Within hours following the close of the 2015 SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, shots rang out at Emanuel American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Another mass murder had taken place on American soil.
Two years prior to that tragedy, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution on “Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God” at its 2013 annual meeting in Houston, Texas.
The resolution sought to “affirm, support, and share God’s love and redemption” while opposing “all stigmatization and prejudice” to those with mental health challenges.
The resolution identified mental health issues such as autism disorders and intellectual disability; mental health conditions like schizophrenia, clinical depression, anxiety orders, and bipolar disorders; and diseases of the aged including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The resolution expressed messengers’ support for “the wise use of medical interventions” and supported research and treatment “when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.” It asked Southern Baptists and their churches “to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families.”
Specifically addressing suicide as “a tragedy, leaving heartache, pain, and unanswered questions in its wake,” the resolution urged that families of victims be treated with “great care, concern, and compassion” from Christians and churches. Included in this was the “assurance that those in Christ cannot be separated from the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus.”
At the same 2013 SBC annual meeting, Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, introduced a motion that called on SBC entities to work cooperatively to create and identify resources available to individuals and churches that minister to those who suffer from mental health challenges.
The motion, which dealt with the internal operations and ministries of the SBC entities, was referred to each entity and the SBC Executive Committee in accordance with Bylaw 26.
The following spring the Executive Committee reported that it concurred with the spirit of the motion. It amended the annual ministry report it solicits from the SBC’s entities to include questions asking appropriate entities what they are doing in regard to this area of need.
Executive Committee President Frank S. Page also named an advisory body of local church leaders and professionals in the mental health field to advise him on possible ways of better communicating with Southern Baptists about mental health ministry needs in their churches and communities and the availability of ministry resources to address those needs.
Each entity reported in writing through the 2014 Book of Reports the efforts they were engaged in to “assist our churches in equipping and ministering to the people in our churches and communities who suffer with mental health challenges.” Each entity has continued to be responsive to the request of the Executive Committee, reporting on its efforts to assist churches in this area of ministry to the EC’s Cooperative Program Committee in both 2015 and 2016.
The Mental Health Advisory Group presented a compilation report to Page in 2015. Since then, Page has worked with numerous groups to raise awareness about addressing this area of ministry need and has continued to engage Southern Baptists about the plight faced by so many in our churches and communities.
In this issue of SBC LIFE, Tony Rose, chairman of the Mental Health Advisory Group, offers a synopsis of the compilation report and gives an overview of its five areas of recommendations. This issue also contains a news story of a conference on depression hosted by Ouachita Baptist University on February 26, posts the 2013 SBC resolution on Mental Health Concerns, and gives a brief overview of efforts undertaken by state convention Baptist child care ministries to serve counseling needs of individuals and churches.
Additional resources to assist churches in this area of ministering to their communities will also be published in subsequent issues of SBC LIFE.