Years ago, when I was an illustrator collaborating with an author in another city, we travelled to a central meeting place to work. My route passed through beautiful rural areas, going by a small wooden church–Church of Christ the First Born, or something like that, on my way. A tiny church with a few shade trees, a tiny parking lot, out among the fields. What a surprise it was to one day hear about this little congregation on the news.
It seems that they believe in faith healing, in the laying on of hands for healing as in Scripture. They trust in God alone, in a most literal and specific way.
A couple there brought their sick baby to be prayed over by the elders and congregation. But the baby died.
The government authorities were furious and took immediate action.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The parents lost the legal case as well as their baby. Their other children were taken away by the state. They themselves went to prison. They had put everything on the line for their faith, for their firmly held religious convictions, and wow, did they pay the price. Since then, there have been other, similar cases, in other places, but with the same results. Prison. Jail time. Children made wards of the state.
(And this from a government power structure that sanctions late-term abortion and euthanasia, and might even be moving towards allowing “after birth abortion”. What hypocrisy to protest the dying of this particular unfortunate infant with such vigor. I don’t think they were really concerned about the sanctity of his life.)
I am not agreeing with the direction that the congregation’s faith led them, with the interpretations they believe, these folks in these churches. Nor do I condemn them for the choice they made. After all, our life truly is in God’s hands. I once had an ill baby, too. We took him to specialists, to doctors. When he was 4 months old, Eric died in my arms, hooked up to tubes and IVs, in the pediatric ICU of a hospital filled with all the latest in modern medicine.
Sometimes babies die, anyway, despite our best efforts, despite our grief and beliefs and dashed hopes. I know this all too well.
I didn’t hear much on the news about the charges against the Church of Christ the First Born, except as a local story. No reaction, no analysis, no protest, no national coverage. Yet I think this was one of the first volleys in the war against religion in this country. A belief was chosen that garners little sympathy, and it was attacked without comment. It was a safe target to establish legal precedents that will be built upon later. A desensitizing process that will lessen protests when the target becomes something larger, somebody more respected. It’s been done before, in other countries and with other ugly goals.
We might not much like the details of these cases, nor sympathetize with the direction the believer’s faith led them, but I think we make a huge mistake in not loudly pointing out the principle underlying it all, the purposeful precedents being set. It is power vs freedom of worship, and our right to believe and live out those beliefs without government sanction.