The World Health Organization has officially declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, and organizations across the U.S. and all over the world are struggling to react accordingly. Now Bethel Church, one of the largest institutions in northern California, is advising its own members to take strict precautions in the coming weeks and months, including advising its members to stay away from local hospitals and stop the common Bethel practice of offering to lay hands on sick people and pray for their healing.
“Through email communications, signage, and church announcements, we are actively encouraging health practices and precautions to our whole community,” Aaron Tesauro, a church spokesman, said 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.”
As The Sacramento Bee notes, plenty of critical skeptics have relished the irony of a church opting out of offering to heal sick people during a global health emergency. But then, Bethel Church was caught in a no-win PR situation where they would have fielded criticism no matter the official response. So while Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine and a professor at Chapman University in Southern California, might sneer: “So, God is omniscient and omnipotent and can cure diseases if he wants, but just in case: wash your hands!”, the alternative would have warranted a whole different slew of criticism — probably from the same people.
As it is, Tesauro says the church sees a balance between bold faith and level-headed precaution. “Healing happens, but it’s foolish to take unnecessary risks with your health and the health of others,” he wrote.
“Though we believe in a God who actively heals today, students are not being encouraged to visit healthcare settings at this time, and moreover, are taught that even under normal circumstances, they must receive permission from both the facility and the individual before engaging in prayer,” Tesauro wrote in the email.