Michelle Boorstein, a religion writer at The Washington Post, writes that following the suicide of the son of the megachurch pastor Rick Warren, "evangelical Christian leaders have begun a national conversation about how their beliefs might sometimes stigmatize those who struggle with mental illness."
Matthew Warren, who was 27, shot himself Friday, shocking even many close friends of his father's, who didn't know that his son "had long been suicidal," Boorstein writes.
Boorstein's story reports that evangelical leaders are calling "for an end to the shame and secrecy that still surrounds mental illness." The story portrays this as a welcome willingness to deal with an issue long shrouded in secrecy.
But I read the story very differently. I was flabbergasted that so many evangelicals apparently believe that mental illness is a consequence of sin, or a failure of faith. Boorstein quotes Rebekah Lyons, a blogger and the wife of the pastor Gabe Lyons, who wrote this week, “As Christians, we believe this side of heaven all disease, sickness and pain is rooted in a world broken by sin."
Boorstein goes on to say that many evangelicals have "a fervent belief…in the power of prayer and dependence on God and Jesus for healing." Boorstein paraphrases "some leaders and congregants" who wonder whether "depression is the result of sinful behavior," and that some who are still sick after prayer worry that seeking medical treatment might mean they are "not believing in God enough."
As Boorstein writes, "Stigma, discomfort and disagreement about mental health issues are hardly confined to religious communities or evangelical Christians." Even so, I was surprised by what I read.
It was only a few years ago that insurance companies were required to treat mental illness the same way they treat other illnesses. Until I read Boorstein's story, it had never occurred to me that opposition by evangelical Christians might be one reason why it took so long.