Pray It Away

Pray It Away November 13, 2012

by Calulu

One of the saddest legacies of Fundamentalist Evangelical Patriarchal Christianity is that of the way mental illness and other serious issues are treated.

Instead of being urged to seek appropriate help for serious conditions such as depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, or autism most of the time the sufferer is told by the clergy that they need to pray. Nothing else, just pray and have others pray for you.

Occasionally you will run across a pastor that will suggest not focusing so much on yourself, simply pray, help others and stop the navel gazing.

Sure, prayer doesn’t hurt anything but why only prayer for serious situations? Helping others does make you feel better some of the time but not always. Depression isn’t narcissism at work.

I believe the answer is two-fold. First the Fundigelicals love to blame things on demonic oppression instead of that it might be natural. If the devil was that busy trying to bring believers down with constant ‘demonic oppression’ via depression et al then why is the world at large affected by these same things? Making almost everyone on earth have this sort of ‘demonic oppression’ would keep old Satan kinda busy. Brain chemistry isn’t demonic oppression. Post Partum Depression isn’t demonic oppression nor is Aspergers and neither are any of those things listed above.

It’s easier, simplistic and requires no action from the blamer to the blamee. Dismisses the condition and the sufferer into a neat little box for someone else to deal with.

Secondly there are piles of empirical evidence that the type of religion practiced by the Quiverfull movement tends to devalue people. If a person has no intrinsically worth in a system, they are easily replaceable with another then there’s a tendency to treat to treat them that way. Particularly if you are a woman. The most you can expect from church leadership is a pat on the head and a chiding to be a better believer, pray and develop a gratitude attitude about the things you have. Even if you’re dealing with a situation that anyone should be able to understand is devastating, like the death of a child or spouse. Patted on the head like a willful child and sent on your way.

Since many in patriarchal circles believe that medical solutions are pure idolatry there really aren’t options for you if you’re a Quivering submitting momma. That can have tragic results like it did for Kelly Silk and her family in East Hartford, Connecticut.

The media reported on the story but in those days Quiverfull, Fundamentalism, Patriarchy and Evangelicals were thought not to be mainstream. They were considered people that probably lived out in Montana or some other rural area and they were considered harmless with their home schooling and modest dressing. But they were even in East Hartford back in 1999.

Kelly was a submissive wife who home schooled and decided to embrace Quiverfull. She and her husband Charles had three children in rapid succession with Kelly apparently suffering from postpartum depression each time. She also had an older daughter from a previous marriage.

According to media accounts Kelly went repeatedly to the pastor of her Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, Truth Baptist Church in South Windsor. She kept asking him for help dealing with a deep depression that left  her suicidal.  This pastor told her again and again to press in to the Lord and pray, insisting that medical help and drugs were not the answer.

His lack of help for Kelly was almost criminal due to the fact that Kelly’s own mother had committed suicide when she was a child and Kelly had made at least one suicide attempt a year previously. Her depression wasn’t just some silly woman’s fancy like he treated it, it was threatening and huge.

Eventually Kelly became overwhelmed with her feelings and had a psychotic break. on June 10, 1999 Kelly Silk stabbed her sleeping husband to death before turning the knife on her nine year old daughter Jessica. Kelly poured gasoline over herself and Jessica and lit them both up. Her 3 year old, 2 year old and 2 month old children  slept through all of this. The house burned quickly and only Jessica and 2 month old Joshua lived through the ordeal.

Sound familiar, like another patriarchal mother that killed her children in the grip of a depression that wasn’t properly treated? Like Andrea Yates?

Depression and other conditions are all too real and sometimes have real and tragic consequences for those living in the Quiverfull lifestyle. There must be accountability for those that ignore the the cries for help and insist that prayer alone will ease the inner pain.

If you know someone suffering from depression or you yourself are depressed and you are being told that the best help is the Bible and prayer please know that there are better solutions to ease your inner torment.

Psych Alive has these coping suggestions for the Suicidal Person

This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

One of the best things you can do in a crisis moment is go to your local ER and tell the admitting personnel that you are feeling suicidal at that moment. They will do an intake and you’ll be in a place where professionals will help you manage your depression.

Many communities have mental health clinics with a sliding fee scale based upon your income that will take anyone that needs help and they have access to different drugs that could help you. Or start with your primary care physician. It’s not hopeless and there is help regardless of what your pastor or church friends may say.

There’s no shame in getting help. There’s no shame in being depressed. It is shameful when a pastor or other authority figure you look up to tells you just to pray.

If I could wave a magic wand or were empress of the universe I’d love for clergy to say to their hurting, broken, depressed people –

  • It’s not your fault and you haven’t done anything to bring this depression on.
  • It’s not a curse of Satan but it might be something wrong in your body or brain chemistry.Let’s get you in to see your doctor and go from there.
  • You’re still a wonderful valuable member of our family no matter what is going on inside of you.
  • We’ll support you and help you get through this together.
  • Let me help you get proper treatment, I’ll even drive you there.
  • Do you have money for the co-pay for your insurance.
  • Here are your options, let me help you figure out which one is the right one for you.
  • You are precious. You are loved. Please let us help you.

Comments open below

Read everything by Calulu!

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Leslie

    Although not to the extremes you describe here, sadly, I’ve encountered some of these attitudes in mainstream Christianity as well. My hope is that someday mental illness will be treated just as seriously as physical illness.

  • Staceyjw

    In addition to their attitude about mental Heath, they have dangerous beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth. Their insistence on home birth for even the most high risk of situations, and the use of barely trained, completely uneducated, uninsured and unaccountable MWs, makes for a high death toll for babies. (and even some moms!) It’s horrifying.

  • Nancy B

    This isn’t the Middle Ages. Bones break, infections occur, bain chemistry goes awry. STILL women get this wrong and deadly information about depression and other brain maladies. Add to that the heinous movements such as Zion Birth (which I thought was parody it was so far out there) and we discover even more ways to make the American female suffer needlessly.

  • Claire

    Calulu, as someone with a family history of suicide I just wanted to thank you for this. Also, I think you’ve been doing an excellent job with NLQ in general!

  • Sarah F.

    My whole family walked, no ran, away from a church about 7 years ago after the pastor proclaimed from the pulpit that those with a so-called mental illness were not good Christians and were not praying enough. He was lucky I didn’t throw my Bible at him in the middle of his sermon! I have struggled with bipolar disorder since my teens and my mother has battled depression for many years. For a person in any kind of authority to say that you shouldn’t get professional help, just pray it away, is endangering others who need that help!

    We had a friend who left the same church last year when the pastor proclaimed that tattoos were of the devil. This was a mainstream Southern Baptist Church! We now attend another Southern Baptist Church where the pastor preaches about everything including the fact that if you need help of any kind, including mental, you should get it from professionals. I can’t believe that a pastor could be so irresponsible as to tell someone that getting help means that they are a bad person! It certainly drove our family away… starting a mass exodus from the church.

  • Jenny

    Thank you so much for this. I have 3 children and love babies but I am probably done with bio children because of problems with postpartum depression. Thankfully I am married to a man who loves me and wants to keep me alive. I was just told last week by a woman at church that the Bible did not use any of these psycology terms that we have today. Um, okay. There is a lot of work to do about dismantling the myths of mental illness in the church. I know Jesus is not condeming me for getting real life physical help! That help has been an answer to prayer.

  • wild little fox

    Yes, thank you for the resource link. I am using it to make a plan for myself, to present to my therapist next week.