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.

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Hugh Freeze and Christian Hero Worship

 

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Photo Credit: Deadspin

If you are in tune with the college football world and have been anywhere near a TV, computer, or smartphone then you already know what happened to Hugh Freeze. Coach Freeze is now the former head football coach at Ole Miss. So, there really is not any need to rehash the events because you probably already know all about it. Commenters from all corners were quick to pounce on Freeze. I do feel that we should remember that Coach Freeze is a broken human being just like any of the rest of us and he is as much in need of a savior as you and me. He is a child of God and we should absolutely be praying for him and his family right now. While I made my share my snarky comments (one of my weaknesses is getting too caught up in the Mississippi State – Ole Miss rivalry), I do feel that we should all remember that prayer is the most appropriate response from any of us right now.

I also feel that this points to a major weakness within the Christian church, especially in the more evangelical realm. We tend to celebrate Christians who are famous and we put them on a pedestal. More often than not, it’s the ones who are put on a pedestal who take a major fall. There are exceptions to this rule (at least as far as we can tell) but many who we tend to lift higher than others in the kingdom have been set up for a major moral failure or even worse. Unfortunately for Hugh Freeze, he is just the latest in a long line of famous Christians who have been celebrated and next thing we know we are left asking questions about their integrity and whether they were even faithful disciples in the first place.

Here’s what I know about people like Hugh Freeze, Tim Tebow, and other people who are famous and Christian: They are human, they are broken, they are in need of a savior. In other words, they are just like me and you. We run the risk of being profoundly disappointed when we hold human beings to such high standards that we tend to do in these situations and then a fall from grace occurs. The pressure of being held to such high standards alone can be enough to make someone vulnerable to temptation.

The fact that they are famous does not make them special in the eyes of God. They do not have special standing with the Father due to the fact that a lot of people know who they are. Yes, a famous person can be used of God to spread the good news of Jesus Christ but here’s the thing: So can any one of us. You and I have the same capability, in the ways that the Spirit has gifted us, to do some major work for Jesus Christ. Just imagine how much would be accomplished for the Kingdom if we stopped expecting others to do the work of God and instead allowed ourselves to be used.

We don’t have to be someone like Hugh Freeze or Tim Tebow to be effective for Christ.

We also face a profound danger when we lift famous Christians so high up: We run the risk of idolatry. Whether we are talking about a person or a cell phone, we can be so in awe that we can end up toeing the line between profound respect and worship of that person or thing. This is not something that we set out to do but this trap is an easy one to fall into. We must be careful when we hold people in such high esteem to not cross the line into idolatry.

I believe that God does smile when someone uses their platform to bring glory to His name. I believe that it’s right to be proud that a brother or sister who has a powerful voice willingly uses their position to tell people about Christ. But we must remember that all people have the unfortunate common trait of being imperfect and in need of Christ. We also should remember that while such people may be of God, they are not God. We must be careful to keep the Main Thing the main thing.

And when one of the famous among us in the church has a fall, let us be quick to offer the love of Christ rather than ridicule. I include myself on the receiving end of this advice.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 (NLT)

Sin

Who likes talking about sin? No one that I know of actually enjoys talking about sin. Well, no one likes talking about their own sin. We love talking about the sins of other people; maybe we just like talking about other people in general.

I’m getting ready to preach a sermon on Sunday at Shiloh about our belief in the forgiveness of sins. As i have been pondering that message, I think not so much about what is and isn’t sin but rather I’ve been thinking more about grace. Why you ask? Because, as an old hymn proclaims:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

It’s not uncommon for us to talk about all these “sinners” out in the world but we don’t talk enough about grace and forgiveness that God grants to His children through Jesus Christ. One thing that my fast from Facebook has helped me to understand that many posts – many of my own if I’m being honest – are judgmental. We love to point out the shortcomings – real and perceived – of other people. We love to talk about certain people or groups of people who are bound for Hell, all in an attempt to show off our own righteousness. We attempt to show the world that we are such good Christians that we are willing to condemn people who sin. Many of us think that our “fire insurance” (a term I’ve actually seen and heard) gives us a license to condemn.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that it’s wrong for us to want to remove the speck from someone else’s eye when we have a plank in our own. In other words, we have no right to judge someone for their sin when we have our own skeletons in our closet to deal with. It is not our job to condemn people for their sins when we are sinners ourselves.

You can’t fight sin with sin.

Southland Church is a multi-campus congregation in Lexington, KY and they broadcast their services on one of the local TV stations. I decided to record their service out of curiosity and as I have been watching this sermon I have found good food for thought. Basically we have three common responses to sin: One one side we judge; on the other we join; and somewhere in the middle we remain joyful in Christ. The right response to sin is actually pretty simple: We are to be light in the darkness of this world. Light drives away darkness.

Trying to fight darkness with darkness only brings more darkness.

I know that some might misunderstand me and think that I’m advocating Christians being weak and “tolerating” sin. On the contrary: I believe we should take action. I don’t believe that action should be in the form of protests, revolts or fire and brimstone sermons on the courthouse steps. Instead, we overcome evil with good by our living. Yes, we take action and instead of proclaiming condemnation for everyone except ourselves we instead proclaim the gospel by loving as Christ loves the world.

“Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” Romans 12:21 (CEB).

Just some thoughts on my mind this afternoon. Perhaps this will take shape better by Sunday. 🙂

Jonathan