Three years ago, I traveled to rural Oregon to profile a minister who worked to bring healing — and answers — to his reeling town after a string of suicides.
Reporting that story opened my eyes to the hush-hush approach of many Christians toward suicide.
On the front page of today's New York Times, reporter Jan Hoffman reports on what appears to be a positive trend: more evangelical pastors embracing talk of mental illness:
EAGLE SPRINGS, N.C. — The pastor’s phone rang in the midnight darkness. A man’s voice rasped: “My wife left me and I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”
The Rev. Matt Brogli, a Southern Baptist pastor scarcely six months into his first job, was unnerved. Gamely, he prayed with the anonymous caller, trying out “every platitude I could possibly think of.”
Eventually the stranger assured Mr. Brogli that he would be all right. But the young pastor was shaken.
“I was in over my head,” he recalled. “I thought being a pastor meant giving sermons, loving my congregation, doing marriages and funerals, and some marital counseling.”
Since that midnight call two years ago, Mr. Brogli, 33, has become the unofficial mental health counselor not just for his church, but throughout Eagle Springs, population 8,500, a fading rural community of mostly poultry and tobacco workers, with five trailer parks and six churches.
It is no easy task, in large part because from pulpit to pew there is a silence and stigma among conservative Christians around psychiatric disorders, a relic of a time when mental illness was seen as demonic possession or a sign that the person had fallen in God’s eyes.
But Mr. Brogli and other evangelical ministers are trying to change all that.
Generally, I find it easier to point out what's wrong with a story than explain what's right. This is one of those cases where I'm tempted to simply say: This is good. Read it. Of course, that may be the Thanksgiving turkey overload (and need for a nap) talking.