Church Under Fire After Three People Die After Being Allegedly Told To Stop AIDS Drugs In Favor Of Prayer

Now, this could make for an interesting torts lawsuit. The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), a Nigerian-led Evangelical Christian church in London, has claimed to have the cure of people with HIV that involves their stopping all medications and praying for a cure. The results, critics say, has been not the promised “miracle” but three deaths.

Pastor T B Joshua is Nigeria’s third richest clergyman.

The church’s website, describes him:

Born on June 12th 1963 in Ondo State, Nigeria, T.B. Joshua’s journey is a humbling story of how God raised a young man from a poverty-stricken home to lead an international ministry that would attract thousands worldwide to witness the reality of God’s power today.

From dropping out of secondary school in his first year to working in a poultry farm; from teaching little children while attending evening classes to washing people’s legs on the muddy streets of Lagos; from a forty day fast to receiving a divine call and starting a ministry with a mere eight members – the life of T.B. Joshua is a story of amazing grace and unwavering focus. Today, he is a mentor to presidents yet a friend to the widows and less privileged, a role model to his generation yet a humble and hardworking man, toiling tirelessly for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

The Church website also promises faith can heal:

Divine healing is the supernatural power of God bringing health to the human flesh. Thousands who come oppressed with sickness and disease receive their healing at The SCOAN as the very life of God changes their situations and moves their impossible mountains. Truly, there is never a sickness Jesus cannot heal.

In the United States, we have struggled with the line between free exercise and criminal or tortious conduct. In Nally v. Grace Community Church 47 Cal. 3d 278 (1988), a California Court refused to impose a professional duty of care on pastoral counselors who provided spiritual counseling to a suicidal church member before he committed suicide. The case is highly controversial. Here is the court’s description of the core allegation:

The third count incorporated the negligence allegations by reference and charged defendants with outrageous conduct for teaching certain Protestant religious doctrines that conflicted with Nally’s Catholic upbringing and which “otherwise exacerbated” Nally’s “pre-existing feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression.” (In this context, plaintiffs claimed one of the defendants told Nally that his temporarily paralyzed arm caused by his suicide attempt was “God punishing him” for his sin.) Plaintiffs also alleged that defendants’ conduct in counseling Nally was outrageous because they “taught or otherwise imbued [Nally], whom they knew to be depressed and having entertained suicidal thoughts, with the notion that if he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, [he] would still be accepted into heaven if he committed suicide.” Here, plaintiffs relied on Thomson’s statement to Nally days before his suicide that one who is saved is “always saved,” and on a short passage taken from a 12-part tape-recorded series, entitled “Rich Thomson: Principles of Biblical Counseling,” that was a recording of Pastor Thomson’s 1980 classroom lectures to seminary students.

However, even when a church holds itself out as a counseling center, the Court found it was inappropriate to hold the church to a professional standard. Moreover, they court refused to apply a negligence standard for pastoral counselling:

“Because of the differing theological views espoused by the myriad of religions in our state and practiced by church members, it would certainly be impractical, and quite possibly unconstitutional, to impose a duty of care on pastoral counselors. Such a duty would necessarily be intertwined with the religious philosophy of the particular denomination or ecclesiastical teachings of the religious entity.”

The holding effectively insulated churches from negligent counseling. Putting aside the causation questions raised in the case, the rule is quite sweeping and reads like a constitutional privilege or immunity.

The English case, in my view, is a more difficult case than the California case. A church could reject medical procedures as a matter of faith. For example, the Church of Scientology is famous or infamous (depending on your view) for its rejection of psychiatry. To allow lawsuits for refusing to counsel that Scientologists seek psychiatric assistance would be to deny their faith. As shown below, the church appears to believe that the cause of all pain is sin:

How can a court take such views and apply an objective standard for negligence without getting into the reasonableness of the views? Much of this will depend on the degree to which the counseling obscures the line between faith and psychiatric or psychological treatment.

What do you think?

Source: BBC

27 thoughts on “Church Under Fire After Three People Die After Being Allegedly Told To Stop AIDS Drugs In Favor Of Prayer

  1. Individuals always choose their own medicine and their own poison.

    Fine.

    But a non sequitur occurs when anyone attempts to usurp individualism by institutionalizing it, whether the power attempting to do so is a church government or a secular government.

  2. As shown below, the church appears to believe that the cause of all pain is sin

    The Marines believe that “pain is weakness leaving your body” …

    Meddlers of all sorts are a pain in the arse.

  3. Dr. Marcus Bachmann’s faith-based counseling center in Minneapolis collected annual Medicaid payments totaling over $137,000 since 2005 giving “quality Christian counseling”.

    Nothing imaginary about that payoff. ;)

  4. 1. One factor is, in the pursuit of happiness, the ability to die for one’s beliefs. And practically, it is pointless to try to stop it.
    2. Another factor is dishonest advocacy: the urging of one party to accept and act on a belief that one does not accept oneself. Madison avenue comes to mind.
    3. Another factor is malpractice – the right of the consumer to halfway decent service – as measured against a standard of care. The biggest problem here is getting written standards. This task really needs to be done as part of consumer protection, and could be seen as part of trademarking. You claim you are a “doctor”? What is the operational definition of that?

  5. Negligence — seems there would assumption of risk or comparative negligence issues.

    Warranty — probably a unfulfilled condition precedent: not enough faith or not the right type of faith.

    Damages — what is a somewhat shortened life expectancy of an AIDS victim?

    Also constitutional and evidentiary issues.

    I see the real problem with imposing faith based healing on minors and incompetents. But with consenting adults? — not so much.

  6. I just keep thinking about Voltaire and those words that seem immortal:

    “If someone can make you believe absurdities, they can also make you commit attrocities.”

    We, in modern times, would have to add ” attrocities even against yourself.”

  7. with all the free passes and subsidies given to churches I am surprised more companies don’t go that route.

    Picture Apple declaring that Jobs was the deity that so many are treating him as. They then say that their operating system amounts to their bible.

    Think of the tax savings, protection from lawsuits, and more.

    Microsoft could do the same thing and walk away from anti-tort actions against them in the name of religion.

  8. mespo,

    Got to love that Voltaire. And these lot of absurdest thinkers came sooooo close having the perfect acronym. If they’d only chosen Synagogue Church Of Ridiculous Notions, they’d be known as SCORN.

  9. If we are going to complain about leaders who lead people to death in order to maintain their empires, we should look beyond the minor league players towards the big leagues.

  10. How 11th century.

    Meanwhile, our own society is on the verge of elvish longevity, and we are woefully unprepared for it. Drugs are coming within 5 years to significantly slow aging, and offer better late quality of life. Within 10 years, those drugs will simply halt aging with ongoing complete repair. Within 20 years, those drugs will be part of our food supply. AIDS and such will be relegated to polio status: been there, did that, fixed it, who’s next?

    We are in a golden age of medicine. Health care? Not so much. What does longevity do to the “boomers will bust the bank” argument? What is the purpose of social security? What is “retirement?” If you can be milked for 40 years, why not 400?

    Far more obvious, where are we going to put new people if the old ones don’t clear up space by keeling over from time to time?

    I think these questions are far more pressing than prayer. The State has zero interest in longevity, and such substances will join the long list of things the government currently bans and cannot control.

    It’s coming.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blackberry/p.html?id=1019722

  11. @Dredd “How about terrorism we can believe in baby?”

    Utterly infuriating. And there is simply no reason, no excuse for it. The former vice president can be kept alive by a magical device that replaced that lump of black coal that was his heart, a wonder not possible even 10 years ago, while the rest of us are free to die on the emergency room floor if you cannot “pay.” Paging Dr. Bachmann: THAT is the face of barbarism.

    The golden age is the science. The dark ages remain health care. I insist on leaders that make it their personal business to connect the two, and now. Time’s a wastin’.

    There is a similar case to be made for information processing, but it lags medical science, and it waits for quantum computers. When they arrive, hoo-wah…Star Trek will seem quaint. Who will get those miracles? Just the 1%?

  12. My childhood best friend’s family was Christian Scientist. Even as a 12 year old I could tell there was something very wrong with her mother. The father took her to Christian Scientist “practitioners”for help. One day my friend was walking home from school and saw flames billowing out of the basement of her house. Her mother then got conventional medicine help, which wasn’t very successfull. My friend never really got over the trauma of that day. Now my friend’s mother was non compis mentis when she was brought to these “practitioners” so couldn’t have possibly consented to this treatment.

    My own Boston based family had many Christian Scientists in the older generation. My great aunt died of bed sores in a Christian Science nursing home…My grandmother refused pain medication as she was dying of colon cancer-a death bed relapse into the religion of her childhood. Another relative had a club foot her whole life because it couldn’t be prayed away. I suspect one of my grandmother’s siblings died for lack of medical care in the early 1900’s. An awful religion

    Blouise-you are totally right.

  13. I say we provide Pastor T B Joshua with a syringe of active HIV and have him self-inject and then demonstrate how well his prayer technique works on himself over the next five years.

  14. francisdane,

    I had, as an adult, a very good friend who was totally committed to her Christian Science faith … a faith she had been born into as a child in Boston. I spent months studying her religion so that I could intelligently discuss it with her as she dearly loved to talk about Mary Baker Eddy and the fundamentals of Christian Science.

    About 15 years into our friendship she developed breathing problems which I suspected were heart related and to placate me she agreed to see a cardiologist. A diagnosis was easily reached as her condition was common. Two little pills were prescribed. She never took them for to do so would be betraying her faith.

    Oh she wanted to live and she worked daily with her practitioner and within a year she died. I still grieve for the loss of my dear friend.

    Did she love her religion more than her life?

  15. why did you choose to twist what the bbc article said?
    the report never linked the deaths of the three in question to tb joshua and the scoan – it merely gave factual information about the ministry,

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  17. its actually a sort of advert for scoan, the article didn’t even hint that those deaths to scoan, it probably mentioned scoan because only the synagogue openely advertises Hiv healings that do occur there on the internet, having read the article, its clear that it was only a suspicion the AHPN nursed, SCOAN definitely had nothing to do with it anyway, if they did we would be hearing countless of reports not just one.

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