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Mental health issues garner SBC attention

Wednesday, Jun 12, 2013
By Barbara Denman

HOUSTON (BP) -- During a year when mass shootings and suicides have stunned the nation, a resolution on "Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God" was overwhelmingly approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention's June 11-12 annual meeting in Houston.

The resolution offered by the SBC Committee on Resolutions sought to "affirm, support and share God's love and redemption" while opposing "all stigmatization and prejudice" to those with mental health challenges.

The resolution identified such mental health issues as autism disorders, intellectual disability, mental health conditions like schizophrenia, clinical depression, anxiety orders, bipolar disorders and diseases of the aged including dementia and Alzheimer's.

The resolution expressed support for "the wise use of medical interventions" and supported research and treatment "when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview."

Specifically addressing suicide as "a tragedy, leaving heartache, pain and unanswered questions in its wake," the resolution urged that families of victims be treated with "great care, concern and compassion" from Christians and churches. Included in this is the "assurance that those in Christ cannot be separated from the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus."

And it called for churches to find ways to love, minister and develop methods and resources to those who struggle with these challenges and their families.

After being presented by the Resolutions Committee, the resolution was debated for 15 minutes as two amendments were offered that sought to affirm the sufficiency of Scripture as the final authority on all mental health issues. Messengers defeated the amendments as discussion centered on the recognition that any mental illness, just as any other physical condition, needs medical care.

A third amendment was offered by Steven Owensby, pastor of First Baptist Church in Enoree, S.C. -- "that the mission of Jesus described as His own in Luke 4:18-19 should also be the mission of His Church, namely to proclaim liberty to those who are oppressed with godly biblical counsel."

Resolutions Committee chair Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, regarded the amendment as "friendly," adding that "affirming biblical, godly, pastoral counsel is an essential in local church ministry."

The resolution addressed the same topic as a motion presented June 11 by Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., that called on SBC entities to work cooperatively to create and identify resources available to individuals and churches that minister to those who suffer from mental health challenges.

"Jesus called us to care for the suffering, to care for the least of these. We often overlook them. At times their lives are so disrupted and severe they require intervention. These people and their families are isolated, stigmatized and rejected," Floyd said.

Floyd cited statistics that 58 million Americans and 450 million persons worldwide suffer from mental disorders and 1 million die from suicide annually. He said churches and communities are filled with people who need Southern Baptists to minister to them and their families.

"It's time for the SBC to be on the front lines of mental health challenges," he said.

Attention has focused on two prominent Southern Baptist leaders in recent months, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, who have lost children to suicide.

Warren lost his son Matthew to suicide at age 27 earlier this year after a lengthy battle with mental illness. Page, meanwhile, has authored a book on the death of his daughter, Melissa, who committed suicide in 2009 at age 32. "Melissa, A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide," was released June 1 by the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.

During the LifeWay presentation to the SBC June 11, President Thom Rainer said it is unusual for him to promote a book during his report, but "strongly" recommended messengers read Melissa which he said is "one of the powerful books I've have every read."

"Many of us in vocational ministry want to act like our homes have no problems; Frank Page takes down the façade and lets us see a real family with real struggles."

Ranier said he hopes the book will help others "understand issues behind depression and suicide so we can more effectively minister to those who are hurting. I'm praying that a movement will grow from this book and perhaps lives can be saved from this darkness and we can have a greater awareness and sensitivity to this need."

Ranier also announced that LifeWay will re-launch the curriculum series, "Bible Studies for Life," which will begin with the series "Where the Bible Meets Life." The curriculum will explore topics such as mental health and the biblical Christian response.

At a news conference after the conclusion of the Resolutions Committee report, chair Lemke said the resolution could open doors for churches to develop partnerships between congregations and health care providers to develop a holistic approach to offering a compassionate ministry for those who suffer from all types of mental health issues.
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Barbara Denman is director of communications, Florida Baptist Convention.

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