Small, generally fundamentalist Christian
Followers of Christ: This is a Pentecostal church in Portland, OR that is estimated to have from 1,200 to 2,300 members. It was organized by Rev. Walter White in the early 1900's. He believed that God appeared to him in a dream and selected him to lead the group. He taught that illness must be cured by prayer, and anointing with oil, not by medical treatment. If the individual dies, then it is God's will. Members of the church have testified that they would not go to a doctor or hospital even if it meant the difference between life and death. They prefer to put their faith only in God's power to heal. Women in the congregation give birth at home with the help only of a midwife. No medical care is provided, no matter what the emergency. Members have full faith in the power of prayer and anointing oil to heal themselves and their children. The church owns a "cemetery on the outskirts of town...[in which] dozens of children are buried...in tiny graves." 1 Medical experts have stated that the lives of many of them could have been saved if they had received routine medical attention. "Over the past decade, 18 children have dieda 4-year-old who suffered from an infection for 46 days, babies and mothers dying together in childbirth." The Oregonian reported that 3 children of Followers of Christ children died needlessly between 1997-JUL and 1998-MAY. 2 According to Dr. Larry Lewman, Medical Examiner for the state, all could have been saved. The Oregonian newspaper has stated that of the "78 minors buried in the graveyard over 35 years, 21 'probably would have lived with medical intervention.'" 3
According to a former member, the congregation believes that they are chosen people,
and that everybody else (over 99.998% of the human race) will go to Hell. Members who
leave the church or challenge its teachings are shunned by everyone else, including members of their own family.
During 1999, a bill was passed in the Oregon Legislature to eliminate the ability of parents and other caregivers to use a religious beliefs defense to charges of manslaughter, homicide and child abuse. The first application of the bill occurred in 2008-MAR when a Ava Worthington died of untreated pneumonia at the age of 15-months. Manslaughter charged were filed against the parents. In 2009-JUL, the parents were acquitted of manslaughter, but the father was found guilty of a lesser charge, and served only two months in jail. On 2008-JUN, Ava's 16-year-old uncle, Neil Beagley, died of an easily treatable condition involving a long term bladder blockage. His parents were charged with criminally negligent homicide and were sentenced to 16 months in prison on 2010-MAR. This is the first case of a mother being convicted in this type of case. Previous juries had acquitted mothers because they felt that all decisions in Followers of Christ families were made by the husbands, and that the wives had no decision making power.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote attempted to convince church members to give their children adequate medical care. Unfortunately, they cannot easily do this, apparently because they feel that seeking medical attention would thwart God's will. They believe that In some cases, medical care would save the life of a child that God wants dead.
On 2009-SEP-27, a child was born to Dale and Shannon Hickman, both 25, who lived only nine hours before dying of staph pneumonia and complications from prematurity. David was born about six weeks premature, without the assistance of anyone with medical training. He weighed only 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and had underdeveloped lungs. The parents were charged with second-degree manslaughter on 2010-JUL-30. 8 At a bail reduction hearing, Michael Regan, a senior deputy district attorney, clamied that the Hickmans and their friends withheld video and photos taken about the time of David's birth. 11
On 2010-JUL-27, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland pleaded not guilty to charges of first degree criminal mistreatment of their 7-month-old daughter, Alayna. She had a large mass growing over her left eye that was threatening her vision. Dr. Thomas Valvano, a pediatrician at Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University testified: "This was medical neglect." He said that Alayna could lose vision in her left eye and probably will need surgery. The parents had never considered getting medical attention for their daughter. Timothy said that he puts his faith in God. If his daughter did not improve, "that's his will." When Rebecca was asked why she didn't take the child to a doctor, she said: "Because I believe in God and put my faith in him." 9,10
Within 24 hours, the JUL-31 article in The Oregonian collected 75 comments from readers, essentially all very negative towards the parents. One posting stated that Timothy Wyland's first wife died of untreated breast cancer. Another said that girls in the church are usually married before they graduate from high school. Since no new members are allowed to join the church, the membership might start experiencing genetically-related diseases. Several postings mentioned that Shannon sought medical advice on her eyesight: she is shown wearing glasses.10
|Grace Baptist Church: A couple and the pastor from Aberdeen, MS,
pleaded guilty in 1994-MAY. They were charged because of the couple's 13 year old daughter's
death from complications associated with untreated diabetes.
|Home in Zion Ministries: Carol Balizet, formerly an emergency
room nurse, now heads this Fundamentalist Christian ministry, centered
in Tampa, FL. She promotes what she calls "Zion Births:"
home births without any input, assistance or backup from the medical
system. They rely only on prayer. According to the West Australian
newspaper, "Ms Balizet has interpreted the Bible to mean that
humans should not interfere with the will of God. She claims birth is
a chance for a woman to have a close encounter with God and that no
doctor should be allowed to participate in the process. She believes
that God will heal people if they pray to Him and there is no need for
humans to interfere by taking medicine. In 2001-APR, a 31 year-old
woman in western Australia suffered complications in the birth of her
fifth child, who was delivered without medical attention, following
Zion Birth principles. For three weeks after the birth, she was in
agony. She finally died. 5,6
|Snake Handling Sects: George Went Hensley, a Church of God pastor founded
a Pentecostal religious group in 1909 which is now called Church of God with Signs
Following. Adult members occasionally practice what they call "preaching the
signs": the drinking of strychnine or other poison, and exposing themselves to be
bitten by poisonous snakes. They allow their natural defenses to battle the poison; they
do not seek medical attention. Their belief is that if they have sufficient faith, they
will not die or be permanently harmed by the poison. This belief is based on a Biblical
passage: Mark 16:17-18: |
Hensley interpreted this passage as a command to believers to use these methods to test their faith. It is interesting that this passage is believed by many to be a forgery, written later by an author different from the one who wrote the rest of the Gospel of Mark.
By the start of World War II, these practices had become widespread throughout the Church of God, although only engaged in by a small minority of its members. The church interpreted these tests of faith to be one more indication of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days before Christ's second coming. Motivated by some deaths and near deaths, the practice was denounced by the Assembly of the Church of God in 1928. However, some congregations left the denomination and continued their snake handling practices.
The State of Tennessee banned the practice and suppressed the group after the death of member Lewis Ford in 1945. Hensley himself died of snakebite in Florida in 1955 in his mid-70's. After two additional deaths from drinking poison, and other near deaths, court cases led to a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court to uphold the state's ban. Independent congregations of "signs people" are still found from Florida to West Virginia and west to Ohio. J.G. Melton estimates that between 50 to 100 "signs" congregations exist with a total of several thousand members. 7 People have continued to die in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia at the rate of about 5 a decade. Many believers handle snakes, but few are bitten.
A second church, the Original Pentecostal Church of God, also believes in testing
themselves with poisonous snakes. However they do not "tempt God" by bringing
snakes into their services. Members have been known to pick up poisonous snakes and risk
being bitten when they come across them in the wild.
|Unidentified Florida religious group: The two-year old son of
Wylie and Kelly Johnson of Tampa, FL was stung by wasps and died. His
parents were reported by Associated Press as equating medical
treatment with sorcery. The couple allegedly gave the boy an oatmeal
bath and rubbed lotion on his skin. They were charged with child
abuse, but were acquitted.
|Unidentified New Zealand religious group: Herman and Trijntje Jongkind, both 34, were tried on a charge of neglecting to provide the necessaries of life to their 17-month-old son,
Jesse. His parents knew that he was suffering from meningitis, but treated him at home using a combination of Bible reading and prayers. They
believed that they were giving their son the best possible care. They felt that if they needed to change their approach, that God would show them.
Jesse was in a moderately deep coma and at risk of being put on a ventilator. When he was taken to hospital, he had to undergo emergency
surgery to drain fluid from his brain. He was in a mild coma, and had to be tube-fed. Two-thirds of his body fluids had to be replaced.
Other American religious groups: Time Magazine reviewed the rising death toll of children in the U.S. due to the refusal of their parents to obtain medial assistance. In an article titled "Freedom of Rellgion or State-Sanctioned Child Abuse," they reported:
Massachusetts Citizens for Children mentions other groups which have had children die, probably because of medical conditions that could have been cured: No-Name Fellowship in Spokane, WA; Church of God in Loranger, LA; Christ Miracle Healing Center, AZ; and Traveling Ministries Everyday Church in Spanaway, WA. There are undoubtedly many dozens of additional faith groups in the U.S. and Canada whose children have needlessly died.
First Century Gospel Church religious group in PA: Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that teaches faith healing and discurages medical attention. In early 2009, their son Kent got sick. The parents treated him with prayer and Bible reading, but no medical attention. Kent died of bacterial pneumonia. The couple was charged with involuntary manslaughter, found guilty, and given ten years probation.
In 2003, another son, Brandon, died after having suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for a week without medical attention. Again, he was treated by his parents with prayer and Bible reading. He had stopped eating and died. According to Mythri Jayaraman, Catherine Schaible's attorney:
Their other seven children have been placed in foster care.
Their church's web site contains a sermon titled "Healing — From God or Medicine?" According to USAToday:
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