Churchgoers who claim they can cure cancer by praying over people in Dundee city centre have defended the practice after NHS Tayside raised concerns.
As we reported, Gate Church International on Perth Road offers “healing on the streets” to shoppers in the Murraygate. Sick people suffering from everything from tumours to multiple sclerosis are encouraged to take part in the fortnightly open-air sessions.
A leaflet handed out in the city centre asks: “Do you suffer from back pain, arthritis, MS, addiction, cancer, ulcers, depression, allergies, fibromyalgia, asthma, paralysis, crippling disease, phobias or any other sickness?
“We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christians from Gate Church International. We believe God loves you and can heal you from any sickness today.”
The claim led to NHS Tayside issuing a warning to people with medical conditions.
A spokeswoman said the sick should go directly to their GP for diagnosis and treatment. The health board also urged people to continue taking prescribed medication.
“If you have been prescribed medication or are undergoing any treatment for an ailment or condition, to continue with this as advised by their healthcare professional,” the spokeswoman added.
Gate Church pastor Gordon Stewart said he agrees with NHS Tayside’s position, adding: “As a church we fully support and encourage people to seek out the appropriate medical care and advice from GPs and other health professionals, should they be unwell.
“We do not encourage any person to stop medical treatment without the endorsement of the health professional who is caring for them. We encourage those who feel their health is improved or restored after prayer to document this and receive confirmation from their treating physician before altering any prescribed medicines or treatment.
“The training the team receive reinforces this standard and also is there to aid the team in their communication with those they are praying for. They do not offer medical advice or opinion.”
Academics at Dundee University suggested that prayer can offer health benefits but only as a placebo.
A spokesman for the institution’s faculty of psychology said: “There is considerable scientific literature indicating that a beneficial placebo effect can occur among people partaking in group activities, including praying or faith-based activities, but also those with no religious basis.”
That view is supported by Gordon Stewart. However, he believes that a higher power is responsible.
“Many people have benefited from prayer for their illness, a view supported by scientific literature,” he said.
“We at Gate Church International believe that is as a result of God’s love and healing power and many of our congregation have testimonials to this effect.”
Dundee City Council first gave Gate Church the go-ahead to carry out “healing on the streets” several years ago and the congregation now has a rolling arrangement.
A spokesman for the council said: “The licensing committee on December 4 2008 approved an application by Gate Church International for use of the Murraygate.
“It was also agreed that future applications would be delegated to officers if there were no objections to them.”
He added: “There are no financial implications.”