The Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, teaches the gnostic and Buddhist/Hindu notion that evil, including sickness, is an illusion, which can be dispelled by proper thinking and meditation. The Christian Scientist movement used to be quite popular among the nation’s upper crust, with Reading Rooms and a national newspaper, “The Christian Science Monitor.” But these days the numbers are dwindling. So, like other desperate churches, the Christian Scientists are trying to employ methods of the church growth movement, including toning down their traditional teachings and practices to make them palatable to the masses.
Thanks to tODD for putting me on to this. He comments, “this story has it all! Church-growth-like numbers analysis! Attempts to be more relevant in the face of declining numbers! Insane levels of Gospel-less Law! Nutty theology that is neither “Christian” nor “science”! And, of course, health care!” From the New York Times:
Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.
But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their church’s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.
Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care.
In recent years, the church has been lobbying to convince lawmakers that its approach is an alternative way of tending to the sick, and that its costs should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.
Lobbyists succeeded in getting provisions that encourage private insurance coverage of Christian Science care into both the 2006 legislation overhauling health care in Massachusetts and the United States Senate version of the health care overhaul; both measures were removed in negotiations. Church officials say they intend to keep trying, at both the state and federal level. . . .The faith’s guiding textbook forbids mixing medical care with Christian Science healing, which is a form of transcendental prayer intended to realign a patient’s soul with God.
But rigid thinking has not served the church well in the last half century, Mr. Davis said. Though officials do not provide membership statistics, scholars estimate that the church’s numbers have dropped to under 100,000 from a peak of about twice that at the turn of the 20th century. The faith has about 1,100 churches in the United States and 600 abroad.
In New York City, falling membership forced the Christian Science church on Park Avenue to lease its building part time to a catering service in 2006. Another Manhattan church remains open; a third closed in 2005.
“We are a church on a slow curve of diminishment, in good part because of what people see as our stridency,” he said in an interview at the church’s New York offices on East 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Are we only going to pray for you if we find you pure enough and spiritual enough?’ ”
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1879 in Boston, wrote in the church’s textbook, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” that anyone inviting a doctor to his sickbed “invites defeat.”
Mr. Davis said that by toning down “the judgmental part of our nature” and opening the doors to people seeking Christian Science prayer as a sort of “value-added health care,” the church hopes to keep alive a form of religious practice that its adherents still see as the true path to salvation.
But if even the members no longer believe in their founders’ theology and practice, maybe they should just stop being Christian Scientists! (And this religion almost got into the Health Care Bill!)