HOUSTON – Southern Baptist church leaders voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a resolution on "Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God" that affirms the denomination's support for people suffering from mental illness, as well as families that are impacted by the loss of loved ones to suicide.
Using the example set forth by Jesus Christ and the care he provided to the most marginalized members of society, the resolution lifts the stigma of a myriad of mental health concerns, and affirms unconditional compassion for people who are coping with clinical depression and schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and dementia and Alzheimer's disease, among others.
Outspoken church leaders have been instrumental in prompting the SBC to take a leadership role by ambitiously addressing mental health concerns so that Christian households no longer have to suffer in silence.
Just before Wednesday's vote, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., whose youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide in April following a lengthy battle with mental illness, tweeted a message of support for the resolution to the SBC: "TODAY we ask #SBC13 to approve a resolution on raising awareness and lowering the stigma of mental illness. Pray it passes."
On Tuesday, Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., and past SBC president, spoke boldly and passionately at the convention about the need for Southern Baptist churches to care for and bring healing to all who feel isolated and stigmatized by mental health concerns. "We can no longer be silent about this issue," Floyd said. "It's time that the SBC be on the front lines of mental health challenges."
Pastor Frank Page shares his struggle following the death of his daughter, Melissa
Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, spoke with The Christian Post on Wednesday about the impact suicide has had on his family, which he addresses in his book, Melissa: A Father's Lesson From a Daughter's Suicide.
"Grief comes like waves on the seashore," Page described. "They may decrease in intensity and frequency over time, but they always come. Life with that kind of loss is extremely difficult. One thing I like to tell extended family and church members is that in the first several months, people who have undergone a suicide in their family are in shock, they might not even remember that you were there."
He continued, "I remember my daughter committed suicide the day after Thanksgiving, and so people ask me, 'Well, how was your first Christmas?' I don't remember it. But I do remember the second Christmas – that was really hard. So I encourage church members and Christians to be there long term."
According to Page, the SBC's mental health resolution will go a long way in "encouraging churches to be more honest and open than they've been in the past."
"There are some people who feel ashamed when they suffer from depression, or some kind of mental or emotional struggle," he said. "We're encouraging churches to provide ministries, like support groups, to be there for people so that they're able to be honest in the church setting. So we encourage people to be the body of Christ, and that means an openness to those who are strong, those who are weak, and those who are hurting. The truth is, we all hurt at some time or another."
Page told CP that people who've gone through attempted suicides are hurting desperately, and their pain isn't going to disappear, and it isn't going to be fixed. "You can't just snap out of serious issues like that."
To serve those who are suffering from the loss of a loved one to suicide, Page advises people to "be careful with trite platitudes," such as saying, "'Well, she's in a better place.' That may be true, and we intellectually understand that she's with the Lord, and she's in a much better place. But that diminishes the grief and the hurt that person is feeling. We miss her. We want her to be with us, not somewhere else, even though she's in a better place. So we try to tell people to be careful with trite platitudes. Be there for them. Be there long-term for them. Let them know that you care for them. And even though you may not know what to say, you're there to help them."
Page provides beneficial suggestions for survivors, family members and friends in his book. But he also places great emphasis on acknowledging that the heartache and void will always be present in the lives of those who are impacted by suicide.
"First of all, I try to get people to recognize that they're not going to get over it, so they're not going to get over it very quickly," he said. "But there are ways you can help move to stronger places in the Lord. There are scriptures that teach us about prayer, about leaning on the Lord, about the fact that he cares for us and loves us. But I also tell families to be there for each other as we deal with grief. One of the things we must not do, and particularly with survivors, is to start looking for someone to blame. That's natural, but as believers we have to realize that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and we ought to blame the evil one for the evil that comes into this world."