior. It was the persistent kindness of Christians who loved me that drew me in and convinced me that this Christ was good and loving, never harsh or demanding. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned those people ran a ministry for people with mental illness, but when I found out it said so much to me… That was how Jesus was, and that’s how I wanted to be.
I am a woman who has made many mistakes in life, some of them because of my Bipolar Disorder. I never sensed that God got impatient with me, or was ready to give up on me because I couldn’t be happy enough, or because I was manic and couldn’t always think sensibly. What kind of God tells His believers that if they don’t hurry up and be happy, He’s leaving? We’re not toddlers sitting in front of a pile of green beans that we refuse to eat.
The God I serve sometimes heals the sick and other times sustains them, but there is nowhere in the Bible where He holds a disease against one of His children. He lifts them up with gentleness and mercy. That’s exactly what I believe that we, as Christians, need to do for people with mental illness. So I suppose my view of a gentle Jesus has given me a gentle view of mental illness, and suffering with mental illness has given me a gentle view of Jesus.
Many praying photo available from Shutterstock
Fidler, J. (2013). Talking Faith and Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/amazed-by-grace/2013/05/07/talking-faith-and-mental-illness/