OREGON CITY, Ore. — The simply-lettered white, rust-streaked sign on Molalla Avenue for the Followers of Christ Church sways in a cold December breeze, its simplicity masking the complex and contentious stories that have come out of the insular religous organization over the years.
The medically preventable deaths of children of church members and two high-profile trials about those parents’ culpability — and indirectly, any blame that might fall to the church — has put a spotlight on the small congregation that believes only in faith healing when it comes to life-and-death situations.
Now, a former member of the church has come forward to shed some light on what church members’ lives are like under the tight control church leaders exert over their followers.
Myra Cunningham grew up in the Followers of Christ Church, where her father is a member.
“They brainwash you into keeping you there,” Myra told KATU News, “because if they didn’t tell people from birth that if you leave that church you are going to go to Hell – why would you stay there?”
Following a near-death trauma during the birth of her second child, Cunningham split with the church. It also meant splitting with her family, possibly for life.
Anyone who leaves the church to join outsiders — church members call them “worldlies” — is shunned by all church members, including family.
Myra started asking questions about church rules before she was a teenager — and a teenage bride.
Myra said she believes church leader Walter White used fear tactics to keep members in line — and in the church.
The main tactic Myra says White used was the threat, or perhaps promise, that all those people outside the small church, the “worldlies,” were going to Hell.
She remained quiet about her experience in the church for many years — until media reports of children dying from curable illnesses started making the news.
Theologically, the Followers of Christ church is a cult of Christianity. It’s extreme stance on faith healing is unbiblical, and places the church outside the boundaries of the Christian faith. Sociologically the church should also be considered a destructive cult, as its practices are harmful to its followers and/or their dependents.
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