Christian Scientists use prayer instead of medicine. Here’s what they think about the ongoing Obamacare debate.

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Christian Scientists speak about health insurance policy and reform.
Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean

If Kelly Brother comes down with flu symptoms, he turns to prayer and God for healing.  

Brother, a lifelong Christian Scientist who lives in Memphis, believes in a spiritual approach to his health care, eschewing medical science for divine help. 

“We’re very much aware of the fact that we’re approaching things from a point of view that is very different from the majority of people,” Brother said. “It’s what works for those who are Christian Scientists.”

The 60-year-old graphic artist, who focuses on quiet thought or reads scripture when in need of healing, says he has been blessed with a healthy life.

But that does not mean Brother is ignoring the ongoing political fight over the Affordable Care Act, which reached a fever pitch this summer as Republican lawmakers tried but failed to repeal and replace the Obama-era law. The national conversation has quieted some, but new reform efforts continue in Washington.

“We do have the obligation to look out for the welfare of others,” Brother said. “As a Christian Scientist, I want everyone to have access to health care.”

Buy health insurance or pay tax penalty

Bonnie Jannasch, center, sings a hymn with other congregants during a service at the Nashville Christian Science Church in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)

Although they are free to seek medical care, many Christian Scientists do not. Still, the Affordable Care Act affects them. 

Unlike the Amish and some Mennonites, they are required under Obamacare’s individual mandate to either buy health insurance or pay an annual tax penalty.

The Boston-based denomination, which includes 1,400 churches worldwide, lobbied for an exemption, but the effort failed.  

The denomination does not dictate political positions, letting its members decide for themselves on matters like the Affordable Care Act, said Kevin Ness, the manager of the Christian Science Committees on Publication, in an email. Views on the law vary. 

“We do our best to be guided in our relations with society by the New Testament counsel to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’ and ‘unto God what is God’s,'” Ness said. “So, until and unless Congress sees fit to expand the religious exemption, we’ll certainly continue to honor our obligations under the ACA.”

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The Affordable Care Act is far from the first secular law to tangle with Christian Science’s healing beliefs.

Alan Rogers, a professor of history at Boston College, explored some examples in his book, The Child Cases: How America’s Religious Exemption Laws Harm Children. He looked at the conflict between law and religious principles, analyzing cases where children died following their parents’ choice to rely on spiritual healing for them.

‘A real tension that exists’

Christian Scientists are not alone in their decision to put their faith in God instead of medical science, Rogers said. But the large medical care establishment in the U.S. also has its happy and willing supporters, he said.   

“There’s a real tension that exists and has long existed in the United States in particular,” Rogers said. “I think it’s something that the Christian Scientist, Mary Baker Eddy, tapped into.”  

Eddy founded the religion in the 19th century and wrote the definitive Christian Science text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Christian Scientists believe that God is unconditionally good and not a source of disease.

“They pray to align themselves with the truth of God’s love and willingness to heal that rules out fear and sickness, and brings healing,” the denomination’s website says. 

As the national health insurance debate raged this summer, Christian Scientists in Tennessee began finalizing plans for a fall lecture on prayer and health. Bonnie Jannasch, who helped organize the webinar, wants people to find hope in it. 

“You yourself have dominion in your life for your health and well-being and that it’s right here for you to accept for yourself,” Jannasch said. “Healing is always possible because God is love.”

Christian Science treatment and ACA

In Christian Science, individuals can achieve this on their own through prayer and readings from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. They also can seek help from Christian Science practitioners, who have more expertise in the healing ministry.  

Practitioners are not employed by the church. Christian Scientists and others alike pay practitioners for help with their chronic and acute ailments and life issues. That treatment, given in-person and over the phone, can look like guiding people through prayer and scripture readings. 

But Christian Science treatment is not covered under the Affordable Care Act, said Elise Moore, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Nashville. She would like to see that changed. 

“It would be nice if we’re going to pay into a system that we could receive something from the system,” Moore said. “And, someone else that is paying into the system could elect to try Christian Science treatment and be reimbursed.”

In her ministry, Moore says she turns people from their problems toward God, who is the healer. She also helps strengthen their relationships with God. The first step is helping them tackle fear, Moore said.  

“The foundation of Christian Science is removing fear,” Moore said. “That’s not ignoring a problem. It’s giving someone the tools to remove the problem. Christian Science is a mental healing system. So change thought and that affects the body.”

Personal testimony on God’s healing power

Christian Scientists regularly share their healing success stories in the denomination’s publications and during midweek testimony meetings. 

Moore was among the half dozen or so people at First Church of Christ, Scientist on Hillsboro Pike in Nashville on Wednesday to recount their personal experiences. With their voices amplified by a microphone, they spoke about specific instances of relying on their faith to heal physical ailments, resolve conflicts and deal with fear.  

Adele Anderson, of Nashville, shared a testimony about not taking care of her voice before an important singing audition in decades past. Her father explained to her at the time that Christian Science was not a magical pill, and that she had a responsibility to care for her voice. 

After Wednesday’s service, Anderson, who has insurance through her employer, pointed out that sometimes Christian Scientists need health insurance and she supports having an affordable option for everyone. But Anderson often tunes out the debate.

“I actually try not to think about it because you can’t get into the anger and the what people are agitated about,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t help you in your healing or just everyday life to get mad about something. You either do something about it or you quietly pray about it, which is my choice.” 

In Memphis, Brother is willing to turn off the TV when the health care talk becomes too much. He’ll also push the remote’s mute button, which was first introduced to him by fellow Christian Scientists trying to tune out medical commercials. 

If he ever sought medical treatment, Brother does not think he would bring his prayerful approach to healing into the doctor’s office. 

“It’s kind of like trying to be a Tennessee and an Alabama fan at the same time,” Brother said. “It’s hard to do both.” 

For decades now, Brother said he has not experienced a headache or stomachache and rebounded from aches or a rash following rest and focusing in quiet thought and reading. There is no formula to it. He’s guided by inspiration.  

“Praying the way I’ve learned in Christian Science those situations are quickly healed,” Brother said. 

Reach Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer 

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