The Line Between Faith and Recklessness

I had some awesome sauce on my eggs this morning.

{I’m not going to lie, this is a tough post to write, but please believe I do not take this lightly. I’ve mulled it over for hours, talked with others I trust about it, and this is where I find myself.}

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I’m sure we’ve all heard of Leilani Neumann in the news recently. If not, here are a couple links to get you up to speed.

The short version is: Neumann’s 11 year old daughter got sick and eventually died while Neumann was waiting for God to heal her. The key word is ‘eventually,’ as it took quite some time for the little girl to succumb. Even shortly after the girl’s death, Neumann is quoted as saying that she expected God to bring her back to life. She said she thought the girl was under spiritual attack and that the best thing was to keep on praying.

The determined cause of death, however, was diabetes, a completely manageable illness when properly diagnosed and treated.

But such was not the case. Even at the point when the girl began losing the ability to walk and speak in the weeks and days leading up to her death, when she wet herself on the family’s couch, and even when other family members and friends urged Neumann to take her daughter to a hospital, the mother (and I use that term loosely) flat out refused, opting to rely on her faith.

Yesterday, (May 22, 2009) it took a jury just over three hours to find her guilty of second-degree reckless homicide. This case begs the question: Where is the line between acting on faith and becoming neglectful? Having faith is one thing, but not using sound judgement is quite another.

But this issue doesn’t just end here for me.

Also recently, acclaimed faith healer Todd Bentley now has a death toll associated with his name. Many of the deceased in this matter stopped medical treatment when they were convinced by Bentley that God had healed them. This link provides a fairly decent, though admittedly one-sided, summary of the case. In spite of the tone of the blog entry, facts are facts. People are dead because of Bentley’s actions.

Now then, what do these two cases have in common? To me, legal responsibility.

Neumann obviously did not act responsibly with her child. Even close family and friends, fellow believers, mind you, suggested she seek medical help for her daughter along with their prayers. She did not heed their advice, and the girl died. She has been found responsible for the girl’s death by a court of law and, pending appeals, will likely be sentenced later this year.

I believe the Neumann case should be considered a precedent, and under that precedent a guy like Bentley should be tried for the deaths of those whom he convinced God had healed. I feel there is no reason he should escape justice. He has acted irresponsibly and caused people to die.

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In my opinion, Bentley’s list of “healed people” should be thoroughly investigated. Those who are still alive should be counseled and referred to physicians, since I think it is clear by now that Bentley did not wield the power of healing. Those who still believe they have been healed in spite of evidence to the contrary should honestly be treated psychiatrically. And I believe Bentley should be charged for each and every person he claimed to have healed who turns up dead.

Think about it. What if it was your mom who died? Or your husband? Or your son or daughter. Wouldn’t you want justice? Legally, isn’t the man who told them to stop taking medicine responsible for their death?

As hard as this is to say, shouldn’t this man be held responsible? And as Christians, shouldn’t we defend our faith by holding frauds accountable?

So there it is. Can anyone give me one good reason why Bentley shouldn’t being charged with some form of homicide?

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21 Comments

  1. Thanks for linking to my writeup of Bentley. I’m glad you feel you can link to my site about that, even though we disagree on many things.

  2. Daniel, most of us grew up in this style of Christianity, so we are uncomfortably aware of things like this.

  3. You began with the question about where the line can be drawn between faith and legal responsibility for consequences, but then jumped to conclusions about legal culpability. I wonder if you might want to explore a little more about how it is that some believers in faith healing are able to divorce it from healing through God’s gifts of medicine, etc? Why are they seen as antithetical to each other? In what way can competent medicine be seen as holy, particularly for those who strongly feel that faith must take precedence over all else? As for Mr. Bentley, and others, let’s face it; a con artist is a con artist.
    CP

  4. Yeah, I sort of derailed myself with this one. I really did intend it to deal primarily with the Neumann case, but as I was writing I came across the Bentley thing and just went with it.

    What can I say? I’m tangent oriented.

    So when it comes to medical care, my opinion is definitely seek the best you can get. If you believe in healing and therefore getting prayer makes you rest easier, by all means, do so. If meditation or Feng Shui or Tai Chi helps you get through those times, do that as well. Whatever helps you get through, I say pursue it. But unless that tumor disappears, let the medicine do its job.

    Now then, I’m probably not one who would say medicine is a gift from God in the same way that I wouldn’t call disease a spiritual attack. It seems that idea often goes hand in hand with the idea of God working through medicine. I’m not saying you think that, just saying sometimes the ideas are associated.

    To me, medicine works through simple cause and effect. It’s chemical.

    But hypothetically speaking, if we say that God works through medicine, and that God is responsible for the benefits of that medicine, is he also responsible for the negative side effects? If so, that sucks.

    Take me for example. My family believes God has helped me into remission through the medicine, but man… some days the side effects still become a very annoying issue, even after all this time. Is that God’s doing as well? Or does he only get credit for the good part of the equation? If that’s the case, who gets credit for the side effects?

    With this in mind, I have to put my health in the care of medical professionals.

  5. What if someone said that we are healed by faith and that “by his wounds(stripes) we are healed”? What if they said that turning to meds is not relying on faith and God takes his time to heal us sometimes because he wants to test our faith? Do things like taking meds, wearing glasses and buying wheelchairs corrupt our personal faith?
    What is your opinion on this?
    I had to deal with kind of stuff, so I was wondering how you would handle it and respond to it?

  6. I believe I just made my opinion clear.

    I go to the doctor when I’m sick. Simple as that. I’m in remission from leukemia and I take pills every day to keep it at bay. So far God hasn’t decided to show up, but if he does, I would certainly let you all know.

    I also wear glasses. I wouldn’t be able to drive a car if I didn’t. I also wouldn’t be able to grade diamonds at work or … well… *see* my wife and daughter at all. Is that a lack of faith?

    To address another point you made:

    If you read the articles about Neumann, she believed God was testing her faith, which is specifically why she refused sound advice and medical treatment. Because of that same faith, her 11 year old girl slowly wasted away and eventually died on the floor in their bathroom.

    I survived cancer because of medicine. This girl died of diabetes because of stupidity. Cancer is tough to beat, treatment for diabetes is unbelievably simple.

    So where do you draw the line? Because if that’s what real faith looks like, I want nothing to do with it.

  7. Another question: At what point is someone responsible for the death of someone else just because of advice that was given. Aren’t we responsible for our own actions? If we believed everything that people told us, we would do a lot of crazy things and there would be a lot of people in trouble.
    On the other hand, a doctor, I believe, should be responsible for the effects that his advice has on others. But many times doctors give wrong advice and there are no negative consequences for them. A preacher, on the other hand, is someone who is trying to do their best to discern the truth from a very confusing “Christian” belief system, and teach an audience. Are they really the ones to be persecuted if we don’t do our part and keep them accountable?
    For Mr Bentley, I do believe that he needs to have consequences, but just because he is being a “fraud” (if that is true).
    I know that we will be judged more harshly in heaven based on what we know and what we say. Isn’t that enough. Let God be the judge, that’s what I say (….and the Bible actually!).
    Yes the Bible does say that brothers and sisters is Christ should judge each other, but not by putting them in jail, but by exposing their sin. And if Mr Bentley is being fraudulent, then I would say that he may not even be a Christian, and therefore we are not in a spot to judge him.
    Ya,it’s not so cut and dry……….just thinking out loud, but something just does not seem right about putting all the blame on Bentley and not on those who are not thinking for themselves!

  8. I think you need to check your basic assumptions, and some of your facts.

    First of all, many of those who did not think for themselves, in the case of Bentley, are dead. Yes, they were stupid. But how do you propose we hold them accountable for their stupidity? They’re dead.

    However, since Bentley was the charlatan who duped those dead folks out of their money, health and well being, he should be held accountable. Religion has nothing to do with it at this point. He took life.

    But let’s back up a little. Here’s a fact:

    When a doctor gives bad advice, there can be, and usually are, very negative legal ramifications. That’s called malpractice, and doctor’s pay out huge settlements all the time because of it. The ramifications all depend on how bad the advice was, and what it may have caused.

    When the result is death, you better believe doctors can lose their license to practice medicine in addition to the fines and settlements. (Unlike preachers, who can just change churches and keep on “healing” and “preaching the word.”)

    And when a doctor *willfully* misleads a patient and they die as a result, you better believe that they’re heading to jail. They took life.

    But wait… Should we just let God be the judge of them, or is our legal system in place for a reason?

    Last I checked, it’s against the law to kill someone. I like that law, and I think it applies to everyone. No reason preachers or false preachers or fake healers or bad doctors should get off the hook.

  9. Unfortunately bad exegesis kills again. It’s not the first time (just ask a Palestinian), and it probably won’t be the last. However, the legal ramifications of deadly ideas I think are still a little vague. I am going to go ask my wife because she has a JD (which is totally hot). In the meantime…

    Yet another reason we shouldn’t ignore the apocrypha. Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) is full of wisdom concerning this type of thing. It warns us not to ignore or despise medicine because the Creator put it on earth for our use, and that we should honor doctors because they have gifts and talents from God. Duh.

  10. I think that you misread my comments. I ask certain questions that i am wondering about, or I write things I have heard others tell me in the past. I don’t believe in everything that I write, but when I write something that I do believe in, I make sure you know. I want to hear your opinions, not sarcastic, impatient, and sometimes angry remarks (that’s what I get from your responses).
    I know many people personally who have been given bad treatment, wrong meds, wrong diagnosis, and the doctors just say sorry and move on (even when the side effects are awful). So I’m not familiar with the law, but i know what I’ve seen, and that speaks clearer to me than the law because the law isn’t always enforced.
    As for the dead people, I believe that they have suffered the consequences of their actions: Death! I’m not saying that after they die, that is that. I just think that sometimes we put too much weight on the one giving the advice, and not enough weight on those who just take it for what it is.
    But like I said in my last comment, It depends on who the advice is from, and what the situation is.
    By now people shouldn’t be ignorant to the fact that Christianity is complex and full of false teachers, frauds, and selfish ambition! Obviously just persecuting people by the law does not help too much. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does help a little. We need people to start thinking for themselves and stop taking what they hear at face value. (that’s my opinion)

  11. I, also am what the media now terms an “extremist.” I believe our healing is to be trusted to G~D. I also believe no one is guaranteed a life of 70+ years. I do not believe anyone else has to live according to my choices, but by the same token, I find it sad that faith has now been officially deemed to be an illegal offense. Our first amendment right has certainly taking a beating these last few years.

  12. kdliz,

    I believe that God gave us a mind, and using it is included in “worshiping God with all our minds. This includes medicine. So I believe that using appropriate medicine is still “trusting God.”

  13. jstambaugh:

    I can see what you mean about apocrypha. I’m only casually acquainted with those books.

    If I’m not mistaken, a person who gives medical advice without a license can be held liable, especially if that advice leads to negative consequences. I guess I wonder where that line is legally. I think that’s the next logical step in this discussion.

    Adam,

    Why don’t you just say what you mean, then? No offense, but I don’t want to have a conversation with other people that have said things to you in the past. A lot of people have told me a lot of things, but my personal opinion is the only side I can debate from. It would behoove you to commit to an opinion of your own for the purpose of discussion. Otherwise, it gets very confusing trying to figure where you actually stand.

    As for me, I’m not being angry or sarcastic at all, I’m simply using the best logic available to me and trying to speak plainly. If it comes across otherwise, I apologize. I’m very matter of fact on this topic. To me, it is very cut and dried, indeed.

    kdliz:

    When a minor dies in someone’s care, that person is clearly responsible. The law is there to protect minors specifically in that case. Remember, she didn’t get hit by a car, she had undiagnosed diabetes. That’s a huge difference.

    adhunt:

    ‘ I believe that God gave us a mind, and using it is included in “worshiping God with all our minds. This includes medicine. So I believe that using appropriate medicine is still “trusting God.” ‘

    I couldn’t agree more.

  14. ADJ,

    I tried to get my lawyer wife to post, but she’s too busy writing briefs to the supreme court (and I thought all those guys wore boxers [that joke never gets old to me]). But, she does inform me that you are criminally liable if you give medical advice without a license. Also, as a “pastor” you are held to a higher legal standard because you are seen as an authority, and people are far more likely to take your advice than the advice of some bum on the street (though I’ve talked to a lot of bums in my day and many of them are a lot more sane than Todd Bentley).

  15. I will be more straight forward about who’s perspective I am coming from in the future. Sorry for the confusion. I just wanted an opinion from you to help me sort through some muddled thoughts! Everyone’s opinion is important to me!

  16. jstambaugh,

    Well, there it is.

    I wonder what state Bentley lives in right now. How hard would it be to start a petition to see him arrested for these things? Or at least investigated?

  17. The line between faith and recklessness is defined by knowledge,wisdom and understanding..a line that medicos had to fill over centuries of trials and errors, until you have the current system in the first world..and these three ingredients are often missing in christian circles, yet they are three of the Holy Spirit’s tittles in Isaiah 11.Jesus sent the leper to have his healing confirmed, so every christian should go and let their doctor confirm their healing..as cynical and as unbelieving we doctors may seem to be to healers, it is because we too were once dangerous charlatans until time and errors gave us the knowledge,wisdom and understanding to correct, discipline and rebuke our own kind.Most dedicated physicians are answering a call in their lives,even though the deceitfulness of wealth and the cares of the world makes most of us unfruitful for the kingdom. However, I know most of my colleagues have the well being of our patients in our hearts..and if someone can perform a miracle on our patients that we can confirm and so save them from our poisons and our knives, we gladly welcome them.Unfortunately, many preachers still make the mistake that science is against God,forgetting it is God who created science for us to discover.I have many patients who have been healed by the Lord, patients I know and have examined to confirm and verify the healing..blind man seeing,lame man walking, terminal cancers remitted, diabetes reversed,paralytics healed,deaf hearing,demoniacs restored to sound mind,dyslexics healed,autistics healed…yep the Holy Spirit is still at work..but not everyone is healed..and that is the truth.So what do I advice..get the best of medical care you can get, and trust God to do the impossible, but make sure your doctor agrees that God has healed you before you stop your meds or cancel your surgery. A couple of months ago, I had a women with a 70% blockage in her coronary vessel on CT scan,she was prayed for at a meeting, and on the day of her surgery the surgeons cancelled the operation because they could not find the blockage.Glory to God!On the negative side..when Benny first came to town a few years ago, the local fellowship of christian doctors arranged for me to review the cases at his crusade to ensure that the claims could be backed medically, but I was politely sidetracked by his secretary because they had their own doctors with them..a few weeks later ’60 minutes’ had a field day discrediting the ministry as those who claimed to be healed were found to be still sick.People ask me often, if I had a headache would I take a tablet or ask God to heal me..I always say,take the tablet because God has more important things on His agenda.Likewise..seek medical help when you are ill,for you do not know that God is sending you as a sign and a witness to the doctor. as for sickness being a spiritual attack..maybe, but if you look at Isreal,the only time they got the plagues was when they did not listen to God, and everyone of these plagues came from God directly, not Satan. You should read Lev26:14 and see the lovely diseases God sends to those who do not listen, do not obey and violates His covenant. I can identify diabetes and arthritis there already. So what do i prescribe? Listen to Jesus,and if you are sick..see a doctor for the diagnosis and treatment until the Lord heals you, and while you are waiting..repent.If a preacher says God has healed you,let your doctor confirm it..we doctors love miracles.Dr.Ed.manager Holy Spirit’s Workshop.

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