The Followers of Christ is a small Christian denomination based in the U.S. states of Oklahoma and Oregon. With membership of less than 2,000, the church has attracted controversy for its practices of faith healing and of shunning members who violate church doctrine, including those who seek medical care. “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up,” reads James 5:15. The Followers of Christ take this verse too literally and believe that if someone dies it is a God’s will.
Numerous children have suffered premature deaths from treatable causes due to their parents' refusal to seek medical care because it is against their faith. The latest investigation involves the death on Sunday of a twin girl, Gennifer, who was born to Sarah and Travis Lee Mitchell. Gennifer developed apparent breathing problems and died in the home a few hours later, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. No doctor or other medical professionals were present for the birth, neither did they call 911 for the after-birth complications of the baby.
Mitchell's sister and brother-in-law, Shannon and Dale Hickman, were sentenced in 2011 to more than six years in prison in the death of their newborn son, David, who died less than nine hours after he was born in 2009. “Both of them testified that, looking back on David’s death, they would not have done anything differently,” Linder wrote in her decision back then. “We do what the Bible tells us, and we put God first and ask for faith,” Shannon Hickman said at the time. “If we don’t have the faith, then we seek medical treatment because it is not there, you know.”
Ava Worthington, a 15-month-old baby, died in 2008 at her parents' home of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Her father was sentenced to two months in jail. Raylene Worthington, the child’s mother, was acquitted on all charges. As of February 2015, 39 states and the District of Columbia have “laws providing that parents or caretakers who fail to provide medical assistance to a child because of their religious beliefs are not criminally liable for harm to the child.”
In order to reduce the number of child deaths because of religious beliefs of their parents, the Oregon Legislature in 2011 removed spiritual treatment as a defense for all homicide charges. The sentencing judge cannot give a lesser sentence than that prescribed by Oregon’s Measure 11, nor can a prisoner's sentence be reduced for good behavior. Lawmakers and prosecutors hoped the threat of long prison sentences, according to Measure 11, will prompt members to reconsider their tradition of rejecting medical treatment in favor of faith healing.
Photo Credits: KPTV, Oregon City, OR