David Barton, Kenneth Copeland on PTSD and the Bible

Last Monday was Veteran’s Day.  Pentacostal preacher Kenneth Copeland hosted David Barton, a self-described “expert in historical and constitutional issues,” and they lit the fires of controversy by addressing the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Bible.  Citing the King James Version of Numbers 32:20-22, Copeland says

…”If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the Lord to war, and will go all of you armed over Jordan before the Lord, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him, and the land be subdued before the Lord: then afterward ye shall return…and be guiltless before the Lord, and before the nation.”

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 continues, explaining, in essence, that PTSD is a product of Satan.  Barton responds by recalling the Hebrews “faith hall of fame” — many of whom were warriors — and referring to just and unjust war.  For the rest of the context, the entire 28 minute video can be seen here.

The exposition by Copeland and Barton was roundly criticized from all corners, including Joe Carter, Director of Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who issued a scathing, and fairly personal, rebuttal:

To those who are unclear on that point, let me express what I believe is the shared opinion of Biblical scholars, intelligent laymen, and just about anyone else who has ever bothered to read the Bible: Copeland and Barton’s application of Numbers 32:21-22 to modern veterans suffering from PTSD is one of the most profoundly stupid interpretations ever uttered.

When those verses are read in the context of the chapter, and in the context of book of Numbers, and in the context of the Old Testament, and in the context of the entire Bible, it becomes almost impossible to imagine how anyone with an elementary school level of reading comprehension could have come up with such an interpretation.

The vitriolic nature of Carter’s response (which seems to be his style) was unnecessary, but his theme was generally correct.  The Bible passages that Copeland and Barton cited say nothing about PTSD or the modern American military.  The word “guiltless” isn’t even used to its correct definition in that context, and Copeland oddly replaced “Israel” with “the nation” in the last line.  To his slight credit, Carter seemed to acknowledge later it was possible Barton “didn’t understand what he was agreeing with” with regard to Copeland’s theological arguments, but Carter declined to temper his criticisms.

The “baby with the bathwater” in this conversation is something even the military recognizes:  “moral injury,” or how the spirit and soul react when a person takes action in war that they have trouble reconciling with their morality.  As has been discussed here before, it is far more worrisome for soldiers to not have some moral reaction to killing and combat.  When those who have struggled with this “moral injury” have sought the counsel of a chaplain, it would not be unusual for the chaplain or their spiritual support to repeat Barton’s citation of the inclusion of warriors in the Hebrews “hall of faith” or note that God grants the “power of the sword” to the state, and the military is that sword.

In other words, there is something to be said for veterans who feel “guilt” or what the military is trying to understand as “moral injury.”  For a military Christian, there is value in understanding God’s perspective on justice, the power of the state, war, and killing.  Had Copeland and Barton left it at that, their conversation would likely have garnered little attention.  As soon as they said “PTSD,” though, they took on an issue about which they are evidently very ill-informed.  It is unlikely they did so with ill intent, but with Right Wing Watch citing two minutes of Copeland’s show — and Carter jumping in with both feet — the damage has been done.