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Mental Illness

Regarding “Light for a Dark Path” (May 2009), I have been a confessing member of First CRC, Montreal, for 32 years and have struggled with schizophrenia since the late summer of 1986, when my first episode of psychosis (or FEP, as they’re referred to in psychiatry) struck.

While I empathize with people who ask that their names be withheld in connection with the mental illness of a loved one or themselves, I have never made a secret of my illness, and friends have told me that my openness has given them the courage to talk about theirs and to “come out of the closet where stigma against mental illness confines many people. I’m a bit of a crusader in this matter because I think that if we wait for permission to speak out, we’ll never get it.

In some respects the mentally ill are the last lepers of our world, except that mental illnesses are NOT contagious. . . .

I am sometimes criticized for being lazy, when very often what hinders me is the sedative side-effect of my anti-psychotic. And once in a while I behave inappropriately. But most of the time people in my church forget I have the illness—at least I have the impression they do. Having a “mild” version of schizophrenia is a double-edged sword. It enables you to function in society more or less “normally,” but often people hold you to a higher standard than if you were obviously out of touch all the time. Even when you’re going through a more difficult phase. . . .

In closing, I’d like to recommend periodicals published by a man who has schizophrenia and is a Christian: Bill MacPhee. His company, Magpie, publishes SZMagazine, BP Magazine, and Anchor magazine for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression respectively. Don’t isolate yourself if you live with a mental illness; it’s bad enough that the world tries to and often succeeds in doing so. There is help out there. Avail yourself of it.

Talking openly about my illness has opened unexpected windows of opportunity for a unique ministry, since people who have a relative with “unusual symptoms” ask my mom or me how my illness evolved. You never know who you might help by “coming out.”

—Michèle GyselinckMontreal, Quebec

I, too, can relate to this article. I am thankful to God and my family, who saw that I needed help. God used my weakness to get me into an AA program. I now can help others.

—Cor Pasveer

I really liked the article on mental illness by Rev. Tony Meyer.

I have a mental illness—I am bipolar and have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It ruined my marriage.

It started when I was not acting OK at home, and it bothered me. My husband went behind my back and told the church lies about me to take me to a Christian group home. I was told I had to leave home and not cry. My youngest daughter was 11 then. This happened 11 years ago. When I consented to go for three weeks, my husband would not let me back, and the church did nothing about it. . . .

I wish spouses would get help when their partner has a mental illness, and take their marriage vows seriously. I wish the church would help in marriages like this and make it better.

—Name Withheld

Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

I have struggled with eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety/depression for years. I prayed for healing, but the Lord did not take them away. However, God gave me a wonderful husband who has loved and supported me through the years, along with wise doctors and therapists who have helped me learn to live well with these conditions. Praise God!

However, during a really difficult time with my OCD—during pregnancy—I was very hurt by some Christians who told me I wasn’t being healed because I wasn’t “spiritual enough” or was not allowing God to help me. In addition, the leader of a Bible study I was in was very hurtful and insensitive to my condition. I was very disillusioned and distrustful of Christians for a time and felt non-Christians were less judgmental.

Thankfully my pastor helped me, and God helped me eventually trust people again.

I appreciate your addressing this subject so well, and my prayers go out to those suffering and working on recovering from mental illness.

—Name Withheld

We would like to thank Rev. Tony Meyer for the wonderful article. In asking what is next in supporting those experiencing mental illnesses and the family members who care for them in our congregations, we would like to introduce you to “Faith and Hope Ministries,” supported by Classis Quinte in southeastern Ontario.

Classis has hired two people to help equip congregations to serve those who experience mental disorders and their caregivers. We have spoken to many ministerial associations, participated in diaconal conferences, and done several workshops on depression, stigma, and visiting people with a mental illness, among other topics. We have spoken at congregational meetings and many classis meetings.

A faith-based support group has also been started, and we’ve found several helpful Christian DVDs and many more helpful articles and other resources.

Although we have limited resources, we try to get out a newsletter every few months and are working to set up a website. We are also planning, for 2010, a second Faith and Hope in Mental Health Conference. Our first one, in 2007, brought together 300 people from a variety of churches and mental health agencies.

Our churches can be tremendous communities of support. However, we do need to be safe, informed places where those with mental illness can teach us what it’s like to walk in their shoes without fear of judgment or ridicule and to experience the hands and feet of Christ.

—Winnie Visser and June ZwierResource Consultants for Faith and Hope Ministries

Tea Party

I was surprised to see a Christian Reformed pastor promoting an anti-government, anti-taxation event. The justifications offered for this participation by Rev. Tyler Wagenmaker were even more problematic. He suggests that taxation is “stealing trillions of dollars from future generations,” when taxation is actually a shared contribution to meeting our present and future needs.  Taxation provides the resources for all of our physical and social infrastructure, and collective programs and services.

While some needs may be best met through individual means or private consumption, some needs are best met through collective programs and services. Imagine having a privatized fire department, for instance! Other needs are more efficiently met through collective provision. A recent study in Canada found that all but the highest income families received greater benefit from public services than the total cost of taxes they paid.

On the other hand, by failing to invest in social and physical infrastructure we harm ourselves and future generations. The most drastic example is bridges collapsing in the United States and Canada in the past several years—both times with deadly effects. Another example is the many families who struggle to make ends meet and juggle all of their responsibilities while we lack an affordable, quality national childcare system to support them.

Of course, while taxes do benefit us personally through the programs and services we each receive, we should not overlook the important role that taxes play in supporting a just society in which every citizen has the capacity to flourish. In this sense, taxes help us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  

—Chandra PasmaOttawa, Ontario

Homosexuality and the Church

I read with sadness “A Letter to Rev. Veenema,” by Mr. John Vaandering (IMHO, June 2009), in response to Rev. Veenema’s earlier article “Where Is My Son Welcome?” (IMHO, March 2009).

Vaandering discusses the trials endured by his own homosexual son. My sadness, however, is because of the author’s lack of biblical faithfulness.

The letter was long on emotion but totally void of theology. Where was any consideration of Leviticus 18:22 or of Paul’s words in Romans 1:24-32?

It seems that dealing with the biblical material is no longer of any importance to the leadership of the Christian Reformed Church when it comes to this issue. It seems that the left wing of the church has concluded it cannot win a decisive victory on this issue if it must deal with the biblical material, so it will now argue its position solely at the human level. The ultimate end of this line of reasoning is that we try to remake God into our own image instead of conforming ourselves to God’s biblically revealed will.

I also have to ask the editor of The Banner where there is any evidence of editorial fairness when an article so one-sided is presented without making room for an opposing voice.

—Julian Ross HudsonPonoka, Alberta

I echo Rev. Mike Veenema’s pain and concern about where his gay son will worship. At 16, my daughter has already learned to be wary of churches and Christian institutions. Recently we visited a church with an energetic, contemporary style of worship. “I think I’d like to come here on the weekends I’m at my dad’s,” she said to me. A beat later, she asked, “But how do I find out if Dad would be welcome here?”

Her father is gay. Though my marriage to him ended when he came out many years ago, he and I live near each other and co-parent harmoniously. He has been an involved and loving dad to our daughter, and they are very close. My daughter is at ease with his sexual orientation, as are our family friends and my daughter’s friends from her public high school. It is mainly from Christians that my daughter has learned about the stigma attached to homosexuality: the scorn, derision, and condemnation.

A few years ago we sent her to a Christian summer camp.  On the first evening the cabin counselor made a casual but vicious comment about gay people. Subsequently, the counselor gathered the campers around her and asked everyone to tell a little about herself. My daughter told me, “I knew I would have to keep quiet about my life.” My heart sank, and I felt some anger too. Instead of helping my daughter navigate through a tricky age and grow in her spirituality, this counselor silenced my daughter and kept her on the fringes, afraid that speaking out would earn ridicule and judgment.

We have a fabulous church home where my daughter has grown up believing that God’s arms are wide enough to include her dad within them. But soon she will leave home to attend college. Ironically, I am not afraid of sending her out into the world—I am certain that her faith can withstand the relativism, the indifference, and even the intolerance toward Christianity that she may encounter in a secular university. Instead, while most parents want to protect their children from the world, I want to protect her from the church. Will her faith erode when she rubs shoulders with people who, at best, are indifferent to or awkward around gay people like her dad or, at worst, exclude and condemn them?

—Name Withheld

Talking (your suggestion) is OK (“What’s to Discuss?” Editorial, March 2009), but first let’s incinerate the present official “ethical” position of the CRC on homosexuality. It’s nothing more than devious wordsmithing that actively discriminates against gay individuals. How can there be “full acceptance” when some individuals can hold office and some cannot? How can the church “lovingly enfold” when it rejects and threatens discipline? The CRC must start over. The “ethical” position should be one that begins by embracing, without conditions, all believers. Perhaps the “secular” model noted by Rev. Veenema on page 8 of the March issue might help with direction.

If true acceptance is not evident very soon, the “quiet exodus” you mention will likely continue and probably accelerate.

Richard WinkelaarCalgary Alberta 

I find it fascinating that a decade and a half or so after my father-in-law, Remkes Kooistra, suggested in a Christian Courier article that we should re-examine the “acceptability” of committed same-sex relationships and nearly got defrocked as a pastor in the CRC for his efforts, that you raise the issue again. I sure hope and pray that our level of acceptance has come a long ways from where we were 15 years ago in this matter.

—John KraltOttawa, Ontario

My heart goes out to Rev. Veenema, his son, and all God-fearing, Bible-believing covenant children in the family of God who struggle with sin. The question arising out of Veenema’s love for his son should include all sin, including mine, yours, and, in fact, the entire human condition.

“Judge not lest you be judged” is often quoted as a ticket to allow disobedience to continue, throwing out moral discernment. So what is the answer to Rev. Veenema’s question (Where is my son welcome?)?

I feel in our fast pace of living that we are losing true Christian fellowship, and our enemy is loving it. I am not referring to social groupings that can leave the door open to idle gossip, but instead to the coming together for the purpose of honoring God, praying together, and asking God by the power of his Holy Spirit to overthrow Satan’s schemes. The Bible says that we are to confess our sins to one another. With a judgmental attitude it becomes impossible to allow ourselves to do this. Let’s learn to be imitators of Christ’s love, as found in 1 Corinthians 13, and in doing so relearn the art of living.

—Arie NugterenBeaver Dam, Wis.

As a current non-attending member of the CRC, I am becoming more keenly aware of why I stopped attending. Initially it was because I couldn’t bear dealing with my own hypocrisy. As a recovering alcoholic it seemed absurd to me that I should sing praise songs, while in the back of my mind I couldn’t wait for the service to end so I could run to the nearest liquor store. I have often wondered, how many me’s are still sitting there, waiting for the sermon to end so they can go out and engage in whatever sin it is they have chosen?

Why are we discussing homosexuality with such vigor? Is it to divert the attention from our own filthy, skeleton-filled closets? That used to be my favorite hobby.

  I would suggest that we all take a good, hard look at our own lives before we begin to cast stones at others. I personally have to much work to do, my closet is too full. And I can’t clean it while I’m judging someone else’s mess. I’m more apt to succeed in my cleaning chore if lovingly accepted and encouraged, not publicly disgraced and humiliated. Why would I or anyone else ever want to be part of a group that tells you how awful and horrible you are!

  If we prevent all those who “actively” and “knowingly” sin from attending church, then it will be a very, very small crowd on Sunday morning.

  Thank you, Jesus, for accepting me the way I am and not the way I deserve!

—Tim WaltonOrono, Ontario

Having read your articles in the March and May issues (“What’s to Discuss?” and “We Can Be Sure and Wrong, Right?”), it becomes very clear that the Christian Reformed Church has foisted its problems on itself.

This has been going on for years now, starting with the women-in-office issue and now advanced to all the other controversies that are out there.

Indeed, synod has been sitting on the fence for years, often coming to the conclusion that two totally opposing views are biblical and acceptable.

And it is also obvious that committees, if they don’t get their way one year, will be back at synod the next to get their way, right or wrong. I also believe that the best and brightest minds don’t always get it right. The question therefore must be asked, “Where has this led us?”

From what I can see, it has led us to a spiral of trying to cater to public opinion and political correctness of the world, when instead we should be asking, “What does the Bible say?” If we believe that it is God’s infallible Word, then we should use it as our guide and do what it says.

—Jacob WestraTinley Park, Ill.

Recent editorials in The Banner have, for the most part, approached homosexuality from an emotional standpoint. There is no denying the pain associated with this issue, and I can appreciate the courage shown by Rev. Veenema, John Vaandering, and others in sharing their stories.

But in the maelstrom of emotion, it seems the Word of God is being overlooked.

—Jeff ConklinHaslett, Mich.

We look forward to The Banner each month but are tiring of reading the pieces regarding homosexuality that exploit the emotion and pain of loved ones. These stories feel like a political ploy to introduce contemporary, politically correct thinking on this topic.

Let’s instead engage in a discussion that faces squarely the truth in Scripture and good empirical science.

—Andy and Jolene VisserBrinnon, Wash.

It’s time we recover our belief that Christ’s transforming power truly does transform us from the core of our beings and can break the power of any of our thorny human problems. If we don’t believe that and preach it, we don’t have much of a Savior, do we?

—Marian Van TilYoungstown, N.Y.

Ministry with Muslims

“Ministry with Muslims: A New Approach” (May 2009) implies an obvious recognition by our institutional leaders that Muslim converts to Christianity are in serious danger of Islamic persecution. In fact, many Muslim scholars interpret the text of Koran IV (89) to teach that apostates of Islam ought to be executed. But does that mean that the Christian Reformed Church ought to become an advocate of an incognito policy for Christians in the territories of Islam? That “new approach” incites scores of tormenting questions regarding Jesus and Muhammad:

Is the incognito policy contrary to Jesus’ instructions, for example, in Matthew 10:17-42? If adopted, what then are the ramifications for millions of indigenous Christians located in the territories of Islam—such as Christian Copts in Egypt and Armenian Christians in Iran—who have remained faithful to Jesus under Islamic persecution for the past 1,300 years?

Is this incognito policy an endorsement of Muhammad’s teachings, recorded in the Traditions, that Christians are cowards? In Islam cowards are shameful. So will this policy eventually hinder other conversions to the Christian faith? Is the incognito policy actually exporting to “Eastern” Christians a new form of cowardliness currently on the rise in Western Christianity?

In retrospect, would the Christian community overall have been better blessed without a Boniface, Guido de Brès, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

—Rev. Marvin W. HeyboerRancho Mirage, Calif.

Thank You

Thank you for including the article by Rev. Dale Cooper titled “The Sorry Spectacle of our Foulness” (May 2009). I believe we need to hear this type of lesson to keep us aware of our sinfulness. Keep up the good work!

—Robin PhillipsOrillia, Ontario

Thank you for Rev. Cooper’s lesson in Reformed theology. I appreciate the emphasis on Calvin’s teachings, seemingly in response to the cry for the younger generations in our denomination (and those new to it, including myself) to know the positions in theology for which the church stands. This article is not only informative, but urges passion and forthright behavior counter to that which the powers of sin and culture would otherwise draw us. I think it is effectively done. So thank you for the teaching, and thank you for urging us to continue to be reformed by Christ’s loving power.

—Rebecca HallSouth Bend, Ind.

Thank you very much to Andrea Visser-Bult and The Banner for “Mother’s Day in a Three-Way Mirror” (May 2009). We were recently blessed with a beautiful baby girl through an open adoption. The article touched our hearts and encouraged us. We hope and pray that someday our daughter will be able to say the same things about us and her birthparents.

—Sandra Marcus and Peter KuperisEdmonton, Alberta

Teaching Genesis 1

I’m deeply saddened by the answer in the April FAQs section provided to the fifth-grade Sunday school teacher who asked how to teach Genesis 1 to her students.

In the battle between creation and evolution, we don’t win any ground when we change the biblical account of creation. “God spoke and it was so” isn’t evolution. “There was evening and there was morning” clearly describes a 24-hour day. Based on such clarity, telling our children that maybe God did use evolution to create humanity leaves an opening for them to believe others who tell them that maybe there is more than one way to salvation.

—Gene ZoerhofHolland, Mich.

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