A journalist’s engrossing, at times gruesome account of faith-healing abuses within a little-known Christian fundamentalist church.
Oregon was a state that prided itself on its tolerance for even the most outlandish lifestyles and belief systems. It even had laws that shielded religious groups that practiced faith healing—e.g., the ultraradical Followers of Christ—from prosecution for medically preventable deaths. Stauth (co-author: The End of Pain, 2009, etc.) tells the fascinating story behind both the Followers and the high-profile criminal trials that catapulted the secretive group into the media spotlight. The sect believed “that they alone ruled as supreme beings, operating without restraints” and that only God could cure illness and not going to doctors was the ultimate act of faith and religious commitment. Stauth picks up their story in the late 1990s. Follower children in Clackamas County, Ore., were dying at a needlessly high rate from such treatable maladies as “infection, untreated head injuries…diabetes and meningitis.” Oregon laws protected the children’s parents, as did a strict code of silence among the Followers themselves. But one man from within the group—who also served as Stauth’s informant—risked his reputation and personal safety to become the community Judas, offering tips to police investigators and homeopathic remedies to grateful Followers. A former Christian Scientist, Rita Swan took interest in the news stories (and later, court cases) that began to emerge from Clackamas County. Through her efforts, Oregon eventually passed a bill in 2011 that protected children from faith-based neglect. Stauth’s novellike narrative is compelling not just for the way it probes the complex, often contentious relationship between individuals of faith and secular institutions, but also for what it ultimately suggests about the need for limits on religious freedom.
A powerful tale of religious beliefs gone awry.