The debate over the validity of faith and prayer-facilitated 'healings' has taken place for centuries. The Christian church, arguably the pillar of most Black communities, is a place where support is given to the ailing and their families. However, some parishioners take the faith-driven words of their pastor and translate hopeful messages into ultimatums, i.e. believing that to visit the doctor regularly means to forfeit your trust in God. They daily ignore their symptoms and rely solely on their faith.
In May of this year, Jacqueline Crank and Ariel Ben Sherman were found guilty of neglect in the death of Jacqueline's daughter Jessica in 2002. The fifteen-year-old Tennessee girl developed a tumor on her shoulder after she, her sibling and her mother moved into a living facility with other parishioners from their church and Sherman – their “spiritual father.” When Jessica’s tumor was noticed, Sherman advised Jacqueline to rely solely on prayer. In this case, Knox News reported that any medical intervention would not have prevented the teenager's death. In Tennessee, state law allows a parent to choose faith over medicine provided that parent is adherent to the doctrine of a "recognized church or denomination," though the law is unclear on what constitutes a "recognized" religion.
However, some parts of the country are far stricter when reliance on faith healing results in death or increased suffering for a child. In 2011, Oregon Live reported that a premature baby born to Dale and Shannon Hickman was anointed with oil, as his parents waited for divine intervention on his behalf. Baby David lived less than nine hours and the Hickmans were subsequently charged with second-degree manslaughter.
The same year, another Oregon couple, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 3 years probation for refusing proper medical care for their infant daughter. The reason– they were members of the Followers of Christ Church, a faith-healing institution that strictly shuns conventional medicine. While many can attest to the power of prayer, studies show that leaning on faith and faith alone to heal can be quite dangerous. According to the American Cancer Society, in “172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods…Researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent…”
At the Wyland's sentencing, the judge’s statement sums up the harmony that needs to occur between prayer and prevention: “Your prayers should complement, not compete with proper medical care," said Clackamas County Circuit Judge Jeffrey S. Jones.
However; it is important to note that despite the instances of faith-based treatments that have failed, there are those acts of healing attributed to supernatural intervention. Dr. Issam Nemeh, an anesthesiologist, has become renowned for his acts of “faith healing”. Popular TV host Dr. Oz took a trip to Dr. Nemeh’s church to witness the phenomenon and drew the conclusion that “one thing is clear…people seem to feel better.”
Dr. Jeffery Rediger, a guest psychiatrist on Dr Oz’s show related the importance of having both faith and medicine “both faith and medicine are great gifts and you should not think in the mindset of either/or.”
Some Christians fail to realize that the Bible is not in conflict with the use of allopathic medicine. In fact, there are numerous examples in which Biblical characters used salves, oil and herbal remedies for medicinal purposes. Wine, a traditional antiseptic, was used in the parable of the Good Samaritan in order to attend to the wounds of a battered man (Luke 10:35). It was mentioned again in 1Timothy 5:25 to aide in gastrointestinal dysfunction.
According to Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, it’s important that Christians decipher between asking God for a cure and asking for the strength to cope/ "We may ask God to take the tumor away, but the actual miracle may be that we get the resources to live with that tumor," he says.
You may have heard the oft-told parable about a man who is drowning. He prays and asks God for help. Several boats come and each time the man refuses help and states he is “waiting on God.” When he drowns, he asks God why he didn’t save him. God replies that he sent a boat three times and the man refused. It is important for Christians to understand the unity between faith and medicine. Otherwise, we may just watch our lifeboats pass us by into the horizon.