If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that my dad suffered from schizophrenia. As a result, in late 1998, my father stopped attending work (and by default, was considered abandoning his job after not calling in sick for three days). His illness was so severe that he wasn’t able to work. However, he heavily became involved in our Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church.
Quick background before I continue: One of the main sticking points from IFB beliefs is salvation by faith. (Romans 10:9-10) Basically, all you do is believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and that he was crucified, died, and rose again. The emphasis here is on BELIEVING. (There’s a reason I’m saying this other than sounding like I’m proselytizing.) The more I became involved in the church, the more I found it was salvation by works (works-based salvation). The problem? IFBers weren’t practicing what they were preaching.
Back to the story: The church was in the middle of a building program and the pastor – we’ll call him Pastor B – heavily called on his members to help out during their free time. My father was so dedicated – he was severely mentally ill now – that he rode my bike for 10 MILES in the RAIN to help put up sheetrock. Then a Sunday or two later, Pastor B tells me, "You know, your dad should really be working. The Bible says that a man who doesn’t work doesn’t eat. You know what I think? I don’t think he was ever saved to begin with."
Talk about judgment. I was shocked beyond belief to hear my pastor tell me that he thought my father wasn’t a born-again Christian. The Bible also says God doesn’t look on the outside appearance, but looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Pastor B took advantage of my father’s dedication, but judged him as “unsaved” because he wasn’t working. IFBers don’t believe in "losing" salvation, which means that you fall out of favor with God and won’t go to heaven unless you do something to correct it. They view losing salvation as works-based, which – as I said before – is contrary to their beliefs.
My uncle, who really means well, encourages me to keep praying, trusting, and believing God as if my depression/bipolar is a result of a lack of faith on my part. (While all those things are well and good, it’s like expecting my Lamictal to just make everything all better.) Funny thing, I go to Christian counseling and my counselor – who reads this blog – Hi, C! – has flat out told me that Christianity is not a cure-all for depression. (Or maybe it was my current pastor. I can’t keep track these days.) I became a Christian, hoping to save myself from depression and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t “delivered” like some people are, but in the midst of these trials, my faith has given me a reason to keep going. For me, it helps to feel like I’m alive for something bigger than myself. Atheists call religion a crutch. It’s a pretty bad analogy. Crutches serve an important purpose: to allow healing. If my “crutch” paves the path for me to heal in more ways than just my depression, then I’ll be happy to have something to lean on for the rest of my life.
Many Christians who suffer from mental illness face similar situations. I read this article on Today’s Christian Woman from 2004 and it seems like the woman in the article had a ton of support from those around her. It sounds like she didn’t run into very many problems at her church either. I feel confident in saying her case is a rarity. Christians who suffer from any kind of mental illness are "demon-possessed, " "don’t read the Bible enough," "don’t pray enough," "don’t believe enough," "aren’t saved enough," yadda yadda yada. There’s every excuse out there to make those who are mentally ill feel subhuman.
I hate to say this, but those who aren’t religious tend to be more compassionate toward those with mental illness. It’s interesting that the religion that teaches “judge not and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) is one of the most judgmental religions of all.