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?