Are dogs allowed in church?

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, October 9, 2018

By Nathan Rice

We’ve probably all seen a “No Dogs Allowed” sign. They typically have a silhouette of a dog surrounded by a circle with a slash through the middle. Often, they are placed at the entrances to playgrounds and gardens. It’s understandable. Dogs can make a mess, and it is best if dogs aren’t allowed in certain places.

Those who suffer with the dog of depression can sometimes feel as if “No Dogs Allowed” signs are posted at certain places. While there is no physical sign, the culture of a place or the attitude of the people can make it feel as though there is a strict no-dog policy.

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Unfortunately, churches can be one of the places where it seems dogs are not allowed. I don’t think most churches mean to be seen this way, and many would be shocked to learn that those who battle depression often feel they need to hide their struggle from the congregation.

There is a legitimate concern that we will be viewed as not being a true follower of Christ or that we are allowing sin to control our lives. I have been told that I must “get rid of sin” to rid myself of depression and that “getting right with God” will make depression impossible, because joy is a Fruit of the Spirit.

I understand their thoughts. Sin, which separates us from God, can be a factor in depression. I fully admit that an examination of oneself is a needed step when depression strikes. I list this as a step in my teachings on depression. Allowing sin or drifting away from God should be considered as a possible reason for depression.

However, it is not the only reason for depression. It is possible to be right with God, living in a manner pleasing to the Lord and growing in the faith while still battling depression.

It’s not wrong to point to sin as a possible cause for depression. The problem is that the church sometimes presents it as a certainty for those who battle depression. This causes some who struggle in this area to hide their battle instead of coming forward to let the church help them.

It’s OK, and even commanded, that the church confront sin in the loving way shown in Scripture, but do not assume something you do not know. Telling those who are truly following God that their battle is due to sin or not being close to God only gives the dog of depression greater power.

Rather, the church should love and accept those who struggle in this area. The church should be a place where one can go with tears in his or her eyes without fear of judgment. The church should be the one holding up those who feel they can no longer stand. The church should be helping ones who struggle know the truths found in Scripture, so the lies of the dog are exposed before they are whispered during an attack. The church should be the one checking in on those struggling, doing purposeful things to encourage them, and constantly reminding everyone that they are loved and precious to God and others.

The church can, and should, play a big part in helping fight the dog of depression, but it must remove the “No Dogs Allowed” sign before it is able to do so.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 800-273-8255.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at