Followers of Christ Archive

You'll find articles about this subject in each of the items listed, even if the term does not necessarily occur within the headlines or descriptive text.

Theologically a cult of Christianity. The Followers of Christ Church‘s extreme faith healing beliefs and practices have left a trail of dead children in its wake.

Groups of believers who refer to their gatherings as The Followers of Christ Church are located primarily in Oregon, Oklahoma and Idaho.

Most churches that use the same name, in whole or in part, do not share this movement’s beliefs and practices.

Idaho’s faith healing exemption targeted following child deaths

An ongoing series of preventable deaths among children of parents who belong to a religious sect, have prompted an Idaho lawmaker to draft a bill that addresses how the state deals with the issue of faith healing when minors are involved.

Democratic Rep. John Gannon of Boise wants to follow Oregon’s lead and require parents to seek medical help for kids suffering from potentially fatal conditions — even if their religion teaches they should rely on faith healing instead of medical treatment.

He proposes amending Idaho’s law and to lift the faith-healing exemption from the state’s ‘injury to a child’ criminal statute in cases where a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.

Report from KBOI TV, Boise, Idaho. January 17, 2014

The _Associated Press_ says

In Idaho, someone found guilty of felony injury to a child — causing conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death or permitting a child to be injured — can get a decade behind bars.

But the law has this exemption: “Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.”

Gannon’s proposal would lift that exemption “whenever a child’s medical condition may cause death or permanent disability.”

“Medical treatment for physical harm to a child should supersede every other consideration,” Gannon said.

The bill was prompted as a result of numerous deaths among children whose parents belong to the Followers of Christ church in Marsing, Idaho.

The church is part of a group of churches by the same name in Oregon, Oklahoma and Canada — though observers consider some of these churches to be splinter groups.

In response to numerous preventable deaths at that church, in 2011 the State of Oregon passed a law that removed legal protection for parents who choose faith healing over medical intervention when treating their children.

Fatal Faith – An investigation into ‘The Followers of Christ.’ KATU TV, Portland, Oregon

As noted at the end of the report, there appears to be a historical connection between the Followers of Christ and the General Assemblies and Church of the First Born — another faith healing church whose doctrines and practices have resulted in many preventable deaths.

A November, 2013 follow-up.

Resistance to the bill

According to the Associated Press,

Gannon wants to introduce his bill in the Legislature, but there’s already resistance.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said she fears the bill tramples on religious freedoms and parental rights.

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die,” said Perry, whose district is not far from the Followers’ Idaho church. “This is about where they go for eternity.”

Support for the bill

However, the bill is also finding support. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he is willing to consider updating faith-healing exemptions.

“I’m concerned any parent would put their religious beliefs ahead of child welfare,” Will said. “It just stuns me.”

Significantly, the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho stands behind Gannon, saying that while they support religious freedom, faith healing crosses a line in some cases.

“Religious freedom is a huge thing for us and we’re very committed to religious freedom of all faiths,” spokeswoman Judy Cross said.

She points out that the Interfaith Alliance supports prayer, meditation, and faith healing. But she says there’s a line, and that current faith healing laws in Idaho cross it.

Gannon also has the support of former Followers of Christ member Linda Martin, an Oregon woman who left the church in Idaho decades ago. She says members of her family are still in charge of some of the churches.

Child advocate Linda Martin speaks at the Child-Friendly Faith Project Conference on November 8, 2013 about the alarmingly high number of child deaths occurring in the Followers of Christ church of Idaho.

Followers of Christ

The doctrines and practices of the Followers of Christ Church mark it as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

Sociologically the church is cult-like as well as members who — usually in secret — do see a physician or use medicines are shunned and considered not saved.

A former member’s advice for those still in the church:

Senate Bill 6295 — Addresses the protection from abuse and neglect of children and dependent persons, including frail elder and vulnerable adults, with regard to cultural and religious practices and beliefs.

Faith-healing couple sentenced to more than six years in prison

The parents of a newborn who died while they and Followers of Christ members prayed for him to be healed have received the maximum jail terms allowed by law and three years of post-prison probation following their conviction on manslaughter charges.

Dale and Shannon Hickman, who are members of the controversial church and are related to the founder were both sentenced to six years and three months in prison.

KATU TV reports

The Hickmans’ baby, David, was born two months premature at home in 2009 with church midwives advising them. No medical personnel were present and nothing besides prayer was used when the baby began to struggle to survive just hours after birth.

David died about nine hours after delivery. The Hickman’s attorney claimed religious persecution and said there was no evidence medical care would have saved the baby.

The jury in the case deliberated on their verdict for less than a day and was unanimous in the conviction.

The Hickmans were ordered to serve 75 months in prison and will then be under “post-prison supervision” for another three years following their prison terms.

There was no immediate word if the Hickmans could be released early on parole. The family has other children but what will happen to them has not been revealed.

The Oregonian writes

Under Oregon law in effect when the baby died in 2009, defense attorneys maintained that the Hickmans were eligible for a lesser sentence available to those who rely on spiritual treatment. The Legislature eliminated the exemption this year — motivated by the long history of child deaths among the Followers – and the Hickmans will be the last Oregonians to attempt to benefit from the old law.

Oregon City’s Followers of Christ church has a long history of children dying from treatable conditions because their parents relied on faith healing rather than taking them to doctors.

Steve Mayes writes in The Oregonian

Prosecutor Mike Regan said the sentence sends a message to the church.

The Followers are not fundamentally different from a black-robed pagan group that sacrifices a sick child in the dead of night, Regan told the court. In the Followers, “we have a religious group sacrificing children’s lives, year after year, decade after decade,” he said. “We have to do something.”

District Attorney John Foote, whose office has prosecuted several Followers cases, noted in an interview that for the first time since 2008, there are no church members awaiting trial.

“We have evidence … that many members of the church are now quietly taking their children to doctors outside Oregon City. However, we also believe there are a small number of members who are trying to hold on to their old views. And, if those members have children, they are the ones that we worry about.”

Recent juries have seemed generally unsympathetic to the Followers Jurors displayed a clear-eyed focus on the legal question underlying all the cases: What would a reasonable person do in the same situation?

Their short answer: Call a doctor.

So far, all defendants have said that was something they never considered. That admission, perhaps more than any other piece of evidence, sealed the Hickmans’ fate. “For me, that was the bottom line,” jury foreman Collin Fleming said. “They didn’t do anything”

During the trial, the Hickmans testified that God determines the outcome in all matters.

“Everything that happens, whether it’s good or bad, it’s God’s will,” Dale Hickman told jurors. “If it’s not God’s will, it wouldn’t be done.”

Research resources on Followers of Christ Church, theologically a cult of Christianity
Research resources on faith healing
House Bill 2721 “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age” [Full text PDF file]
Cult FAQ