“All you need to do is just believe.” I grew up on a sentimental theological diet like this. I eagerly sought sermons out on the internet to bolster my deeply emotional and meaningful faith. I became angry and upset when others argued against my strong charismatic beliefs. I totally get it, and I understand why it can be challenging to talk about this without offending one another. Yet where there is good, there is also a dark side, and that is what I’d like to bring to attention, because it’s important. If every good car needs to have both a gas pedal as well as a brake pedal, this post is definitely a theological squeeze of the brakes.
It does not require overly complicated logic to conclude that if God is indeed all-powerful, then he can potentially heal people of their physical ailments and diseases. Yet at the same time, we are constantly met with the reality that not every single person who prays for healing is actually healed. In fact, in my experience, only a tiny minority of those who pray that report any kind of miraculous healing. Within those Christian groups that practice faith healing, it’s very common to see fifty people request healing, and only one or two report feeling less pain and etc.
So how do we navigate this dissonance? How do we deal with this negative reality?
Many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches advocate the use of modern medicine, and teach members to turn to God when all else fails. Many others, teach members to turn to God first, before or without the use of medicine. In some cases, believers are encouraged to prove their faith in God’s healing power by specifically avoiding medicine. This is something I have personally heard on multiple occasions from both from the pulpit and from well-meaning, but ignorant and deceived, Christians. Numerous famed televangelists have also implied this in their broadcasts and meetings, and some have even explicitly taught this. For example, the famous televangelist Peter Popoff (who was discredited as a fraud, but is again active on Christian television) is known for getting his followers to throw away their medications on stage as an exercise of faith. (1). These medications included nitroglycerine tablets and oral diabetes medication, which are vital to the survival of patients prescribed them. (1)
In a Nightline expose Benny Hinn was accused of this as well. Though more interesting and grieving is the case of an elderly woman who was knocked down and fractured her hip as a result of Benny Hinn pushing the man in front of her. Then “when one usher offered to seek medical aid for Peppard, witnesses said Hinn stopped the usher and said, “Leave her alone. God will heal her. (2) God did not, and she died as a result of that supernaturally inspired fracture. Stories like these, where attempted faith healing leads to injury or death, rather than life, are plenty.
In the end, the irony of this is that those who have the most faith, and try the hardest to “prove” their faith, are also those who die or cause deaths. The brutally painful truth is that having too much faith in faith healing can kill you. Here are some horrific examples of preventable deaths that were caused by foolish religious teaching, where the innocent believed in faith healing so much that they died to proving it. No one can say “they were not healed because they didn’t believe,” because they believed unto death.
We should note that not all faith healing groups are reckless like this, however, it only takes a few to cause irreparable damage, and the stories of such emphasize this. Here are is a small sampling of the tragedies that happens when faith is divorced from wisdom.
- 8 month old Brandon and 2 year old Kent Schaible died because of faith healing
Parents Herbert & Catherine Schaible “are charged with third-degree murder in the April pneumonia death of 8-month-old son Brandon. They had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter after their 2-year-old son, Kent, died of pneumonia in 2009. The couple’s seven surviving children are in foster care.” The father stated that “We believe in divine healing, that Jesus … died on the cross to break the devil’s power” his 43-year-old wife said that “we pray and ask to be healed the way that Jesus did when he was on Earth.” And as often heard in hypercharismatic congregations, the “The Schaibles’ pastor, Nelson Clark, has said the couple lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives.” (3)
- 8 year old Torrance Cantrell suffocated to death during healing prayer
He was “was wrapped in sheets and held by his hands and feet while members of the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith… prayed over him.” They did this because the boy had Autism which ”causes children to have severe problems relating to, and communicating with, people around them.” The pastor said “[We] didn’t do nothing wrong… We did what the Book of Matthew said… all we did is ask God to deliver him.” (4)
- Kara Neumann, an 11 year old girl, killed because of attempted faith healing
Kara “died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes… an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness… [the parents] believed the key to healing was ‘it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray.’” The parents believe the girl died because “they didn’t have enough faith,” though“The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.” (5)
- 16 year old Austin Sprout died in agony because of faith
His parents were “so devoted to spiritual healing they let their teenage son die in agony instead of getting medical help.” The horror is that this 16 year old boy would have certainly “been cured had he received medical attention” but instead “they tried to “pray away” [his] infection from a ruptured appendix.” The saddest part of the story is that Austin died “after he suffered… for a [whole] week” from a disease that “often results in excruciating abdominal pain that requires heavy doses of morphine to keep under control” instead of being “easily treated.” (6, 7)
- 17 year old Zachery Swezey died in anguish because of faith healing
Another case of untreated appendicitis involves a 17 year old who, with his parents, chose to forge treatment and believe for healing. “The day before Swezey died, elders from the church came to the Swezey home, prayed for him, and anointed him with olive oil. An official report of the case concluded that “Family members were aware that Zach was seriously ill prior to his death” and were “also aware that Zach was going to die before his death; yet there was no effort, at any time, to obtain medical assistance.” (8)
- Tiny little Sarah Leeman killed by failed faith healing
“She could fit inside two cupped hands. Leeman was born two months prematurely at her Martinsville home and died there just six days later. Prosecutors said she had a treatable infection, but that her parents never sought medical care.” Instead the parents simply allowed their little girl to die because they “belong to the General Assembly and Church of the First Born… and commonly turn to prayer instead of modern medicine.” (9)
- 22 month Dean Heilman bled out because parents called pastor instead of 911
“It took nearly 19 hours for little Dean… to bleed to death from a small wound on his foot.” His father said he knew the danger but “it was a condition he left in God’s hands.” He called the pastor “of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation” to “anoint the child.” However, this faith healing did not work and little Dean bled to death. “Experts told police that Michael was a hemophiliac who would have survived had his parents taken him to a hospital for treatment.” (10)
- Rhianna Rose Schmidt, a newborn, killed by replacing antibiotics with faith
This little girl was “born at the couple’s home” and suffered unto death ”from an infection typically treated with antibiotics” because her parents “chose to pray over their dying newborn daughter rather than seek medical care for her.” According to experts “Rhianna would be alive today if not for the actions and inactions of her parents” (11)
- Syble Rossiter died in misery because of failed faith healing
She was a 12 year old girl with “long blonde hair, always had the long braids, who loved riding her pink bike.” She died because she “had a treatable medical condition and the parents did not provide adequate and necessary medical care.” This is another case from the Church of the First Born which on their website cites a verse from James in the Bible as influential in their doctrine: “If any be sick, call for the elders of the church. Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord.” (12)
- 15 month old Ava Worthington died because her parents believed in faith healing, not doctors
This little girl died “while church member gathered around her for prayer, “laying on of hands,” anointing her in oil and administering small amounts of wine. She had a softball-sized cyst on her neck that may have interfered with her breathing and swallowing, then contracted a blood infection and pneumonia.” Fortunately her faith healer father was sentenced to prison because he “treated his dying 15-month-old daughter with faith healing rather than taking her to a doctor.” (13)
- 16 year old Neil Beagley died from a medically treatable disease that faith didn’t heal
This 16 year old listened to the zealous indoctrination of his parents and church and put his trust in faith not doctors. Because of this he “died from an illness that could have been easily treated, just a few months after a toddler cousin of his died.” It is a horrific example where trusting faith healers over doctors is akin to religious suicide, as doctors said “if the condition had been dealt with earlier, a urologist could easily have removed the blockage and avoided the kidney damage.” Neil and his cousin Ava Worthington were born to parents that belong to a charismatic “congregation of 1,200 people” known as the “Followers of Christ.” (14)
- 3 UK women sick with HIV, die by placing faith in healing rather than taking pills
“At least three people in London with HIV have died after they stopped taking lifesaving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.” Describing the death of one of these three women, a witness stated she “had been to a pastor… [who] told her to stop taking her medication – that God is a healer and has healed her. This lady believed it. She stopped taking her medication. She passed away.” Another one of these three women attended a UK church that is under the jurisdiction of TB Joshua, a famous healing evangelist in Nigeria. TB Joshua is constantly upheld by charismatic leaders including John Arnott of the Toronto Blessing movement. Notably Arnott has ties to leaders like Bill Johnson of Bethel church and Jesus Culture music. (15)
- Woman with spinal cancer trusted a faith healers words unto death
The famous Kathryn Kuhlman, who is surprisingly accepted by most mainstream Pentecostals and Charismatics held numerous healing crusades in the 60’s and 70’s. During a crusades ”one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman’s command; her spine collapsed the next day, according to Dr. Nolen she died four months later.” (16) This woman would have lived much longer had shes not taken of her brace and broken her spine. Notably, Kuhlman, though beloved by many, did not ever present real evidence for her healings. Dr. Nolan, a medical doctor and researcher, obtained a list of 23 people Kuhlman announced as healed during her crusades, and followed up with all of them. Dr. Nolan’s research concluded that every single person was still sick, if not worse. (17)
- Almost a hundred people dead of curable diseases by placing their trust in faith healing
“Dr. Hobart Freeman, who was the founder and pastor of the Glory Barn… blamed his own son-in-law for a lack of faith in the death of his own grandchild. The fact was a routine operation could have saved his life. He had detested medical doctors and persuaded his members to avoid the doctors as well. His faith stance touched 97 people directly, they died! Eventually Hobart himself died in 1984. Despite all the documentation of deaths instead of healings, his ministry continues in the congregations he established” (18)
He refused medical help with his pneumonia (19) saying “To claim healing for the body and then to continue to take medicine is not following our faith with corresponding action.” (20) A newspaper report of the congregation confirms the deadly influence of this teaching:[It is] reported that diabetics are not taking their insulin and pregnant women are receiving no prenatal or post-natal care.” (21) Unfortunately “Despite all the documentation of deaths instead of healings, his ministry continues in the congregations he established” (18)
THERE ARE MANY MORE DARK STORIES
The frightening thing is that cases like these abound in academic literature. Many of the cases above were tied to particular churches or denominations that have had numerous deaths in their past. A leading Cancer research organization states that
“One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival.” A second study, more recent, found even more cases, this “recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States… because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.” (22)
There are many other such lists and websites chronicling hundreds upon hundreds of people who died as a direct result of placing all their faith in miraculous healing, rather than trying modern medicine. (18, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27) And this only includes cases that were caught and diagnosed in recent years in the developed United States. Going overseas and in history, we might expect to find tens of thousands more. And here is the saddest part of this dark tale, all of these people had incredible faith. They believed unto death. Their faith was so strong they died or killed as a result of this faith. Yet their faith was devoid of Christian wisdom.
So yes, I happen to be a little skeptical of “faith healers” and yes, I think it’s prudent that ‘faith’ should not be blind. The tragic documented deaths of hundreds of people, including little children should cause us to think. It should cause us to do more than blindly leap into an abyss of uncertainty. These innocent, indoctrinated people either experienced or caused tragic deaths that we may learn that ‘faith’ should never divorced from ‘wisdom.’ So I urge you, please learn, otherwise these children will have died for nothing.
- Seckel, Al. “GOD’S FREQUENCY IS 39.17 MHz: THE INVESTIGATION OF PETER POPOFF.” Science and the ParanormaL. http://casa.colorado.edu/~dduncan/pseudoscience/PeterPopoff.htm (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Singleterry , Wayne. “Suit Against Faith Healer Settled.” NewsOK.com. http://newsok.com/suit-against-faith-healer-settled/article/2225326 (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Hanson, Hilary. “Catherine Schaible, Charged In Faith-Healing Death, Released On Bail.” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/23/catherine-schaible-bail_n_3486441.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- BBC. “US boy dies during ‘exorcism’ .” BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3179789.stm (accessed October 28, 2013).
- FOX News Network. “Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help.” http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/03/26/police-girl-dies-after-parents-pray-for-healing-instead-seeking-medical-help/ (accessed October 28, 2013).
- DailyMail. “Faith healer parents avoid jail after son, 16, dies in horrible pain after they tried to ‘pray away’ his burst appendix.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2205306/Russel-Brandi-Bellew-Faith-healer-parents-avoid-jail-Austin-Sprout-16-dies.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Oregon couple pleads guilty, receives probation in ‘faith healing’ death of teen son.” NY Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/oregon-couple-pleads-guilty-receives-probation-faith-healing-death-teen-son-article-1.1162793 (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Parents charged in death of teen.” Wenatchee World. http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2012/feb/09/parents-charged-in-death-of-teen/ (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Grand Jury Will Decide If Parents To Blame For Baby’s Death.” RTV6. http://www.theindychannel.com/news/grand-jury-will-decide-if-parents-to-blame-for-baby-s-death (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “They Watched Him Die 19 Hours Of Agony Affidavit: As Child Bled To Death, Parents Called Pastor Instead Of 911.” Philly.com. http://articles.philly.com/1997-08-19/news/25568028_1_affidavit-breathing-pastor (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Indiana Couple Sentenced in Baby’s Death.” ICSA. http://www.icsahome.com/view_document.asp?ID=33112 (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Albany couple arrested, accused of manslaughter in daughter’s death.” The Oregonian. http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/08/albany_couple_arrested_accused.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Worthington gets jail time in faith-healing death.” The Oregonian. http://www.oregonlive.com/clackamascounty/index.ssf/2009/07/worthington_gets_jail_time_in.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Strzemien, Anya. “Neil Beagley, Faith-Healing Teen, Dies Of Easily Treatable Illness.” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/19/neil-beagley-teen-from-fa_n_108052.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Dangerfield, Andy. “Church HIV prayer cure claims ’cause three deaths’.” BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14406818 (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Randi, James. The faith healers. New, updated ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989.
- “Kuhlman Tested by MD Probe.” Pittsburg Post Gazette . http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=cOQNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=iG0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=5291,834959&dq=kathryn+kuhlman+william+nolen (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Death by Faith.” Come Let Us Reason. http://www.letusreason.org/wf25.htm (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Faith Preacher Hobart Freeman Dies” by Steven Lawson, Charisma February 1985, page 110.
- “Faith for Healing” by Hobart E. Freeman, Faith Ministries and Publications, Warsaw IN page 11
- “Timeline from the Past to the Present – Part 3.” Clunette.com. http://yesteryear.clunette.com/150yearspart3.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- AMA. “Faith Healing.” American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/faith-healing (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Faith Healing.” What’s the harm in religious fundamentalism?. http://whatstheharm.net/religiousfundamentalism.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- Lattanzio, Vince. “Faith-Healing Churches Linked to 2 Dozen Child Deaths.” NBC . http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Faith-Healing-Churches-Linked-to-Two-Dozen-Child-Deaths-208745201.html (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “10 Failed Attempts To Heal Children With Faith.” Listverse. http://listverse.com/2013/07/30/top-ten-cases-of-children-failed-faith-healings/ (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Relying on faith healing & prayerinstead of medical treatment.” The effectivenss of faith healing. http://www.religioustolerance.org/medical3.htm (accessed October 28, 2013).
- “Two People “Healed” at the Lakeland Revival Die | SLAUGHTER OF THE SHEEP.” SLAUGHTER OF THE SHEEP. http://slaughteringthesheep.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/two-people-healed-at-the-lakeland-revival-die/ (accessed October 28, 2013).