“In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide” by Cameron Stauth (St. Martin's Press, 400 pages, available in stores)
Parents described in the book, “In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide,” clearly loved their children.
Author Cameron Stauth takes great pains to show the love, to paint a picture of the happy households in Oregon City, Ore., where members of the Followers of Christ raised their children within a close-knit community of fellow church members.
Early members of The Followers participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893, and in 1898, six families chose to move to Idaho, and a generation later moved on to Oregon City.
They kept to themselves, intermarried and had little to do with people who did not belong to their church; they considered outsiders to be worldly, sinners who were not born holy as they were.
Their faith was strong. Everything was God's will. When someone became ill, they would pray, silently, as Jesus had prescribed.
If the illness progressed, they would anoint the sufferer with oil, pray more, and, if the victim worsened, they would lay on hands. They recounted miracles, when someone would recover from the flu or from some other minor ailment, rejoicing when the devil finally released the victim from his grasp.
And they buried the ones that prayer could not save. A lot of babies filled their cemetery. It was God's will. Medicine was for the worldly, and doctors were to be avoided. Even to consider going to a doctor was to question one's faith and to risk bringing down the wrath of God.
The Followers aren't the only religious group to do this. Stauth refers to Christian Science and the smaller Church of the First Born, both of which also have congregations in Oklahoma and other states.
And states had shield laws, protecting parents whose religious beliefs resulted in children going untreated by doctors, and dying.
Stauth's glowing descriptions of life among The Followers take a dark turn when he tells how the medical examiner and the police investigators viewed the dead children. Glowing health, as seen by family members, turned into emaciation, stunted growth or worse, disfiguring deformities, when seen by the authorities — and all could have been corrected with modern medical care.
The book focuses on a handful of families: Brent and Raylene Worthington, whose toddler daughter Ava had an untreated cyst on her neck that eventually strangled her; Jeff and Marci Beagley, whose teenage son Neil had a urinary blockage that ultimately shut down his internal organs; Dale and Shannon Hickman, whose baby was born prematurely and was unable to survive without help; and Tim and Rebecca Wyland, whose infant daughter Alayna was being blinded by a growth on her face.
On the other side of the issue were Rita Swan, who launched a decades-long effort to overturn permissive religious shield laws; Patrick Robbins, a member of The Followers who became appalled at the number of deaths and sought to bring about change; James Band, a detective with the Oregon City Police Department; Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney; and many others who worked to find justice for the suffering children.
The primary goal, however, was to convince The Followers — who already allowed themselves to see a dentist or optometrist — to accept that medical care was not just for the sinning unworldly, but something that God would allow them to seek as well.
Stauth's book is a compelling look at a religious cult that appeared to be flourishing, but was consuming itself from within. “In the Name of God” reads almost like a novel, as Stauth gets into the mindset and emotions of its many participants. Many readers will find it difficult to put down; others may have difficulty coming to grips with the horrifying situations that these loving parents found themselves in.
— Glen Seeber, Staff Writer