I watched most of pastor Charles Stanley’s television show “In Touch” last night. He was addressing the topic of anxiety.
I believe it was a rebroadcast; the episode was first aired in 2012. You can view it and listen to it online (I’m not sure this is the same exact episode I saw last night, but it might be the same one – please don’t take all advice he gives in this sermon): Victory Over Anxiety, sermon by Charles Stanley
At a few points during the sermon I watched, Stanley mentioned that anxiety is a “faith problem” and said that sometimes feeling anxiety is not a sin.
I would agree that in some cases, anxiety can possibly be due to lacking faith, but for a lot of Christians, that is not the issue at all.
Many people, including Christians, are genetically predisposed to having anxiety, and it is largely biological, not a matter of personal, deliberate choice.
I used to enjoy watching Stanley’s sermons, but as I grow older, I find myself turned off by a lot of them, or by the advice he gives to viewers who write his show (he answers their questions at the end of his weekly show).
Stanley tends to blame the victim for their pain and heartbreak in life, even though they may not be at fault. Stanley was doing the same thing in regards to treating anxiety.
I’m surprised that Stanley would be so insensitive about the anxiety issue and chalk it up to being the fault of the one who is anxious.
Stanley kept emphasizing in the sermon that anxiety is due to the believer not trusting God or God’s promises.
Later in the sermon, Stanley actually had the audacity and insensitivity to chastise people who see psychiatrists to get prescriptions for medication to treat their anxiety!
If I recall correctly, Stanley said that rather than take medication to treat one’s anxiety, one should just trust God and read the Bible more.
In the book “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?” by Christian psychiatrist Dwight L. Carlson, it is mentioned that Stanley gave a speech in 1992 to a “conference of twenty-three hundred Christian therapists from over 43 countries.”
In that 1992 speech, according to Carlson, Stanley basically conveyed the idea that telling emotionally hurting Christians (i.e., Christians with depression and anxiety attacks) to just “read their Bible and pray about it” is simplistic and insensitive. Stanley seemed supportive of Christian psychiatry and counseling in that speech.
Why or how Stanley has now reversed course and is against psychiatry and/or medications to treat emotional and psychological problems is beyond me.
On pages 59, 69, author Carlson, in his book, ”Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?” mentions treating a patient who had anxiety. Carlson wrote of this patient, a male named Hu,
But some subtle signs piqued my curiosity, so I decided to check more carefully for a physical or chemical cause of his [Hu's] illness.
Somewhat to my surprise, he [Hu] was suffering from hyperthyroidism – an excess of the thyroid hormone which causes his “emotional” symptoms. With proper medical treatment his symptoms disappeared … No psychotherapy was needed.
What if I had told Hu he just needed to read his Bible more and to pray more fervently? I could have quoted Philppians 4:6, telling him that a lack of trust and obedience had made him anxious.
I might have thrown in that he needed to quit feeling sorry for himself, or that he should remember that he was much better off than many of his relatives. What if I had engaged him in extensive counseling sessions or put him on mood-altering medications? What a disservice I would have done to him.
Elsewhere in this book, Carlson explains that a lot of anxiety and panic attacks are biological in nature, and that anxiety runs in families – anxiety is not always due to a spiritual or moral failing, of lacking trust in God.
Here are some various quotes or excerpts about anxiety by Carlson:
… in close relatives (parents, children or siblings) the frequency [of having anxiety and panic attacks] jumps to nearly 25 percent (from page 62).
… Thus it is now exceedingly clear that genetic factors render certain individuals more vulnerable to developing panic attacks (62).
[In a study held in 1946] … It was observed that patients with panic attacks often have an intolerance to overexercising… [patients with this issue had higher levels of sodium lactate than patients not as prone to panic attacks.]
[In 1967, a researcher named] Ferris Pitts … injected sodium lactate intravenously into individuals prone to panic. He discovered that the injection usually brought on a panic attack remarkably similar to the patients’ “worst attacks.” … Individuals who were not subject to panic disorders in the first place did not develop panic attacks when given the sodium lactate. There seemed to be a chemical difference in the individuals who experienced the panic attacks (63).
A later discovery showed that if patients with panic attacks were given certain medications, such as an antidepressant or a benzodiazapine tranquilizer, it greatly decreased or prevented panic attacks from developing when the sodium lactate was later injected (63).
Further evidence that these patients have chemical differences shows up vividly in their reactions to caffeine. When a dosage of caffeine equal to four to five cups of coffee is given to these individuals, in most cases, it triggers a panic attack. Those without a history of panic do not have an attack. Other chemicals yield similar results (63).
Doctors have also found that telling their patients to relax in order to relieve their anxiety usually does not work. In fact, in six out of ten patients, trying to relax will actually bring on a panic attack (63, 64)!
All this evidence strongly suggests that these anxiety attacks are not caused by wrong thinking or choice alone, but by underlying biological or chemical factors.
The question facing the medical community isn’t whether these attacks are due to a biochemical abnormality, but rather the exact nature of the biochemical disorder. In simple terms, the latest research shows that in anxiety disorders, the nerve endings “overfire” and excite the brain with chemicals called catecholamines. Medications we use to treat anxiety help reduce this overfiring to a normal level (64).
What is the bottom line? Charles Stanley and preachers like him are wrong, wrong, wrong about anxiety, and are dangerously steering Christians away from much-needed medications by telling them to get by with the panic attacks on faith alone, when much of these problems are biological in nature, and God, for whatever reason, usually does not supernaturally intervene to heal people of their psychological problems and heal them of anxiety.
Ironically, at some point in the sermon, when Stanley was criticizing the use of medications to treat anxiety, he was telling people something like if they take the drugs to treat their panic disorder, they will be living in a fog, and if they want to truly experience life at the fullest, to rely on Jesus alone. This is so backwards and untrue that it’s incredible to me that he would steer people so wrong.
I endured major depression and anxiety since I was a child. I was formally diagnosed by psychiatrists with depression at a young age. I tried anti depressant medications, and they did nothing to halt the depression or the panic attacks and anxiety.
I prayed to God on numerous occasions to heal me of anxiety and depression, but he never did. I tried Bible reading, concentrating as much as I could on passages that talked about perfect love casting out all fear, and so on.
All that Bible reading did not make my anxiety go away. Trying to “turn the anxiety over to God” (which is what Stanley advises on his show – what exactly does that mean, anyway?) also didn’t help me. I would tell God in prayer, “Okay God, I’m turning this problem and anxiety over to you, you please grab hold of it,” but I never felt any different after praying such prayers.
I have seen one or two Christians say that dwelling on such verses about casting all one’s anxieties on Christ and so forth delivered them from their anxiety – which is great – but it never worked for me.
Bible reading and prayer is not a cure for most Christians who are suffering from low self esteem, depression, anxiety and codependency, or other mental health problems or thinking patterns.
I was finally freed from much of this when I finally discovered that I was codependent – I was raised by my mother to be codependent.
When I began reading books by Christian and Non Christian authors that explained what codependency was, and that it was okay for me to stand up for myself and stop bottling up and repressing my anger with other people, the depression lifted, and most (but not all) of my anxiety lifted, too.
I had to read books and blog pages about codependency by Christian and Non-Christian psychologists and psychiatrists to be healed of depression and anxiety. All the prayer and Bible reading and trying to “serve others” did nothing to help me, except make me feel more hopeless and confused.
Most Christians are so insistent that Bible reading, serving, “trusting Jesus,” and prayer alone will magically make one’s emotional problems clear up, but when those strategies fail, and they will fail, it makes the one trying them feel even more dejected and like a failure.
If you are a Christian who has depression, anxiety, or some other similar problem, please disregard the teachings of Charles Stanley and those like him on these areas. They have no idea what they are talking about and their teachings are going to cause many Christians to remain stuck where they are.
I’m not discouraging anyone from Bible reading and prayer – by all means, keep reading your Bible and praying – but be aware that Bible reading and prayer alone (or attending church, helping other people, and performing other good works) will not necessarily help you or heal you, and yet, many preachers and Christian lay persons continue to present these as the only viable options for a believer.
And these same Christians will make you feel guilty or like a spiritual failure if you still struggle with psychological problems, even after you’ve read your Bible around the clock and prayed and prayed to be healed, and it’s not helped at all.
Taking anti depressant medication did not deliver me from depression and anxiety (but reading about codependency did), but I would encourage you, if you are a Christian, please consider seeing a psychiatrist and ask to try medication to help whatever you are stricken with (anxiety, depression, etc), and if you find the medication helps you, don’t let the Charles Stanleys of the world make you feel guilty or like a horrible Christian.
If the medication works, use it!
I am so sick and tired of these “Bible only” or “Jesus is sufficient” preachers and Christian lay persons needlessly keeping hurting Christians stuck where they are.
Telling Christians who suffer from anxiety or depression to avoid medications for treatment (or to rely on prayer or Bible reading alone) is like with-holding a glass of water from a thirsty man in the desert – it is heartless, cruel, and grossly irresponsible.
One thing I’ve learned in my walk as a Christian (who is barely holding on to the Christian faith these days) is that it’s YOUR life. Feel free to ignore and disregard Christians who try to tell you how to live your life, particularly when it comes to how you handle your mental health.
If taking medication alleviates your depression or anxiety, then keep using it!
It’s your life, not Charles Stanley’s. If the quality of your life improves via the medication, then don’t stop taking it.
Do what works for you, not what Charles Stanley and pastors like him says they feel is the appropriate way for you to handle an issue.