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United Methodist Church

By James T. Clemons, Ph.D., and Melinda Moore from the forthcoming, The Suicide Funeral (Authorhouse, 2011)

Suicide: A Challenge to Ministry

The Apostle Paul, rooted in his experience of the resurrected Christ, affirms the power of divine love to overcome the divisive realities of human life, including suicide:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Paul's words are indeed sources of hope and renewal for persons who contemplate suicide, as well as for those who grieve the death of friends and family members who have committed suicide. These words affirm that in those human moments when all seems lost, all may yet be found through full faith.

A Christian perspective on suicide thus begins with an affirmation of faith: Suicide does not separate us from the love of God.

Unfortunately, the church throughout much of its history has taught just the opposite, that suicide is an unforgivable sin. As a result, Christians, acting out of a sincere concern to prevent suicide, often have contradicted Christ's call to compassion.

For example, victims have been denounced and presumed to be in hell, and families have been stigmatized with guilt and inflicted with economic and social penalties.

The purpose of this statement is to challenge and guide our caring ministries to reduce the number of suicides and to share God's grace so that the lives of those touched by suicide may be enriched, dignified and enabled for ministry to others.

The Church's Response

Recognizing that the church's historical response to suicide includes punitive measures intended to prevent suicide and that there is no clear biblical stance on suicide, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church strongly urges the employment of major initiatives to prevent suicide, following the guidelines of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention issued by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the General Conference recommends to the boards, agencies, institutions, and local churches of The United Methodist Church that the ministry of suicide prevention should receive urgent attention. Survivors of loss through suicide and suicide attempts should also receive priority concern in the overall ministry of the Church. Harsh and punitive measures (such as denial of funeral or memorial services, or ministerial visits) imposed upon families of suicide victims should be denounced and abandoned. The church should participate in and urge others to participate in a full, community-based effort to address the needs of people at risk and their families. Each annual conference and local church should respond to issues of ministry related to suicide prevention and family-support services.

It must be emphasized that suicide increases in an environment or society that does not demonstrate a caring attitude toward all persons. The church has a special role in changing societal attitudes and harmful social environment of individuals and families. To promote this effort, the church should do the following:

  1. the General Board of Discipleship shall continue to develop curriculum for biblical and theological study of suicide and related mental and environmental health problems and promote the programs recommended by the American Association of Pastoral Counseling and the use of scientific research of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other credible institutions in the private sector, such as organizations within the National Council of Suicide Prevention;
  2. the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry shall develop materials for United Methodist-related seminaries to train church professionals to recognize treatable mental illness associated with suicide (e.g., depression) and to realize when and how to refer persons for treatment; it shall ensure that all pastoral counseling programs include such training and strategies for ministry survivors of suicide loss and suicide attempts ; and seek attention to suicide in courses in Bible, Christian Ethics, Preaching and Religious Education as well as Pastoral Care;
  3. the General Board of Church and Society shall continue to support public policies that: (a) promote access to mental-health services for all persons regardless of age, (b) remove the stigma associated with mental illness, and (c) encourage "help-seeking" behavior;
  4. embrace all persons affected by suicide, including young children, in loving community through support groups and responsive social institutions, call upon society through the media to reinforce (following published guidelines for reporting suicide and related matters) the importance of human life and to advocate that public policies include all persons' welfare, and work against policies that devalue human life and perpetuate cultural risk factors (i.e., nuclear armaments, war, racial and ethnic prejudice);
  5. affirm that we can destroy our physical bodies but not our being in God, and affirm that a person stands in relationship to others, but in our efforts to be more compassionate and care giving, avoid glamorizing the deaths of those who take their lives, especially young people. The loss of every person is a loss in community;
  6. support the United Methodist childcare institutions that provide treatment for emotionally disturbed children, youth, and their families and retirement communities that are home for those where suicide rates are highest; and
  7. strengthen the youth ministries of the local church, helping the young people experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ and participate in the caring fellowship of the church.

 

Conclusion

"The church is called to proclaim the gospel of grace and, in its own life, to embody that gospel. It embodies that gospel when it is particularly solicitous of those within its number who are most troubled, and when it reaches beyond its own membership to such people who stand alone." (Dr. Philip Wogaman, professor of Christian Social Ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary).

 

ADOPTED 1988, AMENDED AND READOPTED 1996, AMENDED AND READOPTED 2004

See Social Principles, ¶ 161M.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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