Church takes to bully pulpit


Boston Globe/April 2, 1999
By Alex Beam

A friend writes: "USA Weekend, a newspaper supplement magazine distributed primarily on Sunday, has just announced a poll that asks its readers to call and vote on whether or not parents refusing medical treatment in favor of prayer for their children should be subject to criminal prosecution. The Christian Science Church's Committee on Publication, based at the Boston headquarters (with assistants in each church around the world), notified all its assistants with the directive to phone all members of all their churches in the United States to call and vote 'no' on the poll. Members were not given a copy of the questionnaire in the paper; they were just told to call and vote no.

"This is interesting, since the church prides itself on taking no political stands or preaching from the pulpit. They should also know better than to try to affect a poll in a national magazine. One can only wonder how they would react if something equally untoward was to happen to them in their paper," referring, of course, to The Christian Science Monitor.

Some context: The USA Weekend poll is being conducted to accompany a long feature story on faith healing, according to religion editor Kathy McCleary. The precise poll question is "Should it be a crime for parents to withhold medical treatment from children for religious reasons?" The magazine is running the story and poll - to be published April 25 - partly in response to some high-profile cases of infant death in Oregon, which is now considering a bill to criminalize faith healing of small children.

Members of the Christian Science church, which advocates spiritual healing over medical treatment, has had to litigate similar cases over the years, most notably the Massachusetts prosecution of Ginger and David Twitchell, whose infant son died of a medically treatable bowel obstruction in 1986. The cases in Oregon have nothing to do with Christian Science; nonetheless the church opposes state laws that ban faith healing.

Per the USA Weekend poll, I am in receipt of this fax from Gary Jones, manager of the Committee on Publication: "Pardon our zeal, Alex! Of course we spread the word. But people still dial the phone and follow their own conscience."

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