Findings about evangelical Christian beliefs in the US come alongside push by evangelical leaders for increased awareness
Wednesday 18 September
Nearly half of evangelical Christians believe mental illness can be overcome by Bible study and prayer instead of medical intervention, according to a survey.
Lifeway Research found that 35% of Americans and 48% of those who identified themselves as evangelicals believed that people with serious mental disorders can overcome their illnesses with “Bible study and prayer alone“.
Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway research, a Christian research organization connected to the chain of stores with the same name, said the results showed that churches needed to work harder to address the issue of mental illness.
“I would say that if your leg is broken, you’re going to believe in prayer, you’re going to believe in scripture, but you’re probably also going to have some medical intervention,” Stetzer said.
“You have to distinguish between character change and mental illnessand I think that’s sometimes hard for people to do,” he added.
Stetzer said he hoped to see more Christians embrace a holistic approach to mental illness, embracing the medical intervention alongside with prayer and scripture.
Of the 1,001 people surveyed, 35% of Americans said they believe in the statement: “With just Bible study and prayer, ALONE, people with serious mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia could overcome mental illness.”
Of the respondents who self-identified as either born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian – 48% agreed.
When asked whether churches could be doing more to prevent suicide, 54% of Americans agreed, while 64% of the self-identified born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians agreed.
“I think churches have in many ways been on the sidelines of the mental health issue,” Stetzer said. “I hope this conversation really pushes people forward into really engaging and administering. I think this is a place Jesus would be, caring for those, administering to those that are hurting.”
Lifeway research is set to conduct another study in the next few months to examine what churches are doing, and what they can do better, to address people’s struggles with mental health.
The megachurch pastor Rick Warren addressed the issue earlier this week, the first time he has done so since his son Matthew committed suicide in April. Warren, who founded Saddleback Church with his wife in 1980, a group that now boasts 20,000 weekly worshippers, told CNN that he hoped to reduce stigma about mental illness.
Warren said that his son suffered from borderline personality disorder and depression. Matthew Warren had also been forcibly admitted to a mental institution and attempted to overdose on pills ten days before his suicide.
“If love could have kept my child alive, he’d be alive today, because he was incredibly loved,” Warren said.
Warren and his wife Kay said their son had access to good healthcarebut they had some issues with laws designed to protect patients. “The right to privacy and that right to autonomy, it’s a dance,” she said. “I don’t have good answers. It’s a dance. So we’ve got to do a better job with that.”
In June, Frank Page, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a book about his daughter’s suicide in an effort to bring awareness to how churches work with people who have mental health issues.
“In the Christian community, sometimes – not always – we like things to be in pretty little packages and everybody to be happy,” he told the Huffington Post in June. “Sometimes we’re not as honest as we ought to be, not as transparent as we should be. Sometimes there are churches that do deal honestly with these things and we need more of that.”