Church teaches 'miracle' cures

The West Australian/March 17, 2012

By Rebecca Trigger

A Perth church is charging students $880 to learn about "supernatural ministry" and its followers claim to have used prayer to heal Down syndrome and cancer, help recovery from a brain operation and cure allergies.

The Churchlands School of Supernatural Ministry, which holds classes at the Churchlands Christian Fellowship Church in Balcatta, has drawn strong criticism from doctors and health groups for offering false hope to people suffering serious and terminal diseases.

Among testimonies on the church website is one from a Perth man claiming he helped heal an unborn child who medical staff said had a high chance of Down syndrome. A woman says she stopped taking depression medication after a sermon about healing.

The 10-month course is based on a similar school run by a fundamentalist Californian church which promotes miracle cures.

One student of the Perth school, who asked to remain anonymous, described "treasure hunts", where followers listen to God for descriptions of sick people they must find and attempt to heal. God tells them the physical characteristics, medical conditions and locations of the sick people.

For example, students could be told they were looking for a woman with blonde hair and a heart condition at a supermarket and they would approach her and offer to pray for her.

"It involves quite a bit of courage because you find someone who does have a heart condition (and then have to approach them)," the student said.

The student said they were taught that God worked through them to perform a miracle and people reported everything from zero to total improvement in their condition.

The teachings are drawn from the US-based Bethel Church, which runs a School of Supernatural Ministry and sells DVD teaching packs for US$6995 ($6645) a set.

Australian Medical Association WA president Dave Mountain condemned the teachings as a "health disaster waiting to happen".

"It has a huge ability to distort perceptions of what's the right thing to do if you have a major health problem or illness," Dr Mountain said.

"We have seen enough major cases in WA in recent years where these types of incredibly dangerous ideas mean that people put off getting proper health care or never get proper health care and end up with either themselves or loved ones or children dying because of these false claims."

He said sick people should not have to deal with being approached by people offering them false hope.

Cancer Council WA director of education and research Terry Slevin said there could be a risk patients would go off their medication if they believed they had been "cured" by a faith healer and he urged people to discuss all their treatment choices with a health professional.

A spokesman for the Department of Commerce's consumer protection division said he could not comment on individual cases but would investigate if a complaint was made.

A spokesman for the Council of Churches WA said the peak body did not have a position on the teaching of faith healing.

The Perth school, which is registered with the Department of Commerce as a Bible college, is run by dean of studies Stephen William Glanz.

Mr Glanz told _The Weekend West _ the healing was only one small component of the supernatural ministry course. It primarily taught how to "connect with God".

He believed he had seen serious and terminal diseases "healed" by God but the Perth church had mainly seen more mundane "healings" of sore backs, frozen shoulders, neck pain and headaches.

Medically speaking, the "healings" were difficult to prove, Mr Glanz said.

"If the public is looking for really concrete medical proof, and not just the fact that someone's life has improved or someone has something seriously wrong, and they couldn't do something one minute and now they can do something - if that's not good enough proof, then they probably won't get good enough proof from us," he said.

The director of the company that owns the church's land, John William McElroy, said the course fee was just to cover costs, and the church did not charge for healings but raised money through collections. Mr McElroy, who is also a senior minister at the church, said he always advised people to check with their doctor before going off medication if they believed they had been divinely "healed".

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