CLACKAMAS COUNTY – A church in Oregon City that believes in faith healing rather than getting medical attention has been under the microscope for the past few weeks after a baby girl died of health problems that the medical examiner said could have easily been treated.
Carl Worthington, 28, and Raylene Worthington, 25, face manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava.
The infant died March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and an infection, both of which the state medical examiner said could have easily been cured with common antibiotics.
The Worthingtons pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this week.
The two are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, which practices faith healing. They are accused of withholding medical care from their ill daughter and instead trying to cure her with prayer. The couple also lost a son in 2001.
The Followers of Christ Church got national attention a decade ago when the number of child deaths among parishioners was brought to light. The ensuing media coverage led to the removal of Oregon’s spiritual healing shield, which protected parents who used prayer instead of medicine to treat deadly diseases.
A former member of the church, who is a mother herself, is now speaking out.
“I totally believe it’s a cult, now that I’m out of it,” she said. She does not want to be identified because she is deeply afraid of a backlash from family members who are still with the church.
The woman was raised in the Followers of Christ Church and was taught, from her earliest memory, that doctors are a temptation and if you go to one, you are losing faith in God.
She said she had mixed emotions when she first heard of Ava Worthington’s death.
“Her parents are victims too, victims of the church, and they were just following their beliefs that they’ve been taught since they were born,” she said. “But then the other part of me was like, it’s about time.”
She said she found the strength to leave when she realized no one in the church could answer the questions she had about their beliefs.
“It takes a lot to leave because you lose everything,” she said. “I lost my whole family. And it’s hard. It’s hard to lose your family and they won’t speak to you.”
She is now thankful that her own children are healthy, especially since she did not take them to doctors while she was a member of the church.
She does not believe the church members will alter their beliefs if the Worthingtons are convicted.
“They’ll probably be looked up to, that they made this sacrifice for the love of God, for the church and for all of the members,” she said.
Apr. 3, 2008
Dan Tilkin and KATU Web Staff