There have been numerous examples of religious beliefs causing death. From exorcisms gone bad, to extreme punishments (stoning, flogging, beatings), condemning the use of condoms, many innocent people have died at the hands of the religious. A latest example of the failure of faith healing comes from a Pentecostal church in the UK.
The Children’s HIV Association surveyed 19 doctors and health professionals working with babies and children in England; its members had reported hearing anecdotal evidence of HIV patients deciding to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs because their pastors had told them to do so.
Among 10 doctors who said they had encountered the problem in the last five years, 29 of their patients had reported being put under pressure to stop taking medicine and at least 11 had done so.
The doctors and health professionals reported a variety of cases:
- Some said they had dealt with parents who felt under pressure to stop giving their young children their HIV medicine – and some had actually done so
- Others were breastfeeding mothers with HIV who refused the medicine that would stop the virus being passed onto their babies
- Some were young people, making the decision for themselves
The healthcare workers also reported that some patients had been told by their pastors they would be healed by prayer or by drinking blessed water.
Of course, the preachers deny they would ever say anything to suggest people avoid physicians.
Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.
“We don’t say to people ‘don’t take your medication don’t go to the doctor’. I mean we never say that,” he said.
“But we believe that the first healing comes from inside, it’s a spiritual healing. Some people are hurt, they have broken hearts. If you are healed from inside, then you are healed from outside as well.”
Medical science, physicians, and hospitals wouldn’t have had anything to do with these healings.
The overall number of incidents of HIV patients being told to give up medicine is thought to consist of a minority of churches and a small group of people.
But the Rev Israel Olofinjana, who is a former Pentecostal pastor and now a Baptist minister, said he had seen it happening.
“I’ve heard languages like that – ‘put your trust in God, don’t put your trust in medicine’.”
He said many of these churches served migrants with an exalted view of the authority of pastors.
Priests and ministers of all sects tell people how to live their lives. It’s their job. Denying that people will be influenced by what comes from the pulpit has to be one of the most disingenuous things a preacher could say. God heals, except when he kills, then it’s not his fault.