PLANO – About 200 regulars sat in padded folding chairs in the brick church in east Plano, worshipping in jeans, suits, boots and heels. There were no hymnals, but most adults brought their own well-worn Bibles.
Their leader, Doyle Davidson, told them that the Water of Life Church has been flung into the spotlight and that God wanted them to seize the moment to spread the word of God.
“He is raising me up so the metroplex will know who I am,” Mr. Davidson told his followers Sunday morning.
Mr. Davidson says he did not know Dena Schlosser and her husband, John, well. He and others say the couple attended sporadically since church records show they first donated money in June 2002.
Authorities say Mrs. Schlosser killed her 10-month-old daughter last month by cutting the child’s arms off. Mr. Davidson said the curiosity that followed about his church and its beliefs can only spread his message, which is broadcast on cable television.
For much of Sunday’s service, Mr. Davidson spoke about himself. His voice at times carried an aw-shucks cadence and other times the sharpness of authority. He is known to lay hands on church members to drive out the devil. The church meets every Wednesday and twice on Sundays.
“This probably sounds like an ego trip, and I don’t care anymore,” he said later of his methods. “I’ve been pounded on so many times by unbelievers.”
‘Why I’m hated’
Mr. Davidson, who prefers “Doyle” to the title of reverend or pastor, knows his teachings aren’t mainstream or always well liked. He boils down to two reasons “why I’m hated.”
The first is that women – many of which he calls Jezebels – should not question their husbands.
Second, he believes that the Ten Commandments are “not made for the righteous man, but for the lawless, the disobedient.” He considers righteousness “living by faith, by the spirit and doing exactly what Jesus said to do.”
Mr. Davidson teaches doctors aren’t necessary because people can be healed if their faith is “in the place.” He doesn’t take medicine but says God “won’t condemn you for going to a physician.”
Mrs. Schlosser’s stepfather, Mick Macaulay, stops short of blaming the church for her actions, but he said the extreme beliefs may have affected her mental health.
Mrs. Schlosser suffered from postpartum depression after her daughter’s home birth in January. Her condition was diagnosed and treated after Child Protective Services investigated her on a neglect complaint when she left her infant daughter, Margaret, alone in the apartment.
“I’m not saying that anybody suggested, ‘Go cut your baby’s arms off,’ ” said Mr. Macaulay, a mental health counselor who lives in Canada with Mrs. Schlosser’s mother, Connie. “This diminishing of women, this diminishing of women’s powers, women’s importance, referring to women as Jezebels, I think, further undermines an already fragile ego state that Dena’s experiencing. I think it presses her to subordinate herself and forgo her own judgment.
“I look at Doyle as being one of the major influences in this whole thing,” Mr. Macaulay said.
Ole Anthony, who heads Trinity Foundation, a watchdog for television evangelists, said his organization hasn’t received any major complaints about Water of Life. He also said that though Mr. Davidson certainly has “a very strong personality,” he has seen nothing to suggest any wrongdoing.
“It wouldn’t be fair, I think, to call him a cult,” Mr. Anthony said.
Mr. Davidson said that those who disagree with him, along with Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, belong to cults.
A member’s view
Member Jack Turquette was disturbed to hear that Mrs. Schlosser’s parents placed some responsibility for the child’s death on the church. He said Water of Life and its practices had nothing to do with what happened.
“I really didn’t appreciate that. You can’t say, ‘Hey, my stepdaughter’s mentally ill,’ then start pointing fingers. She either is or isn’t,” he said.
Ralph Edge, one of three ministers who helps Mr. Davidson, said the Schlossers weren’t active in the church beyond attending services. Mrs. Schlosser mostly remained in the fellowship hall along with other parents who had small children, where they could watch the service on a television.
“That’s mainly where they stayed,” said Mr. Edge, who is also Mr. Davidson’s nephew. “They kept to themselves, mostly.”
Mr. Schlosser’s personal Web site contains Bible quotations and a link to Mr. Davidson’s Web site. On another site, he writes that his interests are “GOD’s plan for my life.” Mr. Schlosser has declined to comment through the ordeal.
Mr. Davidson was a veterinarian when, he said, God called him to ministry. He moved his congregation in 1981 to east Plano, where they bought the building from another church. His ministry went on radio and then television. The services are broadcast in several states and on the Web.
Chris Wilkins moved his wife and three kids from Indiana in 1999 after seeing Mr. Davidson on television. He said he had attended different churches but felt that pastors were telling him to raise his hands and praise God so they could reach into his pockets. But that isn’t the case at Water of Life, he said.
Mr. Wilkins recalled being rid of devils on one of his first visits to the church.
“I had my hands up and I was worshipping God, and they came screaming out of me. It’s the only way I could explain it. And the devils just didn’t want to go. I could picture their little hands pulling on my body and not wanting to let go,” Mr. Wilkins said. “Now nobody saw this. It was through the spirit. But all I could see was a glass tube full of cold air that went all the way toward the ceiling.” Becky Forrest and her husband, Ronald, regularly drive in from Kilgore in East Texas to attend services at Water of Life. It’s the spiritual base that draws them. They said Mr. Davidson takes his direction from the Bible and God.
“I just believe Doyle is an apostle prophet and directed by God,” Ms. Forrest said. “And what he teaches from the pulpit is strictly from the Bible. It’s definitely the word of God. I don’t think you find that too much in other churches.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.