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.”
“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.
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.