By Jeff Brumley
Compared to Southern Baptist Convention resolutions on the Boy Scouts and protection of children from sex predators, the one urging churches to develop intentional, compassionate ministries for the mentally ill got scant attention from local and national media.
But it wasn’t overlooked by Ronnie Floyd, an Arkansas pastor who’s become a passionate advocate for mental health in the wake of national and personal tragedies involving psychological disorders.
It’s not enough for Southern Baptists to respond to such situations after the fact, Floyd told ABPnews Wednesday at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
“My plea is, let’s be proactive on this issue,” he said.
Floyd, a former SBC Executive Committee chairman and Pastors Conference president, said he was trying to do just that when he submitted a motion on mental health on Tuesday. It was referred to SBC agencies and institutions for consideration. He was not the author of – but did support — the resolution overwhelmingly approved by messengers Wednesday morning.
In passionate remarks presenting the motion on Tuesday, Floyd said churches must not be silent on the subject and must combat the stigma of mental illness. Most churches, he added, do a fine job meeting the spiritual and physical needs of people, and must now learn to address emotional needs.
“It’s time for the Southern Baptist Convention … to rise up with compassion” to let those afflicted with mental illnesses know “that we walk with them,” Floyd said.
While messengers did ultimately agree with Floyd by approving the resolution, the vote came after several minutes of debate on proposed amendments that sought to promote Scripture as the best source of mental health.
Opponents said the amendments reduced mental illness to a solely spiritual issue. Following such suggestions to their logical conclusion, messenger Bob Cleveland of Pelham, Ala., said would make Southern Baptists like Christian Scientists when it comes to mental health.
Only one of the amendments was approved – and with overwhelming support. Introduced by South Carolina messenger Steven Owensby, it added language encouraging churches to provide “godly, biblical counsel” for people with serious mental disorders.
Owensby told ABPnews his intent was to remind pastors they must be part of members’ psychological recovery, just as they must be available during physical health challenges.
“I know there are body problems and there are soul problems, and I want to make sure we’re focused on both of those,” said Owensby, pastor of Enoree First Baptist Church.
The resolution approved Wednesday urges Southern Baptists to “oppose all stigmatization and prejudice” and supports “the wise use of medical intervention for mental health concerns when appropriate.”
It also expresses support for “research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”
Lastly, it calls on “all Southern Baptists and our churches to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to… those who struggle with mental health concerns.”
Floyd told ABPnews he has already begun pressing his ministry team at Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., to start looking for ways to reach out to people struggling with mental illness. Doing so is really just basic biblical principle, he said.
“Jesus told us to ‘minister to the least of these,’ and this is one of the most neglected groups in the church,” he said.