Should health care reform include prayer?

Many Christian Scientists think so.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Scientists are lobbying to include a provision in reform legislation that would ban discrimination against religious and spiritual health care.

They would also like private insurers to be encouraged to cover prayer as a treatment option.

The idea has some support in Washington, but many people who are not Christian Scientists will have to be encouraged to see prayer as health care.

I wrote about Christian Science is 2008 after a Christian Science practitioner pointed out to me that prayer was not being considered in the growing national debate over health care.

At the time, I chose to focus on how Christian Science families in the pediatrician-heavy Burbs raise their children without medicine.

The Chronicle article notes:

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(Christian Scientists) recognize they’re facing an uphill battle, with the debate centering on such hot-button issues as restrictions on abortion coverage and whether a final bill should include a public option or a Medicare buy-in. But Christian Scientists say they see the acknowledgment of spiritual healing in a health overhaul bill as important to their religion and to others who may turn to prayer or other nontraditional healing methods as an alternative to medical care. These could include followers of some American Indian religions or those who seek care at holistic healing centers.

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A CS spokesman is quoted as saying: “It’s our intention that the health care bill recognizes the fact that medical care is not the only form of health care. We are advocates, not just for Christian Scientists, but for the public at large.”

UPDATE: The NYTimes also wrote about this issue.

And an interesting Christian Science blog notes how the issue has been covered in the media.

Not an ideal 100th birthday present

I don’t use this blog to lament the demise of (my beloved) newspaper industry.

But it’s worth noting the “transformation” coming to the Christian Science Monitor, which was started in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, and continues to be published by the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The Monitor said yesterday that it will discontinue its 5-day-a-week print edition in April and basically become an on-line newspaper (without the paper). It will start a weekly magazine, so there will be something you can hold in your hands that says Christian Science Monitor.

1.jpgIt may be a prescient move by the Monitor as the newspaper biz crumbles, thanks to the Web and the economy.

“I’m not sure that the rest of the industry will follow us, but I think they’ll be watching,” Monitor Editor John Yemma says in the LA Times.

I’ve subscribed to the Monitor at several points and have always admired the paper’s ability to explain national and internationally news clearly, accurately and fairly. The paper has a way of covering foreign news that helps a novice truly grasp what’s happening overseas — without dumbing things down.

The paper does include columns about the Christian Science faith. But the Monitor’s overall coverage, in my view, is unaffected by its religious affiliation.

I remember during the 1990s struggling to understand the crisis in the Balkans. It was the Monitor’s coverage, day after day, that helped me get a handle on what was happening and why.

The newsPAPER will be missed.

Let’s hope that the Web version has a long, healthy life.

King Henry also a Christian Scientist

In the dire days after 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld became an omnipresent figure on American TV screens.

In recent weeks, it’s been Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. He’s the man behind the bailout.

And, you or may not know, he’s a Christian Scientist.

A profile in Fortune included this:

e55c5193060749c4b55b25e00cfac659.jpgDid you know that Hank Paulson was an Eagle Scout? Paulson, 62, grew up in Barrington Hills, a Chicago suburb, and he still comes across as a straight-shooting, down-to-earth Midwesterner, an image he does nothing to dispel. (Look for his cheap sports watch the next time he is on TV.) A Christian Scientist, he doesn’t smoke or drink, and he’s more likely to spend a Saturday night grilling hamburgers with friends at home than holding forth at a Georgetown salon. (When they came to Washington, Hank and Wendy Paulson sold their Manhattan condo and bought a $4.3 million home in northwestern D.C.; their son, Merritt, owns minor-league hockey and baseball teams in Portland, Ore., and daughter Amanda is a staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor.) Since Paulson has been working so many weekends lately, he tries to get away for a couple of hours in the middle of the afternoon to take a bike ride with Wendy in Rock Creek Park.

A 2004 Fortune story included this:

By choice, the Paulsons are not part of the high-society whirl of CEO-dom. “We aren’t very social,” says Paulson. “We’ve never joined a country club.” In their free time they often head for exotic places like Belize and Brazil to see wildlife. Paulson’s particular favorites are birds and animals of prey: “I’m fascinated because they’re at the top of the food chain.” If they’re healthy, he adds, the ecosystem is healthy. When he handles creatures such as raptors, snakes, and spiders, he seems completely unfazed–and some connect that courage to Paulson’s religion. “Christian Science is a religion in which you emphasize love as opposed to fear,” he says, adding, “I think fear in young kids is the biggest inhibitor to success.”

I happened to write a feature about Christian Science a couple of months ago. It was really about what it’s like for Christian Science parents to strive to raise their children without medicine at a point in time when medicine (and especially pharmaceuticals) are so dominant in our culture.

While most outsiders probably assume that Christian Scientists simply pray for healing, the faith is more complicated than than.

Christian Scientists believe that human beings — as creations of a perfect God — are also perfect. What appears to be illness and injury, they believe, can be overcome by praying about one’s perfection. One must not give in to fear and lose touch with their perfection.

So it makes sense that King Henry (as one of the news magazines called him) would say that his faith is about love and not fear.

I wonder, though, if the economy is inherently perfect…

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…