Sunday, November 20, 2005

God-given gold teeth?

Source: The Sun in San Bernardino.

SAN BERNARDINO -- If Jesus could turn water into wine, why wouldn't God turn teeth into gold?

A growing number of people at Highland House of Prayer are claiming he has. It began with a series of religious revivals in October. Now, much of the congregation is opening wide and pointing to shiny dots on their teeth.

That was gray, they say, but now it's gold. Others have crowns and caps that appear to be wholly gold or maybe holy gold.

"The Lord spoke to me and said, 'It didn't have anything to do with faith. I did it to increase your faith.'' said the church's pastor, Larry Baker. "It has done so for me and this church tremendously.'

God only knows what's really going on, but about 15 of the church's 70 members say their teeth or fillings have turned to gold during the past three weeks. Some are now on a mission to get their dental records and prove their claims are true.

Across the world, Pentecostal Christians like those at House of Prayer claim teeth have changed, the disabled have been healed and the dead have been raised.

For now, the spirit is moving at House of Prayer. The congregation meets in the Church of Yahweh, a blue and white building in a dark Base Line strip mall, a few blocks west of the Highland city limits.

Since October, Baker and visiting evangelists have asked church members to show their faith by giving money "sacrificially.' Youths responded by selling their video games and basketball-card collections, a church bulletin reports, and adults sold second vehicles and wedding rings.

The church offering, which averages about $3,500 per month, surpassed $25,000, Baker said. An unspecified amount went to the evangelists; the remainder was earmarked to help build their own church, the pastor said.

Then God began paying through the teeth.

Baker was at home enjoying dinner with his family when the phone rang.

"I have a gold filling where I didn't have one,' the woman on the line told him.

"We told her to come over,' Baker said. "I didn't realize I already had mine.'

A few friends arrived at Baker's San Bernardino home to see what they couldn't believe. Jamen Nicholson, an area minister and contract painter, turned to the pastor and said, "I guess you already got yours done.'

"I turned to my wife,' Baker recalled, "and I said, 'Is there gold in there?' She went very, very white.'

Since then, he claims, God has given him four more gold teeth and one that is silver. He plans to visit his dentist Wednesday to get his records and to have his teeth checked. He wants to know if they are capped or solid.

Theologians say the purported miracles are nothing to pooh-pooh.

"We never say, 'It can't be real,' because God is God,' said Doug McConnell, dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "I'm not a dentist, but I would assume a dentist could say, 'Yeah, it wasn't there before and it is now.''

About 84 percent of Americans believe in miracles, according to a 2003 Harris Poll. But things more commonly considered miracles include cancer disappearing, money appearing and, generally, prayers being answered.

"Healings take place now because God and Jesus have healed in the Bible,' said Robert Bruce Mullin, author of "Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination.'

"I don't know of any place (in the Bible) where God turns lead teeth into gold teeth,' Mullin said.

Baker said that God was replacing their amalgam fillings, which are about 50 percent mercury, with a safer metal.

"What God simply did was do away with the mistake of man and do it as only God can do it,' Baker said.

Although mercury is poisonous, there is no evidence that the fillings are hazardous. The American Dental Association has defended the safety of amalgam fillings, which have been used for 100 years.

Some religious commentators urge caution before claiming miracles.

Many believe, but they are being deceived by a "counterfeit revival,' says Hank Hanegraaff, president of North Carolina-based Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man radio program.

"The expectations of people have reached such a fever pitch that some time ago a parent who lost a child put his baby on ice and drove 350 miles to the Brownsville Assembly of God to have the baby raised from the dead,' he wrote in a recent essay on the institute's Web site.

These stories have "tragic' consequences, wrote Hanegraaff, who was traveling Friday and unavailable for further comment. "When followers finally catch on to the manipulations of revival leaders, they often become disillusioned and disenchanted.'

Whether the fillings are safe or not gold or gild they have energized Baker's small congregation.

"In the Bible, you read about it, people raising from the dead, people being made to walk, but today you don't see it, except some televangelist twenty-nine, ninety-five for a healing handkerchief,' said James Wynn, 18, of San Bernardino. "But that's not real. Then you see it happen to your friends and family. It's amazing.'

And what's in Wynn's mouth?

"I have a filling that hasn't turned to gold yet,' he said optimistically.