My Night at a Faith Healing Service

This is a guest post by Michelle. Michelle was raised Lutheran, attended a Christian college, and graduated as an agnostic. She now lives in Oswego, IL.

Andrew Wommack is a Southern pastor with a worldwide ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Like other televangelists, he preaches the “health and wealth” prosperity gospel. He doesn’t label himself with any denomination, but you might think of him as Pentecostal due to his emphases on healing and speaking in tongues. Also, like other televangelists, some Christians denounce him as a false teacher and heretic, while others welcome his plain-spoken style and focus on the Bible.

My family loves Wommack. They watch his show almost daily.

One family member has multiple myeloma (a form of cancer) and is especially interested in faith healing. (Never a good mix.) Out of curiosity, I went with a small group of relatives to Wommack’s Chicago Gospel Truth Seminar this past weekend. The conference lasted for three days but we only went to one evening service. It took place at the classy Weston Hotel in Lombard, a western suburb of Chicago. At least 1,000 people came to the free seminar the night we attended, filling the hotel ballroom near its full capacity.

The foyer was lined with display booths selling books, CDs, and DVDs. Stacks of books showed titles like God Wants You Well; The Believer’s Authority and Spirit, Soul and Body. The booths continued inside the meeting room. In the back, you could buy Wommack’s message that same day on CD or DVD. Next to that, people were asked to sign up and become “Grace Partners,” a fancy way of saying “financial supporters.” They had the option of making either small daily donations or annual lump sums.

The conference began with music. As the seats filled up, a middle-aged man sang and played the guitar. “God is my refuge and strength / a present help in time of need…” With lyrics flashing on two screens up front, we sang along to a few songs. The attendees were mostly white, but there was diversity in age. Given the hype about miraculous healing, I was surprised at how few of them showed obvious signs of infirmity. There were no oxygen tanks or even canes. I saw one woman with an arm brace and another with a walker, but that was it.

When Wommack came to the podium, he started by hawking his books. After that, a missionary couple talked about their experiences. Wommack took back the stage to promote some Bible colleges in the Chicago area. We were encouraged to donate to the schools as they needed new buildings that cost millions of dollars. Here, the screens showed architectural plans and a photo of a forklift breaking ground. All the money we gave tonight, we were told, went straight to these building projects. Ushers passed what looked like white popcorn buckets along each row to collect donations.

After almost an hour and a half, Wommack finally began preaching. His style was conversational and funny, delivered with a slight Southern accent. He carried a Bible and referred to it often. He contrasted our old, sinful human nature with the new one God gave us. The “new nature” included not only spiritual but physical health. He sprinkled his long sermon with quirky lines like, “If that didn’t light your fire, your wood’s wet” and “If you give Satan the opportunity, he’ll eat your lunch and pop the bag!” On the subject of depression, he said, instead of taking pills, “you oughta take the Gos-pill!” (Groan.)

But what really frustrated me were his thoughts on — what else? — healing. According to Wommack, having a disease like cancer was voluntary: “Satan can’t make you sick without your consent and cooperation,” he said at one point. “You can refuse to have cancer.” Sitting right next to my cancer-stricken relative, I gritted my teeth.

Following the message and a prayer, there was an altar call for people to become born again or baptized in the Holy Spirit. About 20 people met with volunteers in front to pray, and Andrew urged more to join them. He said baptism involved speaking in tongues, an experience that would “change your life!” Wommack himself spoke in tongues while praying aloud. It was complete gibberish. “Don’t worry about what it sounds like. You’re bypassing your brain,” he explained.

Andrew Wommack from a 2011 Seminar in Chicago

When the healing part of the service came around, I was underwhelmed. I’d expected the drama of a Benny Hinn crusade — people babbling in tongues, collapsing at the preacher’s touch, and getting up from wheelchairs believing themselves healed. Nothing like that happened. Most people just prayed, bought merchandise, or left after the sermon.

But as those remaining milled around, Wommack did share so-called “words of knowledge.” These were just vague declarations about miracles occurring. He told the smaller crowd that if there were tumors anywhere in their bodies, God was dissolving the tumors then and there. He went on to pronounce healing of sinus problems, polyps, headaches, depression, sleeping trouble… Needless to say, there was no evidence of a single miracle. I could have stood up there myself, saying the same things. Why did everything sound so generic? Couldn’t God at least tell Wommack the names of healed individuals? The “words of knowledge” hardly required any knowledge, much less any supernatural signs from God.

That brings up another problem. In books and seminars, Wommack relies heavily on testimonials. But his anecdotes are clearly cherry-picked. People pray and recover from sickness; they land well-paying jobs; they apply his teachings and turn their lives around.

Nobody shares their story unless it’s positive and inspiring. You never hear about people who prayed hard but died of their illnesses, anyway. Are we supposed to believe all sick Christians are healed? Or what about people who give their money generously but can’t pay their bills later? Is it their fault for having weak faith? What should we make of the even more bizarre claims about people coming back from the dead? Wommack says his own son Peter was resurrected, among others. These stories are flat-out absurd. Maybe he’s completely sincere when he says it, but Wommack is wrong on serious matters of life and death.

My biggest issue with what he’s doing can be summed up in two words: false hope.

When he talks about having a positive attitude, I’m completely behind him. But when he pushes a religious form of magical thinking, I get angry. Sick people are already scared and vulnerable — they need real help. How many of those people listen to Andrew and toss out their medication? How many of them stop chemo? Or worse, how many of them refuse to provide medical care for their sick kids because they think God will just take care of everything?

I’m all for giving people hope. But the false hope offered by Andrew and his ilk is dangerous and even deadly. The truth is, modern medicine is the only “miracle” we’ll ever see.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • thepoint2012

    hemant you are a SACK OF ****

    rationalresponders.com/forum/32697

  • thepoint2012

    no medicine will save you when it is your TIME TO GO…

  • EivindKjorstad

    Thank you Michelle. I enjoyed reading your account.

  • http://twitter.com/AchronTimeless Achron Timeless

    Ah, the mature argument of an idiot. Straight to the personal attacks and then nothing else. You didn’t even attempt to regurgitate some catch phrase that’s been forced down your throat since childhood, you just post a link to incomprehensible ranting as if that suddenly resolved anything.

    Your tactics offend me. Not the attack or the pathetic self censorship, but the fact that you thought we were stupid enough for it to work.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    This is false. Medicine has saved many many lives and increases quality and length of life the world over. Me 1 You 0.

  • LesterBallard

    Benny Hinn is still my favorite . . .

    http://youtu.be/a54iqEr1flQ

  • cipher

    “You can refuse to have cancer.”

    Of course. It always ends up being your fault. This is what all people of faith do – blame the victim. “You didn’t give it enough time,  you didn’t really believe”… the rationalizations are endless. Ultimately, it isn’t about helping you, but about protecting their belief system – and in the case of guy like Wommack, protecting his income as well.

    The New Agers are no different. Listen to Wayne Dwyer on PBS sometime. Same litany, minus the Southern accent and threats of hell.

  • cipher

    Thank you for removing Guest’s comments. Now, if you’d ban the insufferable troll Rwlawoffice, that would be much appreciated.

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    You can refuse to have cancer? Alright, I’m gonna smoke an entire pack of cigarettes today!

  • Glasofruix

    He spams this crap everywhere.

  • John of Indiana

    ““Don’t worry about what it sounds like. You’re bypassing your brain,” he explained.”

    Pretty much sums up Religion in general, I think…

  • Sindigo

    Why are religious people so keen on using other parts of the body to think anyway? How any times have we heard that Jesus is in your heart or similar?

  • A3Kr0n

    I couldn’t have sat there that long.

  • MargueriteF

    “According to Wommack, having a disease like cancer was voluntary: ‘Satan can’t make you sick without your consent and cooperation,” he said at one point. ‘You can refuse to have cancer.’”

    Words like these are hurtful to anyone who’s suffering from cancer, or who’s known someone with cancer. No one “cooperates” with cancer. And this sort of belief can be actively harmful as well, as in when someone stops having necessary medical treatments, and decides to “refuse to have cancer” instead.

    I loathe faith healers. LOATHE them. Because yes, all guys like this are doing is cherry-picking the success stories (which are most likely due to medical science rather than his services) and ignoring the people who aren’t healed, in order to give a false impression of efficacy. They can do terrible damage to people who need REAL help.

  • Tainda

    Just like an infomercial or a commercial for a weight loss drug.  The 2 people that the bald spot spray worked or that actually lost weight on the pill are the ones they have on their commercials

  • Kodie

    When he talks about having a positive attitude, I’m completely behind
    him. But when he pushes a religious form of magical thinking, I get
    angry.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-14-2009/barbara-ehrenreich

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LJ3YWZEE6A46RUDHWPGYVSK4DI david e

    “When he talks about having a positive attitude, I’m completely behind him. But when he pushes a religious form of magical thinking, I get angry.”

    Even the “positive attitude” stuff can be a serious problem.  Barbara Ehrenreich writes some interesting things about this regarding her own struggle with cancer.  The “encouragement” to have a positive attitude can be more about making the caregivers and others around the patient feel better than about the well-being of the patient.  People who feel terrible should have the right to express that fact without the sort of condescending and judgmental demands to “have a positive attitude” that many seriously ill people experience.

  • Stev84

    It also serves to tear down people and destroy their defenses. Make them doubt themselves and feel worthless. That way they are more susceptible to conversion and other mind control techniques.

  • The Other Weirdo

     As far as I know, the user Rwlawoffice doesn’t post threats of any kind. It merely posits a viewpoint unpopular on this blog, even if it is insufferable. Have we become our enemy, then, banning all those daring to contradict us? Has our skin become so thin that we must shun unpopular opinions? It used to be that in an Internet discussion someone on the opposing camp would be compared to a Nazi. These days, we just call them trolls.

  • The Other Weirdo

     My mother is convinced that all of our(I mean humanity’s) problems come from the great beyond, and that nothing we do here really matters because nothing we do is from here, it’s all rooted out there somewhere. I’ve tried to explain to her that that’s just her opinion(or, more precisely, the opinion of the author of some book she’d read) that may or may not have any basis in reality, but she thinks I need to be less set in my ideas. Pot. Kettle. Black.

  • cipher

    OK, now you’ve gotten me started.

    I almost never enter Godwin territory, but I make an exception for Christian fundamentalists. In my opinion, they’re worse than Nazis – and I say this as a Jew. The Nazis merely wanted to kill us; most gave little thought (if any) to our postmortem condition. Christians, on the other hand, are quite convinced the vast majority will spend eternity in a state of unimaginable torment – and they have absolutely NO problem with it. None. In fact, many – and I maintain it’s most – anticipate it eagerly. Indeed, it’s one of the core teachings of Calvinism, which is, along with Dominionism, one of the two main influences within the evangelical subculture. They believe their afterlife will consist of an eternity of hanging out on a mezzanine in heaven, knocking back beers with Jesus and Dubya, peering over the balcony into the bowels of hell, where you and I, along with billions of our human siblings, will be tortured for all of eternity, while they point and giggle like schoolchildren – although I understand that some of them believe there will be two entertainment channels, the other one consisting of perpetual NASCAR races.

    So no, I’m not overly concerned with Robert Wilson’s (aka “rwlawoffice) right to free speech. He’s a raging psychopath, as well as a bloody moron. Let him go commandeer threads on Chrsitian blogs, where he can complain about the antichrist Obama and the atheist, homosexual and abortionist agendas to his heart’s content. I come here so that I don’t have to deal with such imbeciles.

  • cipher

     Yes. THANK YOU.

  • Nigel

    I’m an atheist working at a large church. We’ve had visiting ministers around from time to time. Usually their terms are, the church keeps the offering in exchange for them being able to set up tables to sell merchandise.  It must make them enough money to cover their expenses and salaries of a few handlers that travel along with these people. 

  • Ranylt

    “Ultimately, it isn’t about helping you, but about protecting their belief system.”
    Spot on. And so topical these days.

  • onamission5

    “Don’t worry about what it sounds like. You’re bypassing your brain.”

    Ra-freaking-men to that. Truer words were never spoken.

  • onamission5

    This.

    Forcing a smile onto the face of someone who feels awful, is angry or sad and rightfully so, is all about the people around them not wanting to deal with the reality of injustice. Stuffing down “negative” emotions does little to nothing for the person experiencing them. It just makes that person more palateable for others who aren’t going through something awful. The person her or himself gets a message loud and clear that their pain isn’t welcome because it distresses the pain-free observers, so keep your suffering to yourself.

    The only positive attitudes are welcome pushers lack compassion, imsho.

  • Antinomian

    If that’s heaven cipher, I’d rather laugh with the sinners.

    Anyhoo, I do like to read what the jesusloons write and have to say. I suspect that alot of people on the fence or at least with some doubts may be lurking on this site and when they see the lunacy of the christians around them and what they post here, they may inch a little further to reason and away from superstition.

     That said, we have to engage these hateful little loonies and call them on their bullshit. The banhammer is a badge of honor for them and another reason for them to say we’re the hateful ones.

  • cipher

    The banhammer is a badge of honor for them and another reason for them to say we’re the hateful ones.

    I really don’t care. There are lunatics, and there are insufferable lunatics. Wilson falls into the latter category.

  • Octoberfurst

     My beloved grandma was devoutly religious and when she broke her hip and couldn’t walk anymore she went to faith healers to be healed.  They prayed over her and said to expect a miracle but nothing changed. Even though she was constantly disappointed she kept trying new faith healers.  She wanted so much to be healed.  She even sent money in to Oral Roberts to get a “healing prayer cloth” that Oral had “personally blessed.” She died in the late 1970′s still wheelchair bound. 
      Needless to say I despise faith healers.  They are nothing but charlatans who prey on people’s desperation.  My grandmother spent the last 10 yrs of her life going from one fraud to another.  I will never forgive them for giving her false hope only to see her disappointed time and time again.

  • Nadia Gomos

    Sad to say but this was my life about 5 years ago. That sense of false hope.

    I actually wrote about my experiences with televangelists yesterday : http://www.thehomelessgirl.com/2012/08/my-history-with-televangelists/

    Andrew Wommack is generally very uncharasmatic. The best ones are the ones who can get you riled up.

  • Antinomian

    I feel ya’ cipher. They can be aggravating and obtuse. But when I don’t feel like reading them or bashing my melon against the wall pointing out their fallacies I just skip them. However, a blog like this in letting the theists present their opposing view, no matter how silly that view is, stands far and above the christian blogs who will not tolerate any dissent or opposing views and will remove any such posts.

    I’m just saying that letting them have their say exposes them for what they are.

  • Antinomian

    Not to mention, speaking out of their ass…

  • cipher

    I don’t agree. There are limits. Also, this is a particularly persistent troll. He’s been attempting to commandeer threads. I’m sure he sees it as defending God’s honor, or some such thing.

  • Antinomian

    It just dawned on me that I could sell anything, promise anything, and no matter how untrue and a piece of crap my product or service is, as long as I wrap it in christinanity I would be exempt from all the Truth in Advertising and consumer laws.

    Damn my rational thinking and Humanist Moral Code, I could be rich..

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    Like I tell my son about the doofus kids and bullies at school… just ignore them.  Yeah, they’ll keep talking but they’re talking to a wall that won’t talk back or run.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    My husband says the same thing… unfortunately, we are incapable of lying to people to make money, which makes us even MORE angry with these types of people. 

  • Marcie

    Michelle – I’m curious about how your family members, especially the one with cancer, felt about the meeting.  Is the member accepting medical treatment?  Good luck to you and yours.

  • BionicHips

    There are limits to what modern medicine can do. Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer is one of them. It can increase life by a few months and make the remaining time better, but not save life.

  • Michelle

    They were enthusiastic about Andrew & bought a book. The sick one talked about how glad he was to find Andrew, since his former church never taught about faith healing. He is seeing doctors, but he also goes to a faith healing church. So it’s a mix… Thank you. :)

  • Sapphire

    Some years ago a couple I know went to a church here in the UK run by a charismatic fundamentalist called Roger Price.  He wrote the same kind of books about taking authority in the name of Jesus, casting out the demons of sickness and the spirits of alcohol, tobacco, abortion and suicide.
    He was actually a rather pleasant, friendly even modest man. Sadly he contracted throat cancer and despite ‘words of knowledge’ about his healing he died.
    My acquaintance, along with several others, took video cameras to the funeral fully expecting Roger Price to rise from the dead.
    Needless to say he is still dead.
    Incidentally this same couple gave us all their Disney videos because “animals don’t talk and we’re telling lies to children by showing talking animals”. For some reason it was OK to lie to our kids.

  • Sapphire

    Martin Luther was obsessed with bowels.

  • Kirby Clendenon

    I was an elder in a church that believes exactly as you have written here.  I was the one laying on hands and praying for healing etc.  You have correctly identified the problem: false hope.  I eventually went forward for prayer myself while a visiting evangelist was at our church.  He asked what I wanted prayer for.  I told him that I was beginning to have grave doubts regarding the Bible and Christianity.  He immediately started casting devils out of me (lol), and I thought right there:  This is bullshit.  Since that time, I have written my story of how I took back the sovereignty of my life and rejected the Bible as being God’s word. It is available at Amazon under the title “Surrender of Sovereignty.” I enjoyed your post very much and can attest to everything you said to be factually accurate for these type of meetings.

  • amycas

     What happens to the kids who are bullied, ignore the bully, and still get beat up? Did they not ignore the bully well enough? At some point, we just have to say no, we won’t allow the bullies here. They are responsible for their behavior, not the others for not ignoring them for long enough.

    I don’t mean to jump on you. I just hate the “simply ignore them” solution, because it’s not a solution. It only serves to make the victim feel like they did something to deserve the bullies ire, and when the bully is ignored xe simply finds a new victim.


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