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Shame & Suicide: The Scandal of Southern Baptist Theology

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“He’s not in heaven…and you won’t be either if you kill yourself.” I will never forget the cruelness of the language. The suicide rocked our Southern Baptist church. We descended deeper into judgment…the only fuel of fundamentalism. Secretly, I think most people thought shame was the antidote for suicide. I was ten. Even then, I knew better.

 

“Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins?” Throughout my life, I have heard that question over and over again. We were commanded to be certain and to make sure others were certain. When we failed, the question always arose, “Do you really think you’re a Christian?” Struggles with certainty fuel obedience. The cycle of shame is what keeps Southern Baptists going.

 

Millions of times… I asked Jesus for salvation incessantly growing up. I was never certain. The talk of fiery hell, eternal judgment and rapture made things worse. I thought about suicide often. I planned a few times. The shame made me cycle into deeper bouts of depression and lose touch with reality. Southern Baptist theology made me very sick.

 

“If you cheat in my class, I hope you die before leaving this classroom…because the church doesn’t need anymore cheaters for ministers.” From the moment I entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I heard statement after statement to pour shame upon shame. I thought this was how to follow Jesus. I spiraled out of control. Panic and mania were all that I knew. We were told to examine everything about our lives. I examined to the point of delusion. I stayed up almost every night wondering if this would be the night that I finally decided to pull the plug. In the midst of studying Southern Baptist theology, I was the sickest I’d ever been.

 

“Your uncle just committed suicide.” I will never forget the devastation I felt in my gut. My uncle was a Southern Baptist minister. While he took his own life, I know that it is shame that actually killed him. In the midst of difficult hours, decades of bad Southern Baptist theology made him feel worthless to the point of death. Forced obedience cannot save lives…only grace can do that.

 

When I heard that Southern Baptist minister and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor John Gibson committed suicide after suffering from depression for many years and realizing that his name was revealed in connection to the Ashley Madison website, I knew what killed him…shame. Like many others I have known, Gibson died based on a Southern Baptist theology of condemnation that promotes depression and hopelessness. What makes millions of lustful and gluttonous Southern Baptists think they can shame people to death? …a theology that is devoid of the love of Jesus.

 

Make no mistake, shame only increases the body count.

 

I pray that Southern Baptists get saved.

 

Amen.

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