On March 10, 2011, the Oregon House approved a bill that would remove legal protection for parents who choose faith healing over medical intervention when treating their children. [The bill was signed by the Governor, and went into effect, on June 9, 2011]
The legislation comes in response to an Oregon City church, the Followers of Christ, that has a long history of child deaths even though the conditions from which the children died were medically treatable.
The ‘Followers of Christ Church’ (sometimes referred to in the media as ‘Followers of Christ’ or ‘Followers of Christ church’), is located in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. The church has branches in other states as well. The ones in Idaho are frequently in the news regarding preventable child deaths.
Members who — usually in secret — see a physician or use medicines are shunned.
The church was founded in the early 20th century by the Reverend Walter White, a preacher who led a congregation which broke away from a Kansas church of the same name in the 1940s. White died in 1969, and the church has functioned without a minister since then.
Former church members say White was a prophet with a tyrannical side. From his pulpit he would rebuke congregation members, often making them stand and confess their misdeeds to the entire group. He captivated his congregation with powerful sermons, often slamming his Bible to the floor, shaking and clapping, and speaking in tongues.
“Walter became a Christlike figure,” said one former member who asked not to be identified. “People believed the only way to get to God was through Walter White.”
– Source: Followers’ roots reveal numerous splinters, Mark Larabee and Peter D. Sleeth, The Oregonian, July 6, 1998
The Followers of Christ Church is not affiliated with other churches that use the same name. Splinter groups of the church have met in Oklahoma and Idaho.
In 1998 the church was believed to have some 1.200 members.
Ex-member Suzi Shumaker — who was born into the Followers of Christ Church in 1973 and was an active member until 1994 — writes in her blog:
Nobody can join our church; the way in is through the direct descent of one of the people the church’s primary prophet, Walter White, had baptized before his death in the 1960’s.
There is no way into heaven for those not baptized by Walter. The older ones tell us that we may have a chance to get in since our parents or grandparents were baptized by Walter. But for us, there is no assurance of salvation.
I don’t know the reason for most of the rules and practices, except that we are God’s chosen people. We are the only people on the planet who follow God’s word. Every other church is practicing “false prophesy.”
In 2008 an ex-member who remained in touch with some of the church members estimated membership to be at 2,300.
In a 1998 article titled, “Faith or Healing?“, TIME magazine said:
A series by the Oregonian newspaper announced that of 78 minors buried in the graveyard over 35 years, 21 “probably would have lived with medical intervention, often as simple as antibiotics.” If so, the cemetery may represent one of the largest concentrations of faith-healing-related fatalities in decades.
– Source: Faith Or Healing? David van Biema and Dan Kray, TIME, Aug. 31, 2998