by Loren Seibold | 2 February 2024 |
I’m a believer in preventive health. Good nutrition—in fact, the whole NEWSTART list—seems like common sense. No one in the scientific secular health community can argue with it.
But that’s never quite enough for some Adventists. It starts with Ellen White quotes, but it moves into no oils or fats, substituting honey for sugar, no salt, uncooked food, and veganism. From there we go to herbal “medicines” which owe more to Jethro Kloss than to Ellen White.
Back in 2016 a friend described a health program that was held for a group of Adventists in my home state of North Dakota. The presenter was one Mamon Wilson, who claimed to be a specialist in curing, well, almost everything. He called himself an “herbal surgeon” and said that his mixtures could pull internal cancers out through the skin, where he could remove them by laying a slab of eggplant on them. He claimed that he could cure necrotizing fasciitis—flesh-eating bacteria—by dosing the skin with (carcinogenic) used motor oil, that pokeweed will cure HIV if inserted in the rectum (try getting that picture out of your mind), lemon juice should be dripped into the eyes for cataracts (ouch!), and hempseed oil for almost everything else.
People ate this stuff up. What would seem like the silliest nonsense in any other context—almost like a Saturday Night Live sketch—becomes acceptable when we’re asked to take it on faith. Especially if you add, “The medical establishment doesn’t want you to know this, but….”
From what I can tell, Mamon Wilson is still plying his trade as a self-taught curer. I know he’s been invited to speak in Adventist churches on occasion, and possibly even at a camp meeting or two. A past event still pops up on the Georgia-Cumberland Conference website.
I hadn’t heard of Barbara O’Neill, though Jacqueline Bourne (whom I’ve also never heard of) named her “The most brilliant health teacher of our time.” I’d been told her book was carried at some Adventist Book Centers; at least one reported that it had sold marvelously well, but hadn’t been reordered, based on what you’ll read below.
(Some Adventist Book Centers, desperate to stay alive, do little curation to be sure what they’re carrying is consonant with our faith. One in Oregon a few years ago sold books by Rush Limbaugh!)
This was an easy piece to research, because all you have to do is read Wikipedia where, it becomes apparent, the Australian government has done the research for us. Barbara, we learn, is
an Australian alternative medicine personality, known for promoting dangerous and unsupported alternative medical practices and ideas. She previously presented these treatments at alternative medicine schools, wellness retreats, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches despite not having any recognised qualifications and failing nursing training.…
Like with all such “ministries,” there’s money involved.
She ran the Misty Mountain Health Retreat near Kempsey with her husband, charging clients up to A$8,800 per stay. She also provided paid telephone consultations. According to O’Neill’s website, she provided detox services claiming to aid recovery from heart disease, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, chronic fatigue, candida/fungus, drug addiction, cancer, heartburn, and obesity.
So in 2019, New South Wales’ Health Care Complaints Commission “ruled that she is prohibited from providing any services or education.”
Now, folks, let’s be clear: you don’t get banned by a government for telling people to eat nutritious food, exercise, and drink water. It’s gotta be worse than that. And it is.
Naturally, Barbara is against vaccinations.
“Children can be naturally vaccinated against tetanus by drinking plenty of water, going to bed early, not eating junk food and running around the hills.”
But that’s the crazy train just pulling out of the station. Barbara was also telling folks that she could
cure cancer and urged clients not to use chemotherapy. O’Neill promoted the discredited claim that cancer is a fungus that can be treated with baking soda. She has also claimed, without evidence, that one doctor had cured 90% of his patients’ cancer with baking soda injections.
Sure ‘nuff, a Cook Islands man died from following Barbara O’Neill’s advice, “having declined medical intervention and attempting to treat his disease with bicarbonate soda, lemon juice, and boiled water.”
Oh, and antibiotics are bad, too, because “no baby has ever died from Strep B catching out of birth,” whatever that means. She apparently knows a lot about babies: she advises that lacking breast milk, women could feed their newborns unpasteurized goat milk, or almond milk mixed with bananas or dates.
‘Cause yeah, pasteurization really isn’t that important, and we all know that newborns crave dates.
Naturally, she is just being misunderstood:
She has rejected the claim that her claims are unsupported, but admitted to not being able to provide any evidence when asked by the Health Care Complaints Commission.
Thank you, Australia, for common sense. But in the meantime this woman still does seminars in the United States, and probably in other countries.
I am not suggesting that Wilson or O’Neill represents Adventist health beliefs, or that such “treatments” are approved by any church leader or Adventist medical professional. I’m just pointing out that Seventh-day Adventist congregations are sponsoring these people and inviting the public.
As far as I’m concerned, rub slices of eggplant on your melanomas, stick pokeweed in your bottom, and inject baking soda into your veins if that’s what turns your crank. But it’s something else when you are telling others what to do, and implying that you represent not just our church, but God.
(I wonder if an organization can sponsor a presenter who makes claims this potentially damaging with legal impunity? If I were Risk Management, I’d want to find out.)
So who decides what’s healthy? The General Conference? Loma Linda University? The pastor? Each cooking school teacher? My argument is that without message control, every man and woman will do, as Judges says, what is right in his or her own eyes. That’s a recipe for misinformation that will hurt people.
The basic rule of health education, as in health care, should be “First, do no harm.” Good health education, it seems to me, would hew to a few practical principles:
- Teach a whole balanced lifestyle, rather than just nutritional tweaks. (NEW START is a good model, with caution about spending too much time out in the S, or getting lost in the silly weeds of N.)
- Help people to improve their health, rather than teaching them an ideal that they can’t sustain. That is, rather than veganism and long-distance running, encourage people to give up Krispy Kremes, cut down meat and cheese in favor of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and go out walking.
- Try to integrate solid contemporary research and traditional good health practices, while…
- … cautioning about questionable food, herb, and supplement fads. We don’t know everything, and we’re willing to learn, but in the meantime, we’d do best to stick to conservative health principles.
- Stop stupidly relying on the word “natural.” Marijuana is natural. So is dirt. Insulin isn’t, but I have friends who couldn’t live without it.
- Don’t teach others health practices that we don’t follow ourselves. At cooking schools we see dishes that only get fixed for cooking schools. Would a visitor see no-fat, no-spice, no-sugar, no-dairy, or no-salt vegan dishes at our potlucks? And if they were there, would any of us eat them?
- We need a wider mission. There are underserved populations all around the world—even here in North America—who just need food of any kind. Perhaps we could go into those communities rather than just teaching the suburban middle class how they can live a few months longer.
Can’t such a large and overpowering bureaucracy like the Seventh-day Adventist Church at least put some minimal guardrails on its health message? There’s little evidence of it so far.
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.