Fears about Healing

This was the subject of the Henry Cooper Lecture given by the Revd Stephen Parsons, who at that time was the Editor of Health and Healing, the journal of the Churches' Council for Health and Healing. In this article he considers a number of issues for disquiet in the healing ministry as it is practised and taught in certain quarters.

This article, which was the Henry Cooper Memorial Lecture for 1995, was first published in the Advent 1995 edition of Chrism. The author's profile is of the same date.

The Revd Stephen Parsons is the Vicar of Lechlade and Diocesan Adviser on the Ministry of Healing for the Bishop of Gloucester. He is also editor of 'Health and Healing', the magazine for the Churches' Council for Health and Healing. He is the author of 'Searching for Healing' (Lion 1995).

© Guild of St Raphael

Facing Fears in the Christian Healing Ministry

I want to say how pleased I am to be with this afternoon. I am a resident of the same county as Tewkesbury but I live at the other end of the county where Gloucestershire adjoins Oxfordshire. and old Berkshire, so it is some 40 miles away. Since 1991 I have had the privilege of being the Editor of the magazine Health and Healing, published by the Churches Council for Health and Healing. That experience has enabled me to make contacts up and down the country, medical and non-medical who are concerned with the Christian healing ministry. By and large my contributors and readers are people who want to look at the Christian Healing ministry and other allied subjects such as the Christian contribution to medical care with a thoughtful approach. They do not want just to read stories of dramatic healings however helpful these may be at times. They are concerned with some of the awkward issues and questions that prayer for the sick and Christian healing raises for the way we look at the world.

Awkward Questions

If and when healings take place, one person may feel their faith has been affirmed, another person may find that it makes him uncomfortable and uneasy. The questions of the second person need to be addressed and faced up to if Christian healing is not to become a marginalized activity on the fringe of the church where many people feel it in fact is. In other words the task of commending Christian healing to the wider church which I believe we would all support, can only be done if we are prepared to face up to the uncomfortable aspects of the ministry and allow awkward questions to be faced and be addressed rather than dismiss them as of no importance. There are, I am sure, examples of claimed healings done in the name of Christ that would make many of you here feel extremely uncomfortable. And that uneasiness and discomfort moves very quickly into fear, fear that the events concerned will disturb our world-view, our settled assumptions. In the face of fear of the uncomfortable many people choose to look the other way so that the fear does not have to be addressed. Today I want to explore with you two areas of healing which do evoke fear as well as make people uneasy. We will want to try and face them fully rather than turning aside from and hope they go away.

Cultures of the Church

There is one word that I shall be forced to use quite a few times this afternoon and it is one of those words that cannot be used without definition and explanation. The word is 'culture'. It is a word that has resonance with the arts and aesthetic experience but that is not the meaning it will have today. By culture I mean the world-view that you have in common with the group of people that you share your life with, whether it be the family, the church, the place of work or school. It is a world-view that consists of conscious and unconscious elements which are the assumptions and values that bind you to the group. In practice we all exist in several cultures simultaneously. If you are fortunate, you have a family culture that has for your teenage children a strength that is able to compete with all the peer-group cultures that they also belong to. It thus can give to the family unit a cohesion and a unity that is all too easily destroyed by the other youth cultures that demand total loyalty over the family unit.

Within the Christian church we all exist within sub-cultures. There is the culture of our parish to which we belong and the culture of the period of our upbringing and formation as Christians. I for example was reared in a liberal Anglo-Catholic culture while I am in a parish where amid the plurality of cultures that are represented, the evangelical can be said to have a slight dominance. We also, I hasten to add, retain the occasional use of incense, the reserved sacrament, the Book of Common Prayer for some services and the display of Stations of the Cross in Passiontide. Such is the nature of Anglicanism and most of us rejoice in this fact. All of you here can probably lay claim to a similar story. Some will have 'risen' to Anglicanism from Free Church allegiance attracted perhaps by the sacraments and ordered worship. Others by contrast will have moved in an opposite direction. What makes each of us unique is that the past is never erased. It coexists with the culture of the present. The high churchman with an evangelical past will be different from the high churchman who has always been a part of this culture.

The healing ministry is as much subject to different cultural expressions as any other aspect of the Church. Some will offer healing in a quiet sacramental setting buttressed by centuries of tradition; others will prefer the noisy exuberant setting of a charismatic revivalist meeting. Our gut reaction to the latter may be that it is so different to what we are used to that it does not deserve the name of Christian. But such rejection of other Christians and their way of doing things is not, I would suggest, a rational reaction but one based on fear. The very strangeness of the setting leaves us without landmarks and signposts so we feel insecure and afraid. For the purpose of this lecture I am to suggest that the contrast I have described is a contrast of culture. The people who worship with exuberance and loud noisy music are people whose background is somewhat different from our own. To understand and enter imaginatively into that culture is perhaps not only to make us more tolerant people but also in the context of the Christian healing ministry make us aware of dynamics within Christian healing that can be brought into what we do. Going beyond our fears and insecurity to embrace what the charismatic style or culture is saying behind the froth and excitement may be to welcome an energy and power that our healing styles perhaps need.

The Orthodox Church

Nearly thirty years ago I had the good fortune to spend a year in Greece and the surrounding countries studying the Orthodox church. During that time I entered into the Orthodox perspective on the problems and evils of the West and the decadence of our culture. For a brief moment I considered becoming Orthodox. What prevented me taking this step was the realisation that I would have to change my culture and express my Christianity if not in the Greek language in thought forms that found their most natural expression through Greek culture and philosophy. That might have been all right for me as an individual but it was going to alienate me from all but a handful of my compatriots. The reflection on this experience gave me a keen appreciation of the way we all experience and live out Christianity in cultural forms. I like to think that Orthodoxy is still part of my overall Christian identity both in intellectual terms and spiritual awareness but without the particular cultural/dogmatic articulation that is required of each member of that church. Simultaneously Christianity transcends cultural forms and is expressed through them. One result of this experience is that 1 have come to see every expression of Christianity, from Catholic to Pentecostal as having an inner inarticulate essence and a cultural manifestation. The cultural manifestation needs to be faced if we are to enter sympathetically into the inner core of faith and belief. Christian healing demands a similar imaginative participation. Cultural forms do not yield up their inner secrets until we have humbly tried to be part of them and swallowed our aesthetic pride.

Charismatic Cultures

I do not propose to spend much time in describing the cultural aspect of Charismatic/Pentecostal healing methods. The broad outlines are familiar to most of you even if only by repute. There is much use of music, the crowd dynamic, powerful preaching, a level of expectancy and excitement. There is much that can be criticised within that culture and sometimes we are right to suggest that vulnerable sick people are sometimes harmed by being told to claim their healing through the exercise of faith, an effort of will. But before I come on to a critique of charismatic healing methods, and there are things are wrong, I want us to be looking for the positive things for a moment before we dwell on the negative.

The first reason for a positive appreciation of the charismatic culture as a method of healing is that as a culture it successfully breaks down many of things in our society that make healing difficult to find. In James 5, which I am sure you are all familiar with, we have set out a description of healing as practised by a particular group within the early church. ‘Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil.....' Then the passage goes on. 'Confess your sin to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.' Now there are few churches where confession of sin is carried out mutually among the members of the congregation even if there are an increasing number where mutual prayer is practised in triplets and small groups. There may be a lot of practical reasons why we would choose not to copy James in these practises of prayer and I am not arguing that suddenly they should be introduced but I do want you to understand their relevance in the process of healing.

Loneliness and Pain

Those of you who have been involved in the pastoral care of sick people will know that in the process of caring for them you may well discover enormous areas of loneliness and pain that has been carried by them for many years. Sometimes one feels the pain that they are carrying from hurts from the past is greater that the sickness that they exhibit. Pastoral care may offer to that hurt something of the love that is desperately needed to pour balm on the wounds of that past hurt. Often it is in the context of Christian pastoral care that individuals know undemanding love for the very first time. They may have had parents who offered love only conditionally and husbands or wives who translate their love into lust or manipulation of various kinds. Christian love which is truly Christian is totally different in that it is free and unconditional. Not infrequently the counsellor or person who is offering healing prayer has to cope with a deluge of tears as the person meets this unconditional love for the first time and begins to see the love of God in the same way as a source of unconditional acceptance. For a person to meet unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness, both human and divine all at once is fairly overwhelming and demanding but it has consequences which can be incredibly transforming and healing. The personality is touched at a very deep level; the processes are not clear but a completely different mental approach is somehow set free in the person and the illness, which often seems to stand in a close relation to the mind, may be relieved instantly, alleviated or perceived in a different way. The mind in this relationship to physical illness is of crucial importance, and if sudden changes take place in the former then there are potentially crucial changes in the latter. The secular aspects of this process have been studied and I may refer you to examples that I have collected in my forthcoming book. Searching For Healing1. Most striking is the story of one Norman Cousins who achieved healing not through prayer, love and forgiveness, but through the cultivation of laughter in his hospital bed2.

In short the transforming of the mind, and, through the mind, the body, by love, forgiveness together with the intimacy of human touch are all crucial elements in the healing process. All these things can be given through a one to one encounter, but the charismatic culture enables them to be experienced and accessible to more people more of the time. To cope with and participate in charismatic worship you have to leave behind inhibitions - about the body, about not talking to strangers, about not showing your emotions about revealing your all to people you have never met before. But all these things are aspects of the rare pastoral encounter with the person through whose skills the healing task can be mediated in a one to one meeting. In short charismatic worship is all about entering into an ambience of sheer unadulterated freedom from the inhibitions that we all possess which hold us back in receiving the human and divine love that make healing possible. One word that is crucial to healing prayer, wherever it is exercised, is intimacy, a rediscovery of the love which joins us to one another and to God. To learn, or should I say relearn, intimacy is extremely hard for many of us to do because, if I can summarise, we live in a culture that has said that we are private people and intimacy is not how we relate to others. But the charismatic culture has rediscovered the intimacy the playfulness of life that is at the heart of the Gospel. If we talk about love, then words like joy exuberance and playfulness are not far away. If love, on the other hand, is all heavy, duty-oriented and dull then I think we miss out. The charismatic way of doing things brings back to Christian worship the culture of love, freedom and intimacy which is at the heart of every healing encounter.

The Use of Power

But, and you must hear a very big BUT, the ideal does not always conform with the reality. The charismatic reality of healing is often sadly flawed like so many things that may start off spiritual but when touched by the human become contaminated. There is not time to develop a full critique but I want to concentrate on one area which actually is pertinent to everyone who is involved in healing from whatever culture.

In every healing relationship, whether it be that of a doctor, alternative practitioner, or Christian healer, there is the dimension of power. There is power in the way the relationship is constructed; the one who comes looks to the healer of whatever culture for an act of power, whether, drug, prayer or therapeutic technique. Where an individual is any sense dependent on another, then there is relationship of power because to use psychological jargon, there is almost always an act of transference from client to healer. In addition as far as Christian healing is involved there is the dimension of power which is released into the healing relationship through prayer. It is probably naive of us to think that the power that seems to surround a praying partnership or is felt in a healing service is something that is purely 'spiritual' in nature. We should probably designate the power generated by a psychological relationship of particular intensity in prayer or in a crowd setting as being something that begins by being neutral but can become something of spiritual potential when it is allowed to do so. In other words the intensity of a praying relationship or prayer in a crowd setting will produce power which can blossom in a spiritual direction when all human manipulation of it is absent. The power can either be spiritual power or human power but not both at the same time.

To summarise what happens in many settings of charismatic prayer in a large gathering is that a lot of power is generated which to begin with is neutral and has the possibility of being the focus of spiritual healing. It goes wrong when the person at the centre becomes manipulative and coercive. There are many reasons for this temptation. To be the focus or catalyst for power in a large group is intoxicating and the leader may feel tempted to hang on to it, rather than give it away, which is what all spiritual power is for. Once again to use the language of transference the person at the centre carries the transference of the people who come. It has the capacity to inflate the ego of the leader. As an aside I would maintain that few people should allow themselves to be the centre of a charismatic healing ministry for longer than five years at a time; there are just too many casualties among those who have carried on longer than this period. Many of you may have experienced only this negative side of things when entering a charismatic setting - the experience of power being misapplied. Instead of an outpouring of love and group affirmation with a sense of spiritual power healing and releasing us, we may have felt spiritually and emotionally under attack and couldn't wait to get out. A similar thing happens to me when I listen to certain types of fundamentalist preaching which are designed to whip up feelings of depravity and fear of eternal damnation. But it doesn't have to be like this. Power is not always misused; it can be, as I described above, used with wisdom and insight, enabling healing, forgiveness and liberation to be released into the congregation.

A problem arises when healing appears to follow bad practice. Perhaps we need to say that the situation is never tidy. Sometimes healings happen in spite of appalling crude and potentially damaging techniques. That does not stop us criticising such methods and the personal failings that accompanying such methods and recognising that in these situations fears that we may have are entirely justifiable.

Let us sum up the first part of this talk. Many of us have fears about the charismatic dimension of healing. I would claim that some of these fears are perfectly justifiable, in the first place fear of crude fundamentalist preaching which narrows Christian experience down to a single type of encounter arising out of deep psychological fears of damnation and awareness of sin. Secondly there are plentiful examples of the misuse of power in charismatic settings, when preachers appear to focus power on themselves and vulnerable people, and all sick people are vulnerable, feel overpowered. But there are within the charismatic dynamic, so much muddied by human failing, real pearls of spiritual energy which have tremendous importance for all in the business of promoting healing. I was talking to a nurse recently about terminal care. She was describing the final conversation between a husband and wife before he died. It was a conversation of total honesty and intimacy possessing tremendous power. It is the power of total honesty and intimacy that can be seen in a church congregational setting or in a pastoral setting that is of tremendous spiritual significance. When such intimacy and honesty is brought into the context of prayer it becomes a powerful dynamic of healing. We all need to know how God can and does use our moments of honesty and intimacy for his own purposes when they are brought into his orbit. Let us not be fearful of the changes that such moments make. We are changed by them and that is the fear - the fear of change. Let us embrace all that is true and honest through which God can and does work.

Alternative Healing Cultures

I want now to move on to another area of fear that afflicts the healing movement in this country. It may not actually affect each one of you individually but it is an issue that must be addressed if the Christian healing movement is going to be healthy.

Let me start with a number of observations. In this country there are no books by Christians addressing the issue of the thousands upon thousands of people who practice healing methods outside Christian and medical orthodoxy. By these I mean the ranks of alternative practitioners, the Christian scientists, the faith healers, the spiritualists etc. From a Christian literature point of view, apart from evangelical literature, mainly polemic in tone and some fairly Catholic studies, it is as though they don’t exist. The same silence is observed by the ranks of the medical profession though the silence is a little less deafening on this side of the fence as some members of the medical profession begin to look at the 'alternative' scene with some understanding and even sympathy. But the average General Practitioner still finds the existence of alternative healing cultures an irritant in his or her work.

But our concern today is for Christian attitudes to alternative healing cultures. In modem times there have been two attempts to face the issue, neither of them very well known or successful. In 1939 an official report was commissioned as to the effectiveness of Spiritualism and its claims. The report was not published at the time and only appeared in the 1980s in an edition published by the spiritualist press3. I have not seen it but the summary I have seen suggests that the report was more favourable than was felt to be politically correct at the time. The other report was the better known Archbishops' report of 1957 on the Ministry of Healing4. The Commission appointed did not tackle the issue of Faith Heating head-on but invited Harry Edwards, the well-known Spiritualist healer to speak to it and he arrived with numbers of carefully selected cases to demonstrate the effectiveness of his methods. The Commission listened to him politely and then totally ignored his evidence in their final report. One Christian member of the Commission resigned in his disgust at the failure of the Commission to make any assessment, positive or negative of the evidence they had heard.5 To me the 1950s Commission report is so sale in its statements and so careful that it is and was a fairly useless document to guide us into the future. I know some still value it but its failure to take a position in respect of other healing cultures which were then clustered around 'faith healing' makes it to my thinking a piece of Anglican fudge which by being acceptable to everyone speaks to no one.

A Demonic Dimension?

Since the 50s there has been almost nothing in the main-stream Christian literature to look at Spiritualism, etc. and Alternative Medicine from a Christian point of view. The gap has been filled by some virulent evangelical writing which seeks to condemn alternative medicine, faith healing and spiritualism etc. as being of the devil. I used to have a number of books on this topic for some writing I did ten years ago but I found myself so deeply angered by the uncompromising and intolerant writing that I threw all but one of them away. The argument of Roy Livesey, the one book I have retained, is that the power that undergirds alternative medicine as well as spiritual healing is real. Since it is not of God therefore it must be of the father of lies, Satan. Evil is identified with practices that lead to health from a strange cultural background, in other words it is identified with those outside the Christian group doing similar things It does not take much common sense psychology to be very suspicion of a mental mechanism that places all the evil in people beyond the group and be unable to see anything of evil within. It is a classic case of projection, the process that demonised witches, the Jews, the Communists, the Blacks and homosexuals. We are good, 'therefore those outside must be labelled bad so that our purity is not compromised.

Having suggested that the classic evangelical response to alternative healing, religious and non-religious is a classic case of projection of evil, I do not say that everything there should be welcomed uncritically. But I would claim that we cannot take for granted that because someone thinks and behaves differently from ourselves that they must be condemned. Christianity teaches a recognition of the evil that is present in and among us and we are to be chastised by the story of the Pharisee whose sense of goodness was fed by the contemplation of the wicked Publican who stood beside him. Does not that sound uncomfortably close to the genre of evangelical writing that 1 have briefly described. Books that seek to condemn others as evil on the grounds that they are in thrall to Satanic forces when in fact the main evidence for that evil is to be found in our imagination and because it diverges from our ideologically pure methods of healing. I am also very worried by another tendency among Christians which is to suggest that all sickness is caused by evil or demonic forces. Once again we are creating a world where evil is always outside and never with in. A cause for great anxiety.

Theology and its weaknesses

There are many contemporary issues which I could discuss at this point but it is important to use our limited time to look at the historical and theological roots of this particular way of thinking to demonise those who one does not agree with. The issue is one of theology and it is a weakness in theology that goes back a long way.

Let me remind you of the situation of St Augustine of Hippo who wrote at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the. 5th centuries. Augustine was in conflict with the writer Pelagius, a Briton who apparently taught the heresy that the will of man could bring him close to God. Such ideas were anathema to the Latin Church of the time and Augustine was given the task of confuting the teaching. As with many debates the reaction over-emphasised a point and Augustine taught the utter depravity of human-kind, a depravity that had only one solution faith and trust of the action of God through Christ. Teaching about the utter depravity and ignorance of human beings meant that those who followed this way of thinking would never find anything positive to say about ideologies and metaphysical traditions which emerge from outside the Christian framework. The Church was the one and only bastion of salvation and outside the Church no salvation or possibility of finding truth existed. The logic of this system as Calvin and the Inquisition developed it was to demonise and if necessary bum your opponents who did not agree with you.

This negative strand in Christian teaching typified by Augustine and Calvin gives, as Matthew Fox and his teaching on Creation spirituality tell us, no place to the essential goodness of creation as suggested in Genesis. Also we can point to the teaching of Jesus which was arguably mainly about the offer of God's wholeness, forgiveness and healing. Sin in the gospels is not seen as a problem of being in subjection to Satanic attack, but as a problem of wrong choice. Jesus said that it is what comes from within that pollutes a man rather than which comes from outside.

The evangelist comments that he was talking about foods but it makes equal sense to suggest that Jesus was not laying the origin of sin at the devil's door but with the perverse choice of the individual. In short Jesus himself does not give his support to the idea that the world is totally fallen and corrupted by the power of evil; the natural state of human beings is one of being incomplete through a failure to choose God. Evil of course will flow from this failure to choose God but this evil is deliberately willed rather than belonging to a natural inherited state of utter depravity, ignorance and fallenness.

Pessimism and Optimism

Christianity has indeed grown up with these two strands, the one more powerful pessimistic variety stressing the depravity of human beings and the whole world; this has tended to align itself with political systems with strong structures of power and hierarchy. A second strand of Christianity has taken a more optimistic attitude which sees the good in human beings before it sees the evil. The second tendency has been more ready to affirm the goodness of the world and everything in it and it only becomes evil when it has been deliberately made so. Eastern Orthodoxy has always preserved a tar greater sense of the nearness of God in the created world, whether or not conscious of him, and the world without an injection of Calvi nisi/A ugustinian pessimism has been seen far more as a mediator of divine glory. The sense of nature transfigured by divine glory is graphically portrayed in the tradition of icons, both in their manufacture and veneration. Healing as a theological idea fits well into this Orthodox sense of God being revealed in and through created things. Just as nature's full glory is seen when the goodness of God is seen within it, so the human being is also designed to reflect God's glory and both healing and wholeness are signs of this process at work. To be healed is to participate in the divine glory, the fill] dimensions of this to be made manifest at the end of the world when 'God shall all in all'.

To cut short this historical excursion I see in the evangelical demonisation of alternative healing methods the application of the old Western tendency to regard the material world as depraved and without hope except through its rescue through Christ. Were we to look at alternative healing methods from the second perspective we have outlined above we can see that these methods may be evil as the evangelical literature claims and that it could be the focus of the devil's work but equally it may not be. It needs to be evaluated with far more sophisticated tools than the blunderbuss approach of Mr Livesey and a whole genre of evangelical literature.

Ways of Looking at Healing Methods

How are we to took at the cluster of healing methods that fall outside conventional medicine and Christian techniques? In the first we could apply the common-sense approach and look to see the fruits of the methods under discussion. The polemical literature assumes spiritual harm and one German writer Kurt Koch claims to have exorcised thousands of people who have among other things availed themselves of alternative medicine.' Koch's books need to be challenged through the sheer implausibility of his claims. A thousand people is three exorcisms a day for a year and so thousands means several people a day being exorcised year after year. Such statements do not inspire confidence. I have looked in vain for convincing evidence in the literature that an individual has come to spiritual harm from a reputable alternative healer or even a faith healer.9 The main danger of such techniques is that a vulnerable.. individual might become too dependent on the so-called healer That is however a danger that is present in all healing systems, medical, alternative and Christian. By contrast Christians themselves in several recent cases have been found guilty of causing spiritual harm to their clients as events in Sheffield have made all too evidently clear. Speaking of spiritual harm I find it hard to imagine that an individual inappropriately exorcised by a well-meaning Christian minister is not in considerable spiritual danger. Also many people are reported to suffer considerable spiritual harm when they take part in hyped up healing events and one Methodist minister of my acquaintance holds retreats for those who emerge from such events deeply scarred by their disillusionment and disappointment. Although I have not found the evidence of spiritual harm I am prepared to believe that it exists: meanwhile I note equally we as Christians have not a clean sheet to be proud of in projecting evil into ideologies we disapprove of.

The second way of looking at alternative medicine and spiritual healing of all kinds is to look at the ideology that undergirds it. I have had to do some reading on this subject for my book that is coming out in November, Searching for Healing, and I have been fascinated to see the way that alternative medicine is rooted in a variety of religious and metaphysical traditions. Apart from the obvious sources in Indian and Chinese thought, alternative medicine comes from some very Western sources, particularly the metaphysical traditions of 19th Century America. Magnetic healing, a wide-spread 19th century healing method draws on the traditions and ideas of Mesmer and 18th century France but they became combined with a fascinating pot-pourri of ideas from people like Swedenborg and Hans Gram, a pioneer of homeopathy in America. America provided the necessary freedom for the novel and bizarre to be born and it is not difficult to see how Christian Science and Spiritualism were the products of this era. My understanding of the background of the alternative heating systems that emerge from 19th America as well as those from Indian and Oriental sources enables me to see them as culturally different from our Western patterns and my feeling about them is the same as my feeling about other world religions. Speaking personally I would never want to change my Christian faith for another but this unwillingness is not the same as saying that the other religion is irremediably evii, Insights of great beauty abound within them but by making such a comment I am not committing myself to uncritical approval. In the same way, if the world religion analogy is correct for our approach to the other healing cultures, our position should be one of critical respect for the good that they may contain as well as an awareness of where they fail short. We get nowhere in our approach if we start from a position of total condemnation.

Evil and Power

I want to bring my address to a close by expressing why I feel it would be a considerable theological and practical mistake to see in alternative healing cultures unredeemed evil. One reason I have already mention is that by doing this act of projection we are simply failing to do justice to the Gospel command to repent ourselves. I make these comments with a healthy respect for those gifted people who do discern and deal with occult evil that does from time to time occur in people's lives. If l have to be drawn on this kind of evil it seems nearly always to be the result of some deliberate alignment with occult power. It is not as some current books suggest through some unwitting or even innocent interest in the strange or the exotic or unconventional. The motives for getting involved with evil would appear to be a desire for power, the power that comes from knowing the future or manipulating situations or people according to one's will. Power seeking seems to lie behind most if not all the evils of the world and most of the horrific actions perpetrated by individuals, murder, child abuse, rape, theft etc. One individual may steal to feed his family but more often it is done to rise above where he is, to obtain advantage and prestige over others with the minimum of effort. Power is then the most typical reason for getting involved in the occult, magic and satanist ritual. The power may then be used to abuse or manipulate other people, or it may be the power that increased possessions can bring.

When we leave the question of occult evil and the need for exorcism, about which much could be said but is outside the scope of this talk, we come to the question of evil and power generally in the healing ministry. I would maintain that there is a problem of evil in the healing ministry but it is just that it is not in the places where evangelical commentators have put it. It may sometimes be found in those places but equally it may be found in among Christian practice as much as it is to be found elsewhere. To say that the Christian practice of healing is somehow lily white and that everything else is suspect at best and demonic at worst is massively naive, and dangerously naive. The tragedy of Sheffield was in part a consequence of this theology. As long as they were in church the participants believed they were safe; everything could be trusted; the evil was elsewhere. The rationality of projection had come to that congregation and so they could not see the evil when it was staring them in the face, until some of them had been nearly destroyed by it.

When we come back to our title, Facing Fears in the Healing Ministry, as it applies to the second part of this talk, there are fears to be faced and identified but they are in different places to where evangelical commentators have put them. A whole genre of literature has taught us to tear the practices of alternative practitioners and faith healers; I agree that they must be feared but only when they are guilty of practices that need to be feared and the practice that is to be feared is above all the misuse of power. Individuals who dominate us, misuse our trust, exploit us emotionally and maybe sexually. These will be found among quack healers, who take our money, people with doubtful motives for laying on hands or who use strange powers to make us dependent on them both for emotional gratification and/or our money. But the evil of power is be feared and identified in the church as well.

People who seek healing need to recognise that the title Christian does not remove the possibility of evil, of power abuse and manipulation which is the worst kind of evil that the world knows. To lake advantage of another individual in an ordinary situation is one thing but to abuse then when they have been be softened up by religious talk is heinous in the extreme. God has been used to create a situation of vulnerability which is then exploited by human power. 1 would be surprised if anyone could produce a worse scenario in the annals of alternative medicine and faith healing. This is again not to give that world a clean bill of health, since human beings are involved but let us at least be realistic and not automatically demonise them before we have carefully probed and looked at what they are doing with reasonable humility and open-mindedness.


In conclusion and summary, what I have tried to do this afternoon is to look at two areas of fear that afflict Christians who have healing ministries. The first is the whole charismatic world which appears so strange and threatening to those who are outside it. I have suggested we can appreciate what it is doing and absorb some of the intimacy as well as the power of that culture even if we do not want to identify totally with it. In the second place I have spoken of the world of alternative medicine and faith healing which is too readily demonised by Christians, especially those of evangelical persuasion. I have expressed my belief that while we recognise that such people do belong to a different culture from Christians, our critique of them has to be tempered with a certain humility in that the real evil in the healing ministry, the misuse of power can occur and does occur as much among Christians and in Christian groups as anywhere else. Fear of evil and power abuse is in order but not the automatic demonisation of groups different to us, anymore than demonisation of members of other religions is a way of promoting understanding. Let us remember that if we are to grow in the healing ministry it is to be with the antidote that God gives us for our fears. Perfect Love casts out fear.

© Guild of St Raphael