Access and Inclusion: Venting!!!

I am passionate about poverty, don’t get me wrong. It is just that the church at large seems to have its eyes so heavily fixed upon poverty that it has no capacity to see anything else. Social justice was on Jesus heart in a major way, it was him who said, “Blessed by The Spirit are the poor, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (Aramaic in Plain English version). He met the needs of beggars, lepers and widows, but his social ministry was not just to alleviate the suffering of the poor, it was also to bring racial and social inclusion for the outcast and excluded. We see this in his approach to the Samaritan, the tax collector, the centurion, the woman with bleeding...and so on and so on.

It seems too tempting and virtuous to fund overseas poverty campaigns as a means of us ‘ticking the poverty box’, at the expense of a more potentially impacting encounters with the dispossessed on our doorstep. (I am not by the way suggesting we should withdraw our giving to campaigns for poverty, I am simply suggesting we need to do both!)

We need to be sure of who is actually an outcast in our society. The Governmental Social Exclusion Task Force Review (2004) concluded: “Adults with mental health problems are one of the most excluded groups in society”. Interestingly the recent recession has hardened peoples' attitudes towards mental health service users, increasing sufferers sense of stigma and isolation. Rethink notes that even people associated with mental illness; (carers, campaigners, vocal vicars!) can also be stigmatised (see Coleman V Attridge Law). Yet after 8 years of work to promote these needs to the church, the response is still pitifully small.

Bill Kruger, who ran a psychiatric service in Portland USA, said of the mentally ill' “As lepers were in biblical times, they are shunned, scorned and misunderstood. Nobody is counting them. No one cares. They are a group our society would just as soon not exist.” I agree with Kruger, and whilst I love and wholeheartedly support ‘time to change’ part of me is furious that we need this campaign in the 21st Century. However, as an example; The Department of Health’s Attitudes to Mental Illness research, (TNS UK for Care Services Improvement Partnership & Department of Health, 2009) found that 1:3 adults in England think people with mental health problems should not have the same rights to a job as everyone else.

I was delighted to be present when my Archbishop signed the 'time to change' pledge to rteduce mental health stigma, but we desperately need to see action in the parishes, not just policies in the palaces. According to many Mind and Soul users the church lags even further behind society in its stigmatic views on mental health issues, so we have even more to do.

I was wondering what Matthew 25: 34-36 might look like if more focused on mental health issues, I guessed it may be something like this:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was depressed and you gave me some hope, I was anxious and you gave me some comfort, I was a stranger to myself and you invited me into a place of security and healing, I needed medication and you prescribed to me, I was self harming and you looked after me, I was sectioned and you came to visit me.’

Bless you,
Will Van Der Hart, 15/08/2012
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