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A Response to Copeland & Barton on PTSD

November 13, 2013

Today I saw a tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey which grabbed my attention. It was discussing David Barton and Kenneth Copeland using a verse from the Bible to tell soldiers they should not have PTSD (Post Traumatic Distress Disorder). As a disclaimer, I am a veteran and work in a job where I interact with soldiers[1] suffering from PTSD. I am also a minister and seminary graduate. Before going further, take two minutes and watch this video[2] so you can see the video I am addressing.

As a veteran and one who works with veterans, I question if Barton and Copeland have ever visited with individuals who suffer from PTSD. It is an ailment which has been affecting combat veterans for generations. The Civil War had despondent soldiers after the conflict. In the years since then it has been called “shell shock,” “1000 yard stare,” and “battle fatigue.” Men and women have been dealing with these issues for years. Now, the mental health community has found even civilians who are exposed to traumatic events show symptoms of full-blown PTSD. To declare grasping what they see as a promise in Scripture will rid them of their condition is dangerous.

Copeland also tells veterans that psychology and pills are not the answer and they can just get rid of it by claiming what he sees as the promises of Scripture. This is downright dangerous. If a veteran is currently taking prescribed medications and chooses to quit his medications cold turkey on the advice of Copeland, there could be drastic results as most of the medicines used to treat PTSD would require one to be weaned off of them. Then to declare professional psychological treatment is not necessary can also be dangerous. Professional mental health care is called for in many of the cases of diagnosed PTSD.

Now, as a pastor and a theologian, I find Copeland and Barton’s treatment of the text as negligent. In the theological sense, they ignore sound hermeneutic practices by neglecting the context of the passage in their interpretation of it. They looked at Numbers 32:20-22 and failed to look at it in its context and extended its meaning beyond anyone could imagine. In their role on their show, they should have taken the time to properly exegete the text before proclaiming promises which are not there.

In a pastoral role, I find their proclamation and instructions to soldiers to be tantamount to pastoral misconduct. Their commentary can prevent soldiers from seeking the proper, and professional, treatment they need. This could lead to even more serve consequences for the soldier. The problem is PTSD does not just affect the soldier, but their family, friends, church members, community, and beyond. For a pastor to fail to properly guide a soldier who is a congregant to seek a qualified professional for treatment is not only negligent in caring for that soldier, but also for everyone else the soldier interacts with.

A soldier who has PTSD can live a normal life with proper assistance. Some cope well with no help. A pastor is unlikely to know or notice this person is dealing with the issue. Yet, others will be able to adjust well by attending peer groups. These peer groups are places where soldiers can talk about the issues with other soldiers who are in the same situation. Then, there are some who will need professional help. If you have contact with veterans in your role as a pastor, it would behoove you to gain knowledge of the resources in your area for peer groups, Veterans Administration Mental Health Professionals, and local mental health professionals who are qualified to work with those with PTSD. Here is a previous post I have done with links to good resources for pastors and staff: https://anafalz.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/ptsd-and-the-church/.


[1] The term “soldiers” is being used throughout as a generic term referring to any member of any of the armed forces regardless of age, gender, or branch of service.

[2] Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of rightwingwatch.org, nor am I endorsing them by linking to their video. This was simply the best version of this on YouTube. A similar edit of the video can also be found through other news pages.

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