Church History

Forum on Sacred Spaces of Healing in Modern American Christianity

From Tent Meetings and Store-front Healing Rooms to Walmarts and the Internet: Healing Spaces in the United States, the Americas, and the World, 1906–2006

Candy Gunther Browna1

a1 Indiana University

The centennial of the Azusa Street revivals of 1906 provides us with convenient poles for charting shifts in the landscape of Christian spiritual healing practices during the past century. Alongside unprecedented achievements in medical science, nearly 80 percent of Americans report believing that God supernaturally heals people in answer to prayer. Individuals who need healing, even after trying the best medical cures, readily transgress ecclesiastical, physical, and social boundaries in their quest for health and wholeness. The promise of a tangible experience of divine power, moreover, presents an attractive alternative to seekers disillusioned with what they perceive as the callous materialism of medical science and the religious legalism of traditional Christian churches. This essay calls for new narratives of sacred space that map the ways that pentecostal and charismatic healing practices have proliferated, diversified, and sacralized a growing number and variety of physical, social, and linguistic spaces in the past hundred years. At the turn of the twentieth century, modernist epistemological assumptions that privileged reason over experience encouraged fine intellectual distinctions between the sacred and the secular. In esteeming bodily experience as more trustworthy than disembodied doctrine and in resisting linguistic binaries as culturally constructed, postmodern epistemologies have multiplied the number and range of places available to be endowed with sacred meanings. I argue that boundaries between the sacred and the secular are dissolving at the same time that new boundaries are being established, privileging particular places and defining a new relationship among the United States, the Americas, and the world.