The 21st Century Retooling of the Church – Part XII
My heart goes out to Jo Anne & John Hinckley, Amy and Randy Loughner, or the parents of Seunge-Hui Cho because their sons all faced mental illness and performed horrendous acts of violence placing them in the annals of American history: John Hinckley for attempting to assassinate President Reagan, Jared Laughner for the recent shooting of Congressman Gabriella Giffords, and Seunge-Hui Cho for the largest single mass shooting at Virgina Tech University. I cannot even imaging the emotions, the feelings, the shock of hearing how your son released his inward maelstrom of darkness, confusion, and pain, called mental illness, violently on others. I can hear these parents questioning themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”, “Could I have done more as a parent?”, etc.
Both the Hinckleys and the Chos were church attending families at the time of their son’s shootings, but I have never heard what their churches did for them prior or after the fatal events caused by their siblings? Just like questioning, “What could I have done to prevent this?” was asked by the parents, the church also needs to ask that question.
When it comes to Mental Illness, the church faces quite a dilemma: on one hand it believes in healings, citing physical healings in the past, but I have never personally met nor heard of a healing from a severe mental illness. This challenges my personal faith as a Christian. When my wife was in the midst of the darkness of her major depression she had a simple prayer, “Father, You are faithful and will always be faithful; by Your faithfulness heal me.” That prayer still haunts me, for even I question why a faithful and loving God did not immediately respond to His child’s request. That is one question I will be asking Him when in heaven. The church also has to face a history of failure in addressing how to minister to mental illness with a track record of supporting the practice of throwing the mentally ill in prisons, institutionalizing them, and also infamously condemning them as “witches” in Salem, Mass., hanging them or burning them at the stake.
The church can respond with a loving, caring, pastoral touch to the victims of mental illness and their family members engulfed in all that swirls around mental illness. Pastoral/shepherding care could help identify problems before they explode, seek help, prevent withdrawal, encourage treatment, support one during treatment, and stand beside the families of those whose loved ones face mental illness. If parents, family members, loved one come to the church asking questions or seeking support, what does the church have to offer? That is a serious question the church must face if it is to be effective in American society today?
When my wife was swallowed in the maelstrom of darkness, confusion, and doubt caused by major depression she questioned her religious teachings of salvation, wondering about the condition of her darkened soul at that time and its out come in eternal perspectives. How do we as a church respond? Sitting through church services and long sermons has not been the answer, nor being in touch with the church’s people only once a week, if that, because of the urge to withdraw. The “reaching out”, the “sending out”, the essence of “The Great Commission”, the gospel, is often lost to even those within the church to each other.
If the Church is to retool for the 21st Century, it must re-examine its views on pastoral care to its parishioners, its family, those who make up the local Body of Jesus Christ called the local church, especially when facing challenging situations like severe physical and mental illness. The church must ask itself, “Who Is My Brother’s Keeper?” before it can begin to redefine the “pastoral” or “shepherding” role of the Church in American society and the world in the 21st century.
American history is proving that when the Church loses its “pastoral role” of caring for its people as well as those outside its family, then Americans look to their secular government to do what the Church has failed to do. Instead of tithes and offerings in the Church financing pastoral ministries, we, the Church, are forced to look at secular tax payer dollars to finance secular pastoral efforts, usually in the form of governmental programs, and are the first to criticize those programs for doing what we have failed to do.
Church, it is time to pick up our pastoral role and be effective!