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From Tent Meetings and Store-front Healing Rooms to Walmarts and the Internet: Healing Spaces in the United States, the Americas, and the World, 1906–2006

  • Candy Gunther Brown (a1)


The centennial of the Azusa Street revivals of 1906 provides us with convenient poles for charting shifts in the landscape of Christian spiritual healing practices during the past century. Alongside unprecedented achievements in medical science, nearly 80 percent of Americans report believing that God supernaturally heals people in answer to prayer. Individuals who need healing, even after trying the best medical cures, readily transgress ecclesiastical, physical, and social boundaries in their quest for health and wholeness. The promise of a tangible experience of divine power, moreover, presents an attractive alternative to seekers disillusioned with what they perceive as the callous materialism of medical science and the religious legalism of traditional Christian churches. This essay calls for new narratives of sacred space that map the ways that pentecostal and charismatic healing practices have proliferated, diversified, and sacralized a growing number and variety of physical, social, and linguistic spaces in the past hundred years. At the turn of the twentieth century, modernist epistemological assumptions that privileged reason over experience encouraged fine intellectual distinctions between the sacred and the secular. In esteeming bodily experience as more trustworthy than disembodied doctrine and in resisting linguistic binaries as culturally constructed, postmodern epistemologies have multiplied the number and range of places available to be endowed with sacred meanings. I argue that boundaries between the sacred and the secular are dissolving at the same time that new boundaries are being established, privileging particular places and defining a new relationship among the United States, the Americas, and the world.



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1. A 2003 Newsweek poll found 72 percent of Americans believing that “praying to God can cure someone—even if science says the person doesn't stand a chance”: Claudia Kaib and others, “Faith and Healing,” Newsweek, 10 November 2003. A 1996 Gallup Poll showed 82 percent believing “in the healing power of personal prayer,” and 77 percent agreeing that “God sometimes intervenes to cure people who have a serious illness:” John, Cole, “Gallup Poll Again Shows Confusion,” NCSE Reports (spring 1996): 9; and Claudia, Wallis, “Faith and Healing,” Time, 24 06 1996, 63, quoted in Numbers, Ronald L., “Science Without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs,” in When Science and Christianity Meet, ed. Lindberg, David C. and Numbers, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 284. Other polls suggest that 61 percent–80 percent believe in miracles: Mullin, Robert Bruce, Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 262; Pullum, Stephen J., “Foul Demons, Come Out!”: The Rhetoric of Twentieth-Century American Faith Healing (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999), 150.

2. In addition to praying for healing, many people, including pentecostal and charismatic Christians, also use other medical and spiritual alternatives, such as chiropractics, herbs, New Age crystals, yoga, or reiki: Fuller, Robert C., Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 10; author's interviews with participants at charismatic healing services in Toronto, Ont., August 17–20, 2005; Harrisburg, Pa., November 2–5, 2005; and St. Louis, Mo., February 28–March 3, 2006. Although I am very interested in diverse spiritual healing traditions, they exceed the scope of this essay.

3. Cox, Harvey, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995), 104–6.

4. Marty, Martin E., “Religion and Healing: The Four Expectations,” in Religion and Healing in America, ed. Barnes, Linda L. and Sered, Susan S. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 488.

5. Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Structural Anthropology (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1967), 206; David, Chidester and Linenthal, Edward T., ed., American Sacred Space (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 6.

6. Although Protestants have frequently voiced suspicions of pilgrimages as superstitious, the practice has persisted throughout the history of Christianity and has arguably become more prevalent in the past century: Sears, John F., Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 56.

7. Barnes, and Sered, , ed., Religion and Healing in America, 16.

8. Chidester, and Linenthal, , ed., American Sacred Space, 10.

9. Sontag, Susan, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (New York: Picador, 1988), 180; Porterfield, Amanda, Healing in the History of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 151; Sarah, Coakley, ed., Religion and the Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 6.

10. Examples include Nancy Hardesty, Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003); Baer, Jonathan Richard, “Perfectly Empowered Bodies: Divine Healing in Modernizing America” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2002); William, James Opp, The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880–1930 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005); Liardon, Roberts, God's Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed (Tulsa, Okla.: Albury, 1996); Brault, Yves, Behind the Scenes: The True Face of the Fake Faith Healers (Pittsburgh, Pa.: Dorrance, 1997).

11. See, for instance, the testimonials included in Kuhlman, Kathryn, I Believe in Miracles: Streams of Healing from the Heart of a Woman of Faith (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962; rev. ed., Gainesville, Fla.: Bridge-Logos, 1992).

12. For examples of the interpretations to which I am responding, see Harrell, David Edwin Jr., All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), 5; Cox, Fire From Heaven, 15.

13. Curtis, Heather D., “The Lord for the Body: Pain, Suffering and the Practice of Divine Healing in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Protestantism” (Th.D. diss., Harvard University, 2004), 10.

14. Bartleman, Frank, Azusa Street (South Plainfield, N.J.: Bridge, 1980), 58.

15. Harrell, , All Things Are Possible, 44, 87.

16. Brown, Candy Gunther, “Healing Words: Narratives of Spiritual Healing and Kathryn Kuhlman's Uses of Print Culture, 1947–1976,” in Religion and the Culture of Print, ed. Danky, James P. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming).

17. Clark, Randy, Lighting Fires (Orlando, Fla.: Creation House, 1998), 77; “International Ministry Trips,” [cited January 16, 2006].

18. Chappell, Paul Gale, “The Divine Healing Movement in America” (Ph.D. diss., Drew University, 1983), 32.

19. Curtis, , “The Lord for the Body,” 10; see also Curtis's essay in this issue.

20. Burpeau, Kemp Pendleton, God's Showman: A Historical Study of John G. Lake and South African/American Pentecostalism (Oslo, Norway: Refleks, 2004), 37,154, 224; Blake, Curry, A Basic Course in Divine Healing (Dallas, Tex.: John G. Lake Ministries, 1997), 4.

21. See, for example, Lindsay, Gordon, Sketches from the Life and Ministry of John G. Lake (Shreveport, La.: Voice of Healing, 1952); Liardon, Roberts, comp., John G. Lake: The Complete Collection of His Life Teachings (Tulsa, Okla.: Albury, 1999).

22. Genesis 26:18; Pierce, Cal, Preparing the Way: The Reopening of the John G. Lake Healing Rooms in Spokane, Washington (Hagerstown, Md.: McDougal, 2001), 15, 84.

23. Acts 19:12 provides the precedent for the practice of sending blessed cloths to the sick; author's interviews with Cal and Michelle Pierce, Elaine Perkins, Harry Lundy, January 11 and 18, 2005. Oral Roberts popularized the idea of finding points of contact for the release of faith: see Harrell, David Edwin Jr., Oral Roberts: An American Life (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1985), 97.

24. Smith, Jonathan Z., To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 114.

25. “International Association of Healing Rooms (IAHR) Members,” [cited January 16, 2006].

26. Johnson, Bill, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles (Shippens-burg, Pa.: Treasure House, 2003), 46.

27. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Trask, Willard R. (San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1987), 2065; Chidester, and Linenthal, , American Sacred Space, 16; Sears, Sacred Places, 6.

28. Clark, Randy, God Can Use Little Ole Me: Remarkable Stories of Ordinary Christians (Ship-pensburg, Pa.: Revival, 1998); Allen, A. A., Allen Revival Hour (Miracle Valley, Ariz.: A. A. Allen, 196?).

29. See, for instance, Pierce, Cal, Third Day Church: The Church on Fire [sound recording] (Spokane, Wash.: Healing Rooms, 2004).

30. I want to thank Amanda Porterfield for helping me to think about the ways that Walmart prayers reinforce consumerism and problematic aspects of globalization.

31. Examples of divine healing publications include Francis MacNutt, , The Nearly Perfect Crime: How the Church Almost Killed the Ministry of Healing (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books, 2005); Hinn, Benny, Promises of Healing from Every Book in the Bible (Nashville, Term.: Thomas Nelson, 1998); Chavda, Mahesh, Only Love Can Make a Miracle: The Mahesh Chavda Story (Charlotte, N.C.: Mahesh Chavda, 1990); Banks, Bill, Alive Again! (Kirk-wood, Mo.: Impact Christian Books, 1977). For the role of reading in providing sick people with a sense of community, see Orsi, Robert A., “The Cult of the Saints and the Reimagination of the Space and Time of Sickness in Twentieth-Century American Catholicism,” in Religion and Healing in America, ed. Barnes, and Sered, , 40; Brown, Candy Gunther, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 102.

32. Osborn, Tommy Lee, Healing the Sick (Tulsa, Okla.: T. L. Osborn Evangelistic Association, 1959), 5.

33. Harrell, , Oral Roberts, 118.

34. Buckingham, Jamie, Daughter of Destiny: Kathryn Kuhlman … Her Story (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1976), 207.

35. Porterfield, Amanda, Healing in the History of Christianity, 162.

36. Bentley, Todd, Journey Into the Miraculous (Victoria, B.C.: Sound of Fire Productions, 2003), 247; Bentley, Todd, Christ's Healing Touch, vol. 1, Understanding How to Take God's Healing Power to the World (Abbottsford, B.C.: Fresh Fire Ministries, 2004), 275–76.

37. Chidester, and Linenthal, , American Sacred Space, 10, 15.

38. Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 4.

39. William, James Opp, “Religion, Medicine, and the Body: Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880–1930” (Ph.D. diss., Carlton University, 2000), 14.

40. Bynum, Caroline Walker, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 36; Amundsen, Darrel W. and , Ferngren, “The Early Christian Tradition,” 46; O'Connell, Marvin R., “Roman Catholic Tradition,” 121; and Weber, Timothy P., “Baptist Tradition,” in Caring and Curing: Health and Medicine in the Western Religious Traditions, ed. Numbers, Ronald L. and Amundsen, Darrel W. (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 292.

41. Turner, Bryan T., “The Body in Western Society: Social Theory and its Perspectives,” in Religion and the Body, ed. Coakley, , 29.

42. Takacs, Stacy, “Alien-Nation: Immigration, National Identity and Transnationalism,” Cultural Studies 13:4 (10 1, 1999): 591620.

43. Foucault, Michel, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. Smith, A. M. Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books), xi.

44. Opp, James W., “Healing Hands, Healthy Bodies: Protestant Women and Faith-Healing in Canada and the United States, 1880–1930,” in Women and Twentieth-century Protestantism, ed. Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts and Brereton, Virginia Lieson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 237; Curtis, , The Lord for the Body, 21; Cox, , Fire from Heaven, 121; Espinosa, Gaston, “‘God Made a Miracle in My Life’: Latino Pentecostal Healing in the Borderlands,” in Religion and the Body, ed. Coakley, , 123.

45. Griffith, R. Marie, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 69.

46. MacNutt, Francis, The Prayer That Heals: Praying for Healing in the Family (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria, 1981), 61; MacNutt was laicized following his marriage to Judith Sewell in 1980. For a discussion of the use of scientific language in religious discourses on healing, see Porterfield, , Healing in the History of Christianity, 162.

47. See, for example, Chibnall, John T., Jeral, Joseph M., and Cerullo, Michael A., “Experiments on Distant Intercessory Prayer: God, Science, and the Lesson of Massah,” Archives of Internal Medicine 161:21 (11 26, 2001): 2529; and Benson, Herbert and others, “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients: A Multicenter Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer,” American Heart Journal 151:4 (04 2006): 934–42.

48. Clark, Randy, There Is More! Reclaiming the Power of Impartation (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Global Awakening, 2006).

49. See, for instance, the essays in Noll, Mark A., Bebbington, David W., and Rawlyk, George A., ed., Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700–1990 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

50. I want to thank Michael McClymond for helping me to think about the transnational dimensions of the early pentecostal revivals.

51. Lee, Young-Hoon, “Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 4:1 (2001): 7383; McGee, Gary B., “Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire! The Revival Legacy of Minnie F. Abrams of India,” Enrichment (summer 1998): 19; Anderson, Allan, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1112; Martin, David, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001), 83, 132, 153.

52. “A Brief History,” [cited December 22, 2005].

53. “Global Day of Prayer,” [cited June 26, 2006].

54. Hilborn, David, “Toronto” in Perspective: Papers on the New Charismatic Wave of the Mid-1990s (Waynesboro, Ga.: Acute, 2001), 7; Poloma, Margaret, Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 87.

55. Baker, Rolland and Baker, Heidi, There is Always Enough: God's Miraculous Provision among the Poorest Children on Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books, 2003), 48; Baker, Heidi, sermon, Voice of the Apostles Conference,Harrisburg, Pa.,November 4, 2005.

56. “The Apostolic Network of Global Awakening,” [cited January 17, 2006].

57. Clark's citation of statistical estimates made by the Argentine evangelist Carlos Annacondia circulated, among other means, through U.S. e-mail chains, for instance, a Spokane Healing Rooms communication dated January 11, 2005.

58. Clark, Randy, Ministry Training Manual (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Ministry Training Manual, 2002), M1–42.

59. Espinosa, Gaston, “The Impact of Pluralism on Trends in Latin American and U.S. Latino Religions and Society,” Perspectives: Hispanic Theological Initiative Occasional Paper Series 7 (fall 2003): 3537.

60. “International Ministry Trips,” [cited December 21, 2005].

61. Cox, , Fire From Heaven, 109–10; Leif Hetland, lecture, Global Awakening School of Healing and Impartation, Toronto, Ont., August 20, 2005.

62. Sanneh, Lamin, “Mission and the Modern Imperative—Retrospect and Prospect: Charting a Course,” in Earthen Vessels: American Evangelicals and Foreign Missions, 1880–1980, ed. Carpenter, Joel A. and Shenk, Wilbert R. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), 301; Rowe, John C., ed., Post-Nationalist American Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 23.

63. Sontag, , Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, 180; Porterfield, , Healing in the History of Christianity, 151; Cox, , Fire from Heaven, 57, 107–8; Espinosa, , “God Made a Miracle in My Life,” 134–35.

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