Not when there have been five acts of domestic terrorism within the span of a couple of weeks and what’s been offered by the Christian community at large is more thoughts… more prayers…
Laguna Woods. San Bernadino.
For a great number of people who experience these acts of violence and watch the aftermath unfold, thoughts and prayers aren’t louder than the sounds of gunshots, fear-filled screams, agonizing cries, news stories, and opinion pieces. They won’t bring those who are lost back. They may not bring those who commit evil acts to justice.
It seems counterproductive to subscribe to theology that allows you to believe that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is present within you and to think that supernatural power is greater than any human strength or resource, just to not use that power or be performative with it on social media with “thoughts and prayers.”
It’s demoralizing to see politicians, leaders, pastors, and patrons (whether they subscribe to Christianity or not) claim that mass shootings are linked to mental health/illness issues despite how dangerous that claim is, when people with serious mental illness are responsible for less than 4% of violent acts in the United States.
Since one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness every year, wouldn’t that mean that there should be more instances of mass shootings and violent acts of terrorism per year? The truth of the matter is, the issue of mental health is used to minimize or dismiss evil and adds to an already crippling stigma that prevents individuals from seeking the help they need. Furthermore, mental illness is cited as a problem but those in power don’t propose or respond to solutions to either mental health issues or gun violence.
At least we have thoughts and prayers, though.
One difficult thing for me as I look at the coverage of all these tragic events and the aftermath is that I am a Christian who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I do believe that thoughts and prayers are powerful while also going to therapy (a resource within a field that is largely non-religious) in order to get the support and practical tools I need to get through each day. I also know we as Christians (and as a society in general) can be doing much to create an environment where change and healing are possible; where we don’t have to wait until the next shooting to put some feet to our thoughts and prayers and do something to stand against evil, hatred, and injustice.
But that can be a difficult thing to do given that stigma still exists within the church as well. I’ve had my own experiences with this but I still believe that the Christian faith, with proper Biblical interpretation and mental health education (in the form of connecting with trained leaders and professionals in the mental health field), can help people heal and positively cope. The information provided by mental health professionals should only add to our understanding of and compassion for human behavior and mental processes.
Although scripture does not provide all the answers to life’s questions or all of the solutions to life’s problems, it does provide insight into the human condition and display experiences of mental and emotional despair. The book of Job on its own details his experience with complete loss and does not skip over the process of restoration. Job, in the midst of unimaginable grief and turmoil (and with no help from his friends), remains engaged with God in prayer through his period of distress. God responds to Job not by demonizing him, but by revealing Himself to Job, connecting with him, reminding him of His sovereignty, and restoring him. Through this scripture, we learn to enlarge our perspective of the ways of God, our own suffering, and the suffering of others. Additionally, we are encouraged to not skip the healing process nor condemn the person who needs to go through it. God does not abandon, demonize, or stigmatize the sufferer, and neither should we.
I could add more examples from scripture but the bottom line is that the way to Christ and eternal life is narrow (e.g., Matthew 7:13-14), but the way to deeper engagement with mental health and the field of psychology is not. We do not have to create limits to our understanding of each other where they do not exist, especially if those limits prevent us as Christians from knowing and loving each other as we should.
People don’t want the Christian take on mental health, violence, or much else if it’s not accompanied by God’s love and truth in action. Let’s pray, then get wisdom on how to respond. Below are some ways you can help.
Donate to the families of the victims of the Uvalde mass shooting.
Donate to the families of the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting.
Sign the National Education Association petition to end gun violence in our schools.
Send a message to your elected officials in order to pass gun safety legislation.
If you’re located in Pasadena, CA, participate in the peace walk following National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 4th.
Get involved with the destigmatization of mental health.
Learn more about and get involved with Bring Change to Mind.
Check out the list of helpful organizations if you need help or share them with a friend/loved one in need.
If you’d like to share your story or mental health journey in order to shed light on the truth about mental health and/or encourage others who may be struggling, click the “Contact YNF” link on this site or contact me via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.