Churches and religious communities continue to adapt their practices amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organization now officially labels a global pandemic. Among those is Bethel Church in Redding, California, known for its hands-on faith-healing work, including at hospitals.
With a Shasta County resident testing positive for COVID-19, leaders at Bethel, a charismatic megachurch, are asking members to suspend visits to medical facilities, stay home from worship if they’re sick, and cancel mission trips.
Bethel Is Following Social-Distancing Advice
“Though we believe in a God who actively heals today, students are not being encouraged to visit healthcare settings at this time,” says spokesman Aaron Tesauro. “Through email communications, signage, and church announcements, we are actively encouraging health practices and precautions to our whole community.” No church members have been infected, as far as he knows.
The decision to limit interpersonal contact aligns with health officials’ recommendations to maintain more space between bodies in public, known as social distancing. Shasta County spokeswoman Kerri Schuette confirms that “having a healthy barrier between yourself and other people is a good way to protect yourself from any of the diseases that are circulating right now.”
The 2,400 students at Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry often travel throughout Redding, asking strangers if they can touch and pray for them. One woman recently filed a complaint at a local hospital, saying two students touched her child in an emergency room without her consent.
Tesauro, who says the pair thought they had the woman’s permission, apologized “for any unintended offense.” Students “are taught that even under normal circumstances, they must receive permission from both the facility and the individual before engaging in prayer,” he adds.
‘Medicine and faith are meant to work together’
According to Bethel’s Facebook page, the church’s Healing Rooms will remain open on Saturdays for healing prayers. In those rooms, Bethel says, “Passionate, joy-filled believers gather to host the presence of God and see him bring complete restoration and healing.” Last December, church members prayed for a worship leader’s 2-year-old daughter to be raised from the dead. After about a week, they ended their efforts.
“We believe that wisdom, modern medicine, and faith are meant to work together, and express the value for each in the pursuit of continued health and healing,” says Tesauro. But common sense is key, the spokesman adds. “Healing happens, but it’s foolish to take unnecessary risks with your health and the health of others.”
Not everyone who seeks healing leaves Bethel “well and whole” physically, admits founder Bill Johnson. “I refuse to blame God for this, as though he has a purpose in their disease,” he writes. “While Jesus did not heal everyone alive in his time, he did heal everyone who came to him. His is the only standard worth following.”
Critics, who already have a field day with Bethel’s beliefs, are addressing the church’s latest move. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, tells the Sacramento Bee, “It’s clear that when it comes to something really serious like coronavirus, their actions speak louder than their words. So, God is omniscient and omnipotent and can cure diseases if he wants, but just in case: wash your hands!”