It’s a miracle!

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Well, maybe. Religion has always involved reports of supernatural phenomena that can’t be verified. Scripture is full of them, and most religions are based on them. So what should journalists do when faced with faith healings, exorcisms, answered prayers, speaking in tongues, crying statues or divine images appearing in everyday objects?

  • Describe, in detail, what happened. Be clear about what you witnessed, and what others said took place. Your story is likely to be largely about what people believe happened, and how they reacted to it.
  • Seek verification. If someone says their cancer was healed by a preacher, ask for medical confirmation from before and after the alleged healing.
  • Put the event in context of religious tradition, and explain how much the event follows or deviates from religious teaching. For example, describe the work of an exorcist among Catholic immigrants and then explain how it compares with church teaching on exorcism. Give examples of reports of similar happenings, and, if appropriate, say whether any were proved false.
  • Report if money is involved. Was someone promised healing if they gave a big donation?
  • Be respectful but neutral. You’re dealing with people’s sacred beliefs, and it’s not your job to endorse or dismiss them. It’s not likely to work, anyway: A recent medical study concluded that intercessory prayer had no discernible effect, but telling people that isn’t going to stop them from praying.