Monday, October 15, 2012

National Bipolar Sunday?

No, National Bipolar Sunday is not an day on the SBC calendar but if it were it would have been yesterday, since October 11th was National Bipolar Awareness Day. I guess since October is Pastor Appreciation Month we wouldn't want to depress any of the pastor brethren by focusing on any mental illness.

Here is a sobering, though anecdotal, thought for we men of the Baptist cloth: Every community I have served in had a tale of an SBC pastor who committed suicide. 

Here is a depressing thought: Conversations and discussions among SBC clergy on the subject of depression and mental illnesses like bipolar disorder almost always start and end with the conclusion that these problems are spiritual, have a spiritual cause and an spiritual cure. 

My opinion is that the depressing thought above probably contributes to the sobering thought above.

In our circle of news, opinions, and blogs contributors generally look askance at diagnoses that are grouped under the general heading of depression and the like.

For an example, see Albert Mohler's interesting and somewhat insightful article of a few years ago, The Reign of the Therapeutic, in which he rightfully maintains that the panoply of psychological, mental, illnesses are always expanding to meet the demands of a therapeutically addicted populace. There is little in the article that validates for a reader who actually has a serious illness that he needs medical help to manage it.

A few years ago Baptist Press reported on calls to LifeWay's 911-type of emergency clergy hotline. Depression accounted for the top number of calls, followed by forced termination, questions about the Wounded Minister's Retreat, marital problems and others.

Quickly now, do we see more reporting on forced termination than clergy depression? Yep. Forced termination has clear causes and cures. Mental illness does not.

The occasional article on depression found on an SBC-oriented blog frequented by clergy usually gets polite responses, offers of prayers,  few comments, and the occasional know-it-all response that the afflicted just needs to confess sin or get right with God. Most of us have been around long enough to understand that for clergy to admit to anything in the neighborhood of mental illness means that they become damaged goods and have diminished stature in the eyes of colleagues, not to mention potential employers.

Contrast that with what one finds in the lay world. Here is a good current example: Bipolar Disorder Is Insidious.

I am not bipolar and admit to no more depression than the usual pastor 'blue Mondays' (not found in the DSM IV) or an occasional pastoral funk but I have been around long enough to recognize that SBC clergy generally have an unhealthy view of such things. This is to their harm, I'm afraid. We can do a lot better with this than we are doing.

...and I really don't want to hear any more hallway whispers of clergy suicides.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shed the social work program given its suspect role in ministry and speak nonsense about the potentially deadly consquences of mental illness.

Mohler might wish to speak about theological education and church history. Beyond that, he would do well to remember his training and experience. Even with these topics, he might wish to do a bit more study, but given the cohort of people fawning over him, he has little incentive to do so.

David Welch said...

as a pastor I had to step aside some years ago now due to bipolar. The good Lord is now leading me back slowly into ministry as I am living in recovery. It was encouraging to see you a SBC pastor write this blog as my dad retired from the SBC. Thank you.

Here is my blog if you are interested and you can also look up "A Bipolar Preacher" on facebook.
http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=2872315605494326663#overview/src=dashboard

William Thornton said...

Thanks for the comment, David.
Your link did not work but if you meant to link your blog this one will work:
http://davidfwelch.blogspot.com/

The Facebook search worked fine.

God bless you.

Jack Wolford said...

Bi-polar disorder can be a sub-part of a larger disorder and the medical people can treat them with success - but, only if you go to them and give them a chance . Got a plumbing problem , then go to a plumber. Spiritual counciling has its place in everything ; but, specifics need to be addressed by specialists . Homosexuality will find the same approach in my opinion . Don't be a "quack" .

Tom Parker said...

What a difficult job it is to be a pastor and then if one has depression issues who does he or she turn to.

I believe many pastors are afraid to share this with their church members for fear of being shown the door.

It should not work this way.

Anonymous said...

“I believe many pastors are afraid to share this with their church members for fear of being shown the door.”

You are correct, Tom. A number of professors at SBTS (e.g., Oates) were early advocates of pastoral care only to have ministers from the part of the convention that is closer to William in theological temperament denounce them as people opposed to scripture and the like, never understanding then or even now that many issues related to pastoral care are not the result of one’s relationship with God (read as ‘deficiency’). Many, many, many people suffered and continue to suffer due to this kind of ministerial ignorance and malpractice. That William now gets it (and probably has gotten it for some time) is a good thing, for he will have some positive influence; however, a bit of apology from some conservatives for the unkind things said of the early pioneers of pastoral care would be in order. “We were wrong, and we are better off for their work” would be a nice start.

William Thornton said...

I would ask my anonymous friend to please recall a time when I did not "get it."

Anonymous said...

It is appropriate to remove 'now', for it assumes too much, but it also would be as appropriate for a conservative to make a statement as to how some conservatives wrongly characterized those (e.g., SBTS pastoral care professors) in the pastoral care movement, and that conservatives, alike, are benefiting and may benefit from their work.

Ball is in your court.

Anonymous said...

“Ball is in your court.”

And the response was ... well, there was no response and it is doubtful that the invitation for a response has not been read twice, but we know it has been read once.

Here is why this is important:

Big story in religion that more and more people, even those with prior religious backgrounds, are indicating no religious affiliation. The size of the ‘Nones’ is growing ... and from one with religious affiliation, I am saddened, but I understand the dynamic ... and I am saddened by that, too.

The Nones are to a large extent, to be brief, tired. Tired of the thoughtlessness of the religious other, usually the conservative religious other. Condemnation, castigation, you name it, the Nones have been on the receiving end from those who, yes, that are (also) ... sinners, but have seemingly forgotten that such is the case, thinking instead that because of grace the sin part is apparently not observable and the grace received is a cover for being obnoxious ... in a loving way, of course. When one reads from a conservative that he loves you and that is why he is offending you (so that ‘you’ will finally get it), one knows from the outset that the situation is beyond reason and that irrational discourse is as possible as drunken fans at a Georgia-Florida football game. Tired, yes; tired of bad religion.

Some people with mental illness die by their on hand. And some die thinking that it is due to a broken relationship with God that could not be repaired because of inadequate faith. Perhaps one such person will die today hours after failure to pray away the problem in the office of the pastor who says that he just needs to be stronger in the Lord and more knowledgeable of the scriptures. And what might this do for the one that hears it? Actually it just might make life and death more torturous and life to prematurely end. And if the one does take his life the pastor might then share with his friends, “he was loved, but he was weak.” Hopefully the pastor will hear that he (i.e., pastor) is stupid, woefully stupid, and that his practice as a minister borders on the criminal.

But the ones that refused to propagate this type of pastoral care had their Christian commitment challenged, they were questioned as to being Christian, and people were told that listening to such people would destroy one’s faith in God.

And.the.conservative.critics.were.wrong.and.some.have.now.appropriated.the.insights.of.these.ministers.but.have.said.NOTHING.about.the.importance.of.the.contributions.of.those.they.criticized.Thus.they.continue.to.marginalize.the.very.people.that.to.a.large.degree.have.played.an.important.role.in.keeping.someone.close.to.them.ALIVE.since.that.someone.will.now.receive.proper.care.

The Nones are tired. They are tired of graceless and thankless Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tired None,

Who cares what those other religious types think of you or your ministry in pastoral care? When all is said and done, you do not answer to them.

What have they stolen (my word and it may not fit, but it may) from you? Has their condemnation, castigation... stopped you from being used of God? Does their view of you really matter? Would an apology really help the matter? Even if they apologized and it was truly repentive, how would that help?

I do not wish to reduce the wrong of any group but to clarify that if God has called us to pastoral ministry, we can do it and do it well, regardless of what others think, say or try and create a poorer atmosphere for those giving their lives to pastoral care.

If you are tired it seems you are tired of people who complain. Re=read your post and ask yourself if you are complaining also. I am to blessed and too busy to be tired of what others think.

Anonymous said...

"I am to blessed and too busy to be tired of what others think."

It seems to me that your entire post could be summarized as "Who cares", but I am happy that you are blessed and busy.

William Thornton said...

I write occasionally on clergy depression and the like because I think it to be helpful; hence, this piece built off of what Al Mohler left unsaid.

It appears that my discussion with one anonymous commenter has previous, unrelated history...so I'll just leave it at that.

I appreciate the comments here. Let's leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

"I'll just leave it at that."

But leaving "it at that" is a major point that the Nones are making. Even when it takes very little effort to reach out to do some good, even the small tilling of soil that makes it more fertile for future use, many conservatives would rather not, apparently happy with a dwindling yield.

Matt said...

Great, insightful post.

My mother suffers from bipolar disorder and has every since I can remember. Even with this experience, I am helpless to offer her any psychological help.

As a pastor,this has convinced me of the necessity of recognizing when a need rises above what I am trained to handle.

Anonymous said...

"It seems to me that your entire post could be summarized as "Who cares", but I am happy that you are blessed and busy."

Not at all but it could be summarized as "what difference does it make that others don't like you, it's baggage not worth carrying". I said what I said because I care.

I can see where I came off insensitive, that was not my intent. It is obvious you are hurting and those you speak of have hurt you deeply. I will pray you will be able to find a way to dismiss that which is causing you the pain. Leaving that pain causer behind is a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

"what difference does it make that others don't like you, it's baggage not worth carrying".

Anonymous, too, this is not about me and it is not about my pain, per se. It is about the pain that some conservative ministers create in the body of Christ and continue to make on this point, and moves toward reconciliation, even VERY SMALL moves, that they are so very disinterested in making. Ask the Nones. A growing contingent. William apparently wants to make the point that conservative ministers like himself care, while others inside his camp made life hell for ministers that pioneered the insights he wishes to promote. He is standing on ground tilled by others criticized for the tilling and shows no sign of gratefulness for their faithfulness and perseverance. He has intelligence, insight, and influence, but will not use it to straighen some crooked roads that need straightening. No thankfulness that because of these people fewer people will end up taking their own lives. They were theological moderates, perhaps thought to be liberals, but a conservative can show NO appreciation for what they have done ... and at the end of the day will pray, “Thank you, Lord, for giving to me ....” Conveniently forgetting that the Lord often gives through people.

Consider the following on Southern giving the heave-ho to pastoral counseling and the person above with a mother that is bi-polar:

“Ironically, Southern Seminary was the home of Wayne Oates, one of the pioneers in the movement to integrate secular psychology with theology ... “Oates’s unique contribution,” said Wade Rowatt, one of Oates’s disciples, “was to lead Baptists to say we need to be thoroughly informed about understanding persons through personality theory, and understanding families through family systems theory, and understanding groups of people, understanding society, and then integrate [these understandings] with sound biblical theological scholarship in constructing a theory for the pastoral shepherding of persons. That has been the collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to preparing ministers to walk with persons in a time of crisis,” he said.

But Russell Moore, dean of Southern’s school of theology, bluntly called Oates’s approach a “failed” model. The effort to integrate psychology with theology failed, he said, “because it is so naive about the presuppositions behind secular psychologies. You can’t simply say you’re going to integrate the science of psychotherapy with scripture because there are only sciences and theories of psychotherapy that are contradictory and incoherent.”

...

Roy Woodruff, retired executive director of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, said the implication that the pastoral counseling model is not biblically based “is either totally ignorant or totally arrogant, and I don’t know which.”

Thanks to people like Oates and those that followed, his mother will get better care and not have her being diminished in the process.

Anonymous said...

"but a conservative can show NO appreciation for what they have done ... and at the end of the day will pray, “Thank you, Lord, for giving to me ....” "

Luke 17 teaches the Christian that we should never do what we do for the compliments of men. This does not mean a Christian should not give others a word of thanks, we should but as a Christian we should not live expecting or longing for such a compliment.

This is where I am at and it is freeing to live for someone who, through the cross, says all I need to hear.

Anonymous said...

These people were not doing the work for the praise of people, as is suggested; they were laboring in their fields for the people that Jesus gave his life. To think otherwise is to not understand these people.

Happy that you are living for God. You are not and have not been alone in doing so.

Anonymous said...

Dear None,

I misunderstood what you where hoping to convey when you emphasized being shown "NO appreciation". It read like there was a desire or need to have the others show appreciation.

I must admit, I am not sure what your concern really is. Most of the people I know, on both ends of the theological spectrum, have others who do not understand and/or appreciate the work they do for the Lord. Many of these fine people, myself included, continue to serve and forgive those who have hurt them. I spent more than a year wrestling with and learning that until I can be forgiving, I cannot be forgiven. This is, for me, the most tragic issue in the lives of many Christians. I have a grown child who hates the church because of how his mother and I were treated by them. I know if he can learn to forgive he will be able to move forward in his walk with Jesus.

Thank you for your comments. I don't see any reason to further this discussion at this time. If you choose to write a response, I will be glad to read but I will not be commenting.

Anonymous said...

The people of whom I wrote about, some now dead, did not and are not asking for anything from anyone. The people that need to acknowledge their contributions, for their own well-being, are the ones now benefiting from the paths they created, ones they now walk ... apparently ungratefully.

Anonymous said...

After reading some of Dr. Daniel Amen's work I am convinced that the brain science and neurology are being overlooked way to much by those in in ministry. I was told by several at SWBTS that their licensed program will in December for straight biblical approaches. Dr. Amen did criticize psychology on one level in that it relies too much on interpreation of symptoms from the DSM-IV and not enough of emperical assessments, To me counselors biblical or not can overlook biological assessments way too often. A person I talked to three months ago said that he went to a biblical counselor and was told that his problem was sin in his life two years prior. He was recently diagnosed with un healed brain tissue in an area of the brain when he was given a SPECT imaging exam.