Why Stigma is the Opposite of the Gospel

Thanks for sharing!

The word stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace.” People who experience mental illnesses are often stigmatized. They are treated as inferior, and generally misunderstood by a society that prizes pulling-up-by-bootstraps kind of living. Those who appear weak are left out and have a harder time navigating the structures and systems of a society based on high productivity.

The church is a body of people who believe in something different. We believe in a loving and merciful God who has come to rescue us. We believe that we are all weak sinners who need a Savior. And yet in this very group of people there exists a stigma when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety or other clinical mental health disorders. How does this fit with the Gospel? How can there be second-class Christians?

Short answer: there are no second-class Christians. But there are some who judge others, and it hurts the cause of Christ. Colossians 3:12-14 says,

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” 

What if we acted with tender hearts when someone admitted they were struggling with suicidal thoughts? What if we showed mercy instead of judging what they “should” do? What if instead of answers, we sat with humility and were okay with answers like, “I don’t know”? What if we were patient enough to walk alongside someone with chronic depressive episodes? What if we made allowances for struggle and pain? What love-clothes could we wear that would bind us all together no matter what we were going through?

If we as the church did these things, I’ll tell you exactly what would happen: people would come in droves to find out who this Jesus-person is. And to be honest, the churches I know of that are living this out are experiencing significant growth. People want to be loved. They want to be accepted. They are already stigmatized and marginalized by the world. They want protection, not judgment. Stigma is the opposite of the Gospel because it judges instead of loves. It condemns instead of showing mercy. God has made allowances for whatever you are going through, can you extend that to a neighbor who has a struggle different from your own? May love begin to define us once again as we seek to follow Christ.

4 thoughts on “Why Stigma is the Opposite of the Gospel”

  • Great post. The stigma thing is such a huge concern for me. I am a childhood trauma survivor and as such I developed mental illness. It’s been an incredible road of healing and I do very well managing now. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything because although it was extremely painful, it has brought me to a level of intimacy with Jesus that I never knew existed. The stigma is so sad. Over the years I shared my diagnosis with many people because I wanted to be understood. Instead of compassion, mostly I got rejection from Christians.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lisa. So sorry that you experienced stigma and rejection from Christians. This is not at all what Jesus showed us about how to respond to others. I hope that in some small way I can help educate Christians about how to decrease stigma in themselves and in their churches. Blessings to you!

      • Thanks Kristen. I appreciate so much what you are doing. I am praying that the Lord will continue to guide you in your ministry. I have found that once I disclose my diagnosis history I often automatically lose credibility and many Christians and mental health providers do not value my viewpoint. It is possible to change the way we think through praying scripture. Romans 12:2 works even though many Christians insist it doesn’t. We have been duped by an industry that says mental health diagnoses are forever. They are not. They are simply a collection of symptoms that were present at the time of diagnosis. And this belief that diagnoses must be accepted and incorporated into one’s sense of self causes people to over-identify with their diagnoses. And that creates learned helplessness and a frame of mind that resists biblical truth. If I believe I “must” have suicidal thoughts because I was once diagnosed bipolar then instead of rejecting a thought and taking it captive to Christ I will react emotionally to my emotions and curl up in a ball of defeat and ask for stronger drugs. If Elijah was alive today he would have been given an antidepressant for his broom tree moment when all that was going on was a very normal human emotional response to a period of intense stress. We have made normal negative emotions to be pathological. So we don’t talk about them (except to a professional) and suicide rates continue to climb. Please pray for me to know how God wants to use me. I want to start a blog or website but I am not sure if anyone will listen to what I have to say.

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