Patients would be treated with prayer, not medicine
Since Clifton House in Minneapolis closed a few years ago, the Christian Science-centered nonprofit group has been looking for a new home.
When New Brighton’s First Church of Christ, Scientist offered them two acres of their land, Clifton House jumped at the chance. The city is considering the group’s application to build a new home.
Some neighbors have complained to the City Council that the proposed building would block their view of Pike Lake, but nothing was said about how Clifton House would care for patients — through faith. Traditional Christian Science doctrine rejects medical care.
“Our whole mission with Clifton House is to support proper care for people consistent with their faith. It’s a very important mission,” said Sharon Hansen, the group’s executive director.
“We do have Christian Science nurses in the community,” Hansen said, “but it’s very clear to us that we need a place of our own.”
Brian Clendenen is a trained Christian Scientist practitioner, or nurse. He will talk to patients, pray with them, clean wounds and change dressings — but no medicine is administered. Clendenen, who is not affiliated with Clifton House, has cared for everyone from victims of car accidents to cancer patients.
“It’s just praying,” Clendenen said. “It’s just knowing the truth about God.”
Christian Science has seen its share of critics over the years. Founder Mary Baker Eddy believed that disease was caused by false beliefs and that drugs borrow their power from human faith. If someone becomes ill, they can cure themselves by reconnecting with God.
That belief has led to a number of high-profile court cases, often involving parents who declined to seek doctors for sick children. More than a decade ago, an 11-year-old Minnesota boy died when his mother, a Christian Scientist, refused to take him to a hospital. A jury returned a multi-million dollar verdict against the boy’s mother and the church.
New Brighton leaders have focused on whether Clifton House meets code requirements, and council members say it’s not their business to pry into the group’s religion. One called faith healing “certainly an interesting sidelight” to the proposal.
There is a growing belief in the power of religion for healing, and many medical schools now train students on how to speak with patients about faith. The December issue of Southern Medical Journal is dedicated entirely to spirituality. And the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
“Religion is a powerful coping behavior. That is one of the great truths,” said Duke University’s Dr. Harold Koenig, who has researched the issue.
But most doctors say faith is an adjunct to medical care, not a replacement — prayer alone is not a cure, Koenig said.
Just as in all religions, not all believers follow the church’s original doctrine. Some Christian Scientists know what the inside of a hospital looks like.
“It’s up to the individual — it’s always been that way,” Clendenen said.
The Center for Spirituality and Healing’s Barbara Leonard said there is a connection between healing and religion, but that most religions incorporate Western medicine. “They’re usually not in conflict,” she said. “I’ve actually been at meetings where a (Native American) medicine man has been talking about traditional medicine while he’s undergoing dialysis.”
Clifton House won’t offer dialysis, but it will be eligible for Medicaid and Medicare. In a case from Minnesota, the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2000 that the government couldn’t discriminate against Christian Scientist nonmedical nursing facilities.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
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