Mar 12, 2017

Former Followers of Christ member: It's a cult

Reed Andrews
KATU
March 10th 2017

VIDEO

OREGON CITY, Ore. — A former Followers of Christ church member said she worries that the pattern of children and babies dying in connection to the faith-healing church won’t change unless the church does.

Myra Cunningham’s family left the church after she nearly died because she didn’t get medical care.

On Thursday, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the death of a girl born to parents of the church, which practices faith-based healing rather than uses doctors. The girl died just hours after she was born Sunday. Sarah Mitchell, 24, gave birth to two girls at her parents' home. The second child survived.

Cunningham said she’s not surprised that another child in the church has died.

“It’s too bad that it’s still happening,” she told KATU Thursday. “There’s so many children in their graveyard. They have their own graveyard.”


Cunningham grew up in the Followers of Christ church. She doesn’t believe it’s much of a church at all.

“It’s actually a cult, I do believe. And they’re afraid to leave, and it’s sad,” she said.

When Cunningham got sick, going to a doctor or taking medicine wasn’t allowed.

“It says to call the elders in the church and have them pray for you,” she said.

At age 12, her mother took her away from the church.

“I was really bad, sick, several times in my life and almost died without any medical help,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham has no regrets on leaving the church, and has this advice for its current members: “I’d say leave. Leave, because you’re not going to lose your salvation.”

A steady stream of cars was leaving the homes where church members live Thursday. Church members are wary of outsiders and none of them wanted to stop and talk to a reporter about what happened.

Deputies said neither the mother, Mitchell, nor any of the midwives, called 911 when the girl, born prematurely, struggled to breathe. Deputies said a church elder called the medical examiner, who then recovered the dead newborn girl. The medical examiner realized the second baby was still alive. He convinced the family to seek professional care for the baby.

The girl who survived is in rough shape. She’s now in intensive care at Oregon Health & Science University.

The district attorney is anticipating charging Mitchell in the death of the newborn.

There've been several high-profile trials concerning faith-healing deaths since 1998. Only one, the trial of Shannon and Dale Hickman in the death of their infant son, resulted in a manslaughter conviction.

The Hickmans are serving a 6-year prison term right now. Shannon Hickman is Sarah Mitchell's sister. The women are the great granddaughters of Walter White, the man who originally brought the Followers of Christ church to Clackamas County decades ago.

Sarah Mitchell was alongside her sister in 2009, when Hickman prematurely delivered her son David, who died shortly after his birth.

An expert testified David almost surely would have survived if he'd been taken to medical experts. But the family chose to anoint David with oil, instead of calling for an ambulance.

http://katu.com/news/local/former-followers-of-christ-member-its-a-cult
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