‘This doesn’t change anything for us’

Tom Nation preaches living without the help of hospitals or doctors.

As one of four church elders at the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn near Morgantown, Nation advocates faith-based healing over modern medicine.

Even three children’s deaths in the past eight years are not enough to make the 71-year-old Morgantown man change his mind.

“Scripture will still read the same as it does now,” he said. “This doesn’t change anything for us.”

With that belief, Nation said he does not see a problem with how DeWayne Schmidt, 34, and Maleta Schmidt, 29, handled their baby daughter’s illness in August.

The newborn girl, Rhiana Rose Schmidt, died less than two days after birth because of a treatable infection. Instead of seeking a doctor’s help, the parents called church elders to come to their home and pray for the child’s well-being.

She was the third child of parents attending the church to die since 1998 because of refused medical treatment.

A 6-day-old boy died in 1998 from dehydration and underdevelopment, and a 12-year-old boy died of a fatal, undetected heart defect in 1999.

One fact of the Schmidt baby death distinguishes this case, though.

A Johnson County grand jury has decided the Schmidt parents should be charged with reckless homicide, a Class C felony that carries a penalty of two to eight years in prison.

The Schmidts turned themselves in to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday but were released after each posted $8,000 bond.

Nation, a fourth-generation clergyman at the church for more than 30 years, said the Schmidts were simply practicing their religious beliefs and are being punished unfairly.

“Here these kids lost their baby, and now they’re being harassed,” he said. “This is about taking away our freedom of religion.”

The church, surrounded by forest on a winding country road near the Morgan-Brown County border, takes a controversial stand against modern medical treatment that periodically results in the loss of health or life.

That belief is rooted in the elders’ interpretation of specific verses in the King James version of the Bible and based primarily on a verse from James 5:12-16, according to Nation.

The citation reads in part: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

The church does not shun members who seek medical treatment, but some view it as a weakness of faith. Their actions must be judged by God, Nation said, and not by other people.

“We only preach the word. We’re not judges,” he said. “Everyone uses their own judgment in what they believe.”

Of the 130 families attending his church, Nation estimated about a quarter are starting to prefer medical treatment despite the church’s preaching against it.

“No matter how much we pray or have faith, sometimes there’s nothing that can be done,” Nation said. “Some just can’t be saved.”

The Schmidts told investigators they knew the baby was ill but believed it was wrong to rely on medicine over God’s will.

Sitting in his Morgantown home on Monday, Nation said he expects the church to remain in constant touch with the Schmidts, and this tragedy has not deterred them from attending church.

He said the Schmidts attended a service on Thursday, and he expects the same this week.

“If anything, this only makes us stronger,” Nation said. “It helps humble us before (God) more, and to pray more. You won’t find a greater love than there is in our church.”

The Schmidts have another daughter whom Nation estimated was about 4 years old. He said the couple had lived in Franklin for at least five years and that he knew the two before they were married.

DeWayne Schmidt grew up in the Morgantown area, while Maleta Schmidt was raised in Arkansas, he said.

The Schmidts could not be reached for comment Monday, and no one answered the door at their home on State Road 44 southwest of Franklin.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Daily Journal, USA
July 6, 2004
Michael W. Hoskins, Daily Journal staff writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday July 6, 2004.
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