Fundamentalist church leaders in the UK put lives of HIV parishioners at risk
A NUMBER of young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead.
Medical staff told the BBC that some pastors in England were putting the lives of young church members at risk by pressurising them to stop medication.
Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles.
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 ten 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.
Sixteen-year-old Oliver (not his real name) said he was told by a pastor to swap his HIV medicine for a plastic bottle containing water that would heal him. He said many others had come under the same pressure.
I’ve been to other churches where… the pastor stands forth there, and he says ‘come take this water… if you drink it for this certain amount of days, you are going to be healed’.
Later, after his mother had experienced what he believed was a miracle cure, Oliver stopped taking his medication, and his condition quickly deteriorated.
He has since gone back on his medication and said he believed he needed to combine his drugs with his belief in faith healing.
Dr Toni Tan, a consultant paediatrician, said:
It’s my view that it’s very wrong for faith leaders to actively encourage their congregations to stop taking their medication… it will lead to their deaths.
Pentecostals and other Christians see healing, like speaking in tongues, as a sign of the presence of God. 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. 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.
Dr Steve Welch, who is chairman of the Children’s HIV Association, said it found it difficult to engage with the faith leaders of churches where healing was an integral part of the worship.
We need to stay engaged with the families and understand that… their faith is an important part of the support they get in their condition, and engage positively with them and not make it a clash of cultures. I think it’s about engaging with the pastors and faith leaders who are giving this advice because that’s how we will actually address the root of the problem.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn