Another Pastor's Suicide Sparks Conversation

Recently there was an article in USA Today about a pastor in the Carolinas who committed suicide. Here’s the article. I would urge you to go and read the entire article, but here is an except:

Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.

Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.

But Baptists in the Carolinas are soul searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.

Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors.

For the most part the article is really quite good in nailing the problem. One sentence in particular really grabbed me:

Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders — dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.

Isn’t that the truth! Christians are horrible at addressing mental illness, because we equate the mind with the soul, and presume that if someone has a mental illness that it is at the root a spiritual problem. Now I will be the first to grant that mental illness always has a spiritual component, but arguing that clinical depression or other mental illnesses are simply spiritual is irresponsible, and borders on a denial of the First Article.

God created us, body and soul. Because of sin, we feel the effects of the Fall throughout our entire existence, body and soul. It is entirely right to say that sickness and disease are the results of sin, but it is also true that God has given us many tools to heal, body and soul. The chief of these is the healing Word of God. But there are also many other methods of healing that God has provided, including medication, doctors, therapy, etc. Can these be misused or abused? You bet! At the same time, I would suggest that the “spiritual card” can also be horribly abused. If I tell someone who is mentally ill that they need to pray more, or spend more time in the Word, or come to Church, and that this will simply heal them apart from these other tools, I am saying that God only works through the Word and not at all through any other means. I’m not sure what to call that. But it isn’t right.

We pray for the families and congregation of this pastor, and hope that God will use this as an opportunity to bring healing and help to so many who are in need.

Be at peace,
DMR

32 thoughts on “Another Pastor's Suicide Sparks Conversation”

  1. That in many ways is the equivalent of saying that you don't need a doctor or medicine if you are physically sick.

    We have errors on both sides. The fact that most people are getting treated for depression from family practitioners, and not encouraged to seek counseling is also a problem. I've come across several people recently who are seeking relief from their depression from anti-depressants alone, when they have underwent traumas such as husbands in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction (and years of turmoil before that) that simply are expected to "feel better" without going through their anger and grief through the use of pills. I find that rather ironic…and sad. But often enough, depression, anxiety, etc., because there are medicines that help, can be treated solely as physical problems as well.

  2. That in many ways is the equivalent of saying that you don't need a doctor or medicine if you are physically sick.

    We have errors on both sides. The fact that most people are getting treated for depression from family practitioners, and not encouraged to seek counseling is also a problem. I've come across several people recently who are seeking relief from their depression from anti-depressants alone, when they have underwent traumas such as husbands in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction (and years of turmoil before that) that simply are expected to "feel better" without going through their anger and grief through the use of pills. I find that rather ironic…and sad. But often enough, depression, anxiety, etc., because there are medicines that help, can be treated solely as physical problems as well.

  3. Did you listen to Matt Harrison's Michaelmas sermon on Issues, Etc. a week or two ago? One particular passage was of particular interest — the section when he touched on the breakdowns suffered by Walther, Wyneken, & Pieper, all while they were in positions of leadership & power in the Sem & Synod.

    How do you think that would play out today?

    I've gotta think that our synodical fathers would be run out on a rail, removed from office and quite possibly defrocked for their "failures". It goes to show just how far we have fallen, even though we are supposedly so much more enlightened and advanced because of our new knowledge & insights!

  4. Did you listen to Matt Harrison's Michaelmas sermon on Issues, Etc. a week or two ago? One particular passage was of particular interest — the section when he touched on the breakdowns suffered by Walther, Wyneken, & Pieper, all while they were in positions of leadership & power in the Sem & Synod.

    How do you think that would play out today?

    I've gotta think that our synodical fathers would be run out on a rail, removed from office and quite possibly defrocked for their "failures". It goes to show just how far we have fallen, even though we are supposedly so much more enlightened and advanced because of our new knowledge & insights!

  5. Sickness and disease are purely biological. "The healing Word of God" can, at times, give psychological comfort, but does not remotely compare to modern medicine. I go to my pastor for word and sacrament; my doctor for treatment of depression and anxiety.

  6. Sickness and disease are purely biological. "The healing Word of God" can, at times, give psychological comfort, but does not remotely compare to modern medicine. I go to my pastor for word and sacrament; my doctor for treatment of depression and anxiety.

  7. Well, I am not in a position to limit the Word of God. We do hear at the dismissal from the Sacrament, "And now may the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you BODY AND SOUL in true faith unto life everlasting."

    My point is not nearly so much to try and limit what God's Word can do. My point is rather that God does use lots of, uh, first article means to bring about physical and mental healing.

  8. Well, I am not in a position to limit the Word of God. We do hear at the dismissal from the Sacrament, "And now may the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you BODY AND SOUL in true faith unto life everlasting."

    My point is not nearly so much to try and limit what God's Word can do. My point is rather that God does use lots of, uh, first article means to bring about physical and mental healing.

  9. Why is it so awful to even have suicidal thoughts? Sometimes suicide seems a very attractive thing given the conditions of life. I wouldn’t! My life is not my own. But to add guilt for just thinking about it seems overkill.

    1. My reply to that would be that these thoughts can lead further and further downward until you really are ready to commit the act. Through group therapy and individual counseling I saw that your thoughts can control how you feel. If you keep thinking negatively, everything seems negative. I wouldn't give anyone guilt over suicidal thoughts, but I would say it is a dangerous path to go down.

  10. Why is it so awful to even have suicidal thoughts? Sometimes suicide seems a very attractive thing given the conditions of life. I wouldn’t! My life is not my own. But to add guilt for just thinking about it seems overkill.

    1. My reply to that would be that these thoughts can lead further and further downward until you really are ready to commit the act. Through group therapy and individual counseling I saw that your thoughts can control how you feel. If you keep thinking negatively, everything seems negative. I wouldn't give anyone guilt over suicidal thoughts, but I would say it is a dangerous path to go down.

  11. 1. You're saying that we may be ignoring God's first-article gifts when we don't find help and healing from doctors, therapists, etc. Yup. Would it help clarify if we said that pastors are not His only masks, but so are the doctors and therapists?

    2. When there is talk about sin or unbelief contributing to depression, is THAT really a problem in itself? Or is the problem actually that we are told it's up to US to strengthen our faith, that it's up to us to overcome our unbelief and doubts? IF faith is my good work, and if in my depression I cannot oomph myself to a "better faith," then my weakness in faith leaves me with no hope, no help, no comfort, no way out, no remedy. But that would be a wrong view of faith, and thus the remedy ("you ought to pray more" and "you ought to trust better") is essentially works-righteousness. But … that doesn't deny the sinful component of depression; it just denies that works-righteousness is our cure.

  12. 1. You're saying that we may be ignoring God's first-article gifts when we don't find help and healing from doctors, therapists, etc. Yup. Would it help clarify if we said that pastors are not His only masks, but so are the doctors and therapists?

    2. When there is talk about sin or unbelief contributing to depression, is THAT really a problem in itself? Or is the problem actually that we are told it's up to US to strengthen our faith, that it's up to us to overcome our unbelief and doubts? IF faith is my good work, and if in my depression I cannot oomph myself to a "better faith," then my weakness in faith leaves me with no hope, no help, no comfort, no way out, no remedy. But that would be a wrong view of faith, and thus the remedy ("you ought to pray more" and "you ought to trust better") is essentially works-righteousness. But … that doesn't deny the sinful component of depression; it just denies that works-righteousness is our cure.

  13. Indeed, God has many ways that He comforts and consoles his people. Though a little off the path of this discussion, though certainly within the ball park is the line from The Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy [pg, 230].” Where tragedy is there God is, forgiving His people. In all of this, the first line of Comfort, Comfort Ye My people bears remembering:

    “Comfort, Comfort, ye My people, Speak ye peace,” thus
    saith our God: “Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning
    neath their sorrows load. Speak ye to Jerusalem.
    Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that
    her sins I cover And her warfare now is over.” [LSB 347:1]

  14. Indeed, God has many ways that He comforts and consoles his people. Though a little off the path of this discussion, though certainly within the ball park is the line from The Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy [pg, 230].” Where tragedy is there God is, forgiving His people. In all of this, the first line of Comfort, Comfort Ye My people bears remembering:

    “Comfort, Comfort, ye My people, Speak ye peace,” thus
    saith our God: “Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning
    neath their sorrows load. Speak ye to Jerusalem.
    Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that
    her sins I cover And her warfare now is over.” [LSB 347:1]

  15. It gives me some comfort to remember that for all the thousands healed by miracle, including those healed by Jesus, there are also thousands not healed. I feel this means physical healing is not always the point in a particular person's life. Our life path is between us and God. There may be many reasons why we remain "unhealed"… such as perhaps to lift others through our compassion and understanding…

  16. It gives me some comfort to remember that for all the thousands healed by miracle, including those healed by Jesus, there are also thousands not healed. I feel this means physical healing is not always the point in a particular person's life. Our life path is between us and God. There may be many reasons why we remain "unhealed"… such as perhaps to lift others through our compassion and understanding…

  17. This ineffective and maybe even downright sinful attitude held by the church in their views of mental illness is something with which I have struggled and at the hands of which I have suffered for many years, having the dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (schizoaffective disorder). It is something that has compelled me to address the issue in two of my blogs: http://www.cynthialottvogel.blogspot.com and also http://www.lunamosity.wordpress.com. Christians have stuck their heads in the sand for too long regarding these biological illnesses…and it is to withhold the love of Jesus from those who suffer to do so. I would welcome you to viisit my blogs.

  18. This ineffective and maybe even downright sinful attitude held by the church in their views of mental illness is something with which I have struggled and at the hands of which I have suffered for many years, having the dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (schizoaffective disorder). It is something that has compelled me to address the issue in two of my blogs: http://www.cynthialottvogel.blogspot.com and also http://www.lunamosity.wordpress.com. Christians have stuck their heads in the sand for too long regarding these biological illnesses…and it is to withhold the love of Jesus from those who suffer to do so. I would welcome you to viisit my blogs.

  19. Also, I would like your permission to quote a brief passage from this blog post in my blog. I will give you the appropriate credit. I will just give your blog address unless you care to email me your name to also include. thank you in advance.

  20. Also, I would like your permission to quote a brief passage from this blog post in my blog. I will give you the appropriate credit. I will just give your blog address unless you care to email me your name to also include. thank you in advance.

  21. I agree with you, Pastor Peperkorn. Depression and anxiety are not just "spiritual problems". Thank you so much for speaking out about this.

  22. I agree with you, Pastor Peperkorn. Depression and anxiety are not just "spiritual problems". Thank you so much for speaking out about this.

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