The Church’s Role with Mental Health
The Church has been instrumental in infiltrating cultural, seeing the need, the hurting, the broken and then reacting to them. How many hospitals in the United States and abroad in “mission fields” has the Church birthed, developed and sponsored, later only to grow into independent institutions leaving the influence of the Church. Founded on the “healing” principle of the gospel, many institutions have compromised into “maintenance” instead when leaving the Church’s sphere of influence.
Socially the Church founded Rescue Missions where a homeless person had to listen to a sermon to meet their spiritual need before being fed or allowed to sleep free at the facility meeting their physical need, and society has reduced it to half way houses and out patient programs. Old time preaching taught about “freeing” one from alcoholism; today alcoholism is looked upon as an “incurable disease”, “I am a recovering alcoholic”. The Church looked at homosexuality as a sin; today it is looked at genetically as if it is something inside a person that cannot be changed.
The Church’s attitude toward mental health has also been a challenge. Historically, the Church has viewed mental illness at demonic. The demoniac who cut himself and had a “legion” of personalities sounds like today’s schizophrenic. The Puritanical Church in America looked at women who today would have been under mental health treatment as “witches” to be burned at the stake. Throughout history mental health patients have been treated as “criminals”, chained, flogged, and imprisoned. Their actions often cause for incarceration as seen in the increase of mental health patients becoming part of today’s prison population.
The Church’s attitude toward the sick, the homeless, the alcoholic, the homosexual, and the mentally ill historically has been manifested through judgment. Jesus did not condemn them, but even hung around with them to the demise of the religious establishment of his time. The difference was that prior to meeting Jesus they (like all of us) were sinners, but when they met Jesus they were changed: Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, changed and lived a righteous life; the adulterous Samaritan woman who went through five husbands now lead a revival in her Gentile community; a crooked tax collect dines with Jesus, changes, and becomes Jesus’ follower, paying back bountifully those to whom he had committed fraud; a sick man who laid by the pool waiting for the healing waters to move having no one to help him, meets Jesus who tells him to take up his bed and walk, and he does so; and on and on…..
So if the Church is the representative of Jesus, how is it to look currently at the issue of mental illness, especially among the brothers and sisters in their congregations, and those outside? This is what we will look out in the next couple of blogs.