Rift forming in Followers of Christ church over medical help issue?

Following testimony Tuesday in the latest case involving the death of a child whose parents are members of Followers of Christ — a controversial Oregon City church — a decades-old rift in the tight-knit religious group over using modern medicine has come to the forefront.

KATU’s Thom Jensen and Bill Robinson report

In the current case regarding the death of David Hickman, an infant, testimony last week revealed that a doctor prescribed birth control pills and once gave a medical exam to a church elder, Karen White, who also happens to be the deceased child’s grandmother.

Karen White is also married to Walter White Jr., grandson of church founder Walter White.

Current and former church members told KATU News a major rift in the church is now brewing over the revelation and the issue of medical care.

In testimony in the current case involving the parents of David Hickman, who died 9 hours after being born two months prematurely, Dale and Shannon Hickman testified that no one present at the home birth, including three midwives and other church members, considered getting medical help as David struggled to survive. […]


David’s case is the latest in a series of four court cases involving the deaths of church members’ children from illnesses that could have been remedied with medical care. […]

Verdicts in previous cases have included convictions and jail sentences for the parents of deceased or gravely ill children who did not receive medical care.

Dale Hickman said he did not call 9-1-1 to get help for the child because he was anointing him with oil, a religious practice. Church doctrine gives the male head of a household the ultimate authority on all family decisions.

Shannon Hickman, David’s mother, said that what happened to David was “God’s will” in her testimony. […]

Several former church members tell KATU News that they left the church after seeing children die from illnesses that could have been remedied with medical care.

As church members left court on Tuesday, Karen White responded with “I have no comment” to questions from KATU News about why she would go to a doctor for an exam, use birth control pills but not seek medical attention for a baby in dire medical need.

A midwife in the church also said she had no comment in response to a question about using birth control contrary to biblical and church teachings.

Church members have consistently responded to all media questions with a refusal to comment, but lawyers are expected to use the point in cross examination Wednesday.

Cases of children dying at a young age in the church date back to the 1990s. A cemetery used by the church has a large number of grave sites that hold the remains of young children.

In 1999, after intense debate, the Oregon Legislature ended a “spiritual healing” defense, allowing parents to be prosecuted.

Following the high-profile cases involving the church, Gov. Kitzhaber, a doctor himself, signed a bill into law in 2011 that eliminates spiritual treatment as a defense against all homicide charges and makes parents subject to sentencing for a Measure 11 crime.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016