CINCINNATI -- Greg Pullem, 68, has called himself a Christian his entire life. So the Madisonville resident felt hurt when not one but two pastors called Christian Science a cult.
Pullem attends three churches on Sunday: First Church of Christ Scientist in Hyde Park, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Madisonville and a Mormon church in Norwood.
He has attended the Christian Scientist church for 10 years, ever since he was invited by a couple he made friends with at the hardware store where he worked for 23 years.
Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston in 1879, after she was healed of injuries received in a fall. She credited prayer and Bible reading with her healing, and Christian Science has emphasized the healing power of prayer ever since.
Some Christian Scientists have come into conflict with the government because they have refused medical treatment, instead relying on God to heal them.
One of the ministers who called Christian Science a cult gave Pullem a copy of a chapter devoted to the subject in “The Kingdom of the Cults,” by Walter Martin.
Other attacks, according to the Christian Science Sentinel, have come from evangelical groups that hold a literal understanding of the Bible, such as the Christian Broadcasting Network, through its “The 700 Club.”
Pullem thinks such attacks come from ignorance. He credits Christian Science principles with helping him reduce the number of medications he takes for bipolar disorder.
“The medical community gave me no hope,” he said.
Eddy wanted Christians to rediscover the power of God to heal – something that the Gospels testified to frequently, but seemed to have been forgotten in her day.
In her “Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures,” published in 1875, she argues that if the mind is right with God, the body will follow, said Norwood resident Deb Amons.
“People call (unexpected healings) miracles, but we think of them as the natural outcome of bringing your life into accord with the teachings of Christianity,” she said.
For the past 50 years, the 79-year-old has worked as a licensed Christian Science practitioner. She is sometimes paid by the people she helps, sometimes not.
She became a convert after a serious illness, when something spoke to her and asked, “Why not try prayer?” Two weeks after she began seeing a Christian Science practitioner, she was healed.
In the mainline Christian church she grew up in, she said, she never learned that God is good and people could connect with him in a tangible way.
In her practice, she finds that the Bible is the most effective healing tool. It helps people look at their lives and see what in their thinking might inhibit spiritual growth, she said.
She never tells people not to seek medical treatment and said she has taken people to the hospital whom she knew wouldn’t make it only through prayer.
Columbus resident Steve Salt, the church’s Ohio spokesperson and also a licensed practitioner, said he has seen healings of everything from the common cold to growths on the face.
It’s not a mind-over-matter thing or wishful thinking, he said, but a matter of priorities. “The more we establish the relationship with God, the more harmonious life is,” he said.
Christian Science churches don’t have paid clergy. Instead, each congregation elects two readers, who read from the Bible and Eddy’s writings at each Sunday service.
The mother church doesn’t keep records of membership, Salt said, but he believes membership has followed the same downward trend as other mainline Christian denominations in recent years.
According to Quackwatch.com, the number of Christian Science churches in the United States has declined from 1,829 in 1971 to 778 this year. Over the same period, the number of practitioners fell from 4,965 to 942.
Independence resident Kathy Tapp attended the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on Park Avenue in Newport until it closed about three years ago due to lack of attendance.
She now attends the Christian Science church in Anderson Township, one of three left in the Tri-State area, the others being in Hyde Park and Wyoming.
She also works part-time at the reading room on Vine Street, Downtown, which is financially supported by the three congregations. Each Christian Science congregation also has a reading room at its church building.
Eddy conceived of the reading rooms as a way to educate people about Christian Science in an era when public libraries were a novelty, Salt said.
The Downtown reading room has two parts: a lobby where there are books and CDs for sale, and an inner room with chairs and tables, where books are free or lent for free.
All sorts of people visit, Tapp said, including clergy from other denominations who pick up the quarterly Bible study booklets. Homeless people beg outside the front door and sometimes do odd jobs inside.
Sometimes people who’ve had a bad medical diagnosis come in looking for inspiration and healing. When that happens, Tapp said, she prays God will use her like a window, to allow his ideas, and not hers, to shine through.
And that prayer works, she said.
Now 60, she is a third-generation Christian Scientist, but not a practitioner. She explored other religions in the ‘70s, she said, but returned to Christian Science because it seems like the “meat and potatoes” she needed to grow in her faith.
“It reaches a bit further, for more spiritual growth,” she said. “It takes it one step higher.”