London: John the Baptist, St Paul, St Francis and other figures from the Bible may all have been mentally ill, a sermon produced by the Church of England has suggested.
Written by the Rev Eva McIntyre on behalf of the Church’s Archbishops’ Council and the Time to Change mental health campaign it even asks followers to consider accusations made in the New Testament that Jesus “had lost his mind”.
“Many of the people we read about in Bible stories might today be considered as having mental health issues,” the Daily Express quoted it as saying.
“For example, ‘Would Jesus’ family maybe on occasion have said, ‘Cousin John is a bit odd, bless him!’ when John the Baptist took to his eccentric style of life?
“It has long been thought that King Saul, in the books of Samuel, was displaying mood swings that suggest he had bi-polar disorder and some think that St Paul’s Damascus Road experience was the result of some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode.
“Even Jesus was not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind.
“Many of the stories of the Saints, too, have led people to discuss their mental health. For example was St Francis suffering from a mental health title?” it said.
Ms McIntyre, a member of the General Synod, said that these ideas might be shocking.
“Some may find these suggestions disturbing or offensive even,” she said.
“Perhaps we need to ask why it would be so terrible to think that some of our most inspirational forebears might have experienced mental health illness.
“Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental health illness?
“Do we think that mental illness is one condition that makes people less able to do God’s work, more unlikely to be able to articulate spiritual truth, and unable to participate meaningfully in worship?
“Who do we think ‘these people’ are? Statistics show us that one in four people suffer from mental health illness during their lives.
“That figure is based on those who go to the GP for help; the true figure is likely to be even higher.
“That means in a congregation of 50 people, at least 12 people will have experienced or be experiencing mental health issues.
“That includes the clergy and ministers, too. These conditions are part of human living; they are often caused by life experience such as grief, trauma and loss.
“These are things that happen to all of us and none of us should have to suffer in silence for fear of what others might think or say,” she added.
Even though the document went largely unreported when it was produced for World Mental Health Day late last October but its content is hugely significant as it has raised controversial questions about Biblical figures.
The Church’s campaign will step up a gear for the next World Mental Health Day in October when it will concentrate on depression and acknowledge its past failings, having previously cast out the mentally ill as Satan’s followers.
First Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012, 11:55