The Overlooked and the Forgotten


Matthew 25:31-46

John M. Crowe, M.Div., D.Min.

Member of NC NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Member of the Pitt County Mental Health Association

Recipient of the 2002 President's Award from the Mental Health Association of NC

Jesus says that when we do something good for the overlooked or the ignored, we have done it to Him. In stark contrast, Jesus says the opposite to those who fail to do good to the overlooked or the ignored.

How can what you do or don’t do for the overlooked or the ignored somehow is how we treat Jesus Christ? Well, when I was a young boy, someone called my dad “Old Crowe.” I took it as if the man had said it me. So, I told him to not ever say that again or I was going to beat him up.

Who are the overlooked of our day?

Who are the ignored of our day?

We tend to overlook and even ignore an estimated 20% of our nation’s, our state’s, this county’s population. It is very likely that of the 53,674 people in Granville County, 10,734 people are sick with illnesses that are far more are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease

Sad to say but this is estimated to be true of around 13% of those under 18. Thus, possibly 1,646 of people under 18 in Granville County has an illness with a higher successful treatment rate than heart disease. Too often, a great number of those with a mental illness are not diagnosed.

Today, TV commercials tell us about the reality and treatment for depression. We read about bipolar in popular magazines. Almost daily, our newspapers have some article about the problems of mental health reform in NC. It is sad that in a day when society is becoming more comfortable with talking about mental illness, too many churches remain in the dark ages. 

Because we ignore out of careless neglect or choice to overlook, the total price tag of these “untouchable” diseases in this country is $81 billion, including direct costs (hospitalizations, medications) and indirect costs (lost wages, as well as its impact open these people’s families).

One reason we overlook and ignore the mentally ill as well as their families is a mishandling of scripture and a limited knowledge about diagnosing a mental illness'. So, any Christian with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia is said to be living in sin or possessed with a demon.

Excuse me but the stories of Jesus casting out demons does not include a single episode of a person having a psychotic experience of hearing voices that aren’t there. None of them speak irrationally. None demonstrate the rapid cycling of bipolar I where a person from being very depressed to thinking they are able to do whatever! A favorite among some is the Gerasene demoniac partly because of his self-harm. Well, self-harm is one of several characteristics necessary for someone being diagnosed with BPD, but not by itself.  When Jesus cast out a demon from someone, he was not going with the popular ideas of his day. No, he was casting out real demons.

Another reason we overlook and ignore the mentally ill is the misguided idea that they can just snap out of it. When someone is in full blown mania, overwhelmed with a fear of abandonment, in the midst of irrational rage, hear voices or sounds that are not there , or in major depression, they cannot just will themselves out of it. Example of why you cannot just snap out of it (lean all of my weight on a small person and tell them to just get up)

A third reason we overlook and ignore the mentally ill, is thinking they need to get right with God. Anyone want to guess why we sang “A Mighty Fortress is our God”?

Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, wrote this hymn. He is very well known for this hymn, his staunch stance on the Word of God that we are justified by grace through faith alone, and on Halloween in 1517 he nailed his complaints on the Wittenberg  Castle Church Door. He was fed up with the tricks the institutional church of his day and wanted it reformed to focusing on the treats of the Gospel.

However, Luther is not so well known for his depression or how he felt no stigma in speaking or writing about it. Neither are many aware, like I wasn't, that his meticulous observations of the mental and emotional problems of other. According to an article by Dr. Headley, my dissertation mentor at Asbury, Dr. Luther basically wrote something very similar to the DSMIV used is diagnosing mental illness. The good advice he gave to other clergy about pastoral care of the mentally ill was way ahead of his time.

If you have had a higher, deeper and broader grasp as well as experience of the free, amazing grace of God in the face of the same kinds of challenges Luther faced, then when you go to heaven you can tell brother Martin that his depression was due to some sin or demon in his life. Or if you are that perfected in grace, go tell Charles Spurgeon that his struggle with depression was that his heart was not right with God.

A fourth reason we not only ignore and overlook the mentally ill, but also their families is because of views which blame the family for the person being mentally ill. Again, mental illness is just not that simple.

Like Mr. Wesley, Luther neither condemned these folks as being guilty of some sin nor possessed with some demon that caused their physical brain disorders. Luther did recognize, that brain disorders can make Christian discipleship even more challenging. He emphasized a real gospel for real people. Otherwise, he was concerned that some might think they were not Christians.

Today, the overlooking and ignoring of the mentally ill and their families is starting to change in the church world. In response to the vision of the 1992 General Conference of the UMC, the Va. Conference was the first to respond. In 1995, they established a Coordinator for Ministry to Persons with Mental Illness. Our NC Conference is the seventh one to join the handful of conferences who are intentionally calling congregations to radical hospitality toward these overlooked and ignored persons. 

The North Carolina Conference Media Center is fully stocked with resources to help congregations do good unto Jesus by not overlooking or ignoring the mentally ill which we often do by our silence on this subject. Speaking of silence. My own gut feeling about the tragic death of Rev. Raegan May at Christ Church UMC in Chapel Hill is that the burden of secret silence contributed as much as did his depression. To bad he and many other clergy do not have the freedom to break the silence like Luther did.

You can be very proud to be a UM today for this is one area of ministry that we seem to be doing the most for and leading the way in. The Presbyterian Church USA has a good presence in this ministry. Both Lutheran denominations, and the Southern Baptists are coming to terms with how much depression exists among their clergy. Non mainline churches, like the Church of God Anderson-a holiness denomination, and the Assembly of God church-a pentecostal denomination are publishing articles on mental health topics like clinical depression and encouraging people to get good mental health help.

We must reach the day where the spiritual descendants of the protestant reformation become less silent about mental illness like Luther did and Murren has done. We must come to the place like Luther and Mr. Wesley where we don't overlook or ignore the mentally ill because we think they have a demon or are not right with God.

We must also follow Mr. Wesley's example of advocating for better hospital conditions which included a list of how people should be treated when under a doctor's care. He deplored how the poor where having to pay too much for medications that he set up his own dispensary. Like him we must write articles for the paper and letters to our governmental leaders call for better housing and community services for the mentally ill.

Too often, we are like some in the story of the Good Samaritan. Someone did a research project on human nature and this biblical story. Every person was told they were to give a talk on the Good Samaritan in a building near them on a college campus. Some were told they had plenty of time to go and speak. Others were told they had very little time. The last were told you barely have enough time to even get there on time. Between the two building beside the sidewalk on which each person walked laid a person in obvious need. Just like in the real story, a vast majority of the people walked right past the person on their way to talk about the story of the Good Samaritan.

Congregations and Christians are in such a hurry to arrive at the heavenly Jerusalem that we forget, ignore and sometimes even trample on our own wounded along the way. These are the very people whom Jesus said as much as you did or did not do good unto them, you did or did not do unto me.

Ponder this, "Our reaction to those who have dropped exhausted on the road of life is the ultimate test of our personal understanding of God's grace." Malcolm Smith.

Let us close with Jesus word's as much as you have not done for the overlooked and the forgotten, you have not done unto me. And as much as you have done for the overlooked and the forgotten, you have done unto me.