Televangelist: PTSD Comes from Straying from Biblical Teachings


November 26, 2013; AlterNet

Paul Spurgin, the founder of Keystone Wounded Warriors, says he is seeing fewer returning veterans with physical injuries, but many more with the “invisible” injury of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Department of Veterans Affairs operates an entire institute—the National Center for PTSD—dedicated to research and education on this invisible war injury. This past summer, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators designated June as National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month and June 27th as PTSD Awareness Day.

Famous televangelist Kenneth Copeland might have asked, why bother? On his Veterans Day telecast, Copeland and his guest, historian David Barton, took issue with the seriousness or even existence of PTSD, at least for good Christians.

Per Copeland, “Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me. You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it, it doesn’t take psychology; that promise right there [in the Bible] will get rid of it.”

Barton added, “We used to, in the pulpit, understand the difference between a just war and an unjust war. And there’s a biblical difference, and when you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”

In other words, if you “do it God’s way,” you can’t get PTSD, and if you do have PTSD, it means you have strayed from the biblical path. Put another way, if you have PTSD, it is because of your own sin.

Baylor University professor Matthew Stanford, a self-described conservative, evangelical Christian, say that more than one-third of mentally ill current and former church attendees have been told that their illnesses were caused by their own sin, even more that they really weren’t suffering from a mental illness, and nearly a third that they should stop taking psychiatric medications. Stanford describes conservative Christian churches as treating people with mental illness as “modern-day lepers,” “unclean and unrighteous,” and deserving to be “cast out.”

It is easy to make fun of “prosperity” televangelists like Copeland, recently the less-than-cooperative subject of an investigation launched by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) concerning six televangelists’ use of and accounting for charitable contributions. Easy, but naive. Kenneth Copeland Ministries has been active for more than 40 years and has millions of regular viewers. For Copeland believers, his advice on health matters has consequences.

This year, a measles outbreak occurred among parishioners at the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, where the co-pastor, who happens to be Copeland’s daughter, professes skepticism about the value and importance of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations. Copeland himself is a longstanding doubter of the efficacy of vaccines and charges that vaccines such as MMR cause autism. Even though his autism theory has been debunked, Copeland has raised the inflammatory charge enough to make many people fear the linkage of vaccines and autism.

When veterans return from the demobilization in Iraq and Afghanistan, some might return to military bases, others might enter the VA system for treatment and benefits, but many will turn to their churches as their point of contact and home community integration. There are many churches that believe, much like Copeland and Barton, that treating PTSD (and traumatic brain injuries, or TBI) with scriptural counseling, sometimes called “nouthetic counseling,” makes psychiatric help and psychiatric medications all but unnecessary. Copeland has a big audience, but his prescription for returning veterans with PTSD or TBI appears to be no prescription at all.—Rick Cohen

  • Michael Wyland

    This is a classic situation where a good idea has been taken to extremes. There is independent research that substantiates people with a strong basis in faith are more likely to exhibit resilience after traumatic situations (past studies have often focused on kidnap victims and prisoners of war). It’s also not unreasonable to appeal to the spiritual/religious side of a person with PTSD. However, these approaches are not intended to exclude other forms of treatment.

    The issue of lack of treatment for people with PTSD is especially acute at present because, based on figures quoted by the Am. Psychological Assn., approximately 80% of returning Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans with PTSD symptoms never seek treatment from the Veterans Administration, despite the VA’s attempts at outreach. This means that other formal and informal sources of counseling and support – private medical and mental health providers, clergy, human and social service providers, etc. – must be prepared to identify people in need and assist them to seek and secure the treatment of their choice. No option should be foreclosed, either secular or spiritual.

    The mention of the dangers of the M-M-R vaccine reminds me of the years-long warnings from Don and Deidre Imus (“Imus in the Morning”) that Thimerosal in vaccines was tied to large increases in autism in children. Rick is correct; the studies linking Thimerosal to autism were subsequently superseded by later research. However, opposition to childhood vaccinations based on concerns about Thimerosal was not voiced exclusively by faith-based groups.