Absolutely Wrong: Evangelist Kenneth Copeland Says Solving PTSD Is as Easy as Reading the Bible

Kenneth Copeland, the controversial televangelist, made waves on Veteran's Day by dismissing the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and demanding that those diagnosed simply "get rid of it" by clinging to a verse he plucked out of the book of Numbers.

Mr. Copeland, as a Christian for most of my life and a combat veteran, I feel compelled to address the comments you made on the "Believer's Voice of Victory". In it, you cite a passage from Numbers saying that warriors will be "guiltless before the Lord." You then somehow twist this into an argument that veterans should never suffer from a specific medical condition, namely PTSD. 

Let me correct your Scriptural errors first. In the Numbers passage you cite, two tribes (Reuben and Gad) had gone to Moses and tried to weasel out of a commitment they had made to fight with the Israelites. "We just want to stay here where we're safe and comfortable." Meanwhile, the rest of Israel was moving ahead to conquer new territory. So Moses said to these tribes, "Fine, you can have the land you're on, but at least you have to keep your promise, and send your troops to fight with the Israelites." It was no glorification of war or warriors. It was about keeping a promise.

Mr. Copeland, I can tell you that I had many misgivings on the way to Iraq in 2003. I had heart-to-hearts with our chaplain in the laundry room about the moral justification for a pre-emptive war, and wrestled with the question privately many a time. This was before any of us knew that the intel had been doctored. My chaplain basically said the same thing as Moses said in the Numbers passage: "All we can do is what we are sworn to do, and as long as we have no evidence to the contrary, we bear no individual guilt." In other words, when in doubt, keep your vows.

Of course, we now know that the war itself was waged on manufactured grounds and flimsy, skewed evidence. Many of us who went, who endured the heat, the constant physical threats and terrors, in many cases the bullying and abuse within our units, and everything else that goes along with combat, feel cheated. Our lives were stolen from us for the sake of corporate profits, not to "defend our freedom" or any such nonsense.

I wonder if I am still "guiltless before the Lord" for terrifying an Iraqi kid to where he almost couldn't speak, because I had been called in to deal with him just as I was going to chow. He had been found scavenging our trash dump in search of usable items he could bring back to his family. I was just enraged that he was interfering with my dinner plans.

I wonder if the infantry soldiers who delighted in torturing mice in full view of anyone entering our base are still "guiltless before the Lord."

I wonder if we are "guiltless before the Lord" for invading countries and homes, often killing at random, when those countries and citizens posed no direct threat to us, ever.

Perhaps you'll tell me that all my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. While I don't wish to open a debate about the doctrine of atonement, I will simply remind you that Paul in his letter to the Corinthians warns that even a believer's conscience can be wounded, and John's letter seeks to encourage believers whose own hearts condemn them. Certainly we must all find ways to cope with whatever guilt we do feel, but is flat-out wrong to demand that PTSD survivors instantly "get rid of it" by believing a Bible "promise" that is actually taken completely out of context. That's called victim-blaming, and it's something Jesus never did or advocated.

And even if you do argue that we are, somehow, guiltless in all these things, I would remind you that PTSD is an actual neurological condition that can be detected with brain imaging. We can no more erase our PTSD by reading a Bible verse than a Parkinson's or Alzheimer's sufferer can. To suggest that we are somehow to blame for our condition because we just didn't do enough positive thinking or "believing" is a grave disservice and a shocking insult to all veterans. I think you owe the veterans' community a retraction.  

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