Imagine you had a life-threatening illness and were being kept alive with medicine. Would you stop taking that medicine if someone asked you to?

Normally we would say no but there are some circumstances in which people are saying yes.

A recent report on the BBC website entitled Church HIV prayer cure claims ‘cause three deaths’ highlights a recurring problem. People are dying because their evangelical pastors are telling them they have cured them and they no longer need to take their medicine.

Much of African culture has created an environment in which authority is not to be challenged. This leads to the situation where a pastor’s irresponsible advice is heeded over sound medical evidence simply because they can quote a few bible verses! We are told not to question these pastors or we will be challenging God. What arrogance these pastors have!

Recent studies, many funded by Christian groups, have failed to show that prayer can heal. The evidence is at best inconclusive. In one study the group who knew they were being prayed over actually got worse – presumably from the pressure they felt to improve! At best prayer should be seen as complimentary to medicine not as an alternative.

Any pastor that suggests their congregation should throw their medicine away should be viewed with suspicion. In fact pastors should stress that, regardless of their prayers, medication should continue.

The sick are also made to feel guilty when their condition does not improve. They are led to believe that God always heals the sick and therefore if you are not healed it’s either because your faith is weak or because you have hidden sins. This is of course unbiblical but the pastors rely on the fact that most people do not read the bible or, if they do, do not understand it. Blaming the sick for their failure to improve is cruel.

If the British Parliament is planning to respond to this situation in their highly scientific culture, how much more do we need African governments to bring in guidelines to protect the vulnerable? In the UK, every death is registered and the cause of death determined through post-mortem. In Africa this may not be the case. How many people are dying because of misplaced faith? We may never know.

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