Integrative Approaches to Mental Health and Evangelism
Dr. Pete Bellini is the Professor of Evangelization AT United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pete Bellini 0:00
I believe that the same God who heals supernaturally through me praying for someone has placed healing properties within Creation, its elements, its plants, etc. and within our bodies and our immune system and provides the intelligence to discover these properties in the Universe is the same God who supernaturally heals. I see it’s all part of God’s common or prevenient grace and all could experience healing. Just like He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.
Rob Haynes 0:38
Welcome to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith, Real World podcast where we connect the faith within us with the world around us. Celebrating our 50th anniversary, World Methodist Evangelism desires for Christ followers within the global Wesleyan family to become agents of transformation by sharing the Gospel to the power of the Holy Spirit. We accomplish this through training, gathering and resourcing in our work to connect, equip, and encourage networks of Christian leaders to build faith-sharing movements around the world. My name is Rob Haynes, thank you for listening. And thank you to the generosity of Christ Church Memphis for their support. Today’s episode is a conversation with my friend and colleague, Dr. Pete Bellini. Pete is such a rich resource in so many areas. He is a professor of evangelism and evangelization. He is someone that I have seen who has cared for in such a pastoral way so many people, friends and strangers alike. I asked him on the show today because I think the church is in a very important time where we can witness to the issues of mental health as we never have before. Here in the middle of 2021 we are in some difficult times in mental health, some of that’s related to the pandemic, some of that has been related to other issues of society or political strife or maybe it’s been war or conflict or others. I think it’s time that the church take its place as a leader in these conversations and so we are working on a two part episode that not only deals with the issues of mental health, but also how that ties into evangelism and how we can be a faithful witness in those places. Today we hear from Dr. Pete Bellini and in our next episode will be Aaron Perry of Indiana Wesleyan University. So make sure that you connect to both of those, but first, my friend Pete Bellini. Welcome Pete.
Pete Bellini 2:47
Hey Rob, good to be here.
Rob Haynes 2:49
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, my name is Pete Bellini and I’m a professor of evangelization at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, which is one of 13 United Methodist affiliated seminaries. I’m also an ordained Elder in the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. So those are kind of my professional hats. I’ve been in ministry for, oh goodness, I think around 35 years or so. Most of that has been with the United Methodist Church either as a pastor or as a seminary professor. Though at the beginning of my ministry, I served in various types of ministry like prison ministry, campus ministry, campus evangelism and still do a lot of work as a revivalist. On the side I have regular speaking engagements throughout the year and it’s been that way for quite some time. I’m doing work in the local church or in conferences. I’m speaking on a lot of the things that I teach on and have written on and minister in. That’s kind of at least a little bit of my background. I’m married, I have a wife and two adult children and granddaughter. Yeah, I think that covers everything unless there’s something more specific that I didn’t hit on that you could you can ask me.
No, that’s great. Pete, you and I could talk for quite a while about your wonderful background. You and I have been together on several occasions at conferences and leading and teaching together and it’s always been wonderful to be with you. I really appreciate the way you bring a very serious academic work and also a very pastoral heart to all the different situations that we’ve been in. You are somebody that I look up to spiritually and also you can have a ton of fun as we get into some different things that we’ve done together. So I always appreciate you. We’ve asked you on the podcast today and we could talk about a million things, but you’ve written a book called Unleashed, and I really want to focus on some things that you’ve talked about in there, particularly around the idea of mental health. You and I are recording this in the middle of 2021. We’re in the middle of the resurgence of COVID, particularly around the Delta variant. And now that we’ve been so far into this, we’re seeing different issues of mental health come out, particularly around the idea that a lot of us thought we were going to be, quote, unquote, “back to normal by now.” Delta is changing that and it’s really been a serious issue for people and the church has not always had a good name around the areas of mental health. And so you’re on as a two-parter of episodes that we can talk about mental health and what it means to really think about this from a Biblical perspective and how we can share this in a way with others that need it, tying into evangelism and discipleship both. So having said that, I wonder if first of all, you would just tell us a little bit about Unleashed, kind of give us an introduction to it.
Pete Bellini 6:20
Right. Well, the book Unleashed is a scriptural, philosophical and psychological apologetic if you will, for deliverance ministry. So it’s not specifically about mental health, though I address mental health considerably in it. I’m addressing or seeking to kind of draw a balance in speaking of deliverance ministry between maybe what are extremes on one side or the other. And so one side may be being in the church groups or denominations or persons that would would not think that such things as a spirit worldview or demons or angels even exist or that there’s any kind of demonic influence in our world or in our systems or in our lives. That would be like one extreme and on the other extreme, maybe groups that would maybe overthink that, over-see that and see that there’s demonic influence maybe in places where I wouldn’t see it so everything’s a “demon,” quote, unquote. So it’s a book that tries to strike a balance at that and in the midst of it deals with mental health because some of the group’s on the one side, that latter side would maybe think that mental disorders would be equated with the demonic, which I don’t make that equation and so I delineate and make a distinction between the two. In doing that, at the end of the book, there’s a a psychological tool instrument that provides a social, scientific and spiritual way to discern whether one needs deliverance. In this case, the claims I make is as a last resort, as opposed to or in addition to counseling, pharmacological approach, medicinal approach, spiritual direction, accountability, a whole lot of other things: repentance, faith, spiritual discipline, so approaches that would be traditional from the church’s perspective, and from a scientific perspective, from the mental health perspective. Trying to ascertain if one would need other forms of treatment before one as a last resort would seek someone for prayer for deliverance. So that’s the context of Unleashed, but in the midst of it, like in several of my other books, True Therapy, which deals with mental health, and my last book, The Cerulean Soul, that just came out this week, that specifically the whole book is about mental health, particularly a theological approach to depression. So several of my books address this and the book that you reference to addresses it as well, though it’s not the primary, it is surely a large thrust within the book Unleashed.
Rob Haynes 9:16
Sure. Well, I wonder if we could define a few terms and then I want to focus in on what caught my attention on this one for our conversation today. A minute ago, you mentioned an apologetic. Could you just kind of describe what you mean by that?
Pete Bellini 9:29
Right. Simply the way I used it in the sentence was that the book Unleashed is a scriptural, philosophical and psychological apologetic for deliverance ministry, simply a defense, that book is providing a defense or showing that there’s a need for a prayer ministry involving spiritual warfare and praying against demonic influence.
Rob Haynes 9:56
And then the second term then would be demonic influence, if you would unpack that for us a little bit.
Pete Bellini 10:02
Yeah, a lot of times from the latter group that I mentioned, this is familiar, casting demons out, this sort of thing. It probably comes from the scriptural translation of a Greek word daimonion, which is often translated demon possession. I think it’s a bad translation. I think demonized would be a better cognate translation of that Greek word. And that means simply demonic influence, degrees of demonic influence. And deliverance prayer would be prayer that is warfare-oriented prayer against the demonic influence so the word deliverance there should bring an echo back to Jesus’s prayer what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father to deliver us from evil, it’s not to temptation, deliver us from evil. So the delivering the Lord Jesus delivers us from is evil influence, so that would be the specific Scriptural reference. And of course, we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry and the disciples’ ministry in the Gospels and in the book of Acts and throughout the letters, like in Ephesians it talks about putting on the armor of God that we could stand against the strategies of the devil.
Rob Haynes 11:27
That’s really helpful, so then if we can unpack that, sometimes people in the church historically have put those two things in opposition. So it’s either demonic influence or its mental health and you can’t have either one. And sometimes science has tried to say that it has to be either one. But what I hear you saying is that there could be more of an integrative approach to healing as one chapter that you have in there, and that there may be prayer and counseling and prayer and pharmaceuticals and all these sorts of things could be working together in concert. Right?
Pete Bellini 12:04
Right, right. Definitely. Well maybe in leading up to that, which is a larger question, maybe I could address a question that would maybe come before to presuppose it as a segue and that would be the whole idea of mental health in the church now. And then from there we can look at how the church has addressed mental disorder and then some of the conclusions and then kind of look at an integrative approach and science and faith and this sort of thing. So what the book addresses, the Unleashed text, is I look at my own work, my own research, other research, and specifically, a study done by Lifeway on mental health. My work shows that the church is often inadequately or ill informed about mental health and mental disorders and often places a stigma on mental disorder. And plus, its members are often, you know, under diagnosed and undertreated. And the misunderstanding that you often hear, it goes something like this, and I’m just paraphrasing what I often hear or what goes on in the minds of believers and it often looks something like this: “I believe in Jesus, I pray and I read my Bible, therefore, I should not be currently or ever be depressed.” So there’s that whole conclusion. And then if I do get depressed, there are these three different lines of thinking. Either God wants me to suffer to grow spiritually and so I won’t get treated, that’s one line. Another line is: I will pray harder, read my Bible more and believe harder because I needed to trust God more. I’m somehow not trusting God more and I can’t rely therefore on meds or on counseling because if I do that means I’m not relying or believing in Christ, that’s the second line. And then the third line of thinking is that depression is demonic and therefore, God will deliver me or heal me of this affliction if I get someone to pray a deliverance type of prayer on me. So that’s some of the misunderstanding that I hear and some of the either/or thinking that goes on, which often results in people being under-diagnosed, under-treated and in my opinion, which I stated in Unleashed, that having a mental disorder doesn’t mean you necessarily have a demon or that its etiology is demonic. First of all, we don’t know the ultimate source or etiology of depression or these things, there’s no biological explanation right now as to knowing our ultimate causal mechanism as to why folks get depressed so we can’t make those kinds of conclusions. You don’t find that univocally one-on-one where you see this univocal correlation or causation between a mental disorder and something that’s demonic, you don’t see that in scripture. But you do see, of course, persons who are normally considered believers or faithful followers of Christ that may experience things that seem like what we would call today depression. So you know, you see David and Jacob, Jeremiah, Solomon, King, Saul, Job, and other figures who are experiencing some of the things that are symptomatic of depression and even great saints like St. John of the Cross or more recently Mother Teresa having a dark night of the soul, if you will. So we don’t want to make those kinds of correlations that because someone has depression that it’s coming from a demon or even directly because of sin, it may or may not be, but not necessarily. And so those sorts of correlations we don’t want to make. And then also the whole idea that, you know, because I’m a Christian and because I believe in Christ and pray and read my Bible, therefore, I’m never going to get depressed. And for some reason, if I ever am depressed, I just need to pray more and rely on God more, and if I’m relying on meds or on therapy or counseling, then you know, they’re mutually exclusive and that I’m not relying on God. So maybe we stop there and look at that for a bit and then move further into an integrative approach but that seems to be what I encounter often and what some of the Lifeway study seems to indicate.
Rob Haynes 16:48
And how do you think we got there? And the Lifeway study I’m guessing is out of the American church? Is that correct?
Pete Bellini 16:56
This is under Ed Stetzer.
Rob Haynes 16:58
Okay, so probably the American church then. How do you think we got to this point and what do we do next about it?
Pete Bellini 17:09
Well, it’s hard to say exactly how we got to this point. It could be that in the West, we may bifurcate, or make a separation between, our bodies and our minds or our spirit and think that we can address one and don’t need to address the other. I think sometimes we make the similar kind of a dualism in the church between things that are spiritual and then things that are natural and make a separation there too. And so maybe it’s hard for us to integrate and look at, well, these so called spiritual issues may also be physical issues, natural issues. You know, kind of a take what I believe is a scriptural approach to anthropology or to humanity, that we’re an integrated whole; what we do in our spirit, affects our mind and our emotions and our body. And what we do in our body affects our emotions and our mind and our spirit. And so we’re not just one or the other, we need to look at ourselves more as an integrated whole and I think in the church we have a hard time with that. We don’t know what to do with things that are psychological, or psychological ailments that have physical symptomology. And we may just either relegate it totally to one side, saying, “Oh, this is just spiritual, it’s demonic,” so some that I attribute to that. I think another larger reason why you see this dualism bifurcation, or kind of this split if you will, is the tension that often exists between science and faith, or science and faith/theology/religion or whatever and that is kind of playing off of the separation I made earlier here with the spirit world and natural world. It would be like science, the subject matter is the Universe and that’s the boundaries and the purview of science deals with the created order and then our faith/theology/religion, these sort of things, deal with the divine, with the invisible. So science deals with the visible, the created order, and faith/theology deals with God and the invisible and there’s a separation between those from both sides. Science would look at itself as dealing with fact and look at religion as dealing with faith or things that you value and somehow science is looking objectively and it’s not putting a value judgment on what it’s perceiving, which is of course not the case. Science would make that separation as well and see itself as being empirical, verifiable, and religion as not being empirical or verifiable. And on the other hand, the church with the church’s faith and its theology would say, what we believe is revelation from God and therefore it trumps science and it may even look at certain cases and points to say, here’s where we’re different, like the biggies: creation, evolution, the age of the universe, some of this stuff, or even miracles where the scientific mindset would struggle with the miraculous at least as a disruption of the natural order and of laws of causality and these sort of things. And then the theological viewpoint being: God could do anything, God can clearly work within or outside of the natural order. So there’s often a tension between science and faith and I’m saying that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Rob Haynes 20:52
Yeah, I want to dig into that a little bit deeper but I think just in quick response, we’ve seen more and more that we know the integration of mind, body and soul is a very real thing. I mean, quite simplistically, we know that when you exercise there are certain chemicals that are released in the brain that cause feelings of happiness and satisfaction and all those sorts of things too. And we know that our spirits are awakened or we may pray when we exercise or something like that, when we feel better about those things. So can you talk about how you view an integrative approach to healing because you’ve talked about there are some separations inside the church. So what do you say about it?
Pete Bellini 21:38
Right. In light of some of the things you just said and kind of a reiterating of what my view is about us as humans. You know, if you’re dealing with: if I’m praying and that’s impacting my spirit, that’s still me. It impacts my mind, I’m using my mind, my emotions. And if whatever I’m doing when I pray, whether I’m speaking, standing, kneeling, or silently meditating, I’m using my brain which is physical, so it’s somatic. I’m using my body. I can’t get away from using all these aspects of who I am. My emotions are me. My thoughts are me. My body is me. My spirit is me. So you can’t get away from and compartmentalize who we are. It’s not possible. Even if you tried to say this is purely a cognitive exercise, well, my cognition, my mind, is something emergent from my brain which is embodied. You can’t separate any of these. So that’s why I think the integrative approach to healing is best. Now, of course, there are boundaries of where science seems to begin and end and theology begins and ends. And I always say that “All truth is God’s truth” to paraphrase Augustine, so I don’t think that they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. True science and true theology are not mutually exclusive, though they may not always understand each other or agree on all points and the nature of their observation and subject matter, the object of their subject matter, what they’re studying are different. And our theology, we’re examining the nature of God and God’s work. And in science, we’re examining the nature of the Universe or what theology would say is Creation. But yeah that Creation is still God’s handiwork and so we believe that it leaves a divine fingerprint on Creation and so there’s some overlap there. Scientists and philosophers of religion and theologians may disagree as to how much we can understand. In the book, I talk about some of the categories that one could look at, there’s so many. I look at the ones that Ian Barber, who’s a philosopher, a former philosopher of religion and a scientist, would develop early on, it’s kind of four ways to look at religion and theology. One would be they’re in conflict, they’re mutually exclusive. Two, they work independently, so they’re dealing with two different areas of inquiry and thus their findings are independent, they may be parallel at times or going in different directions but they’re independent, there’s no overlap. Faith talks about God, science talks about the Universe. The third category would be: is there a place where they can dialogue and communicate? And then the fourth would be are there places where they you could integrate and there’s synthesis that the communication is effective. I’m kind of more in the third and fourth, that there are places where they dialogue and there are places where they may have some overlap. Some of those places of dialogue and overlap on what are called different areas that are like hinge areas where there’s a middle place between where theology and science term. Areas like philosophical theology, metaphysics, theoretical physics, places where the created order needs to start to look at the bigger picture, like where does everything come from, what’s the cause of everything, that sort of thing. So that’s kind of how I look at science and faith and seeing how they can work together and how I address that with them. Things like healing and dealing with treating mental disorders is simply this: an integrative approach is to utilize the best resources that both science and faith can afford to address an ailment, without excluding one or the other, not putting those mutually exclusive but in dialogue, where are they dialoguing. There’s clearly dialogue here, for example, science is clearly seeking solutions and treatments for mental disorder, whether those are strictly physiological, biological, or pharmacological or things that are therapeutic or both, the sciences are seeking to address mental health issues. And I believe that theology at its best, practical theology, is addressing the issues of healing, health, wholeness. So there are places where we’re asking some of the same questions and we’re seeking some of the same answers, but the way we go about it and what those answers may be, may or may not always be the same but there is some overlap. So what if we utilize the best resources that the scientific community can bring together along with the faith community, because we’re looking at a holistic understanding of who we are and that our faith addresses spiritual issues but those spiritual issues impact our mind, will, and emotions in our body and the sciences may address and impact physical and social issues, but those also will influence our soul and our spirit, so they’re inseparable. And therefore, I’m looking at how to be most effective and so I’ve learned in my ministry that the way to have both the greatest explanatory power as to what’s going on in someone’s life etiologically, what’s the source of something and then how to address it. So both the explanatory power and healing power to be more effective it’s best to combine these approaches because ultimately, I don’t think they’re necessarily diametrically opposed. And I believe that the same God who heals supernaturally through me praying for someone has placed healing properties within Creation, its elements, its plants, etc. and within our bodies and our immune system and provides the intelligence to discover these properties in the Universe is the same God who supernaturally heals. I see it’s all part of God’s common or prevenient grace and all can experience healing, just like He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.
Rob Haynes 28:13
Yeah, well I think that’s really helpful. I think Pete, sometimes where we get into this is a product of our culture. You and I live in the United States, we have been influenced a great deal by things like the Enlightenment and our thinking and in the schools that we have. But the Bible was written before the Enlightenment of course and in a way different culture that saw these things more integrated and I think that the last couple centuries have pulled those things apart. It’s science and faith and other things in some ways that have really degraded each particular area and so I wonder if that’s how we’ve gotten into some of this misunderstanding of science versus religion, like those four things that you laid out just a minute ago, and rather a true Biblical understanding of what God is teaching about and the issues of mental health and physical health and spiritual health are much more integrated than we would make them today in this part of the world at this particular time in history.
Pete Bellini 29:20
Right, I believe that we had made some divisions and separations in our thinking which are product of the time or culture so whether we’re in the West and we rely unduly or maybe overly on science, to the point where we allow science to replace theology. I think science is good when it stays in its lane and it deals with science and doesn’t become a theology and likewise, theology does well when it deals with what it deals with best: study of God. When it becomes a science, I think it’s not a good thing, it can distort what true sciences is. So they’re good when they stay in their lane and when they’re in dialogue, and in the West we’ve relied a lot on science maybe due to the Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment, as opposed to trusting God in certain aspects. So our belief in science can become scientism where science explains everything for us and that’s more of a Western phenomena and then in other cultures where they may operate more out of a spirit worldview. And that may not be as developed or progressed in the sciences as much, you’ll get a spiritual interpretation of what we may interpret biologically. So there’s a reliance there more on religion and theology as opposed to science for some of these things. You see that more on the mission, that’s a missiological phenomenon, you see that on the mission field. The bottom line is how can these things work together? Because if science studies the Universe of the created order and theology studies the Divine. Well, God created the Universe in a created order and so I don’t believe these things are necessarily going to be mutually exclusive. All truths are God’s truth and I don’t think God is intimidated by what is discovered in science, if it is truth. I don’t think God is intimidated or somehow it’s outside of God’s purview, all truth that’s about the Universe comes from God’s truth. I think the church would do well to be open to all of the different resources, especially with mental health, because I’ve seen too many as a pastor, I saw too often people take the perspective, to paraphrase, but almost a caricature, where they would refuse medication or counseling because they feel that it’s not of God or they would no longer be relying on the Lord and I’ve watched people suffer. I’ve seen people unfortunately die as a result and it was totally unnecessary. I do all I can to make a case for both and not either/or and take an integrative approach and make sure that persons are getting all the treatment that’s available out there from all these different avenues and then, of course, especially through prayer and their relationship with God in Christ, but that may also happen by being treated medically, being treated with pharmacological and psychiatric meds or whatnot. The minds that discover those things and synthesize those chemicals come from God, and those, again, elements are in the universe that God created. I don’t make those separations and the brain, which is very resilient and finds a way to get through trauma and mental health issues, was created by God, so the internal properties for healing, our immune systems, these sorts of things are all part of God’s Divine design.
Rob Haynes 33:10
Yeah, there’s a section of the book that you call “Why the Church won’t take its meds?” and is this the kind of thing you’re talking about? Is this why the Church is resistant to find healing in medicine or therapy or others?
Pete Bellini 33:25
That’s been my experience and I think that Lifeway study is kind of what I went back to before. It’s some of the premises that you know, I believe in Jesus, I pray and read my Bible, therefore, I shouldn’t be depressed or if I do get depressed, I just need to pray harder, read my Bible more, believe harder and rely on God more because God’s my Savior, not a doctor, not medicine, these sorts of things. And I think this whole pitting of the scientific community and specifically meds against our Christian faith and the Revelation Scripture, this has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 period. It’s been exacerbated as we’ve been getting information and sometimes a variety of information, which sometimes may be an agreement piece, each piece with each other and other times may not be. We’re getting contrary information, sometimes misinformation. People are skeptical as to what can I or what should I do? Who can I trust? Can we trust doctors, can we trust the vaccine and I think there’s always a place warranted for critical thinking, our culture surely needs that and often lacks that. But then on the other end, we don’t want to go to another extreme of being so suspicious, being unduly suspicious, where we’re creating conspiracies that don’t add up either. I think that the church is in that place right now where there’s so much tension between the established institution versus the church, ie. government or anything. Or institutions from the science world, in the world of medicine, ie. like the WHO, or the CDC, or whomever, there’s this tension now in terms of who we can trust. So this exacerbates an already existing problem of tension between where our sources of knowledge pitting the Bible against science as if they’re mutually exclusive.
Rob Haynes 35:28
Sure, you bring up a million great points. I wonder if I could focus in on one or two. You are a professor of evangelization, I know that you too, are an evangelist and someone who seeks to share not only from a pulpit or a platform, but also in a very personal way as well. In our culture, we’ve seen mental health in the last few months take even more of a front row seat in terms of celebrities very publicly saying that they were taking care of their mental health, perhaps even withdrawing from competition or withdrawing from other things that they are known for in order to take care of themselves. And so it’s in the culture now even more so. So tying all that into evangelism, someone’s listening today and says, “Look, I’m not a seminary professor, Dr. Bellini, I’m not a pastor, how can I just use this in my own family? In my church? In my coffee shop conversations? How can I get down to this where I just want to share what you’re talking about, but I don’t have the the expertise that you’re mentioning?”
Pete Bellini 36:36
Right. Well, our culture has come a long way. From where we were when I was young and growing up to where we’re at now in terms of understanding of mental disorders, and what they are and how to treat and address them. They’re very treatable today. One could have a mental disorder and go through treatment and live a very functional, productive life. And that wasn’t always the case, a day gone by, some of the medical discoveries and the treatments just brought us leaps and bounds forward. One doesn’t need to suffer needlessly because we have so much available now and yet so many still do. Suicide is always something that we fear at the bottom of all of this, is that the end result of our going undiagnosed and untreated can be suicide, so it’s and it’s very, it’s very real. And so having the awareness that we’ve had and the resources available that we have over the last 40-50 years are amazing. We haven’t arrived yet, but we’re further along. So I would encourage individuals to begin there, if they’re not at least up to speed on some of our understanding, as a culture, as a society, on mental disorders and the nature of them and the de-stigmatization of them and the treatment of them, that they would start with education. There’s a lot of resources out there, a good place to start is the National Institute of Mental Health; go on their website: www.nimh.nih.gov. They have a variety of literature and brochures that are easily accessible, easy to understand, for you personally, for your family, or for your church. I think it’s a good idea to get educated and unpin some of that understanding, you may not be a professional or professor, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to know and be aware of what’s becoming more and more common, baseline understanding of these things so we recognize what they are, and what are some of the basic treatments and especially for it to destigmatize these sorts of things. Bring some of this literature into your church, bring it to your leadership, and even contact your local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group and have them come in and share on suicide awareness, suicide prevention, some of these sorts of things or even have space inside churches. We’ve had pastors invite us to come in and bring their group in and have office space. So we can help us to become aware of what we can do. If maybe that’s us, but also if we have family members that are facing mental disorders, or we know that they’re more concentrated in our community or in our like you said, in our culture today, more and more on the rise, especially in the young people, so that, again, we’re aware of the resources, we’re aware of what sort of things are available out there. If you’re a pastor and you’re not qualified to make these kinds of calls and diagnoses, which most aren’t, that you have a good referral list and you’re aware of all the resources and the groups and the medical professionals that are in your community that you can refer people to, so you can get them into the place of the right network, so they’re on their way to be restored it and walk down that path of healing. So I thought those are the things that one could become aware of from just the medical standpoint, and there’s so much we could learn about what we can do. From the standpoint of, if we’re facing those sorts of things and some of those we can self-care, we can begin to look at what works hand-in-hand with an integrated approach with a pharmacological approach, I don’t mean counseling but things like diet, sleep patterns, exercise, breathing; I’m really big on intentional diaphragmatic deep breathing while one prays, which comes from the Eastern Christian hesychastic tradition. Things that we can do in journaling, writing our story, writing poetry, these are things that we can just do in the natural without any prescription or medication. There’s a lot of good stuff out there on some of these things. And then above all, our churches need to start talking about, of course, from the seminary down within the churches, the theological perspective on this and understanding the God of Creation and what God offers us in Creation and the gifts and graces and the resources and creation for healing, whether it’s supernaturally or naturally, to prevent this kind of bifurcation and say, “Well, you know, that’s God and that’s science and they’re opposed to each other,” but to begin to look at a more integrated approach and realize that no space is meant to be left. How could I say it? I mean, if you have a sacramental view of the Universe, God is able to show up anywhere and everywhere, right and there’s no place that’s off limits that shouldn’t be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So we need to think from a larger picture, not merely just separating spirit from all these realities, but that all of Creation is from God. Jesus died not just for me and you to be saved, but for a New Creation, a New Heaven and a New Earth, all of the Universe is in a process of being redeemed, if you will. I like to look at that understanding of redemption and salvation from a holistic perspective, maybe a more Eastern Christian perspective is therapy or healing. God is healing our sin-sick souls, and He’s healing our sin-sick Universe. And healing means full restoration. And so, again, an integrated approach that leaves nothing out.
Rob Haynes 43:16
I think that’s so helpful. You brought up a lot of good points in there, particularly around the idea if I’m a member of a church and I’m not necessarily on staff or something like that, I can advocate for the space of the church, the physical space and the gathering of people to be a safe place to discuss issues of mental health and the way they are integrated. You also mentioned in there too, for pastors to have a list of resources. I know, in my times as serving as a pastor, there’s a lot of pressure on you as a pastor to be able to have a lot of skills in counseling and we don’t always have all those skills, that’s a particular gift set. It’s a particular course of training. And as they get more and more complicated, the pastors need to be free and very much encouraged to say this is as far as I can go, we need to bring somebody else in here to work alongside me, we can still have conversations alongside this but let’s get a very skilled counselor in here to help you with these issues. And do so in a way that is not a defeat, but also that the congregation would receive as a blessing much like we would see a specialist if we went to our general physician for a particular thing and then we wanted to see a specialist for a bone issue or something like that. We should see the pastor in the same way.
Pete Bellini 44:40
Exactly and the information needs to be in dialogue participating in a comprehensive view or treatment so that the pastor who may just have a few classes and counseling from seminary but is not licensed to do any kind of therapy or to give diagnoses, they need to be aware of those boundaries and limitations and be aware of the first general rule of Methodist societies and the Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.” You don’t want to try to do good and actually do harm and so we’re out of our lane there, but to be able to make a referral to someone who is able to, who’s trained in those areas, and again, looking at all of these gifts and graces within the created order is part of God’s prevenient grace, so it doesn’t make them in any kind of diametric opposition. They’re working together towards health and wholeness which is a divine end, that’s not the devil’s end; the devil has come to steal, kill and destroy, so let’s get the mission statements correct. The doctors aren’t out there serving the devil. Right? You know, there’s good and bad science surely, but that’s not the purpose – it is ultimately to do, hopefully, it’s to do good. So these things work together in concert. And hopefully, you’re getting the professionals in there to speak on some of these issues and educate. I look at it like this, Rob, I think every church as part of their ministry of salvation needs to have a healing, health and wellness ministry in their church. So a healing ministry — it should consist of anything and everything from yes, laying on hands and anointing the sick to supernatural signs and wonders, which is part of evangelization. Nonverbal proclamation is just as much proclamation as verbal. We see that in the Gospels, Jesus preached but also healed and did all these other signs and wonders right along with healing and teaching. So we need to see that sort of thing there in terms of healing and health and wholeness ministry, but then also consider healing ministries, anything from nutrition classes, health fairs, free screenings from your local combined health districts, you know, not seeing these is separated. I had a church where I pastored, we had a healing ministry and it consisted of: we had our men build an exercise room, we had a workout room where we did weight training and Pilates and all of that and taught stuff that was for physical health. We had cooking classes, nutrition classes, and a feeding program to feed our community. We looked at that as part of healing and health and wholeness. And then our combined health districts had an office in our church, and they offered free screenings and sometimes free immunization. And so you know, we didn’t see these as being in opposition one to another. And we had a team that would go out and do kind of like Stephen Counseling Ministry for those who are in grief and bereavement. And then we had folk that laid hands on the sick and did some of that casting out demons, healing illnesses that Jesus and the disciples did. And for us, all of those seamlessly come together as a healing, health and wholeness ministry. As we minister salvation in Christ, we didn’t see any of those as being separate or less important or less significant.
Rob Haynes 48:13
That’s really important and Pete, you’ve talked about several programs in there. I wonder if you could kind of wrap up the conversation a little bit with a story of one or two people where you have seen this at work, this sort of integrated approach to healing that you’re mentioning.
Pete Bellini 48:31
Right? Well, I’m going to start with one person. This was an eye opener for me and it kind of confirmed a hunch, and I’m someone who’s a charismatic, meaning I believe in the power and work of the Holy Spirit and I believe that believers can do and walk in what Jesus did in the Gospels, especially the supernatural healing the sick, casting out demons, these sort of things. But I had a particular situation in a local church quite some time ago which confirmed to me that these needed to be addressed holistically, but also that mental health issues were not strictly demonic in origin if you will. So if someone has an issue like bipolar or schizophrenia, that is just a demon of schizophrenia, you just need to cast it out, which is often the case in churches that believe in Divine healing. Pentecostal charismatic churches that’s the norm actually. So I had a family and I’m not going to get into much of the details because I want to keep things mostly confidential of course, but their son went away to leadership training, which I didn’t agree that he should have done. I felt that there was already some vulnerability in his constitution. And this leadership training was going to be really hard core, kind of like a boot camp sort of thing and I felt it would be a little over the top for him. And it was and they brought him back from it in the midst of it. He couldn’t finish the duration of the coursework which was over several weeks. He was really struggling, he was hallucinating, he was saying things that weren’t true, places he’d been, things he’d seen that weren’t the case. And I’m not licensed or qualified to make official diagnoses, though to myself, in my own head, kind of a garage psychiatrist. I’m usually pretty accurate if I do make a guess but I keep it to myself and I may suggest something in referral. I was pretty convinced that this person had become schizophrenic, that they were with schizophrenia. The family did not want to hear that or believe that, they felt it was a demon and I just needed to come and cast the demons out and that’s what they wanted from me. I interviewed him extensively and I told him I don’t think that’s the case. I can do what you’re asking but that’s not going to heal or cure them, it’s not going to put them on a road to recovery, that’s not the issue. My opinion is you need to take him to a proper therapist, psychiatrist and a therapist, first to a psychiatrist and let them make a diagnosis and a prescription medicinally. And allow him to get on the right meds. And once he levels off and he’s gone through some therapy, I’ll be able to pray if there’s been any demonic attacks as a result of that. In other words, the demonic could sometimes feed off of our times of weakness. And even though schizophrenia is not demonic in origin, Satan could take advantage of that weakness. If there’s anything there that I can pray and address I surely will do that. They went to several other pastors to get what they wanted, that was deliverance. And they prayed for him but nothing happened. I didn’t think nothing would until they finally went to see a professional and the diagnosis was made. I was right, that’s what it was. They got him on the proper med adjustment and then he started leveling off and gradually kind of becoming himself, it doesn’t mean all your problems are gone. But at least on a new normal, we know what we’re dealing with, we’re getting proper treatment, and then we could help. Therapy will help with the coping of that and then I can help with spiritual issues. I began to then counsel and work with him and see him become more and more functional, get a job, get education, and all those things happen. So it was a comprehensive approach that worked with this person with schizophrenia, not a mere casting out of demons, and not merely just the meds and the therapy, because this person was a Christian and struggled in some other areas that the mental disorder kind of created opportunity for other spiritual problems and I was able to work with him and see success. I’ve seen this happen time and time again with mental health issues that I indicate in a couple of my books with my son’s permission, he had been through this early on in life. Back in the time when certain diagnoses of the 90s were controversial. I was seeing the signs and symptoms of several things, some learning disabilities and some other mental health issues, especially around ADHD, which in the 90s was controversial to make that call and I really pushed a pediatrician to go ahead and do that. I was corrected in my assumptions. But the approach with my son has been one (and he’s a middle aged adult now, he’s doing really well) was one that involved the right medication combination which took time to get and it changed over time. So you really need to educate yourself on that and don’t just leave it in the hands of the professionals. It is true, we need to take our own health and the health of our children in as much as possible into our hands and get educated. And it was actually working with my son that opened up the door for me to begin to do a lot of this research and study, that’s how I came into studying a lot of the stuff in the mental health profession and these sorts of things. And then, of course, as a pastor, I had pastoral care and counseling courses, but to go much more in-depth so I could better help and treat my son. So it was the right meds, the right meds over time and adjustments over time, the right sorts of therapy, some of the things that I was doing are coupled with the therapy, like my true therapy work, which has embedded cognitive behavioral theory and it was very helpful. It was a balanced approach with regular prayer and studying the Word of God and for him, watching what he ate. Sometimes eating the wrong stuff can exacerbate some of this and getting him involved in some rigorous physical exercise to burn off cortisol and stressors and whatnot and learn how to deep breathe and how to manage stress. I gave him a lot of different techniques that work physically, muscle relaxation techniques, all of this working together, whereas one thing alone didn’t and wouldn’t have worked. Even if it was stuff that was spiritual, like giving him Scriptures and prayer, it was helpful, but that wasn’t enough to tackle what he was addressing. Neither was solely medication, which normally counselors will tell you that the counseling is indispensable. You need the counseling and medication, they work best together. It’s when you’ve got to take one over the other, actually, the therapy works better than the meds alone, but best to take them together. So with the right diet, exercise, breathing techniques, muscle relaxation techniques, prayer, getting into the Word, all of these things comprehensively, an integrative approach is what I think enabled him to see success. I’ve seen this over and over again in the people I minister with. Again, we want to destigmatize mental disorders, it’s not just that person over there, you know one in four are struggling with this. And oftentimes, it’s people you don’t think are struggling. As a professor, a lot of my students that I work with are pastors or former students that are pastors. So I’m ministering to a lot of pastors, with a lot of pastors who have mental health issues and addiction issues so these things know no prejudice. They adversely impact everyone equally.
Rob Haynes 56:30
Sure. Wow, Pete, my friend and colleague, I appreciate your expertise that you’ve shared with us, your research, and also your very personal heart by sharing some of your own family’s story in them. We will put the links to your books that you mentioned earlier during our conversation in the Show Notes today but if someone wanted to get in touch with you, ask you more questions or learn some more, how would they go about doing that?
Pete Bellini 57:00
Well, Rob, feel free to give them my email address. Again, it’s the best way, easiest way to get a hold on me. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org and that’s probably the easiest way to get a hold of me.
Rob Haynes 57:16
Great. Well, Pete, before we go, I wonder if I could ask you something that I ask all of our guests and that is to share something that they have found lately. This can be a podcast, or book, an app, an article, maybe it’s some music that they find compelling, thought provoking, interesting, insightful. To help us see a little bit more about you and learn some thoughts about some cool things. So Pete Bellini, what have you found?
Pete Bellini 57:46
That’s hard to say. Let me give you just two quick things that may help and it’s related to mental health. People could Google Agora Network Ministries and they have a lot of resources for laity and for clergy on dealing with mental wellness and faith, so I’d encourage them to take a look at that. I do a lot, Rob, of correlating research in neuroscience and how neuroscience relates to things like neuroscience and mental health, neuroscience and healing, neuroscience and discipleship, these sorts of things. It’s just a fascinating area of study, if I could do it all over again, I’d probably go into there and maybe do all my studies there. I took a course recently from Harvard in neuroscience, so it’s really stuff that excites me. But yeah, there’s a a podcast from a very well reputable, has a high reputation neuroscientist but it’s at a laypersons level. His name’s Andrew Huberman and he has a podcast: “The Huberman Lab” podcast. And he comes from, of course he’s a neuroscientist, but he has some very practical things on how to care for your mind, mental health, mental health practices that come from a neuroscientific perspective and I think it’d be really interesting for people. He’s not a Christian, as far as I know, it’s not religious, as far as I know. But the science really has a lot of bearing on things that are practical for every one and understanding how we think and care for our minds and our bodies that may be helpful.
Rob Haynes 59:36
Excellent. Thanks so much Pete. My what I found is an app, it’s called Pray As You Go and it’s a daily guided prayer. It’s about 15 minutes or so. It begins with some music to help you center and then some Scripture reading. The host will guide you through some questions to try to bring out some of the finer points of that and the theological things that are being taught in that. And then they’ll read the Scripture again and ask you to reflect on that. So one comes out every day, the app is Pray As You Go and you just tap it in, you can do it on your commute, or maybe when you’re exercising like we’ve been talking about or something like that. Well Pete Bellini…
Pete Bellini 59:39
That sounds exciting, that sounds really good.
Rob Haynes 1:00:26
Yeah, I like it very much. Well, Pete Bellini, my friend and colleague, so great to be with you. Thanks for being on The Real Faith Real World podcast.
Pete Bellini 1:00:34
Thank you for having me.
Rob Haynes 1:00:35
I love the way Pete takes such a serious topic and approaches it with the confidence of the Gospel, the assurance of the Holy Spirit at work in his life, and the willingness to engage all of the tools that God has given us in terms of science, in terms of counseling, in terms of all of these others that we can use together. You’ll find in today’s Show Notes links to the important things we discussed today. Before I let you go, would you take just a minute, if you liked this podcast, rate and subscribe, share it with somebody else, help us get the word out. We want others to know about these great resources and the way that you can help us out with that is by sharing with somebody else, by rating, by subscribing, by leaving a comment. We’d also love to hear from you. We’d love to hear your thoughts, your comments or your suggestions for future episodes. You can write to us at podcasts@WorldMethodist.org. Also, in the Show Notes, you’ll find all of our social media connections. Thank you for listening and thank you to Christ Church Memphis for their support and sponsorship. I’m Rob Haynes and you’ve been listening to WME’s Real Faith Real World podcast.
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