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The Ozarks is home to a colorful palette of religious communities. In our ongoing series, KSMU delves into the lesser known of these faith groups by listening to their voices and hearing their perspectives. The Church of Christ, Scientist has endured harsh criticism for its reliance on God’s ability to heal any physical ailment through prayer, and prayer alone. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has this report.
On Saturday afternoon (June 5), visiting lecturer Suzanne Riedel will deliver a talk titled “Security and Living Without Fear.”
She’s a Christian Science practitioner. That means she devotes her life to living out her belief that she can help and heal others through prayer.
“When someone contacts me—and they can contact me in any way...they can contact me by email, whatever--and asks me to pray, I usually want them to tell me what their need is. What I’m looking for is, 'Where is their thinking? What are they afraid of?' if they know,” she says.
She then speaks to them, using references from the Bible, about God’s love for them, and about the mindset they should have.
“You might think, well, that’s just calming things down. That’s just removing stress so they can live more logically and live more comfortably. And that may be the human picture, but it’s really not the human mind that changes. The human mind releases its sense of fear. [It] releases its sense of being in control. You wake up and recognize God is in control,” Riedel says.
The Church of Christ, Scientist is completely separate from the Church of Scientology, though the two are sometimes mistaken for one another, simply because their names sound similar.
Christian Scientists place a heavy emphasis on getting into a quiet place, shutting out thoughts of fear, stress, or panic, and listening for what they call God’s guidance.
Many Christian Scientists believe that once a person truly understands God’s love and influence in their lives, that person can be fully healed of anything—even broken bones, mental illness, cancer, or AIDS.
According to the church’s official website, Christian Science was founded in the late 1800s by an author, teacher and healer named Mary Baker Eddy after she herself had a healing experience which she attributed to prayer.
Today, practitioners like Suzanne Riedel carry on that tradition.
In past years, Christian Scientists have come under intense criticism for not seeking treatment for their sick children. Some children have reportedly died of their illnesses, many of which were treatable with modern medicine, like diabetes.
A few of these deaths have even resulted in Wrongful Death lawsuits, and in some cases, state agencies have become involved.
Riedel says she’s personally seen ailments and illnesses of virtually every kind—including cancer and broken bones—healed through prayer alone. She does say, however, that sometimes people do not physically recover.
“I have seen experiences where there wasn’t healing that I wanted to see. In my own life, I can tell you that I haven’t had that experience-I’ve certainly seen, and with our children, we’ve certainly seen that sometimes something would have to be prayed about for awhile, that it would take time. But you would see progress moving forward until there was eventual healing. I don’t see it, though, as a system failing, any more than you would say’ mathematics failed.’ The person using it may not understand it well enough to apply it,” she said.
She says she can pray for people wherever she is, but sometimes, especially in the case of a child, she travels to the site of the person who is ill.
NAT SOUND: Christian Science Reading Room
Jim Johnson, of Nixa, is a lifelong follower of the Church of Christ, Scientist. I meet up with him in the Christian Science Reading Room on South Glenstone in Springfield.
NAT SOUND: Moore: “So, all of these volumes here…are filled with accounts of healing?”Johnson: “Spiritual healing, yes.”
Johnson says that while the church’s belief in prayer for healing is an important part of the faith, there’s much more to it than that.
"Christian Science is more about salvation. Redemption. Understanding our relationship with God," he says.He recalls a time when his daughter was scheduled to dance a main role in a college ballet. Her part was to begin after the intermission.
“But it changed in the program. Then they put the house lights up and they made an announcement that there was going to be a change on who was dancing the part. Well, as a dad, I go back and [say], ‘What’s up?’ And they said she had hurt her foot," he says.
He held himself back from reacting, he says, and let his daughter take the lead in handling the situation.
Johnson: “She was praying about it. And she was at a school that everybody else there was helping her pray. And lights came up, it started, and there she was dancing it.”Moore: “So what do you attribute that to, when some people are healed more quickly than others, and when some people sometimes aren’t healed, or at least in the way that you would hope?”Johnson: “It’s a very good question. And I’ll go back to the Bible, where at times Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal a certain situation. And he would come up and say this would be healed through prayer and fasting. In Christian Science we look at healing in two different ways. One is healing instantaneously. And that is done primarily through a real understanding of love. The other type of healing is called 'by argument.' And that is where we are affirming the truth and we are what’s called 'denying error:' what is the truth about man and his relationship with God.”
Founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote that traditional surgeons focus on just the physical in treating disease—a mindset that she wrote “invites defeat.” Both Johnson and Reidel say there is no prohibition on going to see a doctor if a person chooses. But they rely on prayer first.
Johnson: “Christian Scientists are not anti-doctor or anti-medical. However, we choose spiritual means rather than material means.”Moore: “Do you consider modern medicine as being something from God, or a gift from God?”Johnson: “I think that any education in mankind, where we are learning more and more, and we are searching for the truth, is a right activity. It’s something that’s good—that’s leading to the understanding that in reality, what’s important and what is real is spirituality and not materiality.”
There is one Church of Christian Science in Springfield.
Christian Science Practitioner Suzanne Reidel will speak at the Southside Senior Center on South Fremont Saturday afternoon at 2:00.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.