The news that Evangelical churches in Britain are 'curing' HIV sufferers and persuading them to come off their medication tells us a whole lot more about those churches than it does about their victims.
Undercover reporters from Sky News have exposed pastors from the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, who claim a '100 per cent success rate' in curing HIV infection through exorcism and prayer alone.
SCOAN is described as Evangelical, though it sounds to me that it's more likely to be at the fundamentalist, Loony-Tunes end of Pentacostalism.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2066123/Church-claims-heal-HIV-sufferers-1-obsessed-sex-curing-homosexuals.html#ixzz1fDQ05GHR
It's a kind of abstraction of Christianity, which offers a healing ministry not so much through faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate son of God, but as a kind of witch doctor.
But it would be wrong complacently to assume that this represents an aberration at the margins of Christian churches.
There are disturbing resonances of this kind of superstitious guff in mainstream Anglican churches too.
In some Evangelical traditions of the Church of England you will be told that HIV and AIDS - not so long ago dubbed the 'gay plague' - is God's judgment on the sinful.
This is really a branch of Protestantism that considers its adherents the 'elect', God's pure and perfect chosen people who will be raised in the 'final days' through the 'Rapture' to live in eternal bliss with Christ, leaving the rest of we miserable sinners to burn forever in the molten pit of our own sinfulness. Nice.
And they're utterly and exclusively obsessed with sex. Walk into particular west London Evangelical churches and you can quite quickly be told not only that homosexuality can be 'cured', but that sexually-transmitted diseases are the consequence of sinfulness and the infected must repent.
They are, of course, strictly speaking correct that celibacy will negate the risk of sexual infection.
But it's funny that they don't get nearly as worked up about the other human weaknesses that make us critically ill.
You will hear not nearly as much holy censure of obesity, driving too fast, drinking too much, smoking or (of particular relevance to young, west London congregations working in the City) drugs.
It's not just the Evangelicals. A prominent, Anglo-Catholic Rector was not so long ago admonished by his bishop for saying publicly: 'Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH.'
It's odd that the Church of England, which has proved to be a sanctuary for so many homosexuals, both repressed and 'out', should harbour such obsessive resentment about sexuality. I guess it's about self-loathing as well as homophobia.
But it's also very sad. Because the gospels have relatively very little to say by way of condemnation of sexual practices, compared with the great deal about our attitude to money and the distribution of wealth.
That's very substantially why the Church's response to the Occupy movement's protest against City financiers on the steps of St Paul's cathedral was initially so woefully inadequate.
People rightly look to the Church for some direction about what affects their lives on a day-to-day basis, not finger-wagging about what they get up to in the bedroom.
Don't get me wrong. Those of us who hold to a Christian faith mostly believe in a God who wishes for us long and healthy lives in His service.
We must try to deliver on that desire for all people. But most of us would also believe that our medical profession is a holy endeavour of healing ministry, engaged in God's work, whether or not individual doctors and nurses confess the Christian gospel.
That's one very strong reason, by the by, why we oppose euthanasia; excellence in palliative care is the way forward, not death as a clinical treatment.
The same principle must be applied to the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
Unfortunately, the Synagogue Church of All Nations can see only itself doing God's work, rather than health professionals engaged in their effective healing ministry.
And, as a consequence, it is tragically offering death to the HIV-infected as a pastoral ministry.