Mental Health and the Church, Spiritual Abuse, Suicide

Spiritual Abuse: Faith Healing and Parallels

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By this all people will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another. John 13:35


This next story is sad.  It reminded me of the many deaths attributed to “faith healing” at the Followers of Christ church near my former town in Oregon.   Churches who practice faith healing avoid all medical interventions and treatment when sick or injured and instead rely solely on God and their faith for healing.  Using medical care is viewed as sinful and signifies a lack of faith.   There are many articles at this link covering the many cases involving the members of the Followers of Christ church over the years.

Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.

Go in peace! Be cured from your illness.”

Mark 5:34

The verse above is one of several that faith healers use to justify using only faith and prayer for healing of illnesses.  How can you argue with Jesus’ words?  Here is a brief summary of the most recent case I read today:

2nd child of Pa. couple dies after only praying

A couple serving probation for the 2009 death of their toddler after they turned to prayer instead of a doctor could face new charges now that another son has died.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith healing. They lost their 8-month-old son, Brandon, last week after he suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating. Four years ago, another son died from bacterial pneumonia.

Why does this hit me hard now?  Because I made very poor parenting and life decisions based on teachings of my church.  Would I have seven children if I hadn’t had quiver-full teachings? (Would I send any back?  NO!!  LOL)   I’ve already discussed issues of modesty/purity teachings, spanking teachings, etc.  But this is troublesome.  These folks health made decisions based on their religious convictions, attempting to be obedient to God at all costs, forsaking the world’s views around them (isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do?).  It seems that the practices of faith healings aren’t that far beyond some of the practices in which we got ourselves involved.   That is a frightening thought.

Herbert Schaible, 44, and his 43-year-old wife grew up in the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church’s website has a sermon titled “Healing — From God or Medicine?” that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine.

I’m sure these parents adored their children, wanted the best for them.  The article mentioned the parents were grieving.  I can’t fathom that kind of pain.  They already lost one child.  After their first child died, did they question, “did we do the right thing?”  Or did they feel confident that they were obedient to God?

“It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing,” says the message, from last May.

When I hear of these kinds of things, I want to know if they wear eye glasses.  I’ve seen faith healers who wear glasses and that seems hypocritical to me, because didn’t they have to go to a medical professional to get a prescription?  And why did they not trust God to heal their visual impairment?

But in light of the recent discussion (How do Churches Handle Difficult Mental Health Cases, Biblical Counseling, and the Law?) on mental health issues, is it me, or does anyone else see the parallels between this case and the suicide case in which a young man was taught at church that seeking mental health care is sinful?    What do you think?

“Nobody argues that these aren’t very loving, nurturing parents,” she said Tuesday. “Whether their religion had anything to do with the death of their baby, we don’t know.”

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11 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse: Faith Healing and Parallels”

  1. Why are there never multiple (or even singular) old patriarchal men dropping dead because they don’t believe in medical care?

    If it hurts enough, the wussies will go see a doctor even if they sneak a visit.


  2. Pastor: “God will heal your son, put your trust in Him, going to doctors shows your lack faith in His power!”
    Pastor: “You’re son doesn’t need to be reported or go to a therapist, we can work through his sexual (or mental health) issues through counseling and proper mentoring and making sure safeguards in place. It’d be worse to break up the family and cast shame on God’s church.”

    Both put members at the mercy and judgment and power of the “al-mighty” pastor who seeks to control the “image” of his church by shaming and fear-tactics.


  3. I just find this all very, very sad. While I, too, agree that I’m sure these parents dearly loved their children and they are grieving, I just don’t understand how a parent can sit and watch a child wither away when proper medical care is readily available.


  4. These kinds of stories always make me sad. My wife and I both have a deep love for children. That is just one reason that we have gone through the process to be adoptive parents. I do think that in many, maybe even most, of these cases that the parents really do love their children and want the best for them. Or they at least want them to be physically safe. Sadly, they have allowed a false, unbiblical doctrine to influence them. This is one case where spiritual abuse leads to neglect, and as we can see, death.

    No where in the Bible that I know of does it actually say that we are not to seek the help of a doctor. Yes, there are numerous descriptions of Jesus healing people, whether for their faith, the faith of others, or because he had compassion on them. I still do not see, however, how these instances say we should ONLY seek physical healing through faith.

    Furthermore, look at what Jesus says in Matthew 9:12. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” In the greater context, Jesus is speaking about people’s souls, their spiritual needs. He is referring to sinner’s needing to be saved most. However, I think it is still telling that Jesus refers to the use of doctor’s for the needs of the sick. He uses this analogy because it is true. If it were sinful for people to see a doctor for their ailments, why would Christ use this analogy?


  5. Yes, Jesus healed. He also multiplied fishes and loaves. He even indicated that food and clothing would be provided if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do the faith-only teachers also teach that it is sinful to obtain groceries and clothing in the marketplace? If not, I submit that their hypocrisy is made plain.

    The article indicates that the Schaible’s, being on probation, were prosecuted in connection with having allowed another child to die as a result of their faith-only approach to healing. They may be prosecuted again. While there are no doubt free speech and other legal obstacles, I suggest that ways should be found so that “pastors” who are encouraging parents to allow their children to die can be prosecuted as accomplices or accessories to the parents’ crimes.


  6. I went to school with the kids from the Followers of Christ. I remember hearing periodically of children dying of common illnesses, but it was pretty hush-hush and didn’t come to light until a law was finally passed (in the late 90s maybe?) that set a precedent that later allowed the courts to get involved. This brought a lot of exposure to the faith [non]healing practices and the many unnecessary deaths of children over the years.

    It was always strange to me that they got dental work like braces, wore glasses, etc. but wouldn’t give a child with diabetes insulin or antibiotics to a child with an simple infection that eventually led to their deaths.

    The teenage girls were married off quickly, and most of them dropped out of high school to start families. There were many marriages between relatives because they only married within the church.

    If you leave the church, you are completely cut off from your family and friends. So sad.


  7. My ancestors started the Followers of Christ Churches. My relatives are still the leaders of this cult. I have always thought it strange that as a child I was in a dentist office every 6 months and eye Dr. every year. I left my family and all their crazy beliefs years ago. It is so hard to watch families lose evey child they have in some cases and are so indoctrinated that they actually believe this is ok. Until our Gov. leaders step up and spell out what child abuse is for all kids and do away with religion exemptions this CHILD ABUSE will continue. I cannot tell people enough about the horrors of this religion.


  8. LKM – – Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing part of your story. What a tragic story you have. Not many of us can relate with losing one’s whole family. That is so, so sad. I’m sorry you had to endure all of that, but glad you are free. I hope there are others who have connected with you and helped ease some of that pain.

    In the article above, I mentioned the conflict I saw with seeing doctors to get glasses and now you confirm even more confusion that dentists were deemed okay. Wow. Talk about picking and choosing – it just gets more and more crazy. If you have a personal story you’d like to share with my readers, I’d love to post it here. Please feel free to contact me, spiritualsb @ gmail dot com.


  9. I echo JM, LKM. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. It would be great to read more about your experience if you feel safe doing so.

    By the way, I wonder if we were classmates… Everyone from that “church” seemed so kind and from outward appearances did not appear cultish. I still to this day am curious why they didn’t homeschool their kids.. it seems amazing actually that going to public schools and learning a bit about the world around you, that so many people still remain in the group. But I know there is SO much at stake when you leave.

    So strange to learn more about the inner workings and realize how blessed I was to have had the freedom to go to the doctor, to date whoever I want to, to choose to do what I wanted with my life and not have to risk losing my own family. You are brave 🙂

    Later becoming part of SGM, I now have a small glimpse into what kind of brainwashing the Followers live under and how easy it is to blindly follow things that sound good but when you step back are soooo off, and how hard it is to leave a community where “group think” is the norm. I lost nearly all of my friends when I left, and it has been very painful sifting through. But I cannot imagine how much guts it would take to leave the Followers of Christ.


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