When Faith to Heal Lands You in Prison

One Sunday last September a 13-year-old girl with pancreatitis was feeling worse than usual and laid down. Her parents prayed and fasted that she would return to health, anointing her with oil and laying their hands on her for healing. By Tuesday she was dead, the victim of a chronic—but treatable—condition that had ravaged her 160 cm tall frame over many weeks until it weighed only 30 kg (BMI 11.7).

Last week an Austrian court sentenced the parents to five years in prison for neglect of a minor resulting in death. The jury deadlocked on the charge of murder by omission. The state prosecutor appealed the decision and plans to seek a harsher sentence.

The parents are members of a small Protestant denomination (referred to locally as a “free church,” which means that it’s not under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church in Germany) that does not reject conventional medicine outright but does attach great importance to faith healing.

At trial, the parents—who knew about their daughter’s chronic illness and had taken her to a doctor once before when she had had a massive infection that nearly took her life—testified that they would have been willing to call a doctor but that their daughter did not want them to: “She trusted in God.” They recalled her strong conviction that God has a plan for each of us and her wish that “If God doesn’t heal me, I want to go to heaven.” Moreover, they insisted that their faith could not be dismissed as negligent wishful thinking but was grounded in firsthand experience: “I expected that God would heal her. He had always helped us—there was no reason to assume He wouldn’t help.”

These parents have not received much sympathy from the general public. At best, the case has prompted much armchair quarterbacking. I know I would have handled things differently—my own daughter has been sick this week with fairly mild symptoms and it’s all I can do to sit on my hands and not rush off to the doctor—and I imagine most of BCC’s readers would have sought professional medical attention at an earlier stage too. But in our thoroughly secularized society these parents and their belief in faith healing have also been the target of outright scorn, the general tenor being that those who believe in the supernatural are in fact bad people.

Well, that hits close to home. The testimony these parents gave in their defense would not have been out of place in a Sunday school lesson on, say, the power of prayer. The faith to heal and be healed are established in modern scripture as gifts of the Spirit. Now, I don’t actually know any Mormons who place all their eggs in the faith healing basket. Everyone I know avails themselves of prayer, fasting, anointing and the laying on of hands in parallel with as much modern medicine as they can afford (and then some). Like skeptics, Mormons too are confident in their abilities to achieve systematic knowledge of nature. At the same time, however, we also place much stock in faith healing, as evidenced by our scriptures, modern teachings and individual experiences.

And I don’t think that makes us bad people. But maybe that’s just because faith tempered by a lot of science produces outcomes remarkably similar to science by itself that skeptics and believers alike can be content with.

So I’m curious about how you approach faith and medicine in your lives. Does one amplify the efficacy of the other or in your view do distinct domains exist for each? To what extent would you allow another to exercise faith if the outcomes weren’t look good before intervening? In cases where faith healing incontrovertibly failed to deliver desired outcomes, would your faith in God as one who helps His children, either according to a divine plan or by petition, be shaken? How would you explain to a skeptic that your position with regard to faith and healing is not absurd or even harmful?


  1. Interesting. There is a very fine line between ‘faith’ and ‘stupidity’. Faith is wonderful, it bears us up in times of trial, it’s something we can lean on when there is no other support perceived. BUT. It’s not faith (in my opinion) to ignore signs that something (action on our part) is needed. God helps those who help themselves. Listening to the ‘faith’ of a child is idiotic in cases where the logic is beyond their understanding. Medicine was put here by God as a tool to use to heal ourselves. Ignoring that wonderful gift seems to me to be spitting in God’s eye in a sense. But I am not judge nor jury for the actions of others, I do leave that up to God.

  2. Part of me feels bad for these parents, but the larger part of me just doesn’t relate to trusting God’s will that much with my child’s life.

    I think I believe that faith, prayers, and fasting might make a difference in healing in other people’s lives, but for myself, it would be a covering all my bases sort of thinking. I honestly can’t imagine submitting to God’s will that thoroughly. But that’s a personal problem.

  3. Doctor. All the way.

  4. waynefrank says:

    Abraham trusted in God’s will/design completely in the matter of Isaac as did Lehi in sending his entire male posterity in harm’s way back to Jerusalem. (And Nephi accepted knowingly). However, to turn a proverb around a bit; Man shall not live by faith alone but by also by the wisdom (logic) that proceedeth from the mouth of the Lord.

  5. I honestly can’t relate to the parents on a personal level. If someone I knew was refusing to get their kids medical care for religious reasons, I’d probably try to persuade them to rethink their decision. But it strikes me as deeply wrong to imprison parents for this.

  6. I know that healings from blessings do happen, but it really does seem to be primarily contingent upon the Lord’s Will. Since we don’t seem to be able to discern when it’s the Lord’s Will to heal, I’m fine with making use of modern medicine. The cynic in me, then just chalks up healings from God as a way to save on medical costs, but I try to suppress that voice.
    As far as being an arm chair quarterback in this case, part of me would also have sympathy for the parents if they were just exhausted with hospital visits. You do mention that the daughter felt worse than normal, but it still might have been conditions that they’ve seen before, and have come and passed before too. In addition, you can get a “Boy who Cried Wolf” exhaustion with chronic illnesses too. If it seemed like the parents felt that their daughter was going to die without medical treatment, then I could see charges of neglect, otherwise I don’t think that I’d be too judgmental of their situation.

  7. People die all the time and have since the beginning, so I don’t think that God is in the business of healing every person who believes in Him. Which isn’t to say that people can’t be healed, but I think God is more concerned with how we live our lives and how we deal with the end than when the end comes. But He hasn’t told me that directly so that’s just some guesswork on my part based on observation.

    That being said, I had a bishop who told everyone that God blessed us to live in a time with medical knowledge so we are supposed to use it. Yes, pray for health, but understand that part of the answer to that prayer is access to a doctor and medication. I’ve always felt that was a good approach to take.

    And that being said, my heart aches for those parents. It’s very likely they were doing the best with what they thought they knew.

    Personally, I struggle with the concept of praying for a specific medical outcome and question large groups of people praying for that. Do more prayers equal better results? Does that make faith healing a popularity based outcome? I can’t believe that since people recover all the time with no prayers at all. I suspect the relationship between faith/prayer and healing is the opportunity to come closer to God, no matter what the outcome, and group prayers/fasts bring a community together and encourage them to help those in need.

  8. God has inspired humanity to discover cures and create treatments that save countless lives. Science is not antithetic to faith, it is a tool of faith. We hope something is true, so we try it out, and when we find that it works, we share that knowledge with others.

    When a person is cured by medical treatments, it is still God curing that person, through the means of inspiring and teaching his children to help each other.

  9. I firmly agree that pure faith healing is misguided, but this isn’t as simple as “faith vs. medicine”. Would the parents have been held liable or viewed negatively if they had taken their child to a naturopath? Or if they had gone to a conventional Western doctor but chosen to pursue a less effective course of treatment? (or chosen to forego treatment after weighing the risks and side effects) Parents/patients can’t be obligated to always pursue the most effective course of treatment – they need to have a say in the matter.

    In this case perhaps it’s black and white, but where do you draw the line?

  10. Ryan Mullen says:

    I do not sympathize with these parents, and if I was on a jury and the facts of the case agree with the presentation in the OP—the parents were aware of her medical condition but opted not to seek routine life-saving treatment for their dependent—I would vote to convict.

    I will also admit to being nonplussed by the comments here to the effect that “God gave us medicine.” God did not give us medicine anymore than They gave us TVs or iPhones. Medicine has been discovered and invented through painstaking and systematic human effort (perhaps coupled with the divine inspiration, but IME believing medical researchers are no more or less successful than non-believers). I could understand a faith-based argument that God gave us immune systems, but that’s essentially what these parents were relying on it and it was insufficient to save their daughter’s life.

  11. Would the parents have been held liable or viewed negatively if they had taken their child to a naturopath? Or if they had gone to a conventional Western doctor but chosen to pursue a less effective course of treatment?

    Reliance on a naturopath would likely have resulted in a similar sentence but they would have been off the hook for sure had they gone to a licensed doctor, even an incompetent one (it’s not up to the patients to determine that, and the doctor wouldn’t have much to worry about either since malpractice is rarely found by the courts in this country, such is deference to this-worldly authority in these parts).

  12. I’ve recently come to the uncomfortable realization that I don’t really believe in healing by faith. Not that I don’t think it’s possible or that God can do it, but that I just don’t expect it will happen. Stories like this make me deeply sad, not just because of the avoidable suffering of the sick and those who love them, but because I can’t even fathom having that level of trust that God loves you and will help you. I’d really like to have a more credulous faith.

  13. Every once in a while, Brigham Young has something good to say:
    “If we are sick and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel and salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and to ask my Father in Heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, to sanctify that application to the healing of my body … it is my duty to do, when I have it in my power. Many people are unwilling to do one thing for themselves in the case of sickness, but ask God to do it all.”

  14. In church settings I have often heard things like “Work like everything depends on you. Pray like everything depends on God”. This statement leads to people using all the medicine they can get access to, praying like crazy, and attributing all favorable outcomes to God.

    I find this approach frustrating, because it feels like modern medicine is doing all the work, but God gets all the credit. This is probably the skeptic in me, but it feels like people would usually get the same results if they used all the medicine they could, prayed to an idol, and attributed the outcome to the idol.

  15. Let science heal the body and faith heal the spirit.

    By that I mean, God made us smart enough to learn how to use our brains and resources to solve all kinds medical issues. But science can’t necessarily calm the anxiety our spirit feels. I don’t believe faith healing works, at least not for except the very rare actual miracle, where the body is healed in a way that it could not possibly be otherwise with or without intervention. But I don’t think faith is useless. Praying, fasting, blessings, etc can help comfort the people who are going through it. Even non-believers are willing to offer “good thoughts” in lieu of prayers because they think it will help in much the same way.

    Those prayer and good thoughts that are offered in love and good faith for the benefit of those suffering can be an immeasurable good to the psyche of the sufferer and their loved ones. And a soothed spirit can help a pained body along whatever journey it needs to take more smoothly.

  16. Personally, I’d say the parents were punished enough through the ordeal. I’d also be one to forcibly take my near terminally ill child to the doctor to get healed, no matter what their wishes. it’s a time to teach, not marvel at their faith.

    Apologies, but I’m going to drive to a tangent. What if the illness was not more immediately life threatening, but something that could be more life threatening over time? My mind goes this way because of various discussions with my more right-wing family. What if the illness were gender dysphoria? (i know it’s not classified as an illness, but bear with me) I get the occasional meme talking about how we don’t let children drink or smoke but we’re willing to let them change their gender. It’s at least one fallacy, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to find families near me who would rather let prayer try to suffice (or just take their chances) rather than let their child undergo something that could ultimately save their life.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    Set aside the faith aspect of this case, and what is left is someone who chose to forego medical treatment and die on her own terms. Such choices are often lauded.

  18. John Mansfield, she didn’t “die on her own terms”. She refused medical treatment because she thought/had faith/hoped that God would heal her miraculously. God did not heal her and she died. That is not the same thing as having a terminal illness and choosing to discontinue or not pursue medical treatment, and it is not something to be lauded.

  19. Late night studying says:

    True conversation (except names have been changed):
    My mom: Jordan came home from the hospital today!
    Me: Oh, that’s great!
    My mom: Thank goodness for prayers.
    Me: And for doctors and nurses.
    My mom: What’d they ever do?
    Me: dumb-founded silence.

    I’ll take MDs and RNs and CNAs and RTs and OTs and PTs and RDs and SWs and lab and imaging and cleaning staff and clerks and cooks and even administrators. And insurance (but single-payer would be better).

  20. Rebecca R Banks says:

    I think faith healing happens a lot more than we give it credit for when that is the tool that is needed. Miracles are documented from the aftermath of Hauns Mill, for example. There was no doctor available, no nurse or anything. However, I have received a blessing and was blessed that I would find the right doctor or other practitioner to help me solve the ailment. That prayer helped me not feel silly about trying some alternatives I might not have. I saw PCP, neurologist, ENT, chiropractor, ophthalmologist, and acupuncturist. I stopped there because acupuncture is what worked. But I was guided to keep reading and considering my options.

  21. Friend: Modern medicine is a miracle.
    Me: Yup, that anyone would want to suffer and sacrifice so much to learn how to help people regardless of who they are or what they’ve done is a freaking miracle.

    These poor parents. I am grateful for what Jesus taught about casting stones. I believe that every parent legit tries their best, and is expected to do the impossible without much support or guidance. As an imperfect parent, who does her gosh darn best and still falls short, my heart breaks. Every child deserves perfect support and parenting. Every child deserves parents who always get it right. Yet no child does. Heart broken.

  22. If there is a question between faith and science, I try to side with science and logic. Even if the science is still emerging, it seems the better bet.

  23. “How would you explain to a skeptic that your position with regard to faith and healing is not absurd or even harmful?”

    Well for one, this isn’t my position. I see priesthood blessings as nothing more than shows of moral support with maybe a slight placebo effect. Utah hospitals probably have more priesthood blessings than any other hospitals in the world. Their rates of patients healing from serious illnesses don’t appear to be any better than in other hospitals. There is no statistical evidence that priesthood blessings drastically improve health and healing beyond the norm. Luckily Mormon culture is supportive of modern medicine and doesn’t reject it in favor of modern medicine. But for those religions who do, shut ’em down and lock ’em up (I’m looking at you Christian science). It’s not religious freedom when a religion forces its members to risk their lives because of superstition. James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica, grew up Christian scientist and watched his mother die of cancer because she refused modern medicine. He has written several great songs about his experience growing up in an anti-medicine cult.

  24. Have to agree.

  25. Science, technology, and reason are paving the path for more and more people to recognize that faith is not all that it once was cracked up to be. My opinion, through a long-life in the church, and association with thousands of faithful members, is that even within the church fewer and fewer people actually believe in faith healing. They outwardly go through the motions but inwardly don’t expect much out of it. Every once in a while you get the anecdotal testimony of a miracle, like in some earlier comments above, but given a large enough sample there will inevitably be healings which cannot be explained and thus are credited to the God of the gaps. But if we are honest and consider the magnitude of illness, accident, pain, suffering, and death in this world, we must admit that prayer and fasting have no effect. Wishful thinking might provide peace to the soul, but they simply don’t work miracles. What kind of God would he be if he actually answered a parent’s petition anyway? That would be a pretty terrible jerk God if he doled out blessings to a child contingent on the faith of a parent. Oh so sorry for the innocent little children whose parent’s aren’t faithful, sucks to be them. Try to apply even a little bit of logic here. Any God he grants blessings to people based on the faith of the person’s family and friends is no God worth my worship.

  26. Deborah Christensen says:

    If it’s true that her BMI was only 11.7 then she was skeleton and skin by the time she died. It’s one thing if a child has a chronic illness and doesn’t feel good and asks not to go to the doctor. It’s another if the child looks like they’ve just been released from a concentration camp. I have feelings of sympathy for the parent’s loss. If the kid really had a BMI of 11.7 then it’s reasonable for the state to pursue some charges for the parents. This goes beyond faith healing verses western medicine.

  27. Yes, that was her BMI at the end of life, which doesn’t happen overnight, of course.

    Speaking of which, in response to John Mansfield above, I don’t find anything laudable in the requirement to starve oneself to death in order to die on one’s own terms. But this is a bizarre discussion to have in the context of a minor with a chronic condition that, while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, is far from a death sentence.

  28. Can someone offer an example where the power of the priesthood healed a very sick person?

  29. This topic is complicated and so hard. I appreciate you turning our attention back on ourselves and our own beliefs, because it’s so easy to judge others.

    For myself, I believe that faith to heal and be healed work in tandem with appropriate professional medical care. I think most members of our church would use our traditional proof-text of James 1:5 to support this position, and though I am skeptical of using that particular scripture in that way, I sympathize with the underlying logic. I believe God is the author of truth and has blessed his children with knowledge and wisdom in the realm of medical science as well as every other realm. It would be foolish, in my judgment, to reject the help that God has made available through medical care while expecting help through faith and anointing.

    One thing about the example case does raise questions for me, though. The parents claim they offered their daughter the option of going to get professional treatment and she refused, stating her preference to die if God did not heal her through faith alone. It seems we have only the parents’ word for that, and who knows how their offer of medical treatment was framed. I certainly would be a lot more comfortable with what happened (if not entirely at ease) if the girl had left an official record of her choice to refuse medical care. The girl had a chronic condition; the OP doesn’t offer details about the nature of that condition or what effects it or its treatment might have had on her. As a chronic health sufferer since childhood myself, I can sympathize with the girl’s alleged willingness to die rather than continue living with her condition, though mine is not usually fatal even when untreated–just extra miserable (and untreated for most of my life due to doctors’ refusal to take my symptoms seriously, lack of much medical knowledge about my condition or means to treat it, and lack of access to health care). So such a choice for me has only ever been hypothetical.

    As the new handbook makes clear, our lives are sacred gifts, and we should strive to care for and preserve them where possible. But it is not morally necessary to prolong life in all circumstances for as long as is medically possible. While our church affirms that assisted suicide is immoral, withdrawal or refusal of medical care is another matter to be considered prayerfully by those immediately involved.

    So. Who gets to decide under what circumstances it’s appropriate to withdraw or refuse treatment? Should children, with or without their parents’ consent, be allowed to make that choice? Are there or should there be limits? What if the parents HAD taken her to the doctor but she had refused treatment and died anyway? What if she had refused treatment and been forced by her parents and/or doctors to receive it against her wishes? We will never know what might have happened, but I think that these possibilities are worth considering as we develop our ethical frameworks for caring for the sick, with or without a faith component.

    Also, no matter how old you are, please have conversations with family members and doctors about what kinds of lifesaving care you do and don’t want. Put it in writing and review it periodically so you can adjust it as circumstances change. It’s hard to think, let alone talk about this stuff. But it’s even harder to have to make decisions in moments of crisis if you haven’t made such preparations.

  30. In reply to those who are skeptical of the efficacy of healing by faith/priesthood blessings:
    I agree that most priesthood anointings for the healing of the sick do not lead to what we could call miraculous results. In most cases, we can attribute the person’s recovery (if they do recover) to medical science and/or the natural working of their immune system. Yet I disagree with the idea that healing blessings are ineffectual.
    A patient’s belief that they can get better and that their God will support them through the process of getting better does make a real difference in the outcome of many diseases. And I don’t believe it matters all that much whether they believe their god or gods are the same as the God who visited the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. I believe God answers such prayers, when offered in faith, regardless of language or creed. Even if that effect is “only psychological,” or spiritual, it often has a profound effect on the patient’s ability to endure their suffering and continue their own efforts to recover.
    I speak from personal experience. When I was a teenager I began suffering from debilitating symptoms that my doctors largely dismissed as being either malingering or possibly depression. Despite being exhausted and in pain literally all the time to the point of not being able to attend public school or regularly attend church, I was not depressed and did not in fact meet the DSM criteria for depression. My family and I did not know what to do. My dad has also suffered from chronic illness similar to, but not the same as what I was going through, equally unexplained or dismissed by doctors but even more debilitating; he’s been homebound for most of my life. And one of my teenage brothers was also suffering from similar symptoms plus undiagnosed and unrecognized chronic anxiety. All three of us received blessings from a dear priesthood leader who had a local reputation for the gift of healing. Each of us were promised that in the Lord’s time, our health would return and we would be able to lead full lives.
    After several years and a move away from the heavily air-polluted Salt Lake valley to the cleaner skies of Idaho where my asthma was much improved, my overall health did also improve (though I still have ups and downs). I was able to attend church regularly, get my GED, hold a job, and go to college. That was decades ago. Only five years ago did I finally have a primary care physician who listened to my history, took me seriously, and worked with me to get a proper diagnosis that enabled me to receive prescription medications that help me manage symptoms that nevertheless I will probably have to endure for the rest of my life. My brother is only recently beginning to show signs of improvement. My dad is sicker than ever, due in part to advancing age.
    Over the years, many family members and other people who know us have asked me unansweable questions like “why is it that you were healed but your father and brother were not?” PSA: this is a cruel question to ask anyone at any age in any circumstances, let alone a girl about her beloved father and closest brother. I know they were asking it because of a desire to work out their own confusion. Maybe they thought I would have access to insight unavailable to them. But they should never have asked me or anyone else, especially members of my family who were already so burdened.
    However, I’d rather be asked that question 100 times every day than hear the even more horrible conclusion that some people came to: that it must have been that my dad and brother lacked sufficient faith to be healed. Or what one young women’s leader earnestly said to me during those awful years when I was still too sick to attend a full 3 hours of church on Sunday (and sometimes none at all). She tearfully told me AFTER I HAD JUST BORNE MY TESTIMONY that she knew that God wanted me to attend church and that if I just had enough faith, God would heal me so I could be active again. Needless to say, her comment made me feel rotten. It remains deeply painful to this day to have had my faith so dismissed by someone who ought to have been a comforter and a support during those years. Because of her, I stopped even wanting to attend YW meetings or activities regardless of how my health was on a given day; my religious devotions became almost entirely private for years, though I never lost my testimony of the gospel.

    I say all this so you understand that I don’t speak lightly when I affirm the power of priesthood blessings both to aid in healing and to sustain people through their suffering.

    I say all this so you understand that the choices that families have to make when their children are chronically ill are so very, very hard, and sometimes there are no good answers, and that outsiders are often partially or totally ignorant of the full circumstances.

    Please, be compassionate. Mourn with those that mourn, whether because of illness, death, or other tragedies. Seek to comfort those who need comfort, not by offering opinions or advice (unless they specifically ask you), but by asking what you can do, by spending time with them when and in the ways that they’re able. Forgive them and do not judge them when they fail to meet your expectations because of their infirmities.

  31. Ok rr, you offered a very personal story and I am not trying to offend or argue. But my point is that just because someone was healed or had improved health after a priesthood blessing does not mean the priesthood blessing was the cause of the healing. Most likely it was merely coincidence. There is absolutely no proof of the efficacy of priesthood healings. Especially when you consider that every single days millions or faithful prayers are offered on behalf of those suffering, and they are not healed, it is not appropriate to continue claiming that blessings actually work. It becomes psychologically damaging. The myth of faith healing is a form of spiritual, emotional, and psychological abuse.

  32. Jack Hughes says:

    I’m naturally a skeptic so I don’t lend much credence to the efficacy of priesthood healing blessings, beyond the minor emotional comfort and placebo effect such a blessing may provide. Multiple priesthood blessings and a family fast weren’t enough to stop aggressive cancerous tumors from ravaging my dad’s insides until he couldn’t fight anymore. There are many other examples of failed priesthood blessings I’m personally aware of, but that one is the most egregious one of recent years.

    I’m also aware of “miraculous” (unexplained) healing experiences others have had in connection with priesthood blessings. I don’t mean to discount such experiences, but I believe there are logical, scientific reasons for such things to happen, even if they can’t be explained by present-day medical science. Priesthood blessings represent good intentions, but don’t really do anything, and I’m OK with that. It could be that God works through the “blessing” of medical science, as others have suggested. I’m definitely opposed to points of view that hold faith healing as superior to science.

    On the rare occasions when I’m called upon to give a blessing, I oblige, but with quiet reluctance. I carefully word the blessing to avoid making any promises I (or God) can’t keep. Even so, I feel at least a little bit dishonest when I do it.

    If one day I found myself in the hospital with a life-threatening illness or injury, if offered a blessing I would probably just accept it as a well-intentioned gesture, but I’m not sure how I would feel about it deep inside. Perhaps having to face my own mortality would change my perspective, I don’t know.

  33. When I or members of my family have been faced with health challenges, my approach is to use all available tools—modern medicine and prayer. I’ve heard experiences from LDS members who’ve seen “miracles” happen that their Drs can’t explain as well as disappointments of others who thought all the signs were there that their loved one would be saved by God’s miraculous healing, but weren’t.

    As I get older it is harder for me understand a God interventionist world where thousands of children die every year from starvation, neglect or abuse.

    Apparently in the U. S. the law differs from state to state as to how/if parents can face penalties for not seeking medical care for children.

    “ The California Penal Code holds that “any person who . . . willfully causes or permits any child to suffer . . . or permits that child to be placed in such a situation that its person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment.” Within the past decade criminal convictions have been obtained in California against two sets of Christian Science parents who allowed their children to die without medical treatment.”
    (The Atlantic 1995)

  34. rr, thank you for your contributions. I think your call for compassion is spot on, whether one believes in the power of faith to heal or not—we can be unwittingly cruel in our attempts to make sense of peace and suffering alike.

  35. J. Stapley says:

    I’m a little late to the discussion, but I think that this 1835 letter from Olivery Cowdery evidences a pragmatism that his been with us for the duration:

    We are a people who design living near the Lord, that our bodies may be healed when we are sick, for a general rule, though our faith is yet weak, being young, weak and surrounded by a wicked enticing world—When, however, we have need of an earthly physician, and in many instances we have, we call upon our highly esteemed friend and brother Dr. F. G. Williams, universally known through this country as an eminent and skilful man.

  36. Thanks for that quotation, J. That sounds like the approach my ancestors have always taken.

  37. I am APPALLED at the number of active members I know, even in positions as high as Stake Presidencies, who are anti-vaxxers and openly advocate pseudoscientific treatments for all kinds of illnesses and treatments. There seems to be some vulnerability of this due to a certain arrogance of the saints while ironically we hoist the banner of the importance of education. This is painful to me that this is a problem in the church and it is a BIG problem where I live. It also seems to be pervasive in a casual view of safety culture. Our bishop blessed God after he was in a serious car wreck with his children and none were injured despite the car being rolled and totaled. They were not wearing seatbelts.
    I view all established medical treatments as God given. Should all treatments be used with judgement? Of course! Do I believe in faith healing? Of course! After all we can do. You’ll excuse me if when a loved one is ill that I pull every lever I have, including openly begging of the Lord when I may have no right to or when reason suggests all is lost.

  38. Frank Pellett: (I appreciate you, sorry I am late to the discussion). Being transgender is not an illness, gender Dysphoria is. While not everyone who is transgender has Dysphoria, it can be deadly, and nearly killed me. Here is what the science says:


    My faith in the Proclamation wasn’t helping me live, it was killing me. I followed the science and feel cured, joyful, and peaceful. As a consequence I was denied entrance to the temple and have been marginalized by my institutional faith (most individuals have been kind). My advice to any transgender people out there who need to live? Go with the science, your life is too important.

  39. Lona – I’m deeply (and intimately) aware of the status of gender dysphoria and being transgender not being an illness. Unfortunately my family won’t believe it no matter how often I remind them. The great increase in the possibility of suicide was what I was trying to get at. It was my oblique way of trying to expand the conversation to the too often case of taking something less immediately deadly (such as dysphoria) and how most conservative people who may think the parents in the case went too far in not helping their child feel that dysphoria is something that prayer and faith will “fix”.

    I’m lucky to be in a place where the dysphoria isn’t always very bad. I pray where I am lasts for as long as my life needs, and if it does worsen, that I can take advantage of medical and other advances to reduce the dysphoria.

    Anyway, it’s something for each of us to think about; where is our line, where we decide that an illness is “bad enough” for medical attention? With the growing pandemic, it’s going to become a question we can’t avoid thinking about.

  40. Thank you Frank, I have and do always appreciate your comments. Since the transgender experience is an intimate phenomenology, the road each person traces in dealing with the sometimes powerful and potentially deadly consequences you alluded to is intensely and intimately personal. Where, indeed, is the line? We are made to have joy, and happiness is the aim and purpose of our existence, so I am told. I think your outlook is healthy, you recognize your circumstance and how it is affecting you, and that you recognize solutions that are available if you need them. This is a better place to be than where I had been for most of my life, where I had dug myself into a tight corner of never allowing myself the option of transitioning but just hanging on by the skin of my faith. Even when I did start taking hormones, it was with the plan that I would just take a small dose in order to attenuate the dysphoria and help to keep me alive (ie to stop me from driving my dysphoric self literally off of or into a cliff). The more I started to feel well, the more urgent it became to live, and not just suffer. But each person is different. Where is the line? Is it drawn at being able to stop oneself from killing herself, or to be able to stop oneself from merely wishing they were dead all the time? Or is it at the place one stops herself from truly living and thriving? I don’t know, can’t say there is one answer, each person needs to find that for themselves. The church is just fine with trans people who are invisible, and they have now made it official policy to treat the even visible ones warmly and as part of the community, but not at the temple, not in any eternal family as we solemnize that here. I have been told again and again by many who are closest to me that if I just allowed Christ to change me, I would not have to be or express as transgender. This is a solid reliance on faith healing, for something that is not inhernetly an illness. The dysphoria comes not from being transgender, but from not being able to reconcile oneself with the milieu (writ large and small), the cure for that would be for the world to change, and gratefully, it is, bit by bit by little bit. I am incrementally revealing my transgender status to patients of mine who are Latter-day Saints, so they won’t be blindsided or shocked when they see their doctor start to come to church presenting feminine, so that they could build a framework and a context that would work for their family, especially their children, without having to scramble. One sweet mother started crying, and told me that in a previous ward, she had two different friends who were transgender who they had lost to suicide because they had come to feel that they would never have the chance to express themselves or to be right with themselves. She said she was glad that I was still here, and was feeling that I could change if I had to. This brought the faith-healing vs science toxic dichotomy home to me. Thank you for your insight Frank, I wish every blessing for you my friend

  41. I’m generally a sceptic about the gods’ intervention in the physical world. I see prayer usually being more effective at helping me to more gracefully respond to the challenges of life than to efficaciously triggering an intervention in actual physical processes. More often than not, priesthood blessing or not, people’s healing seems to follow a rather natural course. In fact, as skeptical as many commenters have been about “faith healings,” I’ve seen a fair amount of failure in medical interventions as well. Nonetheless, I vaccinate my kids (hell, I just got the first shingles shot – no use going through chicken pox again at my age!) and head to the doctor when it seems like medical intervention would be appropriate. I also give and receive priesthood blessings. And to my joy, both medicine and blessings have provided positive surprises. Some “miraculous” outcomes could be demoted as coincidences – and some probably were – but a few of those coincidences seem to stretch the odds a bit (I teach stats and I was born in Vegas, I like beating the spread). I make no supposition as to why or when the gods choose to intervene. In general, I think the universe is rather indifferent and the gods’ role is to provide sufficient spiritual grace and growth that such cosmic indifference doesn’t lead to nihilism. What I do know is that most people will chose to filter the data to fit their own paradigm, regardless of the paradigm. Rarely will we choose to kill Schroedinger’s cat.

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