"Thou shall not murder" includes suicide, terrorism, euthanasia, abortion, but not necessarily capital punishment, just war, self defense.— Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) October 21, 2013
On October 21st, Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll posted a tweet that read, "'Thou shall not kill' includes suicide, terrorism, euthanasia, abortion, but not necessarily capital punishment, just war, self defense." Driscoll's anti-choice approach to abortion did not surprise me, but his demonization of suicide caught me off guard. The implication, it seems, is that Driscoll sees suicide as a sinful form of killing, in the same moral category as terrorism.
Driscoll's lack of empathy and compassion disturbed me. Suicide is an act of despair, the act of someone who cannot see a way out of a painful situation. For many, suicide is the tragic end of their struggles with mental illnesses, addiction, or trauma. Mental health disorders such as depression, substance abuse, a family history of mental illness or substance abuse, and traumas such as physical or sexual abuse are all risk factors for suicide. It's also a significant public health issue. According to the CDC, suicide was the cause of death for 38,364 persons in 2010, making it the 10th leading cause of death for that year. Instead of demonizing suicide as a sin, we must recognize it as a serious public health problem and offer support to those at high risk.
To declare suicide a sin is to demonize and belittle people who struggle with despair. It ignores our responsibility to help those in need, ostracizing people with suicidal ideation as "bad" and "other". To boot, it betrays a dangerous ignorance about mental illness, addiction, and trauma, one that I've seen too often among fundamentalists.
And I'm sick of it.
I'm sick of toxic forms of religion that propel mental illness instead of soothe it, that heap shame and self-loathing onto sufferers instead of equipping them with coping tools.
I'm sick of fundamentalist preachers blaming depression on a lack of piety, as if mental illness were a consequence of irreligiousity rather than a health problem.
I'm sick of religious people living in the 21st century blaming mental health problems on demons.
I'm sick of preachers promoting violence against children with no thought to how abuse can harm a child's mental health.
I'm sick of religious institutions stonewalling sexual abuse survivors and exacerbating their psychological trauma instead of encouraging their recovery.
Society needs to educate itself on mental illness and reject victim-blaming attitudes and superstitious explanations. Religious leaders especially need to educate themselves on mental illness, addiction, trauma, and suicide so as to provide the best possible pastoral care to their congregants. Religious leaders also need to partner with mental health and substance abuse service providers, so as to serve the best interests of their congregations. It's time to be more enlightened about suicide and help those at risk for it, not brand them as sinful.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.