A leader of a church in the UK has described epilepsy as a “spiritual problem”, an investigation by BBC Panorama has claimed.
While being filmed undercover by Panorama, Bishop James Marques said: “We know that epilepsy is a medical condition but in the Bible the Lord Jesus casts out an evil spirit that was causing epilepsy. So we can understand that epilepsy in reality is a spiritual problem that has a physical, visible manifestation. But it’s a spiritual problem.”
The preacher is part of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).
UCKG is an international Evangelical Christian denomination with headquarters in Brazil.
The Panorama investigation visited a UCKG youth group service in Brixton, south London, and a service in Croydon, south London.
The church has more than 30 branches in the UK.
According to the Panorama programme, the church leaders believe mental health problems and other conditions can be caused by demons. The leaders would then pray ‘strong prayers’ for people with depression and other illnesses.
In a statement to the BBC, UCKG said “strong prayers” are never “promoted as a replacement for medical or… professional help”.
In response to Bishop Marques comments about epilepsy, Dr Joe Aldred, a Pentecostal bishop – not affiliated with UCKG – said: “For a minister today to insist that something like epilepsy is demonic as a matter of course is exceedingly misleading, inappropriate and not a message for the times in which we live.”
Responding to a post about the programme on Twitter, one user said they had experienced something similar to “cure” their epilepsy.
“I experienced this in the 1980s. I’ve had holy water sprinkled on me, as part of casting out the evil spirit that lurked within. 10 years ago, I was advised that a pastor could cure me. It’s sad that such backward thinking still exists in our society.”
Another user said: “The uprising of ignorance and denial of science by many religions and politicians is not helpful to our society.”
Epilepsy caused by evil spirits? Seriously?! It’s 2023.
It is a physical, neurological condition and it’s dangerous to suggest it can be treated by exorcism or prayers.
— Epilepsy Action (@epilepsyaction) December 11, 2023
Epilepsy Action deputy chief executive Rebekah Smith said: “We’re appalled by the practices at the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God uncovered by last night’s BBC Panorama report, particularly concerning people with epilepsy.
“The use of so-called ‘strong prayers’ as a treatment for epilepsy, which UCKG misleadingly labels as a ‘spiritual problem’, is not just scientifically baseless but also potentially harmful.
“This investigation is a stark reminder of why there’s an urgent need for greater education, understanding and advocacy concerning epilepsy. Portraying epilepsy as a condition that requires spiritual intervention is a dangerous representation, akin to conversion therapy tactics, which can have devastating psychological and physical effects. Epilepsy is a neurological condition and it should be treated by medical professionals.
“Furthermore, this report highlights a wider issue: the pervasive stigma and misunderstanding surrounding epilepsy in our society.
“People with epilepsy tell us they feel isolated, stigmatised and discriminated against. In the workplace alone, they feel their condition hinders their career advancement, and more than a third have heard colleagues make derogatory comments about their seizures.
“At Epilepsy Action, we believe in a society where every individual is treated with dignity, respect and understanding, regardless of their condition. We want to create a world without limits for people with epilepsy, and this starts by challenging the misconceptions that are still so prevalent in our society.”