Ministers are calling for a policy change in mental health services

By Diane Anderson

Meeting with over 15 pastors who are part of the Long Beach Ministerial Alliance, and pastors from across the nation continue to stand together in prayer and forgiveness as local pastor Ivan Pitts now recovers from a recent stabbing.

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

Pastor Welton Pleasant, senior pastor at Christ Second Baptist Church in Long Beach, said his first concern is for Pastor Pitts to heal physically and emotionally. Instead of sending flowers, he’s asking everyone to send money to help cover rising medical costs.

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

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

“This is also an election year in Long Beach and as such will be at the forefront of the campaign. We want to make sure this is an issue that has been under-addressed and ignored for so long,” he said.

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

Pastor Pleasant also vividly recalls being assaulted in his own church by someone suffering from a mental illness. This individual was taking medication and had previously attended church, but there was never an incident that led anyone to believe they were violent.

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

“He started verbally attacking me, he put his hand on me and I had to defend myself,” Pastor Pleasant said, 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 those in need or others in mental health crisis.

Pleasant, also president of the Cal State Baptist Convention, said the incident was not a race-based hate crime. The suspect was African American and it wasn’t his first offense.

He believes that some of the conditions behind the explosion in the mentally ill homeless went back to Ronald Reagan, who in the mid-1980s brought hordes of mentally ill people onto the streets without any care. The community sees the aftermath.

“Often our churches are places where they put their heads in front of our doors at night. Sometimes you can’t get in on a Sunday morning,” he said. “They need treatment, not confinement.”

Everyone knows Pastor Pitts and prayer groups for his recovery are stretching across the country.

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

Rev. Gregory Sanders, president of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance, agrees that the attack draws attention to the need to allocate resources, rather than ignoring so many who have a diagnosed or undiagnosed illness.

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

Years ago he said mental health was usually a one-size-fits-all diagnosis – schizophrenia with shock treatment, but today there has to be a better way. There is a lot of hurt and trauma and unmet needs in the community.

“People like you and me, it’s real to us too. As a church and as believers, it is our job to stand between the dead and the living. We could equate the sick and the healthy, the broken, the affluent, that middle ground that people are struggling on,” said Rev. Sanders, senior pastor of ROCK Christian Fellowship.

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

She said God was in that driveway and gave Pastor Pitts the strength to escape the attacker.

“When bad things happen to good people, we ask ourselves, try to sort our minds as to why God allowed it
happen,” she said, adding, “As we deal with the unprovoked attack on Pastor Pitts, we breathe out and trust that God will bring healing, deliverance and restoration from the incident.”

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