Pentecostals often remain in Pentecostalism despite many
misgivings for one simple reason: the healings. They
may admit that many of the practices and teachings are unbiblical.
They may confess that there is rampant abuse and manipulation.
But they shake off the doubts because they have seen so many
supernatural events--people stand up out of wheelchairs, back pain
healed, etc. And so they wonder, "If this is really so bad,
why are so many people being healed? Isn't it all worth it
if sick people are being restored to health?"
However, Pentecostal church services are all about showmanship and
appearance. It is surprisingly easy to fake healings, even
to hold entire healing services in which people appear to be
'healed' all over the church and yet no one is really cured.
How is this accomplished? The trick is usually, as Miracle
Max said in the quote above, to focus on problems which can be
resolved some way other than strictly supernaturally, to learn to
'heal' those who are only partly ill or can be made to seem well
when they are not.
Let's examine some of the most common 'healing' tricks in the
(a) Bigfoot Sightings. Perhaps the largest
category of fake healings is what I call "Bigfoot Sightings",
because, like the mythical Bigfoot, all that is known about these
healings is that somebody else swears that they saw them and that
they are real.
Most often, it is the pastor or a visiting evangelist who relates
stories of healings that occurred somewhere else. When these
'healings' are described in great detail to excited crowds, people
tend to forget that they never actually witnessed the event and
have no reason to believe that it actually occurred. In the
retelling of the story, people often relate the healing as though
they witnessed it themselves. It is only upon careful
questioning that the truth emerges: nobody actually saw this
one; it was just a story told to the group by some
convincing-sounding guy with a microphone.
EXAMPLE: Evangelist/ missionary David Hogan often uses this
technique. Every time he speaks to groups, he claims to have
raised 400+ people from the dead and performed many amazing
miracles. Although he relates many incredible stories, he
never actually performs miracles at his meetings . . . he just
talks about all the miracles that he supposedly performed
Hogan's fans often describe him as a great man of God who heals
the sick and raises the dead. When directly asked, however,
they admit that they have never actually seen Hogan do any
miracles. The only reason they have to believe that Hogan
has ever performed any miracles is that Hogan himself claims that
(b) "Pay no attention to that man behind the
curtain!" Occasionally, 'healings' are fakes, plain
and simple. Many evangelists believe that seeing people
apparently get healed raises the level of faith of the
parishioners and so opens the door for real healings. They
use this as an excuse to orchestrate healing shows that are
planned in advance simply to shock and amaze the crowd.
EXAMPLE: It is difficult to say how often this technique is
used, because evangelists who employ it are usually quite careful
to cover their tracks. However, occasionally, scandals open
up that allow a glimpse inside such misdealings. One of the
best known examples of the intentional and calculated use of fake
healings involved cult leader Jim Jones. Jones began his
ill-fated career as a Pentecostal revivalist and healer. One
of his favorite techniques involved healing people of 'cancer' by
apparently removing chunks of foul-smelling material from their
bodies that he claimed were the cancerous tissues. People's
Temple insiders later confessed that the 'cancers' were actually
rotten chicken livers, produced at the appropriate time during the
church service with a little slight-of-hand.
(c) MOSTLY disabled or ALL disabled?
One of the most obvious and most popular techniques used by faith
healers is based upon a popular misunderstanding of disabilities.
When someone is in a wheelchair, people tend to assume that the
person cannot walk AT ALL. This is rarely the case.
Most people in wheelchairs can stand and even walk a little, just
not far and not well. Likewise, when a person is said to be
blind or deaf, people tend to assume that the person cannot see or
hear AT ALL. Again, this is rarely the case. Most
blind people can see a little, just not very well, and most people
who are 'deaf' are really only partially deaf.
This explains why many 'miracles' that occur in faith-healing
services appear to be only partial healings. A healer may
tell someone in a wheelchair to stand and walk. The person
shakily stands and limps painfully across the stage. The
crowd cheers, because they think that this is amazing progress and
that the person is on his or her way to a full recovery.
But, in fact, it may be no improvement at all. Likewise,
many healers will test a healing of a blind person by holding up a
handkerchief and asking the person to grab it. When the
blind person is able to take hold of the handkerchief, the crowd
is amazed, not realizing that there is nothing remarkable about a
partly blind person being able to see a large white object held
only inches from his or her face.
EXAMPLE: This is one of the most common healing techniques
and is used by many, many faith healers. One of the best
known examples is Peter Popoff, who used a few trusted collegues
to scout for healing candidates among the crowds that came to his
healing services. Popoff's scouts always asked people in
wheelchairs if they could walk a little or not at all. Any
that could walk a little were called up to the front for 'healing'
during the subsequent service. The technique was exposed by
skeptic James Randi who placed actors in the audience to claim
that they had disabilities. Randi's actors were interviewed
by Popoff's scouts, and the information transmitted to Popoff via
a radio transmitter. Randi intercepted and recorded the
transmissions, which fed Popoff information on various audience
members, including which of them would make good 'healing'
(d) The Placebo Effect. Many
so-called 'healings' are extremely subjective. People are
most often 'healed' of rather vague conditions that are not
visible, such as chronic back pain. A person who suffers
from this condition may get caught up in the excitement of the
healing service and may even experience a lesser degree of pain
for a while, due to his or her earnest desire to be healed which
can, for a while, lead them to believe that a healing has taken
place. However, often the pain returns shortly after the
healing service ends.
EXAMPLE: The HBO documentary "Question of a Miracle" follows
several people who were supposedly healed by Benny Hinn. (As
it turned out, none of them actually were healed). One of
these cases involved a man who suffered from severe pain in his
hip joints and needed surgical intervention. The man claimed
that during the healing service he was totally healed and freed
from pain. He even demonstrated this by doing exercises
on-stage at Hinn's direction--squatting, bending, etc, all while
claiming to feel no pain at all. However, the pain returned
shortly after the healing service ended, and the man still suffers
the exact same condition and still needs surgery.
(e) The Rain Dance. A surprising number of
'healings' are actually simply a matter of people taking credit
for natural events, as though they were supernatural phenomena.
I cannot even count the number of times I have heard people claim
to be healed of the common cold. And yet, recovering from a
cold is something that everyone does dozens of times in their
lifetime--there is nothing supernatural about a recovery (even a
speedy recovery) from such a condition. Similarly, many
cancer 'healings' are actually the result of extensive medical
treatment that has resulted in remission.
Sometimes health situations are somewhat more complex and yet just
as likely to result in spontaneous improvement or
medically-assisted recovery. Some heart conditions that
occur in childhood usually do spontaneously improve, some
neurological or muscular conditions can make sudden and remarkable
improvement, especially with medical treatment and/or physical
therapy. But this is often overlooked by Pentecostal crowds
eager for a good healing story.
In all my years as a Pentecostal, as many healing stories as I
heard, I never heard of one case of someone being healed of Down
Syndrome. In fact, in my experience, Pentecostals never even
pray for healing for someone with Down Syndrome, and so, by
avoiding these cases, they tacitly acknowledge that they did not
really think it likely that someone with a truly PERMANENT
condition would be "healed".
EXAMPLE: I used this technique many times myself.
Specifically, I recall giving testimony (at various times in my
Pentecostal life) that I had been healed of a sprained wrist, a
headache, a backache, and several other mundane conditions.
In retrospect, I have to admit that these were faked.
Although I did not intend to fake, I wanted to see healings to
badly that I started claiming that every recovery was a 'healing'.
For example, when I suffered a very slight wrist sprain while
roller skating, I prayed that God would heal my wrist. When,
the next morning, the wrist stopped hurting, I claimed that it had
We do well to look at ALL Pentecostal and Charismatic healing
claims through highly skeptical eyes. Pentecostal and
Charismatic leaders have a compelling reason to lie and exaggerate
their 'healing' claims: miracle stories gather followers and
increase financial support. Pentecostal and Charismatic
churches are full of desperate people who want to see miracles and
who are eager to believe every wild tale and to interpret every
Ask difficult questions. Demand difficult healings. If
Benny Hinn, David Hogan, or any other 'faith healer' can really
call down the power of God to heal a backache . . . well, they
should be able to heal Down Syndrome, regrow amputated limbs, etc.
And let's not take their word for it . . . let's have it on
videotape so that everyone can see and marvel. If the faith
healers can't do this . . . well, it's time we ask ourselves why.
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