Rick Warren was featured yesterday as he tearfully preached for the first time since his mentally ill son committed suicide back in April. Exerpts from ABC News:
Pastor Rick Warren, returning to his Saddleback Church pulpit for the first time since his son's suicide, said today he hoped to be able to remove the stigma that is attached to a person suffering from mental illness.
At the end of the sermon Warren said he wanted to help remove the stigma of suffering from a mental illness.
"In any other organ of your body breaks down there's no stigma," said Warren. "But if your brain doesn't work, why are you ashamed of that?"I wish him well in his effort to remove the stigma of mental illness and while he may have some success with his own congregation and beyond, I am not optimistic about success in the culture of religious conservatives. My observations over the decades is that it is extremely difficult for conservative clergy to accept that behavior can be driven by phisiological and biochemical factors.
Warren said for the next six weeks he would give sermons about different stages of grief and would talk more about how his faith helped him after his son's death.
He also said the church would offer support groups for people suffering from mental illness.
A member of a godly family in one of my churches committed suicide. When I expressed my sympathy to the matriarch of that family, as godly a woman as I have ever known, over the death of her grandson, she said, "We have been expecting this."
When laypeople have related to me stories of how brother pastor so-and-so committed suicide (this has occurred in every community where I have pastored) they don't precisely state it but clearly imply that the ultimate cause was moral failure. Mental illness need not apply. The verdict is in.
Is it any wonder that stigma looms large over depression and that clergy, whom I read experience depression at greater rates than the general population, are extremely reluctant to seek treatment and unalterably opposed to allowing anyone in their congregations to know about it lest they become damaged goods, lose their church and career.
A sad state indeed.
A few prominent SBC pastors have notably admitted to experiencing depression (though none to being mentally il) and, illustrating the deep divide between the one percent megapastors in the SBC and the rest of us (one notes that Rick Warren had the ability to leave his pulpit for almost four months after his son's suicide, something impossible for most of us unless we resign), these receive sabbaticals, standing ovations, and support.
In an ideal world pastors would be educated about mental illness, preach compassionately, counsel wisely, and encourage appropriate steps to be taken when it is found.
In our real world, pastors and laypeople alike look askance at mental illness.
Perhaps Rick Warren can change this.