Following the April suicide of their son, Rick and Kay Warren have a new purpose for Saddleback Church: removing the stigma of mental illness from churches, Christianity Today reports. Rick Warren preached at his 20,000-member megachurch on Sunday for the first time since Easter, five days before 27-year-old Matthew Warren's death. The sermon, the first in a six-part series on grief entitled "How to Get Through What You're Going Through," related the Warrens' journey to rely on hope in God amidst their grief. "God knows what it's like to lose a son," Warren said. He promised his congregation that their next major ministry focus would address mental illness within churches. Though Saddleback already sponsors a support group for family and friends of people with mental illnesses, Warren envisions a program similar to Saddleback's campaign against the stigma of those with HIV/AIDS. "It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's no shame and stigma to it," Warren said. "But if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret. ... If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?" The Warrens noted in April their plans to use proceeds from the sale of their son's house to fund a mental health ministry.
Following Matthew Warren's death, a number of other evangelical leaders were also prompted to talk about how can churches can better help those dealing with mental illness in their congregations, ReligionToday.com reported. The Rev. Bill Ritter, author of Take the Dimness of My Soul Away: Healing After a Loved One's Suicide, said people affected by mental illness often steer clear of church. Some feel ashamed and others are just overwhelmed. "For as much as we talk about the church as the place you turn when life is falling apart -- the reality is that people often stay away from church when life is falling apart," he said. Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, said he wanted to see more churches discuss mental illness openly. A longtime friend of the Warrens, he knew of Matthew Warren's struggles with depression, which resisted treatment. "We need to stop hiding mental illness," Stetzer said. He noted that some Christians think if they pray enough or become more spiritual, then their mental illness will go away -- but they don't look at other health issues the same way. "People who become a Christian and have a broken leg will still have a broken leg," he said. "We tend to think that Jesus fixes what is in our heads, and medicine fixes what is in our body. Sometimes what is in our heads needs medicine."
How can Christians and churches best address the issue of mental health?
Anna Kuta is the editor of ReligionToday.com.