Faith over Medicine: Seventh Day Adventist Church’s Failure to Curb Radical EGW Health Reforms Raises Public Health Concerns
21 May 2024
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By Lloyd Makonese

In Zimbabwe, a concerning trend has emerged within the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) community where radical beliefs in herbal medicine are leading to increased mortality and a significant public health threat. Members driven by these radical beliefs advocate herbalism over proven biomedical treatments, guiding ill and vulnerable individuals towards potentially harmful practices.

The widespread adoption of herbal treatments, often propagated by influential church members, underscores a broader danger. Herbal medicines, while beneficial under specific circumstances, pose significant risks when misused. The substitution of these for biomedical treatments can lead to ineffective disease management, progression of conditions, and increased mortality rates. The biomedical approach to health, which relies on scientifically tested methods and treatments, often clashes with religious views that interpret illness and healing through a spiritual lens. This divergence not only impedes effective healthcare delivery but also elevates the risks associated with untreated or improperly managed diseases.

The misapplication of Ellen G. White’s (EGW) writings within the SDA church has fuelled this shift. Common misconceptions include the belief that her advocacy for natural remedies supersedes the need for conventional medicine. This has caused a significant rift within the church, especially as some leaders, reportedly profiting from this radicalism, fail to address the issue adequately. The situation is further complicated by reports of some SDA union and conference or higher church office holders who went to the extent of joining or registering with the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (ZINATA) as traditional healers within the SDA church. The writer discovered that this was done for these radical EGW believers to practice legally in the country, though they are basing their practices on the church’s belled system. This act is seen as contradictory to the church’s foundational beliefs and, to many, a deviation from divine directives.

The confusion within the church regarding health practices was evident at several symposia attended by this writer. Discussions revealed that many radical herbal practitioners within the church, were unaware of the critical dosages necessary for safety and efficacy as their practices are not evidence based. They also lacked knowledge about when to refer patients to conventional medical professionals, often resulting in worsened conditions and increased fatalities.

Pastor Godfrey Musara, the union president, when approached, directed inquiries to the health department leader at the union level Mrs Katsvairo, indicating a potential recognition of the issue but also a delegation of responsibility which may slow immediate resolutions. Engaging with Madam Katsvairo highlighted that the public health concern was well understood and was an issue of a higher magnitude that the starting point was nowhere visible no an easy task.

This complex interplay of religion, tradition, and medicine represents a significant barrier to health care progress in the region. As the church grapples with these internal conflicts and the ambiguity surrounding the definition of faith or radicalisation within the church, the health and well-being of its congregants including non believing desperate health dealers hang in the balance, calling for urgent introspection and reformation of health practices within the SDA community in Zimbabwe.

These emerging concerns around radical health beliefs within the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church in Zimbabwe demand urgent attention, similar to the critical views held by some White Garment Pentecostal groups, who resort to the use of salts and holy waters as disease cures.

The SDA Church’s increasing embrace of herbal remedies over biomedical solutions, driven by a misinterpretation of Ellen G. White’s teachings on natural medicine, presents a pressing public health challenge. The over reliance and over emphasis on herbal treatments, under the guise of Health Reform Message and Business to make money, risks not only the health of individuals but also public health at large who are easily gullible, desperate and ignorant, due to the potential ineffectiveness of these treatments against serious medical conditions.

This trend, has been left unchecked for far too long and now escalates, mirroring the radical practices observed among the White Garment Pentecostals, thereby compounding the challenges faced in achieving comprehensive healthcare delivery within and beyond these communities. Thus, it is imperative for leaders within the SDA Church to address these divergent health practices promptly, to mitigate further public health risks and align more closely with evidence-based medical practices.