"My pastor said to me, 'The only reason you're depressed is that you don't have enough faith.'" This comment was made by a woman in a health seminar I recently attended. She had tried to talk to her pastor about her depression. But the response from her pastor seemed to say she could make herself "well" by just having enough faith. Sadness filled her words and conveyed to the rest of us how difficult it is to find support for this illness in some faith communities.

I thought about the black church, which has provided to its members financial, emotional, and community support for centuries. But the church has not been as successful at creating an environment where it is easy to talk about illness and receive help in avoiding health problems. Black women comprise 70% of black congregations; however, black women were not well represented at this health seminar.

Black women need to hear not just what our risks are; we need to be in a supportive environment for effective intervention. Many of us know the statistics: One in 10 black women is clinically depressed, and depression increases the risk of heart disease. Black women die more often from cancer, though we get it less frequently than white women. We, as black women, are at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Add stress to this mix, and the complications from these health problems increase. As a black woman and a minister, I believe that God cares as much about our bodies and minds as God does about our spirits. If the seven signs of cancer were preached right along with the Ten Commandments, then women would have an equal chance of saving their physical lives as well as their spiritual lives. In the same way that we are commanded to worship
God with our whole self--bodies, minds, and spirits--we are also commanded to love one another as we love ourselves: our whole selves. The church has a strong influence over women's lives and must take seriously its responsibility to bring true healing, which entails more than just a cure. A cure means getting well from a physical illness. Healing creates wholeness and balance; it works toward well-being for the spirit as well as the body. The worship service, the way people care for one another, and the messages of equality and empowerment are part of the healing tradition of the black church. But to do God's will--and not merely hear it--requires the black church to look with fresh eyes at Scripture passages that tell us how much God connects spiritual health with physical health. When Jesus healed, he often told people to "go in peace," noting that without spiritual/mental peace a physical healing does not go far enough. Jesus also healed spiritual demons, which resulted in a healed body as well. The church must integrate all these ways of God's healing into its practices and rituals. Can black churches create a healing environment for women's bodies, minds, and spirits? I say to my black churches, "If you agree that Jesus brings life, you do not have a choice." Black women are dying, facing crippling diseases, and not living the abundant life that Jesus has called us to because illness is not discussed in church, except to rebuke a member for not having enough faith to stay well. The Message Bible--a paraphrase translation by Eugene Peterson--states, "The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse" (James 2). The church has no choice but to preach the message that we must work at our physical health, just as we work at our spiritual health.

The work of a wellness ministry must include:

1. Awareness: This mean church preaching/teaching and Bible studies that include stories that offer a vision of wellness as a mental, physical, and spiritual relationship. The church must teach that good health requires healthy relationships and is the responsibility of the entire church community, and that illness is not an individual moral failure. A person can have physical disabilities and still experience wholeness by having peace of mind and a love-filled spirit. 2. Education: Churches must partner with health agencies for discussions on diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stress. The church must teach that our bodies and spirits are connected and reflect our total health. 3. Intervention: Churches can work to encourage lifestyle changes by setting up monthly health evaluations. Help young people understand how to avoid risky behaviors. Youth need to know that how they treat their bodies affects their spiritual well-being, and that neglecting their spirits will affect what they do to their bodies. The body and mind are not separate. God created the body to house the spirit and said it is "good."

Our physical well-being as black women cannot be secondary. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones depend upon taking our health seriously. The Gospel message is not opposed to good health. Wholeness and healing are gifts from God, but they require both faith and work.

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