An Interview with Linda Kramer
How is your life different now in following biblical Christianity, from what it was before in following Mary Baker Eddy? What did you mean when writing in your book, “I can recognize the shortcomings of my former religion while still appreciating the good”? By what points of entry can a former Christian Scientist establish dialogue with a Christian Scientist who is beginning to question? Keying on Jesus’ example, how does one go about speaking the truth in love to Mrs. Eddy’s followers? What is your approach in praying for yourself and others who have come from Christian Science to the Cross, and in praying for those who still follow Christian Science?
Those are some of the questions I discussed in a blog interview with author and evangelist Linda Kramer. Dr. Kramer is editor of the ChristianWay.org website. She grew up as a Christian Scientist, graduated from Principia College, and was devout in the church into her early years as a wife, mother, and PhD chemist. After an intense personal struggle, she left Christian Science and embraced biblical Christianity at the age of 30. With her husband and children, Linda now belongs to a Baptist church in the Detroit area, where they live. Her book about these experiences, subtitled “Christian Science: Abuse, Neglect, and Mind Control,” was published by Huntington House in 2000. Its startling main title (not of Linda’s choosing, as she explains in the interview) is The Religion That Kills. We conducted the interview via email in July 2008.
John Andrews: What is the goal of Christian Way, and how well do you feel it is being achieved?
Linda Kramer: We have several goals at Christian Way. As stated on our home page, the heart of our ministry involves (1) sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with current and former Christian Scientists, (2) equipping others to reach out to loved ones in Christian Science, (3) ministering to the spiritual and emotional needs of former Christian Scientists who remain confused or wounded from their involvement in Christian Science, and (4) providing balance for the claims and promises made by the Christian Science church, by its “textbook,” Science and Health, and other church-authorized writings; and by its founder Mary Baker Eddy.
Our website proclaims the biblical Jesus Christ and draws a clear distinction between the Bible and Christian Science teachings on issues central to Christianity. It answers general questions about Christian Science and offers testimonies from several former Christian Scientists who have committed their lives to the biblical Jesus Christ.
Our discussion forum (www.christianway.org/forums) provides an opportunity for people to share thoughts, experiences, and questions related to Christian Science. Discussion covers a variety of topics like spiritual and emotional recovery, struggles involving Christian Science loved ones, Christianity, and news involving the Christian Science church. Many people have found our discussion forums to be a haven where they feel understood as they work through, and gain insight on, some of their CS-related issues. Our participants range from born-again Christians to atheists, including some Christian Scientists.
We also minister one-on-one to people who contact us through our contact information on the main web site. Over the years we have ministered to Christians struggling in their Christian walk because of lingering issues related to their years in Christian Science; given input to people asking for advice on discussing the Bible with Christian Science friends and loved ones; answered questions for school projects; and responded to Christian Scientists who contact us to tell us that weâ€™re wrong. We have provided ongoing love, emotional support, and prayer for people while they watched loved ones suffer and die under Christian Science treatment. We have also had the blessing of seeing a few professions of faith in the biblical Jesus Christ.
We donâ€™t knock on doors or send out literature; we provide resources for people who come looking for them. Our goals can be summed up as proclaiming the biblical Jesus and addressing the emotional and spiritual needs that are presented to us. Based on feedback we have received, I think we are meeting our goals pretty well.
JA: How is your life different now in following biblical Christianity, from what it was before in following Mary Baker Eddy?
LK: I loved Christian Science, but my life is even better now.
My prayers are now directed to a God who sought me, knows me, and takes a personal interest in me. My focus is now on loving and glorifying Jesus Christ rather than on understanding and demonstrating my spiritual perfection â€“ thatâ€™s a profound shift. I have peace about my eternal destiny; my salvation depends upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross rather than on my own understanding. This gives me a sense of freedom regardless of my circumstances.
When people at my church are struggling, I can ask them about their problems and show them true empathy rather than having to keep an emotional distance in order to avoid “giving reality” to their problems. People in my church don’t walk around with physical problems that people ignore and they donâ€™t die unexplained deaths; our ability to acknowledge each otherâ€™s physical reality allows us to be close in ways we couldnâ€™t be close in Christian Science.
When my children are sick, I can nurture them emotionally as well as on a practical level; we don’t have to declare that the problem is unreal as we attempt to correct it. I feel fully human, appreciating the amazing complexity of my body and â€œtuning inâ€ to both my emotional and physical needs. I can fully appreciate the wonder and complexity of Godâ€™s physical creation.
JA: You have written, “I can fully recognize the shortcomings of my former religion while still appreciating the good it brought into my life.” What was that good, and why wasn’t it enough for you?
LK: Christian Science gave me a positive outlook on life, an â€œovercoming attitude,â€ a strong sense of morality, and a sense of camaraderie as I moved around the country and met other Christian Scientists. It also taught me to love the Bible, God, and Jesus as I knew them at the time. I had to leave Christian Science when I realized that it teaches a non-biblical view of Jesus and God; I had to choose between the Bible and Mrs. Eddyâ€™s interpretation of it. After leaving Christian Science I discovered that those other good things â€“ like an overcoming attitude and a strong sense of morality â€“ can also be found outside Christian Science. I learned that the best of CS can be found in a healthy, biblically based church without having to compromise on the Bible.
JA: Can you identify one best point of entry, or several good ones, by which a former Christian Scientist can establish dialogue with a Christian Scientist who is beginning to question?
LK: People leave Christian Science for a variety of reasons, so points of entry vary person to person. A few possibilities come to mind:
(1) Talk about a Bible study you are attending or a particular book of the Bible that you have been reading. Encourage the Christian Scientist to read the New Testament by itself, in a modern translation, just to enjoy it â€œas is.â€ At an appropriate time in your discussion, mention that the Christian Science Bible Lesson tends to piece verses and half-verses together and that you have noticed that this practice often changes the meanings of the verses or leaves out key points. Challenge the Christian Scientist to try reading the Bible verses in context â€“ by reading the text on either side of a verse or verse fragment used in the Lesson â€“ to see how this affects their meaning. Be ready to discuss discrepancies if the opportunity arises.
(2) When the subject of Christian Science healing comes up, ask how healing can validate Christian Science teachings when healing is also reported in many congregations that do not agree with Christian Science teachings. Since Christian Science claims to gain its authority from the Bible, shouldnâ€™t its validity come from how well its teachings support the Bible? In addition, one might…
(a) Point out that we all eventually die, regardless of how well we understand Christian Science or any other religion. What is really needed is a healing of the soul. This type of healing is found not in understanding our perfection but in understanding our imperfection and need for a Savior. A great verse for this is Romans 3:23-25 (â€œFor all have sinnedâ€¦). Charles Burke addresses this issue beautifully in his testimony, â€œA Healing of the Soul,â€ which is posted in the Personal Stories section of the Christian Way Web site.
(b) Bear in mind that many people remain in Christian Science because of the many testimonies of healing that they hear; they have not personally experienced healings, but they have been taught that healings are widespread and validate the teachings of Christian Science. If a Christian Scientist admits this to you, gently point out that the person is not alone in feeling inadequate; many Christian Scientists occasionally go to doctors (secretly or not), and they are usually unable to heal serious issues like cancer. (A special edition of the Christian Science Sentinel was published in the fall of 1999 to highlight cancer healings but only told of five healings that spanned over 20 years â€“ not a very strong testimony to the healing power of Christian Science when it comes to cancer.)
(c) Discuss some specific healings with them and, when appropriate, help them see where these healings may have a different explanation than Christian Science healing. (Christian Scientists avoid learning about the body so often donâ€™t recognize a natural healing process when they see it.) Point out that if someone gets better while they are under Christian Science treatment, their improvement is not automatically because of the treatment but may have happened anyway. Christian Science â€œhealingsâ€ often turn out to be the reduction of stress related symptoms, natural healing processes, or merely wishful thinking.
(d) For more discussion of possible explanations for Christian Science healings, see the Q&A section of the Christian Way website. The point is not to ridicule or deny Christian Science healing; the point is to help the Christian Scientist use critical thinking skills and to recognize that the reported Christian Science healing record should not be his or her major reason for remaining in Christian Science.
(3) The Christian Scientist may not be aware of the language barrier that separates her from discussing the Bible with non-Christian Scientists. To illustrate the barrier, ask the Christian Scientist if she agrees with the statement, â€œJesus Christ died for our sins.â€ If she says yes, ask her to explain what the statement really means. Then tell her what you think it means (your interpretations will probably be VERY different) and ask if she is interested in exploring why the two of you have such different interpretations of the phrase. This is a good starting point for discussing differences between Christian Science and the Bible.
(4) While I do NOT recommend â€œMary Baker Eddy bashing,â€ I think sometimes itâ€™s valid to raise questions about her leadership style and some of the myths she created. For example, if a Christian Scientist mentions Mrs. Eddyâ€™s healing after her famous fall on the ice, it is reasonable to ask why, if the healing was â€œimmediateâ€ and so significant that it led to her discovery of Christian Science, she petitioned the city of Lynn for monetary damages several months later on the grounds that she was still suffering (Gill, Mary Baker Eddy). It is clear from reading the memoirs of loyal followers like Adam Dickey (Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy) and Martha Wilcox (We Knew Mary Baker Eddy series) that Mrs. Eddy held her students to some unreasonable standards, like blaming them for not mentally protecting her if she suffered physically during the night and expecting them to find items in her house that they had never seen and she had not seen in years (since they reflected Divine Mind). She accused a former student of murdering her husband Asa with â€œmental arsenicâ€ poisoning even through an autopsy showed heart disease.
If someone is trying to break emotionally free of Christian Science and a deep loyalty to Mrs. Eddy, it can be helpful to read about these events and to view her behavior through the writings of loyal students. When discussing this information with a Christian Scientist, it is important to avoid rumors and the appearance of ridicule. Let the Christian Scientist reach her own conclusions.
JA: Near the end of your book you write, “I tell my story out of a deep love and concern for Christian Scientists.” Yet the book has a title that probably offends many Scientists. Thinking biblically, and keying on Jesus’ example, what approach do you recommend for speaking the truth in love to Mrs. Eddy’s followers?
Actually, the title of my book offends me too. I made a huge effort to make the book direct-but-gentle, fair, and emotionally accessible to readers, so I was horrified when my publisher changed its title shortly before press time. I actively fought the new title and, believe it or not, got the publisher to tone it down a bit. As the reader will see, my book is not at all an â€œattackâ€ on Christian Science â€“ as the title might suggest â€“ but an honest attempt to help people understand their experiences in Christian Science.
Using mostly pro-CS writings and the â€œthought reformâ€ criteria proposed by Robert J. Lifton, I examine how Christian Science often locks people into thinking patterns that can harm them physically, spiritually, and emotionally. As a backdrop to this discussion, the book also examines MBE’s charismatic personality, leadership style, and claims of spiritual authority.
More generally, as far as speaking the truth in love, remember that the Christian Scientist loves God, Jesus, and the Bible as he or she understands them. Discuss rather than argue. Really listen to the Christian Scientist as well as offering your views. Be respectful and polite; avoid sarcasm. Recognize that the Christian Scientist may be deeply loyal to Mrs. Eddy; if you donâ€™t like people making wisecracks about Jesus, donâ€™t make them about Mrs. Eddy. With the above said, donâ€™t shy away from presenting biblical truth and challenging the false claims of Christian Science.
When discussing the Bible, make sure that both you and the Christian Scientist define your terms since words like heaven, hell, God, Jesus, Christ, judgment, reality, substance, and matter mean different things to the two of you. If the Christian Scientist says he agrees with a statement like â€œJesus died for our sins,â€ ask him to explain what that means rather than assuming that you understand what it means.
JA: This has all been very helpful, Linda. In conclusion, would you share with us some idea of how you pray about these issues; that is, praying for yourself and others who have come from Christian Science to the Cross, and praying for those who still follow Christian Science?
LK: I ask God to give me discernment and insight when helping people, and I ask God to help me know what to say when talking with Christian Scientists. God is the only One who can open peopleâ€™s eyes and hearts, so I ask Him to do that. I remember discussing the Bible with Christians when still a Christian Scientist and thinking that the things that they said sounded really stupid â€“ and I remember going through a complete transformation and realizing that everything my friends had said was in the Bible. That helps me when I discuss the Bible with Christian Scientists and, really, anyone who has not made a profession of faith in the biblical Jesus Christ.
God can open eyes in a miraculous way; I am living proof of that. My job is to share the gospel, to defend it when necessary, and to help people when asked. Itâ€™s Godâ€™s job to open eyes and hearts to His truth.
JA: Dr. Kramer, thank you so much. I know I speak for many readers when I convey our gratitude for your courageous and Christlike witnessing through the book — at great personal cost — and through the ongoing ministry of ChristianWay.org. May God bless you and your endeavors.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org