Letters: Learn about mental illness

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In a day when information is available at the touch of a screen, church leaders need to become more competent in understanding mental illness, diagnosing for the purpose of referring—not treating—and simply being more compassionate when mental illness may be a factor in the anguish a family faces.

It could begin as simply as learning some of the symptoms of the two most treated and treatable mental illness in America—depression and anxiety. From there, church leaders could attempt to become familiar with the schizophrenia spectrum disorders. From there, they could move on to information regarding psychotic disorders, and from there, the mental illnesses associated with mood.

Psychological/psychiatric disorders are not that difficult to recognize or understand in general ways. Since church leaders often are the first person a member turns to or a family turns to in a crisis, it helps to know something about the landscape of mental illness.

It also is wise to develop a referral list of competent therapists that one’s church could use when needed.

Michael Chancellor


‘Stigma’ is bullying

Your headline—“Churches must remove stigma of mental illness”— concerns me: It establishes a “stigma.”

I am equally concerned about this statement, “Churches could benefit from the de-stigmatizing that comes with exposure.”

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It is both unprofessional and unethical for a counselor to declare a “stigma.” It is a term of bullying; it has no other use.

How should churches approach the illnesses we call mental? As illnesses. Yes, it is that simple. Language directed at any illnesses should be respectful, and, no, no myths, they simply offer more negatives.

The article states: “Those who lack education on mental illness(es) may lack understanding of how to communicate with those about their illness or how to communicate with them in general—fear of ‘triggering’ them; fear of hearing their troubles then not knowing how to respond; discomfort with how to set boundaries.”

“People lacking education” ought be carefully examined. Who is supposed to provide that education, and why are they not?

We are not a monolith. We are a broad and diverse demographic. We earn to the millions, hold every university degree, and every professional, white, and blue-collar job (and none of the above).  That is one message you ought convey.

We are not a “them.” Us and them is offensive rhetoric.

Harold A. Maio

Fort Myers, Fla.

Atheists see positive impact of religious people

I enjoyed “My (fantasy) dinner with Bill Maher.” 

I am an atheist who has a similar discomfort with Maher’s religion tirades, except I’m concerned religious people will see Maher as exemplary of the general atheist mentality. Indeed, a certain portion of atheists are aggressively anti-religion and offer no conciliatory asides or exceptions, but most are not so dogmatic, and most see the positive impact of religious people in their lives.

Whenever I visit my family in Ohio I see the weight my uncle, a Methodist minister, takes on every day. He devotes himself to the lives of others as very few do. When my dad was in a prolonged hospital stay, my Mormon neighbors took turns bringing dinner to my sister and me to help lighten the load for my mom, who was needed at the hospital. We weren’t members of their church. We weren’t asking for help. They just saw neighbors in pain and felt compelled to try to ease that pain however they could.

Life is too complicated to begrudge someone for having a different spiritual outlook than you. Most of us believe as long as someone is essentially decent, the rest doesn’t matter. And by the way, I believe Maher’s long-time friendships with people like Jack Kingston, Andrew Sullivan and Cornell West prove he actually feels the same way too. Hopefully, you get that dinner with Maher some day so you can further solidify that for him.

Michael Webster

Salt Lake City

Pulpits must yield to the practical Christ

Regarding “SBC leaders lament declines in baptisms and attendance,”  Southern Baptist churches: 

• Disallow critical analysis of biblical writings. 

• Reject reason, logic, and common sense. 

• Discourage personal initiative and secular success. 

• Ridicule human capacity; legitimize self-doubt. 

• Promote an imbalanced, church-centered life. 

• Employ fear as a motivator. 

• Project an arrogant, our-way-and-no-other-way provincialism.  

• Prevent Christians from following Christ. 

The first seven pervade Southern Baptist sermons. The last requires explication. Christ had no “plan of salvation”; his command was “follow me.” That meant something different for each one so invited. Some followed, some did not, but to each was opened a personal path.

Those paths are closed, detoured by leaders who demand a communal “follow us” to grand destinations that enhance resumes. Followers are appeased with the appellation of “servant.”   

Servants improve the lives of those they serve. A modern list: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Jeffrey Bezos, Steve Jobs and the Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Imagine life today without their contributions. Their wealth is irrelevant; they have improved lives.

What if these six men had been members of a Southern Baptist church? Today’s world, the technology of which Southern Baptist churches use each week, would not exist.

Thinking people refuse to subordinate their intelligence and ambition to Baptist constraints. Many who are in are leaving, and many who are out remain out. The trend will continue until pulpits are yielded to the practical Christ.

John V. Rutledge

Colorado Springs, Colo.

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