Monday, April 28, 2008

The pain of stigma in the church

I haven't thought for a while about stigma within the church. My life has been pretty insulated. I don't feel the effects of such stigma. But every once in a while I hear a story that gets my blood boiling. It's not simple anger I feel, though. It's more like pain.

Someone who used to come to Living Room but can't anymore, told me how much the group had meant to her. Our support group had helped make her well. She is so enthusiastic about Living Room that she had decided to start a group of her own in another part of town. But what has been holding her back is that she finds it hard to get established or feel good in a church. And Living Room needs a church to sponsor the program.

This friend has painful memories of how her husband, who suffers from severe anxiety, was treated in the past at a church he attended with her. Members of the church tried exorcising his "demons" and told him he had no faith. I sense the pain she feels about not feeling she can get involved in a regular church. She has been hurt so much! So many have experienced similar rejection and judgement. The people who most need a place to experience God's love are all too often shunned.

At our Living Room meeting on Friday a lady told us about being at church with her daughter. When she explained to someone that her daughter had schizophrenia, the person replied, "It's a demon that causes that, you know." He said that with the daughter standing right beside them.

This ignorance causes such a lot of pain! When are people going to understand the medical truth about mental disorders? When will this attitude change? People who struggle with mental health issues need to be embraced by the church and given full support and love, following Christ's example.

There's nothing as painful to people who love God to be told they have a demon or that it's their lack of faith that's making them sick. This is a tragic situation that we simply can't allow to continue. This is an attitude we need to fight with everything we've got. We need to write and speak about this in such a way that people will listen.

This is what started me writing my latest book, A Firm Place to Stand. It will be published in two months or so and I pray that it will help educate Christians and help them to be compassionate rather than judgemental. Please, God, let it make a difference.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

It's always so sad (and infuriating) to read about people's lack of sensitivity or their belief that illness is a punishment by God.

I'm sure your book will make a difference because you care so much, and you're such a great role model!

That's great news about it being published so soon!


Jenalexa said...

recently i had a bad experience in a church when they didn't help a person going through a divorce. stigma is not even just isolated to mental illness, it is often related to all kinds of things. i grew up as a christian and i still do have faith as a christian but i am furious that there are churches who want to minister to people and even send out missionaries to help others but won't accept people for where they are at and love them and show them God's love wherever they are. where they are in life, where they are in situation, in health, in the world.... it doesn't matter. as a christian we have a responsibility to share God's love with everyone, no exceptions!

Paula Joy said...

As bad as this is to say, there are people in my church that I would NEVER talk to about being bipolar, simply because of the stigma that still exists. I may be fearing what's not there, but I know it WAS there. I know that it's better than it was, but until it touches their family, or they take the time to learn about it, it's going to be foreign to them. Most just don't know what to do.

I've only had 1 person ask me the real questions that I want to be asked when I tell someone about being bipolar.

Glad to hear about your book. God will use it!!

marja said...

Susan: Thanks for your comment. Yes it is sad and infuriating, but the worst of it is that it damages people who are already suffering. I have known of Christians who refuse to take their meds because they feel it's sin that's making them sick. They refuse to see it as a medical problems. For me to be told that I'm not right with God is worse than being told I have a mental illness.

marja said...

Jena: To be a Christian means to be a Christ follower. It means being forgiving and accepting and compassionate and loving. Why do so many Christians forget what Jesus told us?

marja said...

Paula Joy: Isn't it wonderful to have a friend who truly wants to know all about your illness? That really shows that they care. I have a couple of friends like that too, and they're the best.

Nancie said...


It's sad to read of the experiences of your friend. And it is so true that there is still such a terrible stigma associated with mental illness or depression in the church.

Like you, I am thankful that now I have the understanding and prayers of some of my friends. But for many years I hid my sufferings and never thought of seeking medical help because of the fear of what others will think of me if they know that I was going through depression.

It's wonderful that you are able to write your new book to educate others so that they may be more understanding and compassionate. May God use your book greatly and continue to bless your labours of love for Him.

Take care! And have a blessed weekends.


Merelyme said...

a demon? really? people actually believe these things? i had no idea. i hope that you keep on writing and educating are very needed.

bipolar_girl said...

I miss you, Marja! Everything's alright with me. Been busy at work and other stuff. I\ll try to blog one of these days. take care!

Being Bipolar Sucks said...

Illnss a punishment?? That is terrible people just don't understand and they need to get educated