I'm a Christian. I'm also a sufferer from a long term mental illness. I can remember one day, many years ago, when my depression was unusually bad; I was walking through the Central Business District in Canberra when I was approached by a fellow who mentioned that I looked like I was unhappy. He went on to tell me that he was a pastor at a certain church. I won't name the church, but the senior pastor (presumably this guy's boss) was, at the time, a fairly well known name in Canberra’s evangelical community.
The gentleman told me that he could see I looked unhappy and assured me that, if I would simply embrace Jesus, he'd take away my depression, just like that. I didn't particularly feel like discussing theology at the time so I just smiled politely, thanked him, took a leaflet from him and went off to get some lunch. (If my memory serves, the lunch cheered me up considerably.)
I thought about this today, for the first time in a while, while watching the most recent episode of the T.V. Show The Atheist Experience. You can find the episode here.
At approximately the twelve and a half minute mark of the episode, they receive a call from a gentleman who identifies himself as an atheist and as suffering from long term depression. As he tells it, various Christian friends and family who knew he was an atheist before this and never made any particular effort to convert him have suddenly started using is depression as a way to tell him that he needs God and blaming his depression on his atheism.
Now, obviously, I have to offer a caveat here that I haven't heard what his friends actually said to him and don't know their side of the story. Having said that, if they really have been blaming his depression on his atheism or suggesting that embracing Christianity will make it all go away then they need to wake up and discover reality. Christians suffer from mental illness, Christians get depressed.
I'd love to say that the behaviour of this gentleman's friends was an isolated incident, but I think we all know I'd be lying. I've met too many Christians who seem to think in this way. I also wish, as a Catholic, I could say that this sort of stupidity was confined to evangelical protestantism. Sadly, while thinking of this nature seems to jibe well with the prosperity gospel embraced by a certain for of evangelical, we Catholics are not immune it. I can well remember a Catholic telling me that they couldn't understand how any Catholic could be depressed because we are called to rejoice in the Lord.
I should also add, while I don't know exactly what his friends have and have not said to him in the past but, if he is accurate in saying that his friends never tried to evangelise him until the issues with his depression arose then the co-host of the show was probably fairly accurate in describing them as opportunistic (word I won't say.)
Word to the wise, my fellow Christians, embracing Jesus does not grant you automatic immunity from all of the crap that comes with being human. To suggest that it does makes us look like idiots. It also makes us look like jerks.
p.s. On a semi-related note, my friend Karl Hand recently had a post on unhelpful ways to evangelise. While I'm not sure if I agree with everything Karl says, I defiantly think he raises some points worth pondering.