A Journalist Writes About the ‘Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide’

Over the past few years, we’ve heard some horror stories of “faith-healing” practitioners who have allowed their children to die from curable diseases or medical problems because, instead of taking the kids to a doctor, they prayed instead.

15-month-old Ava Worthington died that way.

16-year-old Neil Beagley died that way.

8-month-old Alayna May Wyland died that way.

9-hour-old David Hickman died that way.

There’s another bond all of those children share besides their preventable deaths: their parents were all members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon. Making matters worse, the laws in Oregon allowed some of them to get away with their crimes because state laws gave these parents “religious exemptions” for their crimes until only recently.

Journalist Cameron Stauth wanted to find out what was really happening inside the church walls so he went to Oregon and found somebody willing to talk. Written as a novel, though it’s entirely non-fictional, his new book explores the badly-misnamed “faith-healing” movement and why the members of that church were so taken in by it. It’s called In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013).

In the excerpt below, published with permission of St. Martin’s Press, Stauth writes about his first meeting with a church insider:

Oregon City, Oregon
January 27, 2010

“Why do you want to talk to me?” I asked the man in mirrored sun-glasses. He was trying not to be noticed, but the glasses weren’t helping with that on a day that was several gradations of gray outside and much darker in the bar. Even the rain was opaque, drifting down like falling ash. The place was called The Verdict and was across the street from the Clackamas County Courthouse, where the life of one of his best friends was being destroyed, mostly because of him.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” he said. “This will be the end of me.”

“The end, how?”

“I’ll lose everything. My wife. My family. My job. My friends. I may even go to hell.”

“Then why are you?”

“Because it will be the beginning, too. The omega and alpha.”

“So, some good will come from it?”

“Depends on what you call good.”

“But…”

“You’re trying to make sense of this. If you really want to understand it, don’t,” he said, softly and sadly.

I’d been around inscrutable oxymoronics ever since I’d moved to Oregon, without much to show for it, and this was beginning to feel too familiar. For the last nine months, I’d been trying to find a source within the ultra-secretive, radical-fundamentalist Followers of Christ Church, and I thought I’d finally found one. A highly placed official had told me that this man, an informant, was the most pivotal person in the recent series of arrests for child homicide within the church. But I didn’t know what to make of him. For all I knew, he was just another broken soul from that strange church who was trying to get even with people who’d hurt him.

Then he took off his sunglasses, and I could see that his eyes held much more than mere sadness. There was something in them that very few people have: open, unconditional love — for me, for the bartender, our rude waitress, and everybody else in his field of vision. His aquamarine eyes were disillusioned but gentle — uncommonly clear, almost translucent — glistening with forgiveness even for sins not yet committed against him, but someday almost sure to be, as punishment for his rebellion.

This was not shaping up as the usual version of: “I’ll give you inside information for your book.” In the standard scenario, the people who offer to crack open a story invariably portray themselves as the heroes. He said he was the villain. And the heroes always have documentation that’s intended to prove exactly how heroic they are. But he’d refused to put anything in writing. I didn’t even know his last name. To me, he was just Patrick.

He looked anxiously out the window at the TV remote-broadcast vans, and hid behind his glasses again. It was his friend that he was afraid of. We were in the Verdict because his buddy, Jeff Beagley, whom he would be driving home, would never go into a bar. Jeff, on trial with his wife for the death of their child, might need one of his much-loved Cokes at the end of the day, but if he did, he’d go to the adjacent coffee shop, The Alibi.

We watched cops, lawyers, criminals, and conspirators file into the old limestone courthouse, which was once white but had faded to the color of flesh. Patrick knew almost all of them, and sorted out the good guys from the bad — based on their character, not their professions: the kind cops and the callous ones, the decent Followers and the venal.

“Things are out of control,” he said. “Before this is over, one of those people over there is going to kill somebody.”

“You mean, let another kid die?”

“Yes. But not just that,” he said. “This, too.” He pantomimed a gun with his hand, cocked it, and shot.

I dismissed that. Too melodramatic. I didn’t know, at that time, that he hated melodrama, but had been dragged against his will into a life of confounding complexity that was headed inexorably toward peril.

Nor did I know that he would soon tell me the most fascinating and disturbing story I have ever heard. It was an insider’s account of the sacrifice of innocent people, mostly children, upon the altar of Christian fundamentalist faith — and about his mission to end this evil, even if it destroyed him.

“The media’s jumping on this story like it just happened,” Patrick said, “but the Followers have been up to this crap forever. I’ll tell you how it started, and you can put it in your own words.”

“I’ll be honest,” I said, “I’ll probably make you guys sound pretty weird.”

“You can’t possibly make us sound any weirder than we are.” Patrick ’s mouth struggled into the most sorrowful smile I’ve seen. “Don’t start with Jesus, though,” he said.

“Why not?”

He looked at me kindly, with the patience usually reserved for small children. “Because this isn’t about religion. I wish it was that simple.”

“What is it about?”

Patrick spit out his answer as if it were poison. “People.”

In the Name of God is now out on Amazon and in bookstores.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • JA

    Dammit, my reading list is already overflowing, now I have to add another book to it.

  • Tainda

    “color of flesh” always annoys me. Sorry, picking nits!

    • allein

      Whose flesh?

      • Tainda

        Exactly lol

    • RowanVT

      Because I’m a vet tech, to me ‘flesh’ is muscle. Therefore, the color of flesh is red.

  • Jean

    Come on, more text! I gotta get this book now! I want to know more! :D

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    I’m not usually a big non-fiction reader, but this author may just be the exception.

  • Sven2547

    Then he took off his sunglasses, and I could see that his eyes held much more than mere sadness. There was something in them that very few people have: open, unconditional love — for me, for the bartender, our rude waitress, and everybody else in his field of vision. His aquamarine eyes were disillusioned but gentle — uncommonly clear, almost translucent — glistening with forgiveness even for sins not yet committed against him, but someday almost sure to be, as punishment for his rebellion.

    At times like this I recognize how bad my writing is compared to skilled authors like Stauth.

    • KMR

      Really? That’s the part I didn’t like. Too melodramatic for my taste but the story itself seems fascinating. I may have to buy this book the next time I purchase something from amazon.

      • Artor

        Off topic, but may I suggest you order it through a local, independent bookstore? Amazon is of the devil. (/snark)

        • Jim Jones

          How do you know when an Amazon employee is lying to you?

          You hear sounds from your phone.

          • Matt Ranson

            I worked 13 years as a devoted Amazon customer service agent and then the fired me out of the blue for a trivial mistake. Fuck Jeff Bezos.

          • KMR

            Damn. I’ve had some good experiences with amazon. What’s the reason I shouldn’t use them (besides them worshiping Satan. Thanks Artor :)

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Mm, he’s skilled, but this sort of writing doesn’t do anything for me. He’s telling, not showing. The stuff farther down is much more engaging.

    • Bill Kodak

      Ah another Kumbaya Moment! God liberals are just SOOOOOOO annoying!

      • Sven2547

        I complemented an author’s writing, and that annoys you? You are stunningly petty.

        • Bill Kodak

          But utterly good looking tho! LOL

          • Matt D

            Sorry kid, but your Mom’s opinion doesn’t count.

      • rtanen

        If you don’t want to read what people think about an excerpt from a book, then don’t read the comments about an excerpt from a book.

      • Matt D

        And I’m sure they’re really hurt that you think so. LOL.

  • Pofarmer
  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Correction Hemant:

    The “Followers of Christ Church” is not part of the “Christian Science” denomination. Although both put way too much stock into the idea of faith healing, FOCC takes it far more to the extreme.

  • Mick

    The Government should just pass a law making it illegal for anyone to withhold food, water, clothing, shelter, or medical assistance, from anyone in their care. If loopholes are found they should be fixed immediately. Or is that expecting a bit too much?

    • Latraviata

      The law in the Netherlands is when the child’s life is in danger to release the parents temporarely of their parental rights and granting custody to the hospital,

      • Bill Kodak

        The government in any form should never do anything to a child and its parents. It’s a violation of the natural rights of man. Jefferson defined it better than anyone.

        • Sven2547

          To live is a natural right of man. If a parent’s action (or inaction) would be fatal to a child, then someone other than the parents must step in.

          • KMR

            Yes. Not to stop in is tantamount to saying a parent owns it’s offspring and the offspring has no natural rights except what the parents choose to bestow upon them.

        • John

          So you think they should be allowed to let their children die? Being a parent doesn’t automatically make all your decisions good.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Actually, children are people who have (some) rights. The government’s job is to step in when someone’s rights are being violated and stop that shit in its tracks. If a parent is neglecting a child, the government not only has the right, it has the duty, to do something.

          Jefferson was pretty adamant that the right to life is pretty important, and he never referenced any “parental rights” at all. Also, irrelevant appeals to authority are irrelevant.

  • beatonfam

    I don’t know, Hemant. The last book you recommended, “Christian Nation” by Fredrich Rich, gave me nightmares. Scariest book I have ever read.

  • Bill Kodak

    Shows total ignorance of Christian Scientists. It is stated here that they “pray” for recovery. They do not. They believe that when one resorts to using words, spoken or unspoken or written, it is of no value and is not really a prayer. A true prayer to a Christian Scientist requires no words.

    • Sven2547

      And it’s just as unsuccessful as spoken prayers, when it comes to helping people.

    • RowanVT

      So… they do absolutely nothing at all? Or rather, still? They simply ‘feel’ the hope for their child to live and that’s it?

      Wow, way to make them seem even worse.

      • FTP_LTR

        And worse than that, I’d say – if, while ‘feeling’, you think words, your feelprayer would be null and void.

        It sounds like a handy escape clause – God will grant recovery if you pray hard enough, but without using any words to do so. Prayed using words? Bzzzt. Sorry, no recovery for you.

  • beatonfam

    My local library had just purchased a copy of “In the Name of God”, so I decided to go ahead a read it. It made me just as angry as “Christian Nation” without as many nightmares. I did lose plenty of sleep but because I couldn’t could the book down, not because I suddenly feared my preachy neighbors coming for me.

    Cameron Stauth is an amazing wordsmith. His prose is just stunning. I did have trouble sometimes following him as I would forget that his voice was essentially narrating the story. I would be completely caught up in the storyline that flowed almost like a novel, following what in my mind was Patrick’s voice when suddenly it would switch back to Cameron. This was stronger towards the end of the book after the storyline caught up to the original scene in time and proceeded forward. Its minor and might not bother everyone. It did give me pause a few times and I would have to re-read a section in order to switch voices in my brain.

    Definitely worth the read. Stauth tells a very compelling story.

  • http://jtrader.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Publish-on-Fanficitonnet-and-Gain-a-Loyal-Following Healthy

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