Bethel still believes in miracles but discourages hospital visits for healing prayer

The church is discouraging Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students — who evangelize to strangers as they learn to pray and to heal the sick — from visiting health care settings.

(RNS) — At Bethel, a Pentecostal megachurch based in the city of Redding, California, the faithful emphasize spiritual gifts such as healings and modern-day miracles, but church leaders say they also believe in wisdom and modern medicine.

That’s why, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the nation, Bethel officials said they are taking precautions in the way it conducts its ministries.

The church is discouraging Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students — who evangelize to strangers as they learn to pray and to heal the sick — from visiting health care settings.

Bethel Church spokesman Aaron Tesauro told Religion News Service by email that although the church believes “in a God who actively heals,” students are not encouraged to visit health care settings at this time. Tesauro also said church policy only allows people to visit a hospital at the invitation of someone in the hospital.

Several mission trips have also been canceled, Tesauro said.

Tesauro said Bethel has been in contact with Shasta County Health and Human Services and is following guidelines and recommendations of the U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The church is urging its members to wash their hands often, stay home if sick, avoid touching their face with unwashed hands and to clean and disinfect objects they’ve touched, among other things. 

“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,” Tesauro said.

People raise their hands in praise while singing in church. Photo by Carolina Jacomin/Unsplash/Creative Commons

As of Tuesday night, Bethel had not canceled the nine church services it holds each week. Tesauro said 6,300 adults attend those services on average.

Richard Flory, senior director of research and evaluation at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, said the church can recognize science as a God-given thing. Oftentimes, he said, miracle healing is “reserved for extraordinary circumstances.”

Flory, who studies Pentecostal and charismatic Christians like those at Bethel, noted that televangelist Jim Bakker interviewed a guest on his show who promoted silver solution products as a substance that could prevent or protect against the coronavirus. As the guest spoke, ads ran on the screen for items like a “Cold & Flu Season Silver Sol” collection for $125. 

The federal Food and Drug Administration has warned Bakker and others to halt such promotions, and Missouri’s attorney general is suing the televangelist, accusing Bakker of peddling an unproven coronavirus cure.

Bethel, Flory said, “doesn’t seem to be the same” as Bakker.

“(They) don’t have the same motivation,” he said.

Bethel made headlines in December when members gathered to pray for the resurrection of a 2-year-old member of the church family, Olive Heiligenthal, who appeared to die suddenly. Supporters spread the hashtags #wakeupolive and #victoriousawakening across social media and described their prayers as radical worship and a spiritual awakening.

The church, in a statement, noted that seeking a miracle from God to raise the child from the dead “is out of the norm.”

“But that’s what a miracle is — it’s outside the box of nature and our power.”

Meanwhile, Tesauro said the church is continuing to keep its followers updated.

“Through email communications, signage and church announcements, we are actively encouraging health practices and precautions to our whole community,” Tesauro said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.