What is Welcoming?

Have you ever watched a movie or television program, particularly a drama, and the good guys are looking for someone who had committed a crime, especially a MURDER? As the show goes along a suspect emerges. Sometimes the suspect is someone who did not mean to do the act or they did mean to do the act but the justification is revenge, greed, or jealousy. They are found guilty and sent away to do time for the crime.

Then there is the suspect who may have committed the crime or not but because they are not like the rest of us (whatever that is), they are pegged as the wrong-doer because they have a mental illness. They may live on the street, their dress may be ragged, and they do not bath as often as the rest of us. The detective’s hound and badger this individual not necessarily for what they did but because of what they think they did. Sometimes that person is convicted for the crime. As the viewer we sometimes see that the injustice is being done for we can see details the detectives do not see or choose to over look. That is the purpose of the screenwriter, if he does his job right and the director follows the script.

There was a program – Law and Order: Criminal Intent where Detective Goren’s mother was bi-polar, and I suspect that he also had some sort of mental illness himself.  He had the capacity to understand many who exhibited mental illness and was able to work with them, not just to go after them like a bulldog without first understanding the situation.

How often do we do the same thing as those detectives, jumping to the conclusion that we need to stay away from those people. They might be dirty, smelly or they might have a disease that may contaminate us, or they display characteristics that make us uncomfortable. Do you remember in the show how the police characterized those with mental illness? Do we do the same?

Now if I told you that there may be people among us who appear normal. They shower regularly, wear deodorant and talk just like you and me. There is just one difference, they have a mental illness. Some are schizophrenic, depressed, bi-polar (Manic Depressive) but because of medications and therapy you would never know the difference. Others may display symptoms that reflect those characteristics of mental illness whether they are on medication or not.

There is a reason that I bring this subject up. I attend a large church which I consider progressive. It is very open and accepting and they have a sign in front of the church saying that they are “A Welcoming Congregation”. In many ways this church is very welcoming. There are many minorities such as Afro-Americans, Hispanics and others, also gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered individuals and individuals with physical disabilities who are accepted and welcomed into the full life of the church. But there is a group of people who, when it becomes known, are not actually shunned but are ignored or just tolerated.

Do you feel uncomfortable when someone who has a physical illness, i.e. cancer, heart disease, or a broken bone? Do you think that these ailments will be passed on to You – Of course you don’t. So why do you treat someone with a mental illness any differently? Their illness will not rub off onto you; you cannot contract it like a virus, so why do you treat them any differently than other members of your family? Do you think that just because you do not exhibit any of these traits or have not been diagnosed you do not have a mental illness? How about someone in your family, do you ignore or shun them for a disease they did not want and may not be able to control without medication.

I have seen this devastating action taking place within my own church. A place where Jesus still teaches us to love one another as you love yourself. To hold and comfort one another, care for the sick. Care for the sick just does not mean those with physical ailments. Jesus also cured the person that had demons, demons whose name was Legion. Is there any more evidence that Jesus cared for the mentally ill as well as the physically disabled.

I am not a trained minister of the word or someone who confesses that much knowledge of the bible, but I can say how I feel. It hurts to see those I know who have a disease and must keep it secret because the pain that can be or has been inflicted upon them. It is sad that the congregation of my church pulls away from those they do not understand. The reason they do not understand is because they fear what they do not know. The first step in understanding and conquering that fear is to reach out and get to know them. They will not bite, scratch or yell and call you names. They are individuals who love and hurt just like you.