Our Grand Rapids Police Chief, Scott Johnson, recently wrote an excellent article in the Herald Review titled “Each Life is Precious” (May 29, 2019). Chief Johnson detailed the conundrum that our law enforcement face on a daily basis while protecting people with addictions and psychiatric conditions. The problem lies in the system of services. If the police are called to assist an individual in distress, the most they can do is take them to the hospital where the Crisis Team intervenes. The Crisis Team is then limited in how much they can do, and if an individual qualifies for treatment, they are further limited by insurance regulations and a gross shortage of facilities with openings. More times than not, the individual is often released without necessary treatment or care, and then of course, the cycle continues. First, I want to express my deep appreciation and kudos to the women and men that respond day after day to needs they cannot meet. You matter in the moment of crisis even when it feels like there is nothing you can do.
Too many people have medical and psychological needs that are grossly unmet. Not only as Christians, but as humans, this reality should tug on our conscience in such a way that we become restless. This is not okay. For an individual to not receive the care they need, in a country that has overwhelming ability and resource, is a dire atrocity.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is approached by a man that has been possessed by a demon (Luke 8:26-39). The man is so worn out and distressed that he wore no clothing and lived among the tombs, often shackled because the town folk feared him. Over the years, biblical interpreters have attempted to explain the issue of demon possession, a language very prominent in biblical times. To put it in a more contemporary frame of mind, one of the answers we settle upon is that these demons were what we know today as psychiatric conditions. However, I don’t believe any explanation is essential here. The story itself tells us what is important. Jesus has before him a man that is in distress. What does Jesus do? Jesus asks the man, “What is your name?” What Jesus does here is bring humanity to a difficult situation. Jesus wants to know the name of this man that has been outcast by a society unequipped to live side by side with him. Knowing a person’s name makes an encounter personal, it provides a sense of dignity. For Christ to care that this man had an identity, to hear and say his name, showed compassion in a difficult circumstance. “I know you are hurting, Legion, I am here to listen.”
Ultimately, Legion, the man possessed by demons, was healed by Jesus. And I believe the healing began when someone stood in front of him and cared that he existed, asked his name and embraced his identity. Who people are, matters. What people experience, matters. And what needs we all possess, require our sincere appreciation and resource. As Christians, if we care more about what people believe than who they are behind that belief, we are going about our discipleship all wrong. If we care more about what political party they align with than what struggles they experience, we are going about our discipleship all wrong. If we profess to be followers of Christ, then our utmost concern must be the dignity and respect of the person in front of us. Jesus led by example.
If there is need for more psychiatric resources, we need to raise our voices and put our money where our mouth is and fight for the needs of our brothers and sisters who are left without help. There are wonderful programs in Itasca County that work hard to change policy, distribute funds, provide case management, and educate leaders. To name a few: Kootasca, Itasca County Human Services, ElderCircle, Advocates for Family Peace, Kiesler Wellness Center, and the Grace House. These non-profits need our support.
The Rev. Kimbrel Johnson is the Head of Staff Pastor at Community Presbyterian Church of Grand Rapids, Minn. You can submit questions for consideration at progressivevoicegr@gmail.