Ministers seek policy change with mental health services

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By Dianne Anderson

Meetings with more than 15 pastors who are part of the Long Beach Ministerial Alliance and pastors across the country continue to be held together in prayer and forgiveness as local pastor Ivan Pitts now recovers from a recent stab.

The February 24 violent rampage that occurred in the driveway of Pastor Pitts’ Long Beach home shocked the community. Pastor Pitts, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana, underwent surgery for seven stab wounds, including his neck, eyes and back, and is recovering.

Pastor Welton Pleasant, senior pastor of Christ Second Baptist Church in Long Beach, said his primary concern was for Pastor Pitts to heal physically and emotionally. Instead of sending flowers, he asks everyone to send money to cover rising medical bills.

“He doesn’t know that we are trying to raise funds for his medical expenses. He has medical insurance, but we know that in situations like this the medical bills are likely to be astronomical, so we’re making sure he’s okay in that area,” he said.

As tragic as the situation is, he believes God will work it out for good, using it as a tool to fight mental illness on a political level. Ministers want to challenge politicians to prioritize community health needs.

“It’s also an election year in Long Beach and so it’s going to be at the forefront of campaigns. We want to make sure this is a topic that has been under-treated for so long and ignored,” he said.

In the coming weeks, the Ministerial Alliance plans to meet with various members of the community, law enforcement and policy makers.

Pastor Pleasant also vividly remembers being attacked in his own church by someone with an episode of mental health. This person was on medication and had attended church before, but there was never an incident to suggest he was violent.

One Sunday after the blessing, the man approached him in the pulpit.

“He started verbally attacking me, he got hold of me and I had to defend myself,” said Pastor Pleasant, adding that there are several similar cases across the country. “It’s almost an epidemic. I can tell you story after story of pastors who have been attacked.

But he is also careful not to demonize the indigent or others in mental health crisis.

Pleasant, also president of the Cal State Baptist Convention, said the incident was not considered a racially-based hate crime. The suspect was African American and this was not his first offense.

He believes some of the conditions driving the explosion of the mentally ill homeless population can be traced back to Ronald Reagan, who released masses of the mentally ill in the mid-1980s onto the streets without any care. The community sees the consequences.

“Often our churches are places where they lay their heads outside our doors at night. Sometimes you can’t get in on Sunday mornings,” he said. “They need to be cared for, not locked up.”

Everyone knows Pastor Pitts and prayer circles for his recovery are spreading across the country.

In their latest update, the SBC Family on Facebook said Pastor Pitts “is in good spirits and shared that he is doing great. He added, “I’m so lucky.” Family, we thank you for your prayers! We invite you to continue to offer your prayers for Pastor Pitts and his family. If you share prayers or words of encouragement online, please feel free to use #PrayersForPitts,” they wrote.

The Reverend Gregory Sanders, president of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance, agrees the attack draws attention to the need to provide resources instead of ignoring so many people with diagnosed and undiagnosed illnesses.

Sanders said the Bible is clear that the poor, needy, lost and sick will always be in the community, but the problem that Long Beach policymakers are tackling is lack of access to health services and of mental health.

Years ago he said mental health was usually a single diagnosis – schizophrenia with shock treatment, but today there must be a better solution. There are a lot of injuries, traumas and unmet needs in the community.

“People like you and me, this is also real for us. As a church and as believers, our mission is to stand between the dead and the living. We could assimilate the sick and the healthy, the broken, the rich, that common ground where people struggle,” said Reverend Sanders, Senior Pastor of ROCK Christian Fellowship.

Pastor EC Dowdy, Lion of Judah Worship Center, said the reason for the attack may not be clear, but she stressed that forgiveness is not weakness and love is the beginning how to move the situation forward.

She said God was in that aisle and provided Pastor Pitts with strength to escape the assailant.

“When bad things happen to good people, we wonder, try to sort our thoughts on why God allowed it.
happen,” she said, adding, “As we grapple with the unprovoked attack on Pastor Pitts, we breathe out, trust in God to bring healing, deliverance and restoration to the incident.

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