With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: I am a United States Marine with some combat experience — something that frequently raises its very ugly head for me. I am also ordained.
What is the LCMS doing to prepare its clergy for the return of some 11,000 wounded members of the Armed Forces from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq?
My experience tells me that very few, if any, members of our rostered clergy have any idea what these veterans have experienced. I know of pastors who have absolutely no concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Two Lutheran pastors have told me essentially, “If you had enough faith, you wouldn’t be having this problem.”
- How much faith is enough? I always thought the Holy Spirit gave me faith at my Baptism and that it would never need “topping off” like a gas tank.
- Will “enough faith” cause the nightmares to go away?
A: Thanks for your service to your country and to the LCMS. I praise God who brought you to Himself in your Baptism and holds you as His forgiven and redeemed child through the work of our Savior Jesus Christ.
This faith in Christ as your Savior that comes to you as a gift is never measurable. It cannot be measured as human beings measure quantity or strength. It is a gift of God, lest any of us should boast — about how strong our faith is, for instance.
So, to ever intimate that anyone has struggles because they don’t have enough faith is contrary to what I believe Scriptures and we Lutherans teach. Your faith is God’s gift by God’s grace.
Raising concerns about the presence of PTSD among returning members of our armed services, as you have done, is very important.
Every parish pastor would do well to consult The National Center for PTSD at www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/index.jsp. This comprehensive site offers fact sheets, recommended readings, and even an “Iraq War Clinician Guide, 2nd Edition.” The site will soon feature “PTSD 101,” an online educational resource. I believe that every parish pastor and other church workers need some basic information about PTSD.
We who have never been in combat, or who have never been in a situation where it is almost impossible to know friend from foe, are probably not able to fully comprehend the frequent horrors of such experiences. But we need to learn as much as we can, so that simplistic responses such as those questioning the amount of one’s faith are banished from our thoughts and comments.
Since many LCMS congregations will both send their sons and daughters off to combat and welcome them home, it is critical for our workers to recognize that many veterans come home as very different people. They have been through a lot. Our task is to welcome them home with empathy and care. This includes our becoming knowledgeable about the psychological and spiritual conditions of every one of our veterans — those folks to whom we are so indebted.
PTSD is a real condition. Anyone who has been in a traumatic situation is vulnerable. Those of us in the community of faith can surround our armed services colleagues with prayer and support.
For information on what we in the LCMS are doing, contact Capt. Mark Schreiber or Lt. Col. Ted Wuerffel of the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces office. Their e-mail addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
What can any of us do? After praying for the safety of our troops and for peace, our next step is to become informed.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation
at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at hartungb@ csl.edu.
Posted March 29, 2007