Anxiety is Sin? Tell That to My Brain

EDIT: Rev. Moore has reached out to me to apologize for her tweet and she has removed it. I have accepted her apology and held/hold no ill will toward her. To be clear: My problem was never with her but with what she tweeted. There is a major difference. – Jonathan

Yesterday a prominent evangelical pastor within the United Methodist Church made a tweet that I and several others took exception to.

Yes, she has said that chronic anxiety stifles the work of the Holy Spirit and is sin.

So I responded, pointing out that by her logic I am deep in sin and I encouraged her to rethink her position. This is her response:

Sigh…

This conversation points out a few vital points for us – both as Christians in general as well as clergy – to remember when dealing with matters of mental health.

First, scripture does not address matters of mental health. There was no understanding that mental disorders are medical conditions beyond one’s control when the scripture writers were putting pen to parchment. Let me be clear: This is not me doubting that the scriptures are divinely inspired but we also must acknowledge that the writers were human and wrote based on their context. Because there was no knowledge of the chemical imbalances that often occur in the brain, mental health problems were thought of as a spiritual condition as opposed to a chemical one. That was then, this is now. We have the medical knowledge to confirm that mental health issues are most often caused by conditions beyond one’s control. We need to get away from this notion that one displaying anxiety is in sin or that depression is a sign of being deep in sin. To employ such a notion means that I and lots of other pastors are not fit for ministry and that many in our congregations are not truly faithful just because they struggle.

Second, we as pastors need to remember that our words have power and carry a lot of weight. The people in our congregations see what we post, share, and like and they form their opinions of us based on those posts. Is that fair? Probably not. No tweet or post tells one’s whole story but does give a glimpse into our hearts and in what we value. If a parishioner whose faith is strong in spite of struggling with mental health issues for their entire lives follows their pastor on social media, how are they going to feel when their pastor puts up a tweet saying that anxiety is a sin and quenches the Holy Spirit? As I said above, scripture was never intended to address mental health conditions and we should not use scripture as a way to explain conditions like anxiety and depression.

People once believed that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of manic depression were possessed by demons. There was also a belief that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of anxiety disorders had weak faith.  People who we now realize were displaying symptoms of depression were said to be in sin. With the knowledge that we now have about mental health, can we please get away from having such toxic and damaging viewpoints about mental health?

I would like to think that Rev. Moore meant no harm in what she tweeted. But, this needs to be called out and rebuked because these are the notions that add to the stigma of mental health and why more people – especially Christians – don’t seek help or hide their conditions until they finally break. These statements are what cause people to harm themselves or even to commit suicide. These statements are why people are looking at Christians as cold-hearted and irrelevant.

We should do better. We must do better.

Hello, Druid Hills UMC and Lost Gap UMC!

To the folks at Druid Hills and Lost Gap UM churches in Meridian: If you have been googling your new pastor, you may have found this blog. To you, I send greetings! My wife, Jessica, and I are looking forward to joining you all for worship on July 1st where we will start to get to know one another, share in Holy Communion as a sign of our new ministry together and hear about how much God loves us no matter what.

I’m Jonathan Tullos and I grew up in Philadelphia; yes, the one in Neshoba County! Meridian is more or less home and I look forward to being back in the Queen City and Lauderdale County. I was born at Anderson Hospital and after graduating from Philadelphia High School in 1999, I attended MCC and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communications Technology in 2001. I was also a member of Eagles’ 2000 national championship men’s soccer team as a student assistant. I spent several years in radio working at Q101 and, after two years at a radio station in Fort Wayne, Indiana, returned to work part-time back at Q101 (although at that point it was on 95.1) and eventually worked at WZKR (103.3) when it was a country station. I decided the time was right for a career change so I became an EMT and eventually a paramedic (I graduated from ECCC’s paramedic program in 2011). Most of my paramedic career was spent working at Metro Ambulance after working as an EMT at Wayne General Hospital in Waynesboro. As you can see, I have spent most of my adult life working in and around Meridian so I have gotten to know the area and the people very well.

Currently, Jessica and I live in Kentucky where I currently serve as the pastor of Shiloh UMC in Stanton (www.shilohumcstanton.org). We moved to Kentucky in 2015 when I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary and I was appointed to Shiloh. Prior to this, while completing my undergraduate degree online, I served Oak Grove UMC in the Clarkdale community for three years. I have a few classes remaining at Asbury, which I will complete online (with the exception of one class which I have to return for a week in July for) during my first year at Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Assuming no major hiccups occur, I will graduate with my Masters in Divinity in the spring of 2019.

Jessica and I have been married for nine years and will celebrate ten years as husband and wife in November. Jessica hails from all over south Mississippi as her father is an ordained elder in the Mississippi Annual Conference. She is a graduate of USM (bachelors in biology) and MSU (masters in biology) and has taught high school science for nearly fifteen years. She will be teaching at a school in the area (we will be able to share where soon) while I serve at Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Jessica is a gifted, passionate, and award-winning educator and considers her career a calling. Jessica loves crafts, especially scrapbooking and crochet! Together, we have a daughter, Hannah, who unfortunately died soon after she was born. In spite of our loss, we are thankful that Hannah’s all-too-short life has had a lasting impact, as a scholarship fund was established at Camp Wesley Pines in her memory that allows children to attend camp who may not otherwise be able to.

I am excited for what God has in store for Druid Hills and Lost Gap. Know that I am praying for you and for Brother Richard during this transition. I look forward to meeting you all in a couple of weeks! God’s grace, peace, and mercy be with you all.

In Christ,
Jonathan

HIPAA and the Church

hellohipaa_wideWhen I first became an EMT, I worked for an ambulance service that was based at a hospital in rural Mississippi. As it was a hospital-based service, I was required to sit through the same new employee orientation as nurses and others who worked within the hospitals. A large chunk of the session was spent talking about HIPAA. As I have worked for other services and did internships while in paramedic school, I had to have further training on HIPAA. With these numerous training sessions and other research have done on my own, I feel pretty confident that I am well-versed in what HIPAA does and does do and to who it does and does not apply to.

There is much confusion and I would like to try and address some of that.

HIPAA – the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act – is a very far-reaching law and has many moving parts to it. The short version of what HIPAA is for is to specify how one’s health information is to be stored, the type of security measures which should be taken, who can access information, and so on. One of HIPAA’s requirements is that healthcare workers and healthcare organizations who have access to one’s health information may not disclose it in any way to anyone without express written permission, except in very limited ways as allowed under the law (and there are not many). This aspect of HIPAA seems to be what has caused the most confusion. There are many people who think that the general public is subject to HIPAA, who think that clergy persons are bound by HIPAA and that even such things as sharing a diagnosis during prayer requests during a worship service is a violation of the law.

If you are a pastor or a parishioner who fears that sharing about Aunt Mabel’s bunions is going to land you in hock due to a violation of HIPAA, fear not. That won’t happen because HIPAA does not apply to such things.

Simply stated, HIPAA does not even apply to the general public in the first place. You can share your own information to your heart’s content. Further, you can share diagnoses and other health information about anyone with anyone and you are not in violation of HIPAA. Is sharing information without permission unethical? Yes. Illegal? Not so much. The only way you would be in violation of HIPAA is if your information was obtained while you were an employee of a clinic, hospital, etc. and you were obtaining this information in the course of performing your job.

HIPAA does not apply to clergy any more than it does to anyone else. While pastors are bound to ethical standards – which certainly includes not sharing private information without permission or without a legal reason such as to report a person who is a danger to themselves or others – clergy persons are not bound by HIPAA in the performance of their pastoral duties. If a pastor is visiting Aunt Mabel in the hospital, HIPAA does not apply to them. The exception to that is if the clergy person is acting within the capacity of a hospital chaplain or other employment with a healthcare organization. Further, clergy persons are not going to get in trouble with the law for sharing health information in settings such as prayer request time.

Again: Is sharing health information without permission unethical? Yes. Is it illegal (in most cases)? No.

I get really bothered when clergy persons are told that anything they share with their congregation is a violation of HIPAA because this simply is not true. Unfortunately, this is the misinformation that clergy persons are given over and over again by people who should know better but don’t. I know of clergy persons who have been told by leadership within their annual conferences that if they share any sort of health-related information that they are in violation of HIPAA. This is simply not true and I encourage my colleagues to become better educated in the legal aspects of ministry. Such education is a benefit for many reasons.

For more about HIPAA and what it does and does not cover (and it’s likely not what you think), this is a good place to start.

Send Me to Kansas City

li17_promoslide_speaker_720x486If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that yesterday I started and shared a GoFundMe page. If you didn’t read it, the reason I’m asking for some help is so that I can attend the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Over the years I have heard nothing but great things about this time of learning and everyone I have ever talked to about this conference all have the same response: “Go!” So, I hope to do just that.

Why a GoFundMe page, you ask? Jessica and I are very blessed in that we are able to pay bills and live in a nice house (it’s a parsonage provided by the church if you didn’t know). However, this does not leave much money left over for things like the Leadership Institute. I’m in seminary and, needless to say, seminary is expensive. I do things on the side such as umpiring and such but this is money that we would rather put toward paying down things such as student loan debt. Anytime I have been able to attend a conference recently, these have been of little to no cost to me and have been within driving distance. This particular one will be a bit different, in that I will be better served by flying and that this conference will be a bit more expensive than the others I have attended. However, I do feel that this will be a valuable time of growth and, if at all possible, I would very much like to go.

The goal I have set will pay for airfare, hotel, rental car, meals, my registration fee, and the other expenses associated with attending the conference based on my estimates. Anything left over or raised in excess of my goal will go toward my seminary expenses and/or my student loan debt.

Some advice I heard a few years ago was that pastors should try to attend at least one conference every year that will help to transform their leadership. I feel that L.I. is such a conference. While I am in seminary and I am learning a lot about theology, the practical side is something that seminaries just are not very capable of teaching effectively. L.I. will help me to learn some practical things I can do as a pastor to be the best leader for my congregations that I possibly can be.

Your help is greatly appreciated. If you can’t donate funds, I certainly understand. Any other help you can give, such as your prayers and sharing the GoFundMe page, are just as appreciated and needed. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I will post an update soon.li2017_simplelogo_small