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.