Christian Medical Fellowship: Sickness “caused by demons”

I wonder if moderate Christians wish that they could trademark the term “Christian” and stop the crazies from using it.

Although people who call themselves Christians vary hugely, organisations with “Christian” in the title are usually dangerous extremists. The only immediate exception I can think of is Christian Aid. Here in the UK we have:

  • The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, a worrying bunch seen lobbying in Parliament to change the abortion laws. Shares its premises with the Coalition 4 Marriage which, despite its name, is mainly a small bunch of conservative Christians trying to stop gay rights.
  • The Christian Party, a fringe political group with policies that look like they were drawn selectively from verses in Exodus and Leviticus. Which they were.
  • Christian Concern, a pressure group who think that gay rights step on Christians’ rights, and who are quite grumpy about the existence of sex education in schools.
  • Christian Voice, another pressure group/ bunch of tinfoil hat exponents, whose views are amusingly demonstrated by this article. Or this one. I can’t decide which is better.
  • Frequently radicalised university Christian Unions, such as the one in Exeter (where a schism led to its being renamed the “Evangelical Christian Union” since its views excluded everyone else), and the one in Bristol which recently had to do a hasty U-turn on letting women speak at its events.
  • Christians in Parliament, whose website is not very enlightening, but who campaigned against the Advertising Standards Agency when it banned misleading advertisements for faith healing.
  • The Christian Medical Fellowship, who worry me the most. If my GP believes my sickness is a result of my sins, I want to be informed before my appointment. And as I’m about to explain, CMF members might also believe your sickness is the result of demonic possession. Yeah, you read that right.

It’s the same with churches and schools. My primary school was called a “Church of England Primary School”, and regardless of your stance on faith schools, it offered a fine education. After that, I went to “Victory Christian School”, where virtually everything we were taught could have originated in an asylum.

I was involved in the beginnings of several new churches in my childhood. In the quest for doctrinal purity, we were always setting off for newer, smaller churches. And one thing they were determined to do was avoid the word “church”. “Church”, we reasoned, had associations of dead religion, of stained glass windows and boredom. That was no way to get bums in seats! We needed to show that we weren’t like those stuffy religious types. We didn’t have religion; we had a relationship with God. We didn’t have churches; we had Christian centres. 

Among the churches I saw start were Christian Life Centre (Later renamed “The Rock” – note the word church was still studiously avoided), Carmel Christian Centre, and Living Word Christian Centre. If you see a church without “church” in the name, run far, far way. And when you get your breath back, run further. You’ve almost certainly found a bunch of radicals (and people who would embrace the term “radical” to describe themselves).

But it’s the Christian Medical Fellowship I fear most.

Here are some highlights from an article on their website (originally published in their journal, Nucleus), called Demon Possession and Mental Illness.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus has commissioned us to ‘ drive out demons’ (Mk 16:17), and we must be ready to respond to this commission if and when we are called to do so.

Psychiatry, then, is not the only domain within which we need to be aware of demonic influence, and perhaps it is not even the most important such domain. Furthermore, we cannot expect to make a simple differential diagnosis according to certain signs or symptoms of demonisation. However, this does not exclude the need to consider other possible links between demonic activity and mental illness.

Demon possession and mental illness, then, are not simply alternative diagnoses to be offered when a person presents with deliberate self harm or violent behaviour, although they may need to be distinguished in such circumstances, whether by spiritual discernment or the application of basic psychiatric knowledge. It would seem reasonable to argue that demon possession may be an aetiological factor in some cases of mental illness, but it may also be an aetiological factor in some non-psychiatric conditions, and in other cases it may be encountered in the absence of psychiatric or medical disorder.

Note: An “aetiological factor” is a cause. I had to look it up as well.

I have to say, read in its entirety, the article is less hysterical than the views I grew up with in church (where I learned that most, if not all, mental illness is caused by demons, and certainly all cases of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder). The author at least recognises that medicine has worthwhile things to say about mental illness. Still, it’s bad enough.

The CMF say they have over 4,000 doctors in their membership. Now, maybe the above article was controversial. In my experience of evangelicals, it wouldn’t be, but let’s be conservative. Even if only 10% of their membership agree that demon possession is a possible cause of medical symptoms, that’s four hundred doctors. So what I want to know is, who are these wackjobs, and where do they practise? If I go to the doctor with mental health problems and she thinks I’m possessed of the devil, I want to know about it.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have jobs. I’m just saying I want disclosure from my doctor if they believe something ridiculous. I’d say the same about a doctor who believes homeopathy works, or has sympathies with the anti-vaccine movement. If my GP believes preposterous crap, I want the right to request a different doctor.

Perhaps the doctors in the Christian Medical Fellowship could just display their membership cards prominently in their surgeries. That’d do the trick.

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