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On Mental Illness, Christian Theology and Leadership

On Mental Illness, Christian Theology and Leadership

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Published by Richard Bunn
Exploring possible connections between mental illness and unsound theology; also the importance of good leadership
Exploring possible connections between mental illness and unsound theology; also the importance of good leadership

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Richard Bunn on Feb 23, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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On Mental Illness, Leadership and Christian Theology 
At the heart of the Christian faith we find this declaration:Christ is risen from the dead!He is risen indeed; He's alive today!So some of us believe.Why then, one wonders, does mental illness, and even suicide, afflict Christianfamilies?According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five of us suffersmild forms of mental distress. One in ten will suffer a major crisis in theirlifetime. One in a hundred will suffer from schizophrenia.Just as cancer was once a taboo subject, not discussed and certainly not admittedto, schizophrenia, psychosis and major depression have until recently beenunworthy of serious public attention, even in our churches. In spite of theprevalence of mental illness in the general population, somehow it has not beengiven the necessary attention. We talk more about distant terrorist acts andthreats of economic disaster. Yet we are finally starting to address this epidemic.It is, however, but a window on the much deeper crisis: our spiritual health, orlack thereof. Some of us, even some of our leaders, exhibit questionablesymptoms and appear somewhat disconnected from God, His people and theworld. We function in our own virtual worlds, even using our own unintelligiblelanguage.Scripture says, "
Clap your hands all you peoples, Shout to the Lord, allthe earth, with loud songs of joy 
", yet from childhood we're taught to bequiet in church. We're called to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to oneanother, yet few churches really allow this to take place. Everything is 'pre-scripted' and the Holy Spirit is made redundant. We're expected to be able to talk about our faith to our neighbours, however
most of the time ordinary believers are not even allowed to address the regular assemblies of God to share what the Lord is doing in their own lives!
Are our leaders acting as servants of the Living God? Or are they exhibiting aform of spiritual schizophrenia, hearing the Voice of God and seeing visions, butthen doing things contrary to their own words and beliefs?Here in Canada, as in other places, there has been a tendency among someofficials in the more liberal Christian churches to foster unrest and legally pushtoward denominational division, out of desire to preserve faulty church systemsfor political purposes. This is both unbiblical and anti-Christian. Anglican Churchleaders have brought legal arguments against godly ministers and theircongregations before the secular courts. This has happened despite the clearinjunction against such action found in Holy Scripture. In the U.S.
denominational officials have even tried to install as church leaders people whobelieve in and practice non-Christian faiths. Their abuse of position and pseudo-spiritual authority is being seen for what it is: hypocrisy, arrogance and willfuldeceit.Those who insist on pharisaic disobedience, which often comes with top-downleadership, will eventually discover the bankruptcy of their position. They show by their actions that they deny or ignore the reality that both our global society and the ecclesial family have changed and can no longer be held within thedenominational boundaries outlined since the Reformation. Such a break between thought and action, or
lack of appropriate engagement withreality, is one of the ways that schizophrenia has been described
.Why do some church leaders, and those who follow them, act in spite of reality,sometimes even against biblical values? Why are so many church meetingsdevoted exclusively to budgeting and servicing money? Why is church growthconsidered so important? Why do we rarely speak in our churches about ministry to and by Christians outside of traditional church settings?
Have deficiencies in theological study and application contributed tothe prevalence of mental illness among Canadians?
For those of us whose churches are more formal, we have an "inherited attitudetoward the liturgical act (which) reflects a kind of schizoid state. We hear but donot really hear. The liturgy is an encapsulated experience, entered into inisolation from real human experiences. It does not connect with the real worldbecause it has been shaped by a piety which is often consciously an escape fromthe pressures of the real world. Liturgical time is seen as ‘holy time’ workingaccording to its own laws, and feeding our hunger and thirst for God. But it doesnot connect for the great majority of our people with the real choices of daily life."- from 'Sacraments and Liturgy: The Outward Signs', by 
Louis Weil
.Perhaps there might be redemptive value to some degree of dissociative thinkingand behaviour. The prophets of Israel often showed schizoid tendencies. Thedifference between clinical illness and prophetic insight can be razor thin.Madness is after all a matter of judgment. A measure of openness to the Holy Spirit has often been seen as eccentric. Just look at the record in chapter two of the Book of Acts!
Anton T. Boison
discussed his own psychotic breaks and suggested that they represented efforts to reintegrate his personality. He developed an empiricaltheology which sought to study the patient, his symptoms and the healingprocess. He became one of the founders of clinical pastoral education. This fieldhas largely been taken over by secular psychologies which allow the patient tobecome a subject for experimental testing of theory. Pastoral theology has thusbeen transformed from the divine cure of souls into the pseudo-Christian effort tocorrect human flaws by human techniques.
Arno Gruen
describes the folly of so-called normal behaviour when it is shownto be counter-productive. (see his book, 'The Insanity of Normality')
, the father of fractal geometry, has been pointing out, for severalyears, inaccuracies in the financial formulae used to predict market behaviour.Could there be similar errors in the spiritual formulae which our churchesdevelop to meet their 'objectives'?Psychosis is too real. Suicide is too real. Does it matter what label is used?Whether mental or spiritual illness, it cannot be denied but it is often avoided,and is shuffled back into the pack of issues for society to deal with. Thepresenting problems are dealt with in sullen isolation by individuals, families,close friends and clinical support teams.The pain of exposing these wounds is intense. But it must be so. Just as physicaldisease demands treatment, the 'cure of souls' is essential, not optional.Is your church comfortable with discussing poverty and mental illness? How dowe address such difficult issues? Do we really believe in the power of prayer? If so, how should we pray in particlar circumstances? Why are we so willing to leaveit to other professionals to tackle these problems with sociological or medicaltechniques? Do we doubt the promises to heal which God has given to us? Why do some clergy deny the reality of mental illness? (See the study done by researchers at
Baylor University 
at http://www.baylormag.com/story.php?story=006239 )True leaders cultivate the ability to foresee events and potential circumstances.
Robert Greenleaf 
claimed that it was actually "necessary (for a good leader) tolive a sort of schizoid life, always at two levels of consciousness, both in the realworld -- concerned, responsible, effective, value oriented and also above it, seeingthe actual reality, being deeply involved in daily events, but having theperspective of a long sweep of history and looking to, and planning for, theindefinite future".The schizophrenic features of our churches, and of our various denominationaldivisions, are hardly conducive to good mental health in a society in which many families are split among different, often antagonistic, churches. We have beenexpected to accept as unchangeable these intrusions into our communities. Weknow that Jesus prayed for unity among His followers yet we are reluctant toquestion our leaders about building links with other Christians. We're sometimestold not to bother even with other churches within our own denominations:there's too much inertia against change! Is it possible any longer to believe Holy Scripture and at the same time tolerate and support the unbiblical systems whichseparate us from one another?
We must recover the model for servant leadership given to us by theLord Jesus.
Some are called as overseers, some as pastors, some as evangelists,

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