Recently there was an article in USA Today about a pastor in the Carolinas who committed suicide. Here’s the article. I would urge you to go and read the entire article, but here is an except:
Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.
Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.
But Baptists in the Carolinas are soul searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.
Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors.
For the most part the article is really quite good in nailing the problem. One sentence in particular really grabbed me:
Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders — dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.
Isn’t that the truth! Christians are horrible at addressing mental illness, because we equate the mind with the soul, and presume that if someone has a mental illness that it is at the root a spiritual problem. Now I will be the first to grant that mental illness always has a spiritual component, but arguing that clinical depression or other mental illnesses are simply spiritual is irresponsible, and borders on a denial of the First Article.
God created us, body and soul. Because of sin, we feel the effects of the Fall throughout our entire existence, body and soul. It is entirely right to say that sickness and disease are the results of sin, but it is also true that God has given us many tools to heal, body and soul. The chief of these is the healing Word of God. But there are also many other methods of healing that God has provided, including medication, doctors, therapy, etc. Can these be misused or abused? You bet! At the same time, I would suggest that the “spiritual card” can also be horribly abused. If I tell someone who is mentally ill that they need to pray more, or spend more time in the Word, or come to Church, and that this will simply heal them apart from these other tools, I am saying that God only works through the Word and not at all through any other means. I’m not sure what to call that. But it isn’t right.
We pray for the families and congregation of this pastor, and hope that God will use this as an opportunity to bring healing and help to so many who are in need.
Be at peace,