Ministers Call for Policy Change with Mental Health Services
By Dianne Anderson
Meetings with over 15 pastors that are part of the Long Beach Ministerial Alliance, and pastors around the nation continue standing together in prayer and forgiveness as local Pastor Ivan Pitts now recovers from a recent stabbing.
The February 24 violent rampage that happened in the driveway of Pastor Pitts’ home in Long Beach shocked the community. Pastor Pitts, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Santa Ana, has had surgery for seven stab wounds, including his neck, his eye and back, and he is recovering.
Pastor Welton Pleasant, senior pastor of Christ Second Baptist Church in Long Beach, said his first concern is that Pastor Pitts is healing physically and emotionally. Instead of sending flowers, he asks everyone to send money to support mounting medical costs.
“He doesn’t know that we’re trying to raise funds for his medical bills. He has medical insurance, but we know in situations like this, the medical bills will probably be astronomical so we’re making sure he’s okay in that area,” he said.
As tragic as the situation is, he believes that God will work it for the good, using it as a tool to address mental illness from a policy level. The ministers want to challenge politicians to prioritize community health needs.
“This is also an election year in Long Beach and so it’s going to be at the forefront of campaigns. We want to make sure that this is a topic that has been under-addressed for so long and ignored,” he said.
In the weeks ahead, the Ministerial Alliance expects to meet with various community members, with law enforcement and policymakers.
Pastor Pleasant also clearly remembers being attacked at his own church by someone suffering a mental health episode. That person was on medication, and he had previously attended the church, but there was never an incident to make anyone think he was violent.
One Sunday after the benediction, the man approached him in the pulpit.
“He began to verbally assault me, he put his hand on me and I had to defend myself,” said Pastor Pleasant, adding there are several similar cases across the nation. “It’s an epidemic almost. I can tell you story after story of pastors that have been attacked.”
But he is also careful not to demonize the indigent or others in mental health crisis.
Pleasant, also president of Cal State Baptist Convention, said the incident is not believed to be a race-based hate crime. The suspect was African American, and it was not his first offense.
He believes some of the conditions behind the explosion of the homeless mental health population trace back to Ronald Reagan, who released droves of mentally ill patients in the mid-1980s onto the streets without any care. The community is seeing the after-effects.
“Oftentimes, our churches are places where they lay their heads at night in front of our doors. Sometimes you can’t get in on Sunday morning,” he said. “They need to be treated, not locked up.”
Everyone knows Pastor Pitts, and prayer circles for his recovery stretch across the nation.
In their last update, the SBC Family on Facebook said that Pastor Pitts “is in great spirits and shared that he is doing very well. He added “I am so fortunate.” 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 prayer or encouraging words online, feel free to use #PrayersForPitts,” they wrote.
Rev. 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 suffering from a diagnosed or undiagnosed illness.
Sanders said the Bible is clear that the poor, the indigent, the lost and sick will always be in the community, but the issue for Long Beach policymakers is addressing is the lack of access to health and mental health services.
Years ago, he said mental health was usually one diagnosis fits all – schizophrenia with shock treatment, but today there needs to be a better way. There is a lot of hurt and trauma and unmet needs in the community.
“People like you and I, it’s real for us as well. As a church and as believers, our assignment is to stand between the dead and the living. We could equate the sick and the well, the broken, the affluent, that middle ground where people are struggling,” said Rev. Sanders, lead pastor of The ROCK Christian Fellowship.
Pastor E. C. Dowdy, Lion of Judah Worship Center, said that it may not be clear why the attack happened, but she stressed that forgiveness is not a weakness, and love is the beginning of how to move the situation forward.
She said that God was in that driveway, and provided the strength for Pastor Pitts to escape the attacker.
“When bad things happen to good people, we wonder, try sorting our thoughts on why God permitted it
to happen,” she said, adding, “As we grapple with the unprovoked attack against Pastor Pitts, we exhale, trust God to bring healing, deliverance, and restoration from the incident.”
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