David Barton And Kenneth Copeland: PTSD Can Be Cured By Bible Verses And Rebuking Satan

Last night, Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Religion News Service reported on statements made (video here) by David Barton and Kenneth Copeland about post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers. I am cited in the article as is Joe Carter from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  More about those comments shortly.

On Monday — Veteran’s Day — Barton and Copeland discussed what they believe the Bible has to say about service in the military.  At about 3:10 into the clip, Copeland expresses his thanks for those in the military and says he often ministers to them. Barton then says that being a soldier is a God-given gift. Copeland extends those remarks by saying that God told him to believe in war. At about 6 minutes in, Copeland says, “for over 200 years, we’ve (referring to the United States) been the judgment arm of God.” Copeland says the U.S. should get credit for stopping slavery in the world. He added that we are supposed to be acting as the judgment arm now, but we are not carrying it out. They take a side track into a discussion of “anointed police officers” but eventually get to the material on PTSD. This background is important because it demonstrates the belief of Barton and Copeland that soldiers act in God’s name.

At 9:44, Copeland claims that Numbers 32:20-22 (KJV) should be considered a “soldier’s promise.” He implies that the good soldier will come back from battle and be “guiltless before the Lord and before the nation.” Copeland, with Barton agreeing, then says (at 10:41):

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 will get rid of it.

Copeland then exhorts PTSD sufferers to rebuke intrusive thoughts and other symptoms by attributing them to Satan. At 11:32, Copeland says, again with Barton agreeing:

In the name of Jesus, take your hands off my mind Satan! In Jesus name, Satan, you take your hands off of God’s property right now. You come out and come down, you stop it!

Before they go on to another set of verses, Barton interrupts, affirms Copeland’s words, and adds that many of the heroes of Hebrews 11 (Hall of Faith) were warriors. He adds that warriors who fight in a just war should be esteemed.

There is so much wrong in this broadcast, it is hard to know where to start and when to end. First, the verses are not general promises to those who fight in a just war. If Copeland would have read the entire chapter of Numbers 32, it would have been clear that these directives were issued to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Verse 23 reads: “But if you (adult males of the tribes of Reuben and Gad) will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.” God gave a warning to the tribes of Reuben and Gad because of their initial unwillingness to fight with the rest of the tribes for the purpose of taking the Promised Land across the Jordan.

Furthermore, the word “guiltless” as translated in the KJV is misleading. In the NIV, verse 22 reads: “then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.” The KJV’s guiltless is better translated, “free from obligation.” In other words, God wouldn’t hold Reuben’s and Gad’s initial resistance against them if they agreed to go fight with the other tribes to take the land. However, if they didn’t fight, they would have been in obligation to God and their brethren. The word guiltless does not mean what Barton and Copeland apparently think it means.

Such constructions really annoy Southern Baptist ERLC communications director, Joe Carter. Carter told the Religious New Service:

This isn’t the first time Copeland and Barton have been “profoundly ignorant about theology and history,” said Joe Carter, an editor and communications director for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“But for them to denigrate the suffering of men and women traumatized by war — and to claim Biblical support for their callow and doltish views — is both shocking and unconscionable,” Carter said. “Rather than downplaying the pain of PTSD, they should be asking God to heal our brothers and sisters.”

As an aside, Carter’s reaction deserves a post of its own.

Back to the topic, even though I suspect that Copeland and Barton believe they are being helpful, I have to agree with Carter.  Barton’s and Copeland’s view of PTSD is dangerously naive.  A good quick resource on PTSD can be found on the NIH website.

Barton and Copeland should read it.

………..

When I watched Copeland’s exhortation to “stop it!” I immediately thought of this skit, where the therapist is about as helpful as Barton and Copeland.

  • sharontexan

    The PTSD comments are infuriating and remarkably wrong. (Is remarkably wrong like very unique? Anyway it applies here.)

    But the thing that bothered me more is the “U.S. soldiers are God’s judgment arm” stuff… the PTSD stuff will be dismissed by almost everyone, but the notion of the US as Israel 2.0, and we are always in all ways right and on God’s side, is really really troubling. It’s especially troubling because it seems to be growing in influence in much of the evangelical church, and I worry where it will lead. The conflation of God’s army with the US army really bothers me.

    The VBS my son went to last summer had a “God’s Army” theme, which I guess could be fine, except that it wove in US armed forces stuff — troops wore their uniforms, there was an Army Jeep, the Army/Navy/Marine/Air Force flags were everywhere (and the kids were divided into those “branches” for the week-long competition), the “storytime” stuff was about boot camp and wars… it just really felt wrong to me.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Since fundamentalists mock the “politically correct” New International Version, it’s really just your translation against theirs. Futher, some believe that the King James Version itself is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The theological complications aren’t just about translations–which as we know are disputed all over the Bible.

    The argument that Numbers 32 is not applicable to just war theory is one opinion. At this point, the argument is of differing theological opinions.

    As for Dr. Throckmorton’s professional opinion as a Dr. of psychology that PTSD is not the product of demons, he is certainly on expert ground. As a question of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise or religion, the proposed cure of what amounts to a “faith healing” poses legal and cultural complications.

    Of course, we are all free to mock the religious beliefs of others as well, as we do here. But even as a matter of science, I’m not quite ready to close the door on the possibility of mental afflictions being cured or soothed by…dare I say it…God.

    [FTR, do I think PTSD is caused by demons and can be cured by prayer? No. It's the principle of the thing.]

    • ken

      “As for Dr. Throckmorton’s professional opinion as a Dr. of psychology
      that PTSD is not the product of demons, he is certainly on expert
      ground.”

      really, you don’t need a phd in psychology to know that PTSD isn’t caused by “demons”.

      “Of course, we are all free to mock the religious beliefs of others as well, as we do here.”

      No one is mocking the religious beliefs of others, they are mocking the ignorant (and dangerous) comments of 2 men who think their misguided views trump professional opinion and research.

      “But even as a matter of science, I’m not quite ready to close the door
      on the possibility of mental afflictions being cured or soothed
      by…dare I say it…God.”

      No one here has said they can’t. Personally, I think a patient’s religious views can be quite beneficial as a part of therapy. I doubt you’ll find many professionals who disagree with that. However, this idea isn’t even close to what Copeland was peddling.

      • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe_Brain

        No one is mocking the religious beliefs of others

        I can’t honestly say that I’m innocent of that. I’m imperfect, and I certainly believe many religious beliefs are worthy of mockery.

        I try not to be cruel though. When the beliefs are harmless, no matter how dotty, best to keep my peace. When others are harmed, attempting to prevent the harm while still speaking with kindness isn’t easy. I can’t say that I’ve always succeeded there, though I can say I’ve always tried.

        Sorry.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe_Brain

    Copeland says the U.S. should get credit for stopping slavery in the world.

    Funny, I thought it was the Royal Navy who was doing that, while US ships out of Boston were doing the slave-running.

  • Jeff Baker

    Remember, Copeland almost started a measles outbreak because he and his church didn’t believe in vaccinations!

  • http://www.slowlyboiledfrog.com/ DavidHart-slowlyboiledfrog.com

    It’s not just soldiers. I have been in therapy for years
    due to PTSD ( http://www.slowlyboiledfrog.com/2013/09/ptsd-and-me.html ). Trivializing the condition is profoundly ignorant. I’m just hoping that these young soldiers are more resilient than I am. Barton is an irresponsible crackpot.

  • http://faith-seeking-understanding.org/ Chuck Sigler

    What Dr. Throckmorton said here about the misuse of the Hebrew word rendered as “guiltless” in the KJV is confirmed by two Hebrew reference works I consulted. HALOT, a standard Hebrew lexicon, gives “blameless” as the correct translation of the Hebrew word nēquwwəm, translated as “guiltless” in the KJV for Nu 32:22. Also see a similar translation of the word in 2Sam 3:28.

    Another Hebrew reference, the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,” says this with regard to nēquwwəm: “The release from obligation or from guilt/punishment … is often presented as determined by the lord. Thus, the release of the Transjordanian tribes from military service after the Conquest is said to be “free of obligation before the lord” (wihĕyîtem nĕqiyyîm mē YW) (Num 32:22).”

    It’s not just Dr. Throckmorton’s opinion that these two are playing fast and loose
    with Scripture to make their point, it’s a fact.

    Ironically, Copeland’s statement of using his so-called soldiers promise verse to get rid of PTSD, “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 will get rid of it,” sounds a lot like a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) technique. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has said that CBT “appears to be the most effective type of counseling for PTSD.” One could say that in declaring that it doesn’t take psychology to “get rid” of PTSD, Copeland is using a standard CBT technique, recognizing negative automatic thoughts and challenging them.

    • Warren Throckmorton

      Chuck – I appreciate the first part of your comment but the second part requires a correction. No CBT practitioner would challenge such thoughts in a shotgun fashion such as Copeland did. Just telling people what to believe is not the way CBT is practiced so there is nothing standard about what Copeland did. CBT techniques do involved reframing but in the context of conversation with the sufferer about the nature and content of the automatic thoughts.

      • Stogumber

        For a correct comparison, we would have to compare not what a CBT therapist does in practice, but what kind of behaviour a CBT therapist proposes to his client in case of a “crisis” at home.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      “Another Hebrew reference, the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,” says this with regard to nēquwwəm: “The release from obligation or from guilt/punishment … is often presented as determined by the lord. Thus, the release of the Transjordanian tribes from military service after the Conquest is said to be “free of obligation before the lord” (wihĕyîtem nĕqiyyîm mē YW) (Num 32:22).”

      It’s not just Dr. Throckmorton’s opinion that these two are playing fast and loose
      with Scripture to make their point, it’s a fact.”

      No doubt Dr. Throckmorton was aware of this deep exegetical explanation from the Hebrew. The reader might have been misled that he just pulled it out of the New International Version as a wiki-deep way to attack Barton and just got lucky. Now we know better.

  • Stogumber

    Some thoughts about this:
    1. The core point of the debate seems to be the antagonism between Christian amateurs and secular professionals, `both dabbling in psychotherapy.
    I accept that there is occasionally some progress in psychological science..But it is overestimated by most people (the state of psychology reflects more the momentaneous state of upper-class-ideology).
    2. PTSD, as described by the NIH, would have existed in ancient Israel, too; so it is quite possible that the Hebrew authors have to say something about it.
    3. As far as I see, it is generally accepted that veterans feel better when they are accepted by the public as positive role models, having fought a just war. (I suppose that there may be radical cases of PTSD where the veteran takes no more attention to the public opinion. On the other hand, there are a lot of cases published as PTSD in the media, where the veteran still does.)
    4. If I were an alcoholic, I’d rather look for a Christian community in order to be cured, I’d not look for a professional psychotherapist. (AA stems from a Christian community, not from professional psychotherapy.) So. why should I trust professional psychotherapists more than Christians in matters of PTSD?

    • Stogumber

      As for the interpretation of “Numbers 32″, I find not much relevant difference between Barton and Throckmorton. The conquest of Palestine is obviously seen as a just war, and the tribes Reuben and Gad are obliged to take part and blameless as well as guiltless when they do it, because they do it. In fact. at that time there is no difference between blame and guilt. (That’s before the great “Jeremian Revolution”, the “new foundation”, after which emotion begins to play a much greater part in religion than before.) It is obvious, too, that “Numbers 32″ is no general declaration, but of course it can be used as an example for the solving of present problems – the same way we use other examples in the Bible.


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