Saturday, May 3, 2008

Outside . . . Looking in . . . The Plight of Mental Illness Within the Church

I know that I had a previous posting about how the Church deals with mental illness. This time, without sounding like "Oprah's sob-story of the week club." I would like to make it more personal. Again I write as an observing journalist, but, not trying to sound sterile and overly objective.

I must start with my premises about mental illnesses and they would include;

1) Because we are fallen creatures, we are all insane . . . to some agree. None of us function, from an emotional standpoint, normally all the time. Some have the type of mental illness (personality disorders, mania, etc.) that we can easily camouflage as spiritual gifts.

2) We are not all the same footing due to fallen genetics and life experiences. So the person who suffers from severe depression, isn't less of a Christian that the jovial guy who has never known a sad day in his/her life.

3) While mental illness is a result of the fall, much of it is as a result of fallen humanity (old sin) and the victim often has little control over their mental illness. I did not say no control. But, for the example, anorexia, they can struggle for a life time in more heroic measure than most of couldn't even imagine. Yet, they may never be completely delivered.

The Evangelical church has historically blamed the victim as being "weak" because they haven't practiced some obscure spiritual discipline such as "keeping their eyes on Jesus." There are no simple formula for eradicating one's mental illness overnight. If God heals these illnesses miraculously, then He must do it rarely. How many people do you know who were born with Down's Syndrome and God healed them completely and now they are normal? How many people do you know who were born without legs and then in a church service, a miracle happened and their legs grew right then and there?

Because mental illness is obscure, it can more more easily be assumed that it can be easily cured . . . instantly. The reason is, because there are no physical evidences of it to start with, you can not easily prove that it is there . . . or that it is not there. Many people believe that they were cured from their mental health problems the moment they accepted Christ. I don't think that happens any more frequently than people who's legs grew back right in front of you.

Most of the time where there is a "miracle deliverance," it is simply the problem going underground and the person faking a deliverance because the extreme peer pressure of the Christians around them (especially the one claiming to have healed them).

4) Those who have more surface problems with mental illness (things that are not easy to hide or to "dress up" as some spiritual attribute) have often felt like outsiders to the roll call of the saintly. Certainly this was the way I felt when I was with the Navigators. In the Navs, in the 1970s/80s, you were held to a very high level of "godliness." Godliness was defined by several things, most of all was the outward performance of the "Fruits of the Spirit." This was smiling a lot, speaking in joyous sound bites. All of us had to pretend a lot, but especially us with some baggage.

5) I suspect that everyone who suffers from mental illness, from the mild anxiety to the extreme paranoid psychophrenic, hates their mental illness more than anyone and would do anything to be delivered from it. So those without that particular ailment, are being very judgemental when they see the person's illness as their own damn fault.

6) God loves all people, including those who suffer most from the fall . . . whether it is a disabling physical problem or a mental illness. The church is to serve these people as well and is to be as wise as serpents about those who are disguising their mental illnesses. All Christians, those who suffer from mental illness as well as the Type-A super-successful saints, equally depend on Jesus' blood for achieving our acceptance by God and by the Church.

7) The role that Dualism has played its ugly head in this matter is simply the way that the dualistic Christian looks at mental health. They assume that the brain, emotions and of course our own bodies are inferior to the "soul" or spirit. I've posted about this previously. So, in summary, if your mental health problems are really all spiritual problems (rather than physical brain problems) then they are very fluid an can be changed in an instant through simple obedience.

I think I'm going to have to break this up into several postings the way I did my discussion about the Church.

I will end here by revealing that my own personal struggles with mental illness is with the most common forms; 1) depression, 2) general anxiety -- especially social-phobia.

Regarding my own mental illnesses, the cause is not clear. However, like with most sufferers, I'm sure it is the nature+nurture cause. Regarding "nature," or genetics, my mother also suffered from these. Regarding "nurture" I, like so many people suffered some abuse as a very young (pre-school) child (not by the hands of my parents).

I have struggled with and fought against my issues from many directions.

I hope to continue these thoughts.

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