THE Church of Christ, Scientist, is embarking on an action plan to counter the negative publicity, misperceptions, and public attack it has received in recent years, says Virginia Harris, chairman of the Christian Science Board of Directors, in an interview.
Mrs. Harris describes the effort as ``a continuing awakening of our sense of the contribution that we have to make to society.'' That begins, she says, with what Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, called her ``life-purpose'': ``to impress humanity with the genuine recognition of practical, operative Christian Science.''
The church's efforts are focused in seven areas, Harris says:
* Asking individual church members to be more active in working with legislators and other government officials and in serving their communities in public organizations.
* Becoming more effective in dealing with courts and the formulation of state laws.
* Working more closely with Congress and the White House in Washington ``to help them understand just what it is we're about,'' Harris says. ``We certainly want to be a participant in the health-care discussion. As a health-care provider for thousands of Americans for 125 years, we have a voice in that discussion.''
* Striving to change the public's view of Christian Science. Part of this involves publication of a new edition of Mrs. Eddy's major work, ``Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' for sale in bookstores this fall.
* Gathering empirical evidence, in addition to anecdotal evidence, of the effectiveness of spiritual healing.
* Cooperating more closely with other denominations and groups on matters of mutual concern, especially regarding constitutional issues of religious freedom.
* Making more effective use of the church's existing activities, such as its religious magazines and Christian Science reading rooms.
Harris says the church has found many allies in combating what it sees as a deterioration in constitutional guarantees of religious freedom in the United States. ``We were one of the primary originators'' of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently passed by Congress to nullify the effects of a Supreme Court ruling that expanded the government's ability to interfere with religious practice.
``People who have understood the real motive behind some of the prosecutions and some of the media attacks have come to our side and said, `This is very unjust ... this is unconstitutional, this is unchristian ... and we'd like to do what we can to help you.' For example in McKown v. Lundman, a civil case in Minnesota in which a trial jury assessed punitive damages of $9 million against the church for the death of a child under Christian Science treatment, several other denominations are filing friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Christian Science Church's appeal.
``I get calls from doctors who are very much applauding our healing efforts and who are very concerned with prosecutions being able to stand when one [patient] is lost,'' Harris says.
Harris says that while church membership has declined over the years in parallel with that of mainline Protestant denominations, the number of applications for membership approved in June 1994 was up 5 percent over the previous year. The church does not provide membership statistics.