[This blog was published by Times Online http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2009/07/praying-for-patients-debate-taking-place-now.html on 1 July 2009.]
A controversy over praying for patients goes to the heart of our cultural crisis. Only a fool would deny the influence of Christianity on medical provision around the world. The religion was founded by a healer, after all, not a technocrat or a warrior.
It was on this governmentâ€™s watch that a report was sanctioned saying the spiritual mattered in successful service delivery.
Yet there have been so many examples of local authorities stamping on the impulses of carers who reach out with the love that motivates them, that the General Medical Council is having to debate the issue today.
Prayer is a way of loving, someone once said. If it is treason to love, it is treason to be human.
If you censure the goose you will lose the golden egg. When Christian motivation is constrained, what will be left? The Bible tells Christians to pray for the sick, and to â€˜go on prayingâ€™ at all times, and with sensible guidelines, there need be nothing to fear.
In 1998 Visions of Reality was put together by the Central Council for Social Work Training with the Inner Cities Religious Council to encourage greater sensitivity to faith in social work.
Thatâ€™s because they seemed to realize then that a whole person is not simply a machine to be a fixed. Migrants were posing questions about what it means to be human that had been long consigned to a dustbin marked â€˜superstitionsâ€™.
The then Health Minister Paul Boateng (now a Privy Councillor) wrote the foreword to the report, and launched it at a conference to discuss how a secular system might respond to the presence of religious people increasingly seeking state care.
In an extraordinary speech, in the presence of Hilary Armstrong the then Minister for Local Government, who also sanctioned the report, Boateng said this:
â€˜We do actually need to recognise what different faiths and cultures bring. We need to recognise the gifts of the spirit and how they manifest themselves to different people in different ways. We need to recognise that those who are genuinely in the grip of delusions also have a right to religion.
â€˜I think this is an important and brave piece of work . . . Brave because it has not always been fashionable to give recognition to the world and life of the spirit.
â€˜The fact that I and Hilary my friend and colleague, are here is an indication of the value we attach to the life of the spirit and our belief that we can all draw enormous strength from that life. It can help at a fractured and difficult time.
â€˜There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin sick soul.
â€˜There is a balm in Gilead that makes the shattered whole.
â€˜And we are all of us entitled whatever our faith traditions or none to seek and to find that balm.â€™