An evangelical church in Auckland is offering a “holy oil” which parishioners claim has helped cure ailments from tumours and chronic heart conditions to depression and addiction.
Claims from followers that the oil, as well as faith, have treated chronic illness are made in a pamphlet advertising an event called Lifted, which the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) billed as the “event of the year”.
For attendees who were suffering in life, the church promised: “no matter what troubles may have caused you to suffer in life until now, there is a way out. You can be lifted”.
Three branches of the UCKG held the event in the last weekend of May where vials of olive oil in crucifix-shaped bottles was gifted, not sold, to churchgoers.
Naina Sharma, who works for the church, said the testimonials came mainly from people in New Zealand and Australia.
She said the oil was olive oil which had been blessed in Jerusalem.
“If you read the disclaimer we say we don’t claim to heal anyone,” she said before declining to comment further.
In small print, the pamphlet makes this disclaimer: “The UCKG does not claim to heal people but believes God can through the power of faith. Always follow your doctor’s instructions.”
The church’s bishop, Victor Silva who is currently in Fiji, said via email that the UCKG believed God could heal people.
“We – like many Christians – pray for the sick, anointing them with oil and encourage people to do the same.
“This is never meant to replace medical treatments, but often it is done in conjunction with them, as a way to activate people’s faith.”
Amongst the claims made in a pamphlet sent out before the event was a testimonial from a man who said he was cured after 11 years of heart problems and being told he had only a month to live.
“I anointed myself with the oil and I believed that God would heal me. Today, I am healthy and I no longer have any health problems,” he said.
In other testimonials, people claimed their depression, addiction issues and chronic pain were cured through anointing themselves with the oil.
Three people said they had feared death before anointing themselves with the oil and having faith.
Dr Kate Baddock, chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, said the assoication was always concerned to hear about therapeutic claims with no supporting evidence.
“It can be potentially dangerous. Anybody who has a medical problem should not rely solely on faith to solve it,” she said.
However Baddock acknowledged the placebo effect could be beneficial and faith could play a part in helping people feel better.
“If they have a belief system which is wrapped up in faith then it may help them.
“In medical terms we have a concept known as the placebo effect where you feel what is being offered will help. Whether that is because you have faith in the product or faith in the person offering it, it would appear to be working.”
The archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland Michael Berry said the Christian church had a long history of using oil for anointing and healing.
In the Anglican tradition, holy oil was administered by a priest, in the context of pastoral care and prayer, he said.
“Holy oil is not a magic potion and should not be given out with any idea of that. Rather, it is a sign and symbol of God’s presence, that is used alongside faithful prayer. As with all prayer and sacraments, it is something freely given, and often gratefully received.”
Cate Thorn, priest associate at Auckland’s St Matthew’s in the City, said she thought the oil was being used as a marketing tool by the UCKG.
“I think, at the end of the day it’s not really anything to do with oil at all. It’s a marketing campaign that’s sent in order to cause a reaction among those who receive it.”
She said if people felt they were being promised a solution for their problems which didn’t work, then the church could be causing emotional distress.
Photo Credit: prowdr