A Practical Biblical And Theological Framework For Why The Church Should Give Greater Attention to Supporting Those With A Mental Illness And Their Families. 

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

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” All people including those with a mental illness are persons of great value. Given such value from God, those with a mental illness are not their illness and thus the church is called to avoid speaking about such valuable people as those bipolar people, etc, but as persons who have a specific mental illness.

Genesis 3 Humanity in its state of original righteousness did not experience mental illness or other biological disease. When death entered into humanity via original sin, then death in all of its forms began to be experienced by people. However, this does not mean biological diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression), unipolar disorder: (clinical depression), obsessive/compulsive disorder, panic-anxiety disorder are anything more than a biological brain disorders and need to be treated as any other biologically-based medical problem of any other organ of the body. Frankly, the church is called to proclaim that any claims by biblical teaching or theological thinking which places the cause of a person’s mental illness at the feet of some unconfessed sin or demonic influence/possession is false.

Mr Wesley once said, “The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities.” The writings of John Wesley demonstrate both a therapeutic and holistic understanding of ministry. He was as concerned for the health of people’s bodies and minds as he was for their souls. Furthermore, "more than any other major figure in Christendom, John Wesley involved himself with the theory and practice of medicine and with the specific principles and practices of ideal physical and mental health" (Vanderpool, 1986, p. 320).God is calling United Methodists to follow his example of ministry in showing radical hospitality to persons with a mental illness and their families.  

Like Mr. Wesley, brother Martin Luther neither condemned persons with a mental illness, like his own clinical depression, as being guilty of some sin nor possessed with some demon that caused their physical brain disorders. Luther did recognize, that brain disorders make Christian discipleship even more challenging. He emphasized a real gospel for real people. Otherwise, he was concerned that some persons with a mental illness might think they were not Christians. Both his compassion for Christians with mental illnesses and his keen observation of them were way ahead of his time. Likewise, God is calling the UMC to a compassionate proclamation of the Gospel to persons with a mental illness so if they are already person’s of faith, they might not doubt their salvation and if they are not, they might not doubt their savability by the grace of God.

Dr. George G. Hunter, III, the author of To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Spirit believes that “if our Church learned, to care enough and dare enough to minister with mentally ill people, we would discover the apostolic confidence to minister with many other people too. Ministry to mentally ill people may be the key to the renewal for relevant ministry for many thousands of churches." 

The local congregation is a covenant community of Christ’s disciples, one of whose hallmarks is mutual care and support. If any disabled person such as a person with a mental illness is prevented from active participation, the church community is incomplete.

Biblical teaching calls United Methodists to also in ministries of social justice in advocating in behalf of those who are mentally ill and seek the intentional reduction of the negative stigma and discrimination in both society at large and within United Methodist congregations whom God is calling to repent of. One in four families of our congregations have a family member who has a mental illness. Far too often, both the person with the mental illness and their family become de-churched where United Methodist churches fail to repent of holding to the world’s views on this matter or of holding onto poor theologizing and isogetical biblical interpretation.

Written for Bishop Paul Leeland