Mental Illness and the Church

texasshootingToday marks another horrific day with the deaths of 26 innocent churchgoers in the state of Texas.  See the Chicago Tribune

President Trump says that this shooting is a result of mental illness and is not related to gun control issues. It is true that the shooter was legally denied the right to carry a weapon in the state of Texas. To the grief of many, he did it anyhow.

Many people who suffer with mental illness are NOT violent people. But, most certainly, this shooter was not a mentally healthy person. Mental illness can be very life-taking. God is life-giving. Mentally ill people are NOT demon possessed. They have a diseased brain. In our American society today, people with mental illness are given the freedom to use a diseased organ to make all their life decisions. This is wrong.

I recently attended an excellent presentation by Amy Simpson. Her father was a pastor. Her mother suffered with schizophrenia. In her presentation, she said that her mother received the best care for her mental illness after she ended up in prison. Please consider reading her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission My own childhood was scarred by the days where a police car was called to my house; and my own frail mother meekly took her seat in the back of a police car to be admitted for a 72 hour hold at the local hospital because she was considered a threat to herself. My mother also suffered with schizophrenia.

I do not know of a solution for this cultural epidemic of mental illness in American society. However, I do question why diseases like cancer and AIDs are given so many more research dollars than the diseases of the brain like schizophrenia, and PTSD. As a hospital chaplain, I believe that the general population “spiritualizes” mental illness much like the ancient Hebrew people “spiritualized” physical diseases like leprosy.

Today, we know that the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae  is what causes leprosy and people with leprosy can be treated and healed. It is my own opinion that mental illness is exacerbated by stress and grows rampant in a society that fails to care for the poor and the marginalized.

Fortunately, my mother was cared for by a devoted spouse until she died a natural death. She was able to live a quiet, stress-free, hermitlike life in her own home in a small town where people accepted her as she was. At my mother’s funeral, the Catholic choir sang for her, the Catholic ladies cooked a luncheon for her, and the priest said a beautiful mass for my mother. That tiny Catholic community honored the dignity of my mother’s life just like they would honor the life of any other Catholic parishioner. My mother was given the best quality of life possible because she was surrounded by many people who showed her genuine mercy and charity in spite of her mental illness.

For another example of a person with mental illness who was cared for by people who loved them and treated them with basic human dignity in spite of their mental illness, please consider watching the movie The Beautiful Mind  Only ignorant fools will “spiritualize” and demonize mental illness today. I hope and pray that American churches will become educated regarding mental illness instead of living in fear and ostracizing, or even worse, taking advantage of those who suffer with mental conditions.

Let us recall exactly what Jesus taught regarding mental illness.

Matthew 25:36-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’


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