Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 3rd 2014 Contents A32
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, September 3, 2014
It s something I learned a long time
ago in church about church: few
Christians know how to deal with
believers who are diagnosed with
mental health issues (MHI). Notice-
ably, among the defaulting ones are
pastors, teachers, leaders, elders, dea-
cons, and then some, all charged as
caretakers of God s flock.
This disclosure may embarrass the
church but I hope that it works to
encourage its development since its
commission to save souls cannot
exclude the condition and care of peo-
ple s body and mind.
The church has been able to mask
its ignorance and lack of empathy in
the instance of believers whose mental
health illness has minor impact on their
daily living. But, among believers are
those living with the distress and dys-
function of schizophrenia, anxiety,
depression, and more.
They need special care, including
being able to open up in order to
enlighten believers about their struggles,
hoping too, to be afforded support. But
it s exactly here the church s half-slip
With MHIs affecting a quarter of the
world s population, unawareness is a
precarious place for the church to find
itself. This statistic suggests that a
quarter of any congregation---one in
four---has a diagnosable mental health
With increasing diagnoses, accessible
information, and the simultaneous
growth of shepherds and congregations,
the church cannot ignore MHI, wash
her hands of it by simply referring
believers to professionals, or attempt
to shoot it down because it discomfits
The church must also become less
simple-minded about the view that all
mental illnesses are "demon posses-
sions." She can no longer treat MHIs
as if it s exclusively a spiritual problem
that should go away with adequate
The unawareness in the church is
not different from ignorance elsewhere.
Ignorance here is compounded, how-
ever, by religious teachings/belief that
suggest if you have a long-term illness
(and speak of it as an ongoing problem)
you present God as powerless to heal.
As a believer, my faith is unwavering.
I trust in the power of God to heal me
even in a time when I haven t witnessed
a single miraculous healing. Until then,
I accept wholeheartedly that "ALL
THINGS (sic) work together for good
to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).
I ve had the unfortunate experience
on a few occasions to be at the insen-
sitive and uniformed hands of church
leaders. With no knowledge of what
portends, I ve seen the church prescribe
and administer harsh discipline for
whomever or whatever didn t "imitate"
the leaders. An attitude that eliminated
tolerance of anyone that behaved dif-
ferently, and one that made me a rogue
I ve seen also churches hesitating
to treat/deal with clearly prescribed
Bible teachings like those on sexual
immorality, for example, but hastily
presiding over uncertain issues as how
mental illness should be presented
in/to the church.
All believers, but especially church
leadership, should educate themselves
about MHIs. Until then, the Bible s
instructions about how we should con-
sider one another allows for an accept-
able approach to helping a believer with
Among the teachings about caring
for one another, the Apostle Paul
instructs the church saying, "Bear one
another s burdens, and thereby fulfill
the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2) and
"with all humility and gentleness, with
patience, showing tolerance for one
another in love." (Ephesians 4:2).
Peter introduces sympathy, saying,
"Finally, all of you, live in harmony
with one another; be sympathetic, love
as brothers, be compassionate and
humble (1 Peter 3:8), and Paul is careful
to tell the church in Rome, "...Accept
one another, just as Christ also accepted
us" (Romans 15:7).
The church s first response can then
be deduced inter alia as one of com-
passion, acceptance, and a willingness
to share the believer s burden. Empathy,
the very principle upon which salvation
is based, cannot be an idea denied when
the church faces the challenge of treat-
ing with MHIs.
The church s premier instruction is
to love as Jesus loved; acceptance and
compassion could run a close second.
So, until we ve adopted a scripture-
based response to believers with MHIs,
Mental illnesses have biological, psy-
chological and social implications, and
are treatable with medication and ther-
Don t be a Pharisee of whom Jesus
said, "...don t practise what they teach.
They crush people with unbearable
religious demands and never lift a finger
to ease the burden" (Matthew 23:3-4).
Practise compassion. Ask: "What
can we do to help?"
"Let us not judge one another any-
more, but rather determine this---not
to put an obstacle or a stumbling block
in a brother s way" (Romans 14:13).
"We who are strong ought to bear
with the failings of the weak ... to build
them up" (Romans 15:1).
Above all, respect that, "he who
searches our hearts knows the mind of
the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes
for God s people in accordance with
the will of God" (Romans 8:27).
• Continues next week
When the Church fails the mental health test
CAROLINE C RAVELLO
The Church can offer more support and less judgment to followers with mental health issues.
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