Mentally Ill Demon Possessed?: A Conversation With A Pastor

Taken from  NAMI Faith Net  which is located   HERE.

NAMI faith net is NOT limited to  just Christianity. It reaches out to all faiths which include those that are not Christian in their beliefs. NAMI is an excellent resource in learning about mental illness and their literature can be used in a Christian environment.  Allan

A year ago, my NAMI Affiliate applied for and received a NAMI FaithNet mini-grant. Now, with motivation and money, I needed to figure out where to begin my faith outreach efforts. I went through all training on the FaithNet website and decided to speak with my pstor. Because he does not meet with women one-on-one, I asked our NAMI president to attend the meeting with me. The meeting was scheduled three months later.

One day after a church service my friend said, “I am not coming back!”

“What? Why?” I asked.

“Because if my pastor believes people who have a mental illness are demon possessed, I am not coming back.”  My friend suggested I check into this further. I listened to the church video and was shocked. My friend was correct. The following is an excerpt from my pastor’s video recorded message that day:

“In Africa, if somebody runs around screaming, shrieking and hurting themselves and lighting people’s huts on fire, they chain them up and put them outside the city. They call it the Healing Hospital but it is actually a place where they put all the crazy people and chain them to logs. …. Why? Because they are lighting people’s huts on fire and they are crazy. But the Africans don’t say these people are crazy. They say they are demon possessed… I believe they are correct.”

I couldn’t believe my pastor had said that. I had to process this, and prayed about it for three months while waiting for my appointment. Finally, my day arrived. My friend, my NAMI Affiliate president and I met with my pastor who was accompanied by a woman staff member. We started with prayer and introductions. Then I told the pastor about the difficulty my friend had about returning to church after the offensive video comment. I reviewed what he said three months prior and shared, “I believe you were very well meaning in your presentation regarding darkness in America but you may have made an over-generalization about mental illness and demon possession. You may have been right-on when referring to some heinous behavior that would seem to have no other explanation than evil spirits. … However, those who struggle with mental illness, such as those with bipolar illness and others, often achieve recovery through successful treatment. They can live a normal life.”

My friend then shared his testimony: depression at a young age; an alcoholic and drug abuser since his teens; other mental illnesses developed as he grew older and continued to abuse drugs. He became homeless for two years, was in jail, in and out of mental institutions, in groups homes, attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, sought a higher power after research of major religions, accepted Christ in 2003 and was baptized. He has now been clean and sober for 12 years and for the past three years had participated as a consistent church member.
My friend shared, “From my experience, meds do help the delusions and quiet things down. Prayer helps. A hellish part of the illness did not go away for years. Some people with mental illness struggle with balancing their spiritual beliefs with their psychosis. They sometimes think they are Jesus or they want to save the world, or they hear angels singing. They think about sin and guilt and pain.”

Next, I let our pastor respond. He apologized. He said sometimes he speaks and it pushes people’s buttons. Then, I spoke about what NAMI is, what we do to help people affected by mental illness through education, support and advocacy. I spoke about NAMI FaithNet and how we encourage faith communities to care for individuals and families facing mental illness just as they would people facing other serious illnesses. Meeting the individual’s mental, emotional and physical health needs opens the door to nurturing their spiritual needs. We encourage faith groups to open their hearts and minds to being the centers of care and understanding they already know how to be.

My pastor said he appreciated our time and would read all the information and get back to me. Currently, I get involved with church health fairs to connect with congregations and educate one-on-one. Time will tell whether this one encounter made a difference in opening the mind of my pastor, but regardless, I know we made a difference that day by confronting misunderstanding and shined a light on awareness.

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4 Responses

  1. I believe mental illness is a physical illness. When people have diabetes it’s because the organ of the pancreas is not working correctly. When people have heart disease or COPD it means the organ of the heart, is not working correctly. When people have IBS it means the organ of the intestines, are not working correctly. When people have a mental illness, it means the organ of the brain, is not working correctly.
    I DO NOT hold any shame that my brain organ is not in proper working order. If it were any of the other of my organs I would not feel shame; so what’s the difference between the brain, and any of my other bodily organs?
    ps – I AM responsible with my illness however. I take the required medication necessary for my brain to function better. This is where the shame should come in… when there is available help for it, making sure I’m doing all I can to avail myself of, and cooperate with, that help.
    ps- I know some very unfortunate people with this brain illness who are not able to be helped by medications. I feel deeply for them. They not only have to deal with the illness itself, but also with the fortunate people who have good-working brains – looking their noses down on them.

  2. ps- I mean to say… those who are LUCKY ENOUGH to have good-working brains, looking down their noses at those who don’t

    Also – part of my brain disorder is a result of a lack of Serotonin in my system, which the brain tells the intestines to produce, and I found (a friend’s suggestion) 5HTP & B-6 helps with this problem. The added Serotonin has made a world of difference in my anxiety level and has drastically cut down my desire for refined carbohydrates – namely white flour – which by the way, is a substance that helps the body produce Serotonin in the gut!!!

  3. robin, Thank you for sharing. I had a man trying to cast demons out of me at one time. He was sincere but sadly uninformed.

    The church is making advances in tackling mental illness and I am so happy this is taking place. Christians will naturally go another believer or to the church when mental illness manifests or they gather up the courage to do so.

    What can absolutely devastate someone reaching out is to be told they lack faith or their is sin of some sort in their life. To be told their is a demon with you….. I can’t even imagine.

    In closing I firmly believe in demonic activity and am also sure there are those in jails and institutions who are demonically possessed but they are not Christians. It takes more wisdom than I have to even begin to make the distinction as to who is and isn’t possessed.

    Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc. are illnesses that can be treated in different ways depending on individual circumstances. Let’s pray that the church will continue to mature in how they view mental illness and help people on the path to recovery.

  4. I get very offended by pastors, televangelists and the like who make it sound like depression, in particular, is a symptom of having no faith…that any mental illness is like a possession by the devil. I heard a well known pastor who has a church in Atlanta and also a weekly tv sermon say that and I have since quit listening to him. I reached out to him after my son died by suicide. The only thing that he would affirm was that only if you are a believer in Christ will you go to heaven. There was very little empathy about mental illness. In fact, in the cd that he sent me there was no mention about mental illness as he addressed the topic of suicide. I pray the church will become more accepting of the fact that the brain can become ill just like any other part of the body and no one would choose to be depressed or bi-polar. etc….just as they would not choose cancer or heart disease.

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