(Photo: Facebook/Ed Stetzer)
In the wake of this past weekend's tragic death of Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren and wife Kay, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, stressed the need for the church to address mental illness.
Along with shedding the shame and stigma that often accompanies mental illness, Stetzer recently wrote that he believes Christians need to address the issue of medicine relating to mental illness in the church.
"We should not be afraid of medicine," Stetzer, an expert in church planting and lead pastor at Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., wrote in a recent post for CNN's belief blog.
"I realize this can be a heated debate. I also recognize that medication must be handled with care – as it should with any condition," Stetzer continued.
"But many mental health issues are physiological. Counseling will naturally be a part of treatment. But if we are not afraid to put a cast on a broken bone, then why are we ashamed of a balanced plan to treat mental illness that might include medication to stabilize possible chemical imbalances? Christians get cancer, and they deal with mental illness."
His comments come days after, Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., announced that his 27-year-old son, Matthew Warren, had taken his life Friday evening at his home in Mission Viejo, after a lifelong battle with depression and mental illness.
"No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now," Warren wrote in an email to staff on Saturday.
Stetzer noted in his commentary that like cancer, the disease of mental illness can be treated with proper medical care.
"We've long seen the value in the medical treatment of cancer. It's time for Christians to affirm the value of medical treatment for mental illness as well," he wrote.
Stetzer, whose aunt battled mental illness before taking her own life, added that the evangelical church has a particular responsibility to address mental illness because "there is no place where Americans are more connected and no place where grace is more expected than the church."
The topic of medical treatment for mental health has long been debated in the Christian community, as many argue that Christians are seeking medical treatment in the form of antidepressants in lieu of using religious resources.
"Why do Christians feel a need to seek the advice or help of another person, when Christ should be all that we need?" Alexis Ritvalski, a mother of three from Texas, questioned in a January 2013 article.
"We don't need psychiatrists to fix us or depression medication to relieve us. There is deliverance in the Word of God. There is breakthrough in the Word of God. There is healing in the Word of God. Every situation that we endure, there is a word for us. To seek out these other methods is to not trust God," Ritvalski added.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness.
Although the issue of mental illness continues to be debated in the Christian community, leaders including Stetzer and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, have say that the church must have an active role in addressing the mental health of its congregants.
"Christians struggle with depression and even suicidal thoughts. It does not make you less of a Christian. Just like heart disease or cancer does not dilute our Christianity, neither does mental illness," Rodriguez, who is regarded as a prominent Hispanic evangelical leader, said in a recent statement, as reported by The Christian Post.
Rodriguez went on to assert that he believes the church of Jesus Christ should partner with medical professionals to bring awareness, as well as "grace, compassion, and love" to mental illness.
"We must stand committed to 'creating space' and providing ministry to those that struggle with depression, and other mental illnesses," Rodriguez said.
Several evangelical and conservative leaders have come out in support of the Warren family during this difficult time, including Greg Laurie, Mark Driscoll, T.D. Jakes, Will Graham, and Mike Huckabee, among several others.
Although police have ruled Warren's death a suicide, Orange County coroner officials have yet to perform an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.