Guest Post: The Healing Ministry of Christian Science Nursing

In conjunction with my friend Kat, a fellow former Christian Scientist who blogs at Kindism, I’ll be posting a series of posts we’ll be writing that deal with how Christian Science has, and continues to masquerade as something it’s not. These posts will appear simultaneously on Kindism and here on Emerging Gently. Today, Kat writes about Christian Science nursing. You can find this series of posts under the category “Christian Science Masquerade Ball”.


I was going to write a post comparing and contrasting Christian Science Nursing with modern medical nursing until I came to the Church’s own page about the topic and read what Christian Science Nursing actually entails, and my desire to write a polite analysis went out the window and I had an overwhelming desire to smash my head repeatedly into a wall.

When people outside of Christian Science think of a nurse, they’re probably envisioning someone that fits the description from the American Nurses Association


– Registered Nurses –

  • Perform physical exams and health histories
  • Provide health promotion, counseling and education
  • Administer medications, wound care, and numerous other personalized interventions
  • Interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions
  • Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals
  • Direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel like LPNs and nurse aides
  • Conduct research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes

RNs practice in all healthcare settings: hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, schools, and retail clinics. They also provide health care in more surprising locations such as camps, homeless shelters, prisons, sporting events and tourist destinations. (1)


To call what Christian Science Nurses do “Nursing” is incredibly misleading. The list of what Christian Science Nurses do not do looks startlingly similar to the list of what Registered nurses do. Christian Science nursing care does NOT include the following:

  • Making a medical diagnosis or prognosis;
  • Assuming responsibility for making health care decisions for the patient;
  • Administering medication, drugs or using medicated, herbal, or vitamin-based products and remedies;
  • Using and administering medically oriented techniques or technology;
  • Manipulation, massage, physical therapy;
  • Intravenous or force-feeding;
  • Intruding on the private relationship between the patient and the Christian Science practitioner, or between the patient and his or her family;
  • Giving personal advice and counsel. (2)

Several years ago, CBS TV show 60 MINUTES did a segment entitled By Faith Alone (3), discussing if Medicare should cover Christian Science nursing facilities. They interviewed a former Christian Science Nurse, Leslie Saunders (4) who shed a disturbing light on the practices taking place in the Christian Science nursing facilities:

Leslie Saunders … stopped working at Medicare-funded Christian Science facilities, agrees [Medicare should not cover CS nursing]. “Medicare pays for medical treatment under given guidelines. For Medicare to involve itself in Christian Science nursing means Medicare is trying to pay for theology,” she tells Safer. She also says the only “treatment” allowed in such facilities is praying; the rules are so strict, she says, even patients short of breath are not given oxygen. (3)

Saunders’ interview stands in stark contrast to the recent “Interview with a CS Nurse” (5) but out by the Chestnut Hill Benevolent association (6) where “Jenny Ferch shares her journey to the BA’s Christian Science Nurses Training School. Her background at Principia Upper School, working as an intern at the Mother Church, and her innate love of caring for others — all pointed her in the direction of the healing ministry of Christian Science nursing.”

I’m not sure how denying people oxygen and not administering medication or physical therapy is a “healing ministry.” Even the top Google hit for “healing ministry” — Christian Healing Ministries acknowledges and affirms that there is

“… value of the medical and counseling fields, since they too are ways in which God’s healing power is manifested.” (7)

While Official Church Policy states that Christian Scientists are “free to go to doctors or seek medical care” (8) the idea is laughable. To qualify for participation in Christian Science Nursing Facilities, people must abide by standards requiring them to radically rely on prayer for healing (9). All Christian Science Nursing Facilities have a policy that clearly states guests must rely on prayer alone.

From a Florida facilities statement about care:

“… non-medical nursing facility offering care to those who actively rely on prayer for metaphysical healing and are working with a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner. Those who come — for help are the remnant of our Leader’s seed. They are not nominal worshippers. They have set out to preclude the Adam dream by refusing to take the medical route.” (emphasis mine, 10)

From the Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association:

2. What are the requirements for admission?
You must be having treatment from a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner on a daily basis and relying solely on Christian Science for healing. Each call is considered on an individual basis, according to the request and need, as well as the availability for admission.
(11)

The idea Christian Science refuses to acknowledge any value in the medical field preferring to rely solely on prayer alone comes directly from Ms. Eddy. During the time she was working on her 300+ editions of Science and Health, it may have been safer to wait it out (12), but in 2015 the best course of action is to at least call your doctor’s office (13). Ms. Eddy’s writing on doctors, diagnosis of disease, and perspective on hygiene is not only wrong, it is deadly (14). As Ms. Eddy was the author of numerous volumes, I’ve selected a few passages from Science and Health:

On page 370 of Science and Health, Ms. Eddy writes: “A physical diagnosis of disease, since mortal mind must be the cause of all disease, tends to induce disease.

Whatever teaches man to have other laws and to acknowledge other powers than the divine Mind, is anti-Christian. The good that a poisonous drug seems to do is evil, for it robs man of reliance on God, omnipotent Mind and according to belief, poisons the human system.Science and Health, p. 169-70

It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would’ve recommended and employed them in his healing… The Divine Mind never called matter medicine, and matter required a material and human belief before it could be considered as medicine. Mind is the grand creator, and there can be no power except that which is derived from Mind… Inferior and unspiritual methods of healing may try to make Mind and drugs coalesce, but the two will not mingle scientifically.Science and Health, p. 143-4

Christian Science Nursing facilities deny people proper medical care. In September, I had a guest poster, Mr. Spock, describe the House of Horrors Christian Science Nursing Facility were his mother spent her last days (15). I highly recommend reading the entire piece. Spock describes inhumane conditions, unimaginable pain and suffering that would not be permitted in a medical facility or hospice care.

I remember a visit to the House Of Horrors early in childhood when my grandmother worked there as a Christian Science nurse. …. . The only comfort the “nurses” [were] able to offer [was] to shift pillows, offer water or juice, or read from the Bible and/or the writings of Mary Baker Eddy or other Christian Science literature. Not even an aspirin is permitted in these houses of horrors, and people often enter these facilities with advanced cancer or other serious diseases eating away at their bodies. Before Christian Scientists will acquiece even to care at a Christian Science nursing facility, they will often have suffered at home on their own with whatever ailment they’re dealing with for quite some time. Any admission of advancement of a disease is an admission of failure in your practice Christian Science, and many Christian Scientists are loathe to admit such.

For Christian Science Nursing to use nursing is incredibly misleading. Christian Science Nursing facilities should not be subsidized by tax payer money, and they should be very clear about what care at Christian Science “nursing” actually entails — no relief. Another guest post, My Mothers Turn to Medical Hospice (16) is the story of a Christian Scientist who turned to medical hospice care after being in a Christian Science facility that failed to meet her needs.

Perpetuating the farce that Christian Science facilities provides any level of skilled nursing care is damaging to the patients and their families. I am horrified that Medicare pays for Christian Science nursing. Medicare pays for medical treatment (17), the Church’s position on Christian Science nursing — and the position taken by Christian Science nursing facilities — make it clear that there are no medical treatments given, means Medicare is paying for religion. The guidelines set up by the Church as to what Christian Science Nurses can and can’t do speak volumes. There is more to nursing than shifting pillows, offering juice, arranging food in a pleasing manner and reading Science and Health.
____________________

 

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.nursingworld.org/EspeciallyForYou/What-is-Nursing; http://www.nursingworld.org/EspeciallyForYou/What-is-Nursing/Tools-You-Need/RNsAPNs.html
  2. http://christianscience.com/member-resources/for-individuals/christian-science-nursing/christian-science-nurse-scope-of-services
  3. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/by-faith-alone/
  4. Saunders interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ2hfRbXUq8
  5. http://chbenevolent.mysharebar.com/view?iframe=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chbenevolent.org%2Fblog%2Fa-healing-ministry%2Fwhy-jenny-ferch-chose-christian-science-nursing&title=%5BPodcast%5D+Jenny+Ferch+tells+us+why+she+chose+the+healing+ministry+of+Christian+Science+nursing+-+www.chbenevolent.org&description=In+this+interview+with+Monty+Haas%2C+Jenny+Ferch+shares+her+journey+to+the+BA%E2%80%99s+Christian+Science+Nurses+Training+School.+Her+background+at+Principia+Upper+School%2C+working+as+an+intern+at+the+Mother+Church%2C+and+her+innate+love+of+caring+for+others+%E2%80%94+all+pointed+her+in+the+direction+of+the+healing+ministry+of+Christian+Science+%E2%80%A6
  6. http://www.chbenevolent.org
  7. http://www.christianhealingmin.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=140&Itemid=352
  8. http://kindism.org/2013/05/14/placatingthemasses/
  9. http://kindism.org/tag/radical-reliance/
  10. http://kindism.org/2013/07/15/nominal-worshippers-stay-home/
  11. http://www.chbenevolent.org/christian-science-nursing/frequently-asked-questions
  12. http://kindism.org/2013/07/22/cucumbers-cause-cholera/
  13. http://kindism.org/christian-science-health-care-guide/christian-science-doctors/
  14. http://childrenshealthcare.org/?page_id=190
  15. http://kindism.org/2014/09/21/house-of-horrors/
  16. http://kindism.org/2014/03/12/my-mothers-turn-to-medical-hospice-b-c-d-s-story/
  17. http://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/decide-how-to-get-medicare/whats-medicare/what-is-medicare.html

Further Reading:

Further Reading from Kindism.org:

Christian Science Nursing Care – from ChristianScience.com:


About Kat:

Kat is a former Christian Scientist, Principia College graduate, and full-time Domestic Goddess/Engineer. In addition to thinking critically about Christian Science, she enjoys long walks in the woods (usually with her kids), long walks on the beach (usually with her kids), and dark romantic comedies (after the kids have gone to bed). Depending on the day, she believes in the Celestial Teapot, the Sparkly Pink Unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. For more about Kat and her critical musings on Christian Science, religion, philosophy and occasionally parenting, you can visit her blog, KindismRead other posts by Kat here.

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23 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Healing Ministry of Christian Science Nursing

  1. EG – you have too much wallpaper that it has compressed your message too small for anybody to read.. Could you please fix those? I look forward to reading when you finish fixing this. Thanks.

  2. Dear EG, I tried to reply using the “comment” portion following your message. What I really wanted to say on your subject title above was you had too much “wallpaper” compressing the text of your message to too small size, one could barely see the message. If you could please fix the format you used to trim or eliminate the wallpaper part, that may enlarge the text so it is legible. Thank you in advance, and I look forward to reading your subject matter. Best regards, Sent from GS in CA

    >

    • Hmm…unfortunately, I’m constrained by the pre-defined “theme” in WordPress. I could customize more if I pay them money, and thus far it’s been my objective to have this blog only cost me time and effort. Unfortunately, this theme is the only one I’ve found so far that has certain functionalities that I want. However, I think I may be able to change the font size, I’ll see if I can do that. I’m thinking you must be viewing this on a smartphone or perhaps a small tablet.

  3. Actually, I found that if I access your message thru the emails, I can stretch it out to normal reading size (whatever the font # turns out to be). At least for now, problem fixed.😄

    • Good, I’m glad you’re able to view the posts! Is the trouble you’re having just particular to this post, or is it others? This one is a guest post that I copied and pasted from the person who sent it to me, so there might be some different formatting here that isn’t present in my other posts. Anyway, thanks for visiting!

  4. I appreciate the depth of your article. Looking back on those years is hard for me at times. The service I am proud to own, is that of driving and staying with many persons who could no longer stand the pain or deformity of their illness. In the years I worked in CS nursing, practitioners dropped a case immediately when someone sought medical help. This always had the effect of creating more isolation and guilt for the person who was ill. Feeling unloved by God, in addition to grappling with the strangeness of the medical world, could be overwhelming.
    I understand that in 2015, a practitioner may stay on a case when someone has chosen medical help, but I am not clear as to when that change took place, or if that is correct at all.
    I hope that it is, because ” dropping” someone hardly seems Christian or humane in any context.
    Leslie Saunders

    • I think it is largely up to the individual practitioner as to when they take a case and/or drop a case. In theory, it’s always been their individual choice; in practice, I think in the past it was very strongly discouraged to take cases where people were seeking medical treatment. I can, however, personally attest to the fact that some practitioners do rather cruelly drop cases immediately when patients seek medical care.

    • Leslie, thank you for having the courage to speak up. I’m not sure what CSP-policy is in 2015 (I know they made exceptions for pregnancy cases in 2009), but I know that the church (and the membership) has a long way to go in so many areas. – Kat

    • It would not be correct for a CS practitioner to continue treatment when someone has decided to seek medical treatment, for the same reason it would not be correct to receive treatment from two medical doctors at the same time. It could be counter-productive to receive two different treatments at the same time. There are probably professional courtesy issues too.

      • Christianscience.com,under relationship with Western Medicine, states that “Christian Scientists respect the interests of medical professionals and don’ t oppose them.”
        My husband, never a Christian Scientist, has several doctors who treat him, who share their findings, and who coordinate their services on his behalf. His minister also prays for him, and with him. Each may have their own opinions, but each is devoted to,what is highest and best for him.
        My reading of Mrs. Eddy’s works, shows her great respect for physicians, and for,those,working in allied professions. I know of current practitioners who visit their patients in the hospital, and who express the Christly love and service , essential for healing.
        I guess I would rather err on the side of compassion in any human situation. At the end of the day, whether one believes in God or not, one has to,answer to oneself.

      • Good points, though I would observe that:
        * I don’t believe that ministers see themselves as professional healers. A Christian Science practitioner could be seen as a part of the healthcare industry, where I would expect that a minister, while hoping and praying for healing, would probably see his work more as moral support for the patient and the doctors. I doubt that most ministers would consider their prayers as “treatment” for the patient.
        * It wouldn’t be compatible for a CS practitioner to coordinate with medical doctors, since the treatments are so different and the approaches opposite. Medical doctors who have agreed to coordinate their work can do so because they have the same standpoint that they are working from.

        As an example, I was once told of an experience a man had who was having a tooth problem and arranged for a dentist to extract it. In the meantime, he also called a CS practitioner for treatment. I don’t know if he told the practitioner about his medical plans. After the procedure, though, which didn’t go well, the dentist said that it was the the most difficult tooth extraction he had ever done. The man realized that the practitioner’s work and the dentist’s work were at odds. The practitioner’s work was to restore the tooth to soundness while the dentists’s was to remove it. The way he described it later was that it was as if “the practitioner had a hold of the tooth on one end and the dentist was pulling on the other”.

        Mrs. Eddy did have a high respect for physicians and their honest motives, but did not see her system as compatible with theirs. She says in _Prose Works_:

        “A Christian, or a Christian Scientist, assumes no more when claiming to work with God in healing the sick, than in converting the sinner. Divine help is as necessary in the one case as in the other. The scientific Principle of healing demands such cooperation; but this unison and its power would be arrested if one were to mix material methods with the spiritual, — were to mingle hygienic [meaning: “medical”] rules, drugs, and prayers in the same process, — and thus serve “other gods.” Truth is as effectual in destroying sickness as in the destruction of sin.”

        Also:

        “Is Science material? No! It is the Mind of God — and God is Spirit. Is Truth material? No! Therefore I do not try to mix matter and Spirit, since Science does not and they will not mix.”

      • I’ll answer the claim regarding the tooth extraction with this: anecdote and/or coincidence, which is all that this can be proven to be, does not in any way constitute genuine scientific proof. That story proves nothing regarding the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Christian Science. The only proofs I’ve ever seen offered of any supposed power of Christian Science to heal is anecdotal. That proves nothing to me. I do realize that Eddy respected physicians, but she did consider her “system” to be better. Perhaps in the late 19th/early 20th centuries it was. Submitting to medical practice of the time was a gamble, but medical science has advanced tremendously in the last 100 years, and unlike Christian Science, it relies on verifiable and repeatable proof, and makes no claim to cure anything it has not been scientifically proven to cure.

  5. I have to contest your characterization of nurses and nursing facilities “denying” care. Implicit in the idea of denying something to someone is the condition of wanting that thing in the first place; and you fail to account for the fact that most people that go to CS nursing facilities are choosing to do so with a complete understanding of what that facility is and isn’t going to offer. They don’t show up hoping for medical treatment and then have their hopes dashed by having it “denied”. Obviously, you think it is absurd that anyone would choose such a thing, but you don’t allow for the individual, informed choice of each patient.
    Also, I would ask what word you would choose instead, since you think ‘nurse’ is a misrepresentation? I find Merriam-Websters definition of the verb ‘to nurse’ instructive here, as it is not medically specific. Both the verb and the noun come from the same root as the words nourish and nutrition. I know a few medical nurses myself who definitely don’t feel as though they are nourishing their patients. Rather they feel that they are feeding them drugs that mediate symptoms while never making any progress toward solving problems. My purpose is not to diminish the work of medical nurses or the potential of medicine to alleviate suffering, but simply to illustrate the way in which words too often fall short. Getting hung up on semantics gets us no where.

    • Although I didn’t author this post, I’ll answer with my own opinion (which is informed by my own experience). I won’t take issue with what you say in your first paragraph. I can’t argue that people entering Christian Science nursing facilities are not fully aware of what they’re getting into. In fact, I’m sure they are. I do think it’s an absurd choice, but it’s their choice to make. So, for the most part, I won’t argue your point there. I do, however, think that the physical suffering that people endure in Christian Science nursing facilities, whether or not it be of their own choosing, is horrific, and I believe they are blinded by their misguided belief in a system of healing that has proven time and time again to be a complete failure.

      However, I do take strong issue with the characterization of Christian Science “nursing” care as “nursing” care. At the most, I might characterize Christian Science nurses as “care aides”; definitely NOT nurses. What they do is not nursing care as modern society understands it, and as such care is defined by professional organizations. This characterization is very misleading to anyone who doesn’t know better.

      • Thanks for your reply.
        I do agree that suffering should not be part of the CS healing equation. I don’t believe it’s a common idea among Christian Scientists, but it’s worth stating that is impossible to be a martyr for healing, so enduring prolonged suffering just for the purpose of proving allegiance to a belief system is misguided — and is not Christian Science.
        And back to the point about nursing, I suppose that is why the Mother Church has such straightforward explanations available online about what CS nursing is and isn’t. So with that information publicly available, I can hardly buy the argument of it being misrepresentation (I understand it’s not your argument, per se). But acknowledging that would obviate this whole post, me thinks.
        The activity and the word nursing have been in use for a long time. I venture to guess that the medical and CS concepts looked a lot more similar back in the late 19th century. So who’s to say that it’s the CStists that need to change? Maybe contemporary medical nursing has strayed too far from the earlier meaning and needs a new word. Just playing devil’s advocate here, but this has more to do with the medical community having a monopoly on care-taking language than anything else, in my view.

      • I do believe that Christian Science nursing is indeed akin in scope to some forms of nursing that were carried out in the 19th century. Nursing, like many professions has undergone a great deal of change. Christian Science, however, keeps its roots planted firmly in the 19th century, quite unwilling to change in any way, shape, or form. Medical nursing has changed along with medical care itself, which has undergone monumental change (read up on germ theory, for instance) since Eddy’s time. Medical care will always change, as new scientific discoveries come to light, and as evidence directs. Has Christian Science changed or evolved? My answer is ‘no’. When you have a belief system that still widely uses outmoded 19th century terminology in its daily lexicon, you have something that is basically a living fossil.

      • Rocky, thank you for your letter. I agree that persons who enter a Christian Science facility, would not expect or want medical care. You are also right in observing that many medical nurses feel constrained and overwhelmed by the boundaries of allopathic medicine.
        The fragile line appears when someone, who is in a Christian Science facility, and is not experiencing healing or improvement, goes into unmanaged pain or inability to breathe.
        The frightened person does not want to abandon his Christian Science comfort zone, and yet cannot stand what is happening. Once while I was student nursing in such a facility, the patient begged me to open all the room’s windows, due to gasping for air. After I did so, a senior nurse entered the room,closed the windows, and told me not to coddle mortal mind. The patient called his son, croaked “help me,” and the son ordered an ambulance to a medical facility. What seared my conscience at the time was the coldness and unkindness directed toward that patient. It still remains with me. I won’t argue semantics, because the word” nurse” can be used without medical equivocation, whether one chooses to or not.
        A murky detail that is seldom discussed, is that of an independent body, called the AOCSN. Not attached to the Mother Church, they determine which facilities can be accredited, and for what purpose. They also work in conjunction with Medicare, to determine which cases may be paid for under Medicare guidelines.
        To not see the irony of the above,still amazes me. Simply put, if you elect to have Christian Science care,then do so, but pay for it, or apply for the benevolent funds that each facility carries. Medicare , by definition, is medical care.
        Leslie Saunders

    • One more thing, in reference to the point in the original post about Medicare coverage of care at CS facilities. It is my understanding that the only way on which Medicare “supports” these facilities is by accepting claims filed by people who have used their services. Those people, if they are eligible for Medicare, have been paying their taxes to Medicare for their whole working lives. Is it not only fair then for them to be able to use the benefit that they have contributed to for reimbursement of the care of their choice? After all, all of their tax payer dollars are being redistributed to people participating in a system that they don’t use, and which probably costs much more than their care.

      • Tax dollars support many things that some taxpayers will never use. Public schools are a prime example. Not everyone uses them: some go to private school or are homeschooled as children; and some, such as myself, do not have kids, yet my provincial income taxes, and municipal property taxes support public schools. Medicare is for medical care. The care received in Christian Science nursing facilities is NOT medical care, it is religious care. How this passes constitutional muster in the United States, as I understand your constitution, baffles me.

  6. In answer to your latest post, the trouble seems to be in this format alone. Your other subject posts all appeared just fine. Thanks for your follow-up.

  7. The part where Leslie Saunders, then in training, was begged by the patient to open the windows so he could get some fresh air, has me enraged! That senior “nurse” who closed the windows, and told Leslie “not to coddle mortal mind” was clearly out of line. The “nurse” forgot that God is everywhere, meaning that He is on both sides of the window! Air is something we ALL rely on for our sustenance. The stated purpose of any nursing facility first and foremost, should be to help make the patient comfortable. That “nurse” did the patient a disservice. Kudos to Leslie for doing the right thing!

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