Outlaw these miracle merchants

Over the past few years, Kenya has played host to a variety of international Christian evangelists who have one thing in common: They all claim to be miracle healers.

Their visits to the country are announced in full-page, full-colour, newspaper advertisements and television mini-documentaries which show massive crowds attending their previous miracle crusades.

Pictures are shown of large piles of crutches and wheelchairs, allegedly abandoned by the healed who do not need them any more. Finally, there is the clear and unambiguous exhortation: Come and receive your miracle!

All this would be harmless were it not that it preys on the fears and hopes of the most disadvantaged members of any society. What blind man would resist the dream of being able to gaze upon the faces of his children? Can there be a young boy in crutches who has never wondered what it would feel like to play a game of football?

The most disturbing aspect of the work of these miracle merchants is that it is invariably shrouded in mystery, for all the alleged miracles are performed either in broad daylight or on a stage, powerfully illuminated by searchlights and before an audience of many thousands.

The question, however, is: Who are these people who claim to have been cured? Where do they come from? Why is it that they are always strangers whom nobody has seen before? And why are they never seen again thereafter?

Each Kenyan town has its easily recognised blind beggars or cripples. If any of these were healed, the whole town would acknowledge that a miracle had been performed. But the great evangelists come and go, and these blind beggars and cripples remain exactly where they were before.

This is not in the biblical tradition of miracle healing. Jesus Christ, in whose name the evangelists claim their healing powers, performed his miracles in the open and invited verification. In Luke 5:12, after Jesus had healed a man of leprosy, he told the leper to go at once and show himself to the priests for it to be confirmed that his leprosy had, indeed, been healed.

In much the same way, two of Jesus’s apostles, Peter and John, healed a lame man. This was a cripple who had to be carried to the temple gate daily to beg for alms from those entering (Acts 3: 1 to 8).

Every religious Jew in Jerusalem had seen this man over the years, for he had been lame from birth. So when the apostles healed him and he walked off leaping and praising God, there could be no doubt that a miracle had been performed.

In biblical times, then, miracle healing was not done in concealment. No banners were put out telling people to “come and claim your miracle”. This particular approach to evangelising is a purely modern invention.

Something has to be done to put an end to the evangelical conmanship which has been a thriving industry in Kenya for so many years now. The disabled (as well as their friends and relations) have a right to demand that rigorous standards be set for all those who come into the country offering to perform miracles.

What Kenya needs is a Miracle Verification Centre established by an Act of Parliament and operating under the independent control of the Kenya Medical Association.

The essential thing is to be able to apply to these miracle healers’ work the two watchwords of a free and open society: transparency and accountability. And the mechanism for enforcing these is absurdly simple: for transparency, let all those who seek miracle healing for physical deformity or disability obtain in advance a doctor’s letter confirming that they are, indeed, blind, deaf, dumb, crippled, deformed or whatever.

No less important, the afflicted person should clearly specify which evangelist he or she will be seeking a miracle from and the dates for the specific miracle crusade that he or she will be attending.

For accountability, if any of these people are, indeed, miraculously healed, they should then present themselves for medical tests (the modern equivalent of “show yourself to the priests”) to obtain firm scientific evidence that a miracle has occurred.

All those who fail these two tests could thereafter continue to preach the gospel if they so wish; but they should not be allowed to advertise miracle crusades or to publicise their claims to being able to perform miracles. If they wish to continue to attempt miracles, they should do so in private.

Finally, we must demand a local equivalent of the US Truth in Advertising legislation. In the US, if a specific claim is made for a specific product (e.g., a headache tablet) or a process (e.g., a weight-loss programme) and the individual who pays for it does not obtain the results promised, they can sue for compensation.

So here, too, if an evangelist’s posters — plastered all over town — tell us to come and obtain a miracle, then we had better get that miracle or else we should be free to sue him or her for not delivering the promise.

With such legislation entrenched in the Laws of Kenya, these evangelistic con men would think twice about making bold claims of miraculous healing abilities, which are, in many cases, a cruel joke on the most disadvantaged members of society.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 29, 2001.
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