Opinion Former Article

BHA: Prayer cannot cure HIV: churches’ deadly “miracle cures” must be stopped

Pastors prescribing prayer to “cure” people with HIV have been criticised as ‘irresponsible’ by a former Health Minister and the British Humanist Association (BHA) today has said more needs to be done to protect people from dangerous and false claims by evangelical churches which encourage people with HIV/AIDS to stop taking their medication.

An investigation by BBC London found that at least three people had died after being persuaded by their evangelical Christian churches to stop taking antiretrovirals and to pray to God to cure their infections instead. The investigation also found that a church has been publishing claims and testimonies that it can perform miracles in addition to “healing” people with HIV, including “cancer healing”.

In 2009 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint made by the BHA against a billboard advertisement by the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which insinuated strongly – and falsely – that the act of anointing had saved someone from a life threatening illness when conventional medicine had failed, thus suggesting that the oil or the act itself had healing properties.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘It is nothing short of tragic that people have died believing the false claims made by the pastors and churches they trusted, and choosing to pray to be healed rather than keep taking medication which was keeping them alive. Unfortunately, the investigation’s findings are not a surprise as it is well known that many evangelical Christian churches preach about the effectiveness of religious practices when there is no credible evidence to support them whatsoever.

‘In a free society, people have the absolute right to believe what they want. However, when those in positions of influence, particularly over very vulnerable people, are promoting false cures through religious practice and even encouraging people to turn away from proper medicine, then more needs to be done. We would like to see the government take steps to expose, condemn and stop these practices which are undoubtedly dangerous and damaging to the public health.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Naomi Phillips on naomi@humanism.org.uk or 07540 257101.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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