About that Christian Science article…

This is how I led a recent article about how Christian Scientists raise children without medicine in the health-obsessed suburbs:

Having left Manhattan for woodsy Cortlandt in the fall with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, Nate Ouderkirk knew a bit about the supposed dangers of Lyme disease that suburbanites worry about as a rite of spring.

Sure enough, he was off to a play date one day with his daughter, Dylan, a curious cutie with blond bangs, when he noticed a tick on her leg.

He did something that few suburban parents would: He dropped Dylan off at her appointment and went to Starbucks. Once there, he began to pray and to read selected verses from the Bible as well as “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” a century-old book by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

“What came to me,” he said, “was ‘God is in control right now. God is good and in control. Dylan is safe.’ I had to resist the temptation to buy into it, that a tick would make Dylan sick.”

He picked Dylan up at the scheduled time, went home, and removed the tick – without causing Dylan any fear or concern. Dylan did not develop Lyme disease.

tjndc5-5km48abmher6wzz6ics_layout.jpgI thought that this anecdote was perfect for opening the article because it showed how the Christian Science approach to a health “concern” is radically different from the approach that most parents would take (pull the tick, run to the doctor). Ouderkirk, a very open and engaging fellow (that’s him with Dylan), told me that he was not concerned about the tick, which he truly believed would not do any harm to his child.

He believed that if he prayed about his child’s perfection — his daughter being a child of God — no harm would come to her.

That is what Christian Science is all about. Most people probably have an inkling that Christian Scientists prefer prayer to medicine. But I would guess that most people assume that Christian Scientists pray for healing — like televangelists who call down the Holy Spirit to heal the sick.

But that’s not it. Christian Scientists believe that people are inherently perfect because they are created in the image of a perfect God. So they pray about their perfection — to rid themselves of any doubts or fears — and expect that any perceived illness or injury will dissolve, just melt away.

That’s why I chose to lead with the “tick anecdote.” Nate Ouderkirk knew what he had to do — pray — and he did it.

But…some people thought that the opening of the article portrayed Ouderkirk badly, especially this line: “He dropped Dylan off at her appointment and went to Starbucks.”

One of the Christian Scientists I interviewed for the article, Marti Stewart of Scarborough, has a letter in today’s Journal News/LoHud that says: “The article gives the impression that Nate Ouderkirk was unconcerned about his daughter’s condition. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

As I’ve told Stewart and others since the article ran, I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that Ouderkirk was unconcerned about his daughter, but to show how a Christian Scientist practices the faith in the day-to-day world. While some people will certainly conclude that Ouderkirk acted irresponsibly in not immediately removing the tick, those same people would probably conclude that Christian Science practice is itself a poor alternative to true-blue medicine.

The Ouderkirks, Stewart, a third family I visited, and Pamela Cook, a Christian Science spokesperson in this region, were all quite open and gracious while I reported this story. They truly believe that in practicing Christian Science, they are using the same healing methods that Jesus Christ used. I only tried to show what those are…

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.