Christian megachurch cancels ‘faith healing’ service in response to coronavirus outbreak

Members of this prominent northern California church believe they can heal the sick and raise the dead through prayer. Even so, the church is encouraging followers to wash their hands and is urging anyone who falls ill to stay home.

Bethel church is even canceling missionary trips and imploring its faith healers to stay away from local hospitals, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Leaders at the Redding-based church are keeping in contact with health officials but have yet to cancel services for the 6,300 faithful who attend each week in one of the largest gatherings in northern California.

“Through email communications, signage, and church announcements, we are actively encouraging health practices and precautions to our whole community,” said church spokesman Aaron Tesauro in an email. “We believe that wisdom, modern medicine, and faith are meant to work together, and express the value for each in the pursuit of continued health and healing.”

A 50-year-old man in Shasta County (where Redding is located) has tested positive for COVID-19, health officials said on Saturday. Last week, two people, including one person who was potentially exposed to coronavirus on a cruise ship, tested negative. Tesauro added that no church members are believed to have the virus.

The church is perhaps most known for its response to the death of two-year-old Olive Heiligenthal last year when hundreds of members gathered and tried to raise her from the dead. Thousands of church members posted the hashtag #WakeUpOlive on Instagram.

As could be expected, the church has its skeptics.

“It’s clear that when it comes to something really serious like coronavirus, their actions speak louder than their words,” said Michael Shermer, who’s the editor of Skeptic Magazine and a professor at Chapman University in Southern California. “So God is omniscient and omnipotent and can cure diseases if he wants but just in case — wash your hands!”

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Megan Hamilton

Megan Hamilton has traveled extensively throughout the Southern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. A lifelong atheist, these travels have informed her political views. She currently lives in a remote location with a large herd of cats and four dogs.