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Drew University’s Religion and Global Health Forum Celebrates 2nd Anniversary

Keynote speaker Dr. Pernessa Seele sparks an important conversation on voluntary medical access denial

March 2022 – Drew University’s Religion and Global Health Forum (RGHF) celebrated its second anniversary with a virtual event surrounding the theme of Healthy Religion, Healthy People: From Equity to Enrichment.

The RGHF has been in existence almost entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have all learned to breathe differently,” said event moderator Kenneth Ngwa, professor of Hebrew bible at the Theological School and director of RGHF and Never Stop Breathing.

The event welcomed keynote speaker, Dr. Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm In Gilead, a public health advocate whose work is focused on health equity for all people with a primary goal to ensure Black and brown people have adequate access to healthcare.

Seele focused her talk on individuals of faith who have access to medical care but refrain from use for religious reasons—identifying real issues with the understanding of the gospel, and how the gospel is presented.

“We see people of faith who choose to not take medication or heed medical advice in an effort to prove God’s healing power,” said Seele. “We lost a lot of people to COVID who did not go to the doctor because it was believed that COVID was the devil.”

Seele challenged the virtual audience of the Theological School community, religious leaders, and educators to derive new messaging to combat the fundamental issues of where faith is in conflict with medical understanding and accessing healthcare. “God can operate as doctors, as medical intervention,” offered Seele.

“It’s important for us as theological educators to engage our disciplines to promote the positive work of faith in health,” said Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, interim dean of the Theological School. “How do we train theological leaders to think about these things?”

“In many ways, Black people have more protection in medicine than they do in the justice system. How do we make pastors talk about this?” asked Lydell Lettsome, a pastor and medical doctor. “Faith has to be practiced responsibly.”

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