This is the second part of an interview I participated in for the Texan, a publication of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. I was asked to comment on the motion presented to the SBC Executive Committee in favor of improving churches’ care for those with mental health challenges. I see this as a huge step forward in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, which has unfortunately been propagated by the church at times. In this section, I answer the question, “How does mental illness relate to the fallen nature of mankind?” I’d love to get your thoughts on it:
“However you view the “mind-body-spirit” dynamic—you have to acknowledge that sin taints our entire essence. We sin as an act but we are also sinners in our essence and that essence spans our spirituality, our psychology—I would use that term psychology—and our physiology, our bodies. When you see it from that standpoint, it allows for the uniqueness of the individual and their struggle. It allows for the infusion of truth, grace and mercy into their specific circumstances. And the gospel becomes very real to them because you’re not taking a cookie-cutter approach to every single person. You’re recognizing that we’re all tainted by the fall, but that tainting is very different for each person. So Sally, for example, may struggle with pride or arrogance or gossip, but Johnny over here struggles with pornography or violence, anger, rage. What makes them different? They’re both sinners. They’re both tainted by the fall. But their genetics, personalities, sex, and life circumstances are all different. And so it creates both a dynamic of collective sinfulness, commonality, while maintaining a uniqueness in these other areas. And when I see clients that come to my office, I take each one as an individual and try to tease out what is the essence of their struggle in this life, how the fall has tainted them, but also how they can be redeemed, in body, in soul, in spirit.
To address the physical nature of our humanity, let me point out that researchers have done studies looking at people with severe anxiety and demonstrated that certain areas of their brain are not just functionally overactive, but actually physically larger. One area in particular, called the amygdala, is larger and hyperactive in those who are extremely anxious. So then we must address the nature of their struggle. If somebody has a larger amygdala and it’s overactive, are they going to struggle more with worry and with anxiety, which the Bible says we clearly should not do? Yes, absolutely. Does that affirm their sinfulness? Of course, it affirms that they are broken people just like all of us. The statistic, as far as brokenness, is 100 percent—it just differs in the areas that we struggle. The joy and excitement of what I do is to learn about the nature of their anxiety and help equip them to battle it effectively, incorporating all tools at our disposal, given to us by God through both divine revelation and natural revelation.
So this resolution seems to me to be the equivalent of Christendom’s acceptance that the world is round. In Galileo’s time, there was a lot of fear about what the acceptance of this fact would do to the Faith. It challenged people’s worldview. This is an equivalent issue in that it’s challenging our worldview today. But I think in the end, it will not do anything as far as shaking the core doctrines of our faith and what we believe, but will instead help us to be more effective as ambassadors of the truths we find in scripture about our brokenness and our need for a Savior.”
Question: What do you think? What causes mental illness? Is it physical, psychological, spiritual, or all of the above? How do you think we can reduce the stigma associated with mental illness while still remaining true to our faith?
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