Friday, December 30, 2011

The Decorating Committee

A reader made a comment a few weeks ago that the Followers had a good system to keep the kids busy and out of trouble. This is true. We did have a structured and active social life. I never want to downplay the good things about the FOC.
For every special occasion, we had a formal dance. The formal dances weren’t too much different than the Sunday night dances. We had live bands. But for these special occasion dances, most of the teenaged boys asked a girl to be his date before the event, and both parties bought corsages/boutonnieres for each other. The girls or their mothers sewed or purchased formal gowns for each of these occasions.
Almost as much fun as the dance was the three evenings – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the party when the teenagers gathered in the old church building to decorate. Each party had a theme and a group of teenage girls signed up to design the theme and purchased the supplies for the party. The party my friends and I organized was New Years. We went with a black and white theme, drove to Portland for the supplies we couldn’t find in the storage cupboards in the back room.
While all the teens came together for these three evenings, it was just as much for socializing as for decorating. The boys generally didn’t help decorate unless they were needed for heavy lifting. Groups of girls created a wall of names – with the party theme in mind, each teenager’s name was written on a cutout (boys in one color, girls in another); others put up streamers and wall decor. For the New Years Parties, we blew up hundred of balloons, threw in confetti and candy, and hung three large clear plastic sheets filled with these goodies to be dropped at midnight for the waiting kids.
A lot of drama could happen at these and other gatherings where dozens of teenaged boys and girls gathered. New romances sparked, couples broke up or reconciled, girls argued with their best friends. This church, these teens that God had destined to be in this place, they were our entire lives and world. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Blog: Who Can Baptize?

The Followers of Christ teach that only certain people have the authority to baptize. Only a preacher – an apostle on par with the Apostle Paul – can perform a legitimate baptism. Followers believe that salvation can be obtained only through baptism by an Apostle.

Since their apostle – Walter White – has been dead since 1969, baptism is no longer possible. The children and grandchildren of the baptized are told they are born holy – and may have an opportunity to be baptized on Judgment Day. Outsiders – “worldy people” – cannot be saved. What happened to the Great Commission? What happened to the Good News? I never heard of these things until long after I left.

Followers take Jesus' statement to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” to mean that you must be baptized with water to be saved. While the understanding of most Christians and Biblical scholars is that being “born of water” happens to us at birth, and being born of the Spirit happens when we accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

In today's message, Jerry Patton addresses the question of who can baptize.

* * * * *
In my last post, I mentioned how baptism is not owned by anyone. This is true, however, through some church doctrines and traditions, access to baptism has been strictly controlled and sadly - even prohibited.

In my studies, I have never read anything that grants a particular type of disciple an exclusive authority to baptize. In the New Testament we hear Paul talk about deacons and elders (also known as shepherds or bishops) who hold an office of service within a church and their overall charge is to serve the flock. We also hear Paul talk about the Apostles and the work they engaged in, which in his case, was to be a herald of the gospel to the gentiles (the pagan world). Not even Paul as an Apostle claimed exclusive authority to baptize. In I Corinthians, he counsels the disciples at Corinth about unity within the body of Christ:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Paul says that he did not baptize anyone other than Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. It doesn’t stipulate who baptized the others. If it were important to stipulate a restriction concerning baptism, he would have stated it somewhere. But even here, in this case, when he’s discussing who baptized who – it isn’t addressed. It isn’t addressed because there was no restriction. There wasn’t then and there isn’t now. Paul spells out in his letter to the Romans and Galatians that we are free in Christ, not to sin, but to serve – for we are no longer under law, but under grace.

The short of it is that any disciple of Christ can baptize a non-believer into the Kingdom as they repent of their sins and confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Any disciple can study with a non-believer and when that non-believer decides and is ready to start their walk with Christ, the disciple can baptize that non-believer. Every disciple has a ministry for they are part of “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” I Peter 2:9

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:6-13

The Prophet/Apostle thing cuts both ways. With the authority they were claiming, they had an inside track on being in good with God and if you were a good boy or girl, they would give you access to a real church family and things flourished. While many of them were not even born or very young, these guys were building their own church-lore and ingrained it into their offspring. No one ever thought to ask, "What happens when Walter dies?" So who's gonna feed this monster. God isn't. Who has the guts to stand up and say, "I've been called (as the new church Prophet)"?

As with any group, over a period of time, factions form and they slap anyone down that tries to take over. So they're dying a slow death. They're cut off in so many ways. They flourished because of a Prophet and now they are dying because of him. Their savior is in Carus cemetary rotting, mine is in heaven reigning.

Don’t let any man stand in the way of your relationship with God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: Jerry Patton

Jerry Patton is the grandson of Oliver Smith (who was a preacher from the Oklahoma Followers of Christ). He and his wife of 27 years, Paula Renee, live in Arkansas. He is a software engineer by day and an Elder/Shepherd for his church.

Below, Patton recounts the memory of his baptism by Walter White.

If I wasn’t the last one to be baptized, I was awfully close. I think it was March/April/May 1968 when Walter White decided that one particular evening would be the last time he would baptize. At some time in 1967, we were living in Oklahoma City and my mother had received a letter from her brothers telling her about a vision or dream Walter had and that the time was short so in early 1968 she moved my brother and me out to Oregon City to join the FOC there. I remember being taken to the bathroom for a talk about being baptized, first by my mother (I really didn’t want to do it) and then by my uncle. I think they were very kind and understanding about how I felt, but it was something that had to be done and I needed to do it. I think I was anxious for some approval so I went along with it. It was never my idea. I was 7-1/2 years old.

That evening I remember being relieved that the baptism part was over, but there was more. After being baptized in the baptismal as the old church building, we gathered in the newer building for the Lord’s Supper, then Walter laid hands on those just baptized, and then there was feet washing. Another thing I remember: when they did have the Lord’s Supper, it was always in the evening. If it were to be done earlier in the day – that would be the Devil’s Dinner.

As I got older, my baptism experience bothered me. Eventually, we moved back to Oklahoma and when I was 19 or so I left the FOC. There were so many questions and those questions could not be answered and things just didn’t make any sense. I was later really baptized (my idea) and that has made quite a difference.

I believe baptism is a door you step through to begin your walk with the Christ. It is only the beginning, but it is an important step on the path that leads to an abundant life. It is a pledge to be a faithful apprentice, a disciple of Jesus. Baptism isn’t owned by anyone. It is free to all given by a God that loves us more than we can possibly comprehend and wants us to know that He is big enough, strong enough and wants so very much to rescue us and weave us into His life.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Letter to Me

If I could write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self, this would be it...

July 8, 1989

Dear Suzanne,

Happy Birthday! You have recently experienced your first kiss and you are now with your first boyfriend. It will be an emotional year for you and next summer, you will have your heart broken. Learn from the experiences. Do not pin your hopes on him. He is looking for a wife to cook, clean, and care for his children. When you tell him you want to go to college, he will look at you like you are an alien. He doesn't want an educated wife. None of the boys in that church want an educated wife.

Mom has always advised you to play down your intellect around boys. Make them believe they are smarter than you. You should listen to most of what she says, but ignore that advice. You do not want a man who can't handle the real you.

Some day you will graduate from college and graduate school and become a teacher and a writer. Don't waste your high school years taking home economics. Take academic classes. Apply yourself. Apply for some colleges and scholarships. When you are eighteen, you will be able to leave and attend college. When they try to stop you, apply for emancipation. Ask one of the high school counselors for help. If they cannot help you, ask a college counselor.

You are disappointed that you cannot participate in extracurricular activities and sports. That's sad, but use your extra time to write, read everything, and plan a better future.

Read the Bible. You are only allowed to read the King James Bible, but go ahead and buy an NIV Bible and read it when nobody's looking. Keep it hidden. And pray for wisdom. When you leave home, find a community church and learn about God's love. Join to a college-aged Bible study. God loves you and has a plan for your life. His plan does not include staying in that church and being ignorant and subservient.

Do not marry for freedom. That's stupid. Do not marry someone because he can give you a better life. You can make a great life for yourself. Be independent. Fulfill your God-given destiny. Pray for God to provide the right man to be your husband. Marry a godly man that you are madly in love with. Listen to the older people in your new church. Learn from them.

Your world seems so small and limited. You think being born female means you have no choices. You think God loves you less, you are not important. But, you're wrong. Just wait.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sex Education

When I was in eleventh grade, our high school hosted an all-school assembly. It wasn't sponsored by the school, and the topic of the assembly was not publicized. We were just informed that there was an assembly and we walked with our classes to the auditorium.

The program was produced by a community group, and several students from Oregon City High School, who were members of the group, put on the assembly for us. It was well-rehearsed, engaging, and funny. And, it was about sex. This was twenty-one years ago, and I still clearly remember the skit where boys and girls were paired together to demonstrate how to properly put on a condom. The girls had giant life-sized condoms that they put over their partners' entire bodies, making sure to leave extra room at the head. I rather enjoyed the production.

When I stepped off the school bus that afternoon, I saw my mom waiting in the doorway of our house. Oh, great, I thought. I wonder what I'm in trouble for now. It didn't occur to me that she would've heard of the assembly. But she had. Apparently, several of my Follower classmates had reported the mandatory assembly to their parents, who had activated the frantic calling of all the parents, and dozens of complaints to our school.

Followers are not allowed to participate in sex education classes or class content. It's on our "yellow cards" along with the exemption from having inoculations and medical treatment. No sex ed.

The stigma started in fifth grade when the schools show the students videos about menstruation and puberty. We were to be sent to the library during these videos. Ug. My mom let me stay home from school that day. Good thing, because I would've died of embarassment. And, I wanted to see that video!

In eighth grade, we got an extra elective class while our classmates took sex ed. Same deal in high school. The extra elective was nice, but I wanted some facts. The idea was that if we knew about sex, we would be tempted to have sex.

So, the policy of the Followers was to marry kids off in the late teens, still virgins. The "sex talk" would happen a week or so before the wedding. They thought we wouldn't figure anything out before then. But I'm a rebel, and being told I couldn't/shouldn't know something just made me want to know even more. I heard about "rubbers" from school kids in junior high, so I asked one of my wiser Follower friends what a rubber was, and she told me it was a piece of rubber that you rub on yourself to keep from getting pregnant.

The same year that we were "forced" to watch that infamous assembly, I had a science class with only worldly people. It was the only class I took in high school where I was the only Follower. The teacher seemed pretty obsessed with our church too. He always made a point to come over and talk to us in the cafeteria. So, one day he announced in front of the class that he was going to talk about sex, and that there was a group of kids who were members of the "Followers of Christ" church that were to be excused from this portion of the class. What? Dude, he knew that I was the only one and he had to single me out. I was not going to stand up and say, "Oh, you mean me? OK." In hindsight, I wish I would've had the guts to do it, but I didn't. I was a teenager and a) wanted to know the facts and b) didn't want to be singled out. Sheesh.

So, maybe you're wondering if all this lack of knowledge worked? In my opinion, it wasn't the lack of knowledge that kept most of us from having sex. It was the fear and consequences attached to the sex act. If we had sex before marriage we faced: shunning in this life and Hell in the next, but perhaps more pressing than those consequences was the loss of a church wedding.

Church weddings were only for virgins and included huge rewards - the wedding services were free (though things like dresses and flowers were paid for by the bride's parents), beautiful, attended by all, lots of fun - including a dance with a live band. The bride received housewares and a new wardrobe for her shower, the groom received money (enough to pay his church membership) for his "bachelor party" (which was attended by men--and I'm told--very tame). For the wedding, the couple typically received all the furniture for their new home (living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom - everything), and enough money to pay for the honeymoon and then some. It was a prize worth waiting for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Control Measures

Up to this point, I have not addressed the “c” word in association with the Followers. You know the word that outsiders generally label organizations that seek to control their members with fear, threats (social ostracization to the person and their family), and the expectation of compliance. I will not address the “c” word in this blog (that is, whether or not I believe the FOC is a cult).
What I will address are some measures certain members have begun attempting to exert on me to convince me to stop writing about the church.

Self-Doubt and “Yo-Mama” Insults

This is a comment I received this week from an anonymous source:

“Susanne, I don't know where you are getting all your knowledge, because you aren't old enough to know any this first hand! and your parrents are a good source of info because they are not all that bright, I know that!

Dear Anonymous:

Are you suggesting that, at age 38, I am too young to understand anything of the religion I was raised in? I attended the FOC church twice a week (in addition to all the mandatory social functions) for twenty-one years. After I left, I returned and attended church while being shunned by the majority for another five years. Under this “logic” nobody under the age of 50 knows anything about this religion because they were not around when Walter was in charge? How do you justify imposing your religion on your children and grandchildren if they can’t know anything about it? And how about the pair of twenty-six-year-olds rotting in prison for practicing it?

Second, I have never claimed to have experienced anything that I am too young to have experienced. I heard the elders' teachings until I was in middle school. When I talk about anything that happened before I was born, I pre-empt it with, “from what I’ve been told.”

As to the comments about my parents: I have approved your comment under my blog post, “Signs of the True Believer,” so there can be no accusations that I have inserted your misspelled words and poor grammar. Someone who cannot even spell my name (though it’s in the URL of this blog), or the word “parents” is not the best judge of intellect. My dad’s response to your comment was this, “We were stupid to stay as long as we did. The smartest thing we have ever done was leaving.”

I have no doubt that my parents are intelligent. My mom was in college studying to become a nurse, when a family tragedy brought her to Oregon City and into the FOC. My dad had a burgeoning career as a Naval Officer when he was recruited by Walter White to move to Oregon City and settle into a work-a-day life of blue collar mediocrity. Despite the ways the FOC interrupted their aspirations, my parents are well-read, well-informed, free thinkers who have the strength of character to admit to their children and the world their mistake (of raising their family in the FOC).

I also think it's interesting that you claim that my "parents ARE a good source of information because they not all that bright." I agree that my parents are a good source of information - though they are far from being my only sources.

Liar-Liar Pants On Fire!

Here’s another brave attack from an anonymous source (possibly the same as the above author):

“I think if you are going to post for all to read, I think you should get your stories straight, and tell the TRUTH. you don't even know most of this for a fact because you are not old enough. you weren't even there. it's not hard to figure out that your not even getting your information from a reliable source.

And yet another anonymous attempt to undermine:

“You need to make sure your so called facts are true,or call this book fiction.

Dear Anonymous:

If you are going to call me a liar, please have the guts to use your name, and the credibility to specify exactly what you are accusing me of getting wrong. I do not misrepresent my age – I am 38. Like I posted above, it’s pretty sad to imply that anyone so “young” couldn’t possibly know anything.

I would be happy to post any credible and specific information you would like to clarify your position.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Inside Coffee Creek

I am a taking a small detour from life inside the Followers of Christ church, to life inside Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. CCCF is Oregon’s only women’s prison, and is also the intake location for all male prisoners. Shannon and Dale Hickman arrived for intake last week. For this entry, I travelled up to Wilsonville and interviewed a prisoner from Coffee Creek.

As soon as a sentence is entered, the prisoner is taken to a county jail. The female prisoners are in a big room. They are ordered to take off their clothes and stand naked while being inspected. The prisoner is told to lift her hair, arms, feet, and then bend over and cough twice. If she is wearing a tampon, she must remove it for inspection. She is then given a white jumpsuit to wear, her ankles are shackled, and handcuffs secured by a black box. The prisoners are loaded on a van to be taken to the prison.
The van pulls into the facility at Coffee Creek and drives to the intake center. The gates shut and lock before the prisoners get out of the van. They are taken in through a door and left in a holding cell with a sack lunch. The lunch might consist of: bread, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, lunch meat, peanut butter and jelly packets, and mayonnaise and mustard packets. All of the women are in this large room together – there is a commode in one corner with a low wall blocking the toilet, though you can see the person sitting on it. The women stay in there for hours waiting to be called.
When she is called out, she is issued her “intake clothes.” These consist of: blue scrub pants, blue scrub shirts, navy blue t-shirts, underwear, socks, and sports bras. She is also given a pair of orange flip flops for showering. Then she is taken to the showers and shown the street clothes she was wearing so she can verify that her personal belongings are there. These items are sealed, boxed up, and mailed to the prisoner’s family.
In the showers, a strip search is performed again, then she is told to take a shower and put on her scrubs. She then goes into a room for fingerprinting, a DNA sample is taken, and a picture for her prison ID. She is now taken to a different holding tank, with the other processed prisoners. A nurse takes her into a private room and takes down her medical history, notes tattoos, and scars, and then she returns again to the same holding area.

When everyone is processed, the prisoners are given manila pocket folders containing the following items: a small tube of toothpaste, a tiny toothbrush, a pocket comb, a razor, a small deodorant, a little bar of soap, a small bendy pen, five envelopes, ten sheets of newsprint paper, and any paperwork she came in with that she’s allowed to keep, and a yellow lanyard to the K-Unit (this is the unit where intake prisoners will spend their first few weeks) with her ID card. She also receives her bedroll containing: two blankets, two sheets, a pillowcase, and two towels.
Now she is taken down a “big, scary” hallway where is shown where things are and taken to her unit. She arrives in the K-Unit. It is an open unit with 108 beds – bunk-beds. She will be here for about thirty days. While she is here, she will not be allowed to participate in any activities such as religious services, salon, visiting, etc. She will have two hours every day to spend in the day room or out in the yard. The rest of her time she is to sit on her bunk. At the end of her time here, an intake counselor will meet with her to talk about her Corrections Plan. This plan will explain her custody level (medium security for prisoners with more than four years’ time), expectations, etc.
The inmate I interviewed has been serving for nearly eight years now. She does not want to remember the time she came in because, like Shannon Hickman, she was accused of causing the death of a child. She told me in vague terms about that time, but my questions seemed to bother her. She said that the other inmates were not accepting. They called her a “baby killer” and told her to just kill herself. They wouldn’t allow her to sit with them for meals. She says she was “shunned” by the women.

I remember when Shannon was born – just a few months before my niece, Miranda. I can’t help feeling badly for her. She was powerless to decide how she was raised. She was powerless in her marriage. She was powerless in saving her child. And, for the next six years, she will be completely powerless in raising her surviving children.

Monday, October 31, 2011

In The News

For those of you who are following the latest Followers of Christ news, you have probably heard that Dale and Shannon Hickman were each given a 75-month prison sentence for the death of their premature baby boy, David.

Here is a link to that news story:

And here is the Oregonian article about the sentencing:

Now, the Hickmans' two surviving children will be raised by other members of the church.

What do you think about this sentence?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions - Part 2

I appreciate all the thoughtful questions and comments people have posted and emailed this past week. This week, I respond to your questions. Please keep them coming - I love hearing from you!

Question: How do you as a "church" turn anyone away, didn’t Jesus die to save everyone? How are they any different than a person off of the street? If they are not baptized, what difference does it make? If someone wants to try to "follow" the Bible in the same fashion, how are they not allowed? Is that even legal? Seeing that a church is tax exempt, therefore needs to benefit the whole community

Answer: The “church” began to turn people away after Walter White died in 1969 because they believed his death marked the end of baptism and that anyone not baptized by that point had lost their opportunity. Walter had prophesied the end of time three years before his death (he believed his vision meant time would end in three years) but it was actually a prophesy of the end of his own life. The Followers continued on believing time would end soon. As time went on and the end didn’t come, nor did another “anointed” prophet appear, the belief spread that the children of the baptized people (and eventually grandchildren) were “born holy” because of their parents. The issue became a bit murky when some people adopted children from “the world” and that issue is not resolved. For thirty or so years, the church got away with disallowing outsiders, but it caught up with them and they lost their non-profit tax exemption.

Question: Do followers read the Bible?

Answer: It wasn’t emphasized when I was there. There are about two dozen Bible verses are important to the religion. The key verses, out of context and largely misinterpreted, that dictate the actions and beliefs of the Followers. Our Bibles consisted of the New Testament and Psalms only. And we were told that the only true Bibles were in King James Version. This was because of the verse in Revelation 22:19: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” I’m not saying other Followers were as na├»ve as me, but I always believed that English was the Biblical language. When I became a born again Christian and showed up to a family function (where members of the Idaho FOC church were also present) carrying my NIV Bible, I was cast as a heretic for reading a false Bible.

Question: I have heard of a few different people doing public confessions. What’s that all about?

Answer: This practice has disappeared. In the days of Walter White, I’m told he would preach about a specific sin and then call out people who were guilty of that sin during his sermons. Also when people were caught in sin they had to confess it from the pulpit and ask for the church’s forgiveness. This practice continued after Walter’s death until 1986 when the last church elder died and the church stopped having bible teaching.

Question: I'm curious, how long does the shunning happen? Months? Years?

Answer: I always thought it was a year, but my mom says that it could go on much longer and sometimes shorter, depending on the circumstances (including family influence). Sometimes people are intentionally shunned out of church. I write about this much more specifically in my memoir.

Question: Why not go blind too? Is it not Gods will if you have rotten teeth or poor eye sight?

Answer: Good question! Followers haven’t always gotten dental care. This changed when Walter was alive and he instructed the church to get dental care because it was the law for children. I have old photographs of men in the original group that came to Oregon from Idaho and there was one older man wearing glasses. I think that Followers don’t consider optometry to be medicine. It is seen more along the line of a walking stick or a wheelchair for someone who cannot walk.

Question: Is it okay for them to associate with us at work but not anywhere else?

Answer: Yes, Followers are allowed to be friendly with worldly people while doing business, but that ends when work is over. I’m sure they would stop and say hello to a work acquaintance if they bumped into you in public, but they would not invite you to their home or make social plans with you.

Question: But what about Jesus? What about His sacrifice on the cross for us... for all of us?? John 14:6 Jesus says that He is the only way to the Father- His Father - God. Read all of the gospel of John to learn about who Jesus is.

Answer: The most important thing on this subject, from the FOC interpretation, was the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus in John, chapter three. Followers believe that when Jesus says: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5)” that Jesus is referring to a water baptism, not our water birth. So thus, you cannot go to heaven unless you are baptized with water. Further, they believe you cannot be baptized except by a man who is called by God with miracles and signs to preach. Since there is no such person available to baptize people, there is no assurance of salvation.

Question: Are you still worried that you will go to hell because you left?

Answer: Yes, I worry about Hell. Not because I left, but because I was a part of that church to begin with. I spent my formative years convinced any misstep would send me to Hell and I’ve spent my adult years trying to reason, work, pray, and justify my way out. I know what the Bible says about Salvation, the Good News of Jesus. I believe it…I try to believe it…I want to believe it. But the voices of doubt and substance of my heritage haunt me.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."
-1 John 4:18

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions - Part 1

I have gotten a lot of questions about the Followers of Christ throughout my life, both when I was attending and since. Here are some questions that come to mind. If you have more, please post them under the comments, or email them to me and I will answer them in a later blog.

Question: Since the Followers do not accept outsiders into their congregation, are they concerned about running out of potential mates for their children?

Answer: No, they are not worried. Followers are allowed to marry cousins, as long as they are at least second cousins. It's not unheard of for a girl to keep her maiden name because she has married someone with the same last name. A side note, some worldly people think the Followers are called “kissers” because they are kissing cousins, rather than the practice of the “Holy Kiss.”

Question: Are the number of childhood deaths increasing due to the shallow gene pool.

Answer: Maybe. I haven't gathered genetic samples and run tests. More likely, the number of childhood deaths are more visible due to more recent legislation and news coverage, not actual increasing numbers.

Question: If a Follower decided to become a doctor, would it be OK to go to him/her? Seems like trusting your own to aid in your own health care would be allowed?

Answer: If a Follower decided to become a doctor, he/she would not be welcome at church – the heretic!

Question: Do the midwives have any training? If so, who trains them? Do they sign the birth certificates?

Answer: Yes, they have practical training. They have to have given birth themselves. They also have to help at a set number of births before they can be an official midwife. No formal training though – and many do not have even a high school diploma. They do sign the birth certificates. In the box labeled hospital, it says “Followers.”

Question: If there are no ministers or Bible teaching, what are church services like?

Answer: Every Sunday morning and Thursday evening, the women and young children enter the sanctuary and sit according to their life situation (by age and gender for children, the newlyweds sit together, new parents sit near the back so they can take their babies out if they cry, after this life stage, people sit near relatives and friends). When it is time for church to start, all the men file in and find their wives to sit by them. The piano player sits at the front at a grand piano (the pulpit is deserted, though it is set up just like it was when there were men to teach and preach). If there is an announcement to be made – someone needs prayer, someone needs care, there is an upcoming wedding, etc – one of the five men who are appointed as the church leaders will make the announcement from the microphone near the piano. The piano player announces a song number and everyone stands to sing all the verses of the song. Next the congregation kneels at their benches and prays silently for two minutes. Everyone takes their seats, and eight more songs are announced and sung. The piano player will announce, “last song,” and everyone stands to sing the last song. The men file outside to talk amongst themselves and the women and children stay inside to socialize. That's it. Takes about twenty-five minutes start to finish.

Question: When a Follower is taken to the hospital from a car crash, do they get shunned?

Answer: No, church members come and visit them and pray for them. When I was a kid, I remember a really bad crash where an older lady broke something like twenty bones. The doctors gave a very poor prognosis, but we all prayed, and the next day, the bones had miraculously healed. The doctors said they had never seen anything like it. Incidents like that really reinforced the idea that God was on our side, and doctors/hospitals were irrelevant at best, but more likely harmful and deadly.

Question: Why won't Followers talk to the media and defend themselves for their beliefs and practices.

Answer: One of the biggest rules is to keep our business private. We are convinced that anyone who talks to outsiders about our religion is a heretic and blasphemer. Even those who leave often live the rest of their lives in fear of breaking this rule not only for their own soul, but for the social repercussions of the relatives they left behind who are still in the church.

Question: Do you regret leaving? Are you in fear of your immortal soul for going public with this information?

Answer: I do not regret leaving. I do not believe I am sinning, or wrong, by going public with my experiences and opinions. My writing is meant to be informational, helpful, and enlightening.

Question: When will your book be finished?

Answer: I have another six months of writing left before I go into the editing and rewriting stages. All final edits will be complete by this time next year.

Question: How does your family feel about your blog and memoir?

Answer: They haven't disowned me yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why People Stay

In my last blog, I listed the main reasons people decide to cut ties with the Followers of Christ Church. In today’s blog, why so many stay.

1.      Fear. The primary reason people stay and obey is the fear of Hell. We are taught from infancy that the only way to have any hope of avoiding Hell Fire and Damnation is to belong to this one, elite group in Oregon City. If we leave, we are assured an eternity in Hell.

2.      Legacy. Parents who have seen their daughters die in childbirth, or their sons die of curable ailments, have made the ultimate sacrifice. They have stood by and trusted God while their child dies an agonizing, often drawn-out death. If they leave, the child has died for nothing. Similarly, siblings of these martyred children feel a strong loyalty to that sibling, niece, or loved one to stay and make sense of the death.

3.      Family. Leaving means being shunned out of your family. It’s a hard choice to make and I believe it’s the root for many apathetic people who continue to show up. The church is the identity of the members. It's who they are. It's all they have ever known for generations. The outside world is a scary unknown.

4.      Security. The Follower lifestyle offers its members a number of benefits. Here are a few of them:

a.       Free health care. I know this is ironic, but broken bones are set free of charge, midwives provide gratis services, and church members volunteer around-the-clock hospice to those who are bedridden.

b.      Weddings and Funerals. The cost of these services for the entire family is included in the membership fee each young man pays upon coming of age.

c.       Jobs. Many Follower men own small businesses and give hiring preferences to other church members.

d.      Emergencies. If a man is unable to work due to illness, the church will help the family out financially. If a man dies and leaves a family, church members donate money to help the family. If a couple is charged with manslaughter, the church divides up the attorney expenses and chip in their share.

5.      Social Life. Every Sunday night, during the school year, the church hosts a dance for teenagers and young, unmarried adults. The dances feature live music by one of the church bands (all male of course) who play oldies, Country Western, and sometimes popular music. Every holiday, even Christmas, means a church dance party. New Years’ parties are the highlight. They start out at around 7:00pm on New Years’ Eve and continue until 6:00am the next morning. The New Years’ parties feature a different band every two hours, a midnight countdown with a balloon and candy drop, and all the free soda and hot dogs you can eat. Free of charge. Everyone loves these parties. Kids bring sleeping bags and lay them out to sleep – though I doubt anyone actually gets any sleep. During the summer months, the parents of teenagers host at-home parties for all the teens, taking turns, each Friday and Sunday night. They provide a structure to keep the kids busy in a safe and controlled environment.

6.  Faith. They believe they are truly and honestly God's only annointed people and they are doing what He is calling them to do.

I read many angry comments on the news sites about the FOC, but this isn’t a case of some evil or uncaring people purposely neglecting their children. I hope this will give a different perspective.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why People Leave

Many ex-Followers tell the media that they left the church because they were tired of seeing children dying, but I don't remember anyone leaving for that reason. Sure, many Followers are upset about it and secretly disagree with it. But they don't leave for that reason. If you read this, and you’re an exception, please feel free to respond and tell your story. I don’t claim to know what everyone is thinking or feeling.

Here is a list of the top five reasons I believe people leave:

1.      Freedom. A young women comes of age, eighteen years old, graduates from high school and finds no suitable husband. We are raised to know our place as women, and that is in the home, as somebody’s wife. Women are not to move out of their parents’ homes and live independently, they are to go from a father ruling over them to a husband. Related to this, we have been witness to hundreds of wedding ceremonies where young women – usually seventeen or eighteen years old – are asked if they will “love, honor, and obey” their husbands. That always pissed me off. To think I would have to obey one of those ignorant boys – ew!

2.      Divorce. Divorce is not accepted among the Followers. If a couple divorces, regardless of who is at fault, typically the woman leaves church, via shunning. If a man commits adultery, the Followers interpret the Bible to say that his wife can either forgive him, or divorce him and live a celibate life. If a woman commits adultery, the man can throw her out and get a new wife. If a man feels his wife is disobedient he can use physical punishment. Not every man does this, but plenty do. If a man wants to divorce his wife, he can usually just do it and wait until she leaves. Once she has left church, he is considered “free” to remarry. Women can only remarry if their spouse dies.

3.      Sin. Some people leave because they want to do things that are unacceptable as a Follower. Some identify as homosexual, which is not tolerated by the FOC. Some, mostly young men, want to date around (have premarital sex) without being tied down as a husband and father.

4.      Faith. There have been a number of families who have left to become “born-again Christians.” I know of maybe two ex-Followers who say they do not believe in God. We believe, but come to realize that the rest of the world is not necessarily damned to Hell just because they weren’t born into that Oregon City group. Followers often have to go through counseling or some other form of “de-programming” to realize that they can accept Jesus as their personal savior and be assured of salvation. We were taught from early childhood that the only way to heaven was to be baptized by a preacher who was “called” to preach by God himself with many outward signs, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, etc. This preacher would have to be called from inside the Followers of Christ church since the rest of the world is damned already and this man’s  “calling” would have to be confirmed by other Follower men of good standing, through dreams or visions of confirmation. While some Followers leave to attend other churches, others leave for less reputable causes (divorce/freedom) and then come to find a personal relationship with Jesus later. I think most ex-Followers consider themselves Christians.

5.      Apathy. After attending a “church” where there has been no religious teaching for more than twenty years, many people just don’t see the point of going. This one probably is tied to the desire for freedom as well. Why let this group control you? Many apathetic Followers still attend church but do as they please behind closed doors. After all, they would be giving up too much to officially leave – friends, family, and security.

So these are the motives I know of why people leave. In my next post, I write about why people stay.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Guest Blogger, Karin, Home Birth

When I was eleven years old, my older sister, Karin, gave birth to my first niece in the basement of our home. Here she recounts her memories of the birth.

I was seventeen when I got married. I was worried that I was going to be an old maid. That was in 1984. I went to the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. I had never gone to a doctor so when I found out in October that I was pregnant home birth was my only option.

I heard stories my whole life about doctors and how they kill people. I heard stories about people who did not have faith in God and went to a doctor only to die. Going to the doctor for prenatal care and a hospital birth was not something I even processed or was mentioned to me. How could it be an option if I didn't know anything about it? This was also before anyone had died in child birth in our church's history.

I dropped out of school my senior year of high school because my husband told me I was not allowed to go to school pregnant. We went to the elder of the church and I was told I had to obey my husband.

I was sick a lot and since I was no longer in school I spent a lot of time at my parents’ house. My mom told me stories of home birth. She also told me that when her first baby was born she had to have him at a hospital (because Dad was in the service and they were living in Japan) and it was horrible. She told me a lot of horror stories about giving birth in a hospital. She said that when she gave birth to her other babies she was at home surrounded with people she loved.

My mom took me to visit the midwife about once a month after I was five months pregnant. It was not anything official. We went to her house and she talked to me about how I was eating and if I was exercising. This was the same midwife that had delivered me when I was born. I didn't question her knowledge or experience. The midwife told me about labor and that I needed to stay calm when I was having pains. If I screamed or didn't follow the instructions of the midwife while I was giving birth people would think I had a devil.  She told me I would push when the pains came and that after I delivered my baby I would be expected to lie flat on my back for ten days. Women in the church would stay with the baby around the clock for my laying in time. Other women would deliver meals and help my mom. I would deliver my baby at my parents’ house and stay with them for two weeks after the baby was born.

The day before I gave birth I had a surge of energy in the morning. My mom called the midwives and my family and told them she thought this was the beginning. Around 5 p.m. my water broke and the midwife put me in the shower. I remember her washing my belly and talking calmly to me telling me that I had started labor. This was an emotional and exciting time. While I was in the shower the other family and midwives were making sure everything was set up in the family room.

Once I was in the family room and put on the delivery bed, the midwife examined me. There were whispers and talking at the foot of the bed. My dad was near my head and was talking to me. I pushed all that evening, thru the night and until my baby was born at 10:30 in the morning.

During the night I remember losing consciousness. When I came to, my dad was praying for me and everyone was crying. Dad kept talking to me encouraging me not to give up. The midwife was massaging me and lubricating me with oil. There were women whispering on the sides of me. My husband said this was too much for him so he left the room.

I remember my dad's voice – he didn’t stop encouraging me. He promised me if I would do what the midwife told me and push and not give up that he would take me hiking. This encouraged me. I thought I was ripping in half and my mom said she could see my baby's head. Once they could see the head my dad and some of the women set me up and some of the other women were pushing on my stomach. The midwife had her hands inside of me guiding my baby out. There were people crying, others telling me to push, but the words of encouragement from my dad and the midwife kept me focused.

Once my little girl was born everyone was crying. She was blue and the midwife took her upstairs. My mom went with her and so did most of the women. There were other midwives that stayed with me. I had no idea what was going on. They told me my baby was fine that they were there to help me with the rest. I was tired and wanted my baby. What were they saying with the rest? Someone was massaging my stomach and talking to me. I wanted my mom. I wanted my baby. My dad left when they took the baby upstairs. Someone was talking to me telling me I had to push out the after-birth. I thought I was hearing things because I just gave birth to a 9-pound baby girl why did I need to push more. I had never heard of after birth. If I had, I did not register it in my mind. The midwives told me I could not see my baby until the after birth came out. I felt like another baby was coming out. There was no head but it felt like it was ripping me in two again.

I was taken to my parents’ bedroom after I was cleaned up. I was put to bed and someone brought my baby to me. Now I was to begin my laying in that would last ten days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Obey the Law

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Romans 13:1-2

            If you grow up hearing the same things from your parents and other adults, you just assume those things are facts. I grew up hearing my mom quote Walter, who I just assumed was quoting scripture, saying, “Obey the laws of the land.” But I can’t find that Bible verse. If someone else can, please leave me a message.

            I always say that I never had any medical care at all, not one pill, no vaccinations, nobody took my blood pressure. Nothing at all until I was twenty-one and had left church. I remember the first Advil I took – believe it or not, it was one of those life-changing moments. I spent my late teenage years in excruciating pain every twenty-eight days. I mean this pain was akin to labor pains – I would crawl around on the floor of my bedroom trying to find a position that would offer some relief. I begged God to take me out of my misery. I later learned that these severe cramps were due to my tilted cervix. The first cycle I went through after I ran off with that stranger, Randy, he offered me an Advil. Just one. I thought, yeah, like this is gonna help. And let me tell you: the angels came down from heaven and lifted that pain right out of me. It was a miracle if there ever was one. I love Advil. It’s my drug of choice.

            But I have recently realized that Advil was not my first medical intervention. I had others. I even had surgery. But I never realized it was medical care. Let me explain. People who are from Oregon City often comment that the Kissers have great teeth – most had braces. Yep, I was in that brace-faced pack in junior high. I got shots of Novocain from the dentist. And my parents were informed that I would need to have my wisdom teeth removed before they started to come in or my perfect smile would be ruined. So I had oral surgery. Shots were given to numb me. And get this, I had a prescription for Vicadin! I was eighteen when I got my wisdom teeth out and I got a bottle of thirty pills. Man I loved those pills.

            So why do Followers get dental care, but not life-saving medical care? It’s the law. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but if I’m wrong and you know it, kindly post a reply to that effect. So, this is one of those times that I took my mother’s word and accepted it as fact, and as far as I know it is. I asked my mom why we went to the dentist and she said it was because back when Walter was alive (some time before 1969) someone had died due to an oral infection and a law was passed in Oregon that kids should have dental preventive care. Alright, I realize this doesn’t sound plausible.

            New laws have been passed in Oregon in the past decade or so, removing the religious exemption for parents who allow their children to die by refusing medical care. Why don’t the Followers obey these new laws? It’s because they have no leader to tell them to. They are trying to stick with the only truth they know. They’re doing a terrible job of it, but they are a big group of lost sheep who do not even want a shepherd to lead them and wouldn’t accept one if it was dropped by the divine hand of God into their midst. Plenty of preachers and evangelists have tried to infiltrate and help lead this group back to the Straight and Narrow. It’s a hopeless cause. They won’t allow an outsider in, and they won’t accept leadership from within – a prophet is without honor in his own home. What will become of them?

            Here are some links to the Followers in the recent news:

And here is a Wikipedia article about the Followers (note: this is about 75% accurate, but it’s interesting fodder)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dogs & Swine

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
-         Matthew 7:6
You are the dogs; you are the swine. And these are my pearls.
I’m told I will soon die if I talk publicly about the Followers. Not exactly a death threat, but Followers believe that when someone leaves church, bad things will follow. Worse yet for those who dare tell the church’s business to outsiders.
I’ve upset my mother by writing about the church. She says there will be repercussions to our family. We will be cursed. Someone I love will die.
When I was a teen, a woman left church and then referred to the Followers as a "cult." Gasp! Her family said that she had committed the ultimate, unforgivable sin of blasphemy by speaking out against the church. They asked her how it felt knowing she was going to Hell.
Two women (mother and daughter) once abandoned their husbands and children and left church. A few years later, the daughter, who was in her early thirties, stepped into her shower and dropped dead. This may happen to me, so if I don’t post any more entries, you’ll know.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I'll Drink the Cool-Aid!

Earlier this evening (August 29, 2011), someone responded to my blog by posting this comment on one of my Facebook groups:

“interesting.. since I don’t belong to your cult, I am going to hell? dude thats f--ed up!! will you drink the punch if asked too?

This is my response: yes, you're going to Hell and yes, I will drink the punch.

In middle school (mid-1980s) we have the Rajneeshee cult here in Oregon. It is a big deal on the news. Many of their members wear red and we all joke that our vice-principal is a member because she has a red suit she wears once a week.
In high school I write a paper about the Jonestown cult. I know what a cult is. I have even heard it whispered that the Followers are a cult. But it doesn’t matter what we’re called. This is the only truth I know.
There are two ways to get into heaven and I would take either one without blinking an eye. The first is to be baptized by a prophet. Since the last living prophet died four years before I was born, I am stuck with door number two: martyrdom.
People want to know why the Followers allow their children to die. Why not take them to a doctor? Let me tell you why: we are told that the only option we have to absolutely ensure salvation is martyrdom.
If a woman dies in childbirth, it has been proven (I cannot give the details of this proof here because I want you to read my memoir) that she is assured salvation. If a child dies and his family has the faith and trust to allow God’s will to be done, then that child is also on his way to the streets paved in gold.
I don’t know if you can understand this, but fear is a powerful thing. I do not want to go to Hell. If there is a temporary suffering – even if that means two days of hard child-birthing followed by a slow and painful death with my baby still unborn – I choose to take that route over an eternity of Hell Fire and Damnation where there will be weeping an gnashing of teeth. If watching my two year old child die because she needs an insulin shot will mean she gets a free ticket in, well, thank God I am not faced with that choice. We all know that God sent His son to die a horrible death. God even asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Why should our children be spared?
I think about Hell all the time. I obsess about it. I imagine the day I am thrown in. I picture the weeping and gnashing of teeth. I’m not sure what gnashing is, but I think it involves a demon bashing my teeth in with a sledgehammer; new teeth replace the old and the process repeats for all of eternity. I suppose this teeth bashing happens inside a pool of boiling lava. My skin melts off and regenerates in endless torture.
            So, yes, if drinking the punch keeps me out of Hell, then bottoms up, baby!