Former Followers of Christ church member speaks out - KPTV - FOX 12

Former Followers of Christ church member speaks out

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OREGON CITY, OR (KPTV) -

A day after a jury convicted two members of the Followers of Christ Church in the death of their son, a former church member shed new insight on the church.

Jurors found Dale and Shannon Hickman guilty of second degree manslaughter on Thursday. Their faith-healing trial was the fourth recent case in which church members have been held criminally responsible for failing to provide medical care for their children.

"As a parent, they have to take care of their children," said Myrna Cunningham, a former member.  "I was one of those children.  I almost died three times."

Cunningham told Fox 12 she suffered from pneumonia twice as a baby, as well as the mumps as a teenager before her parents left the Followers of Christ church.  She went to the doctor for the first time at age 14.

"I believe you can have God and the doctors," said Cunningham.

Cunningham, who has followed the series of recent cases involving church members, said the church has a long history of children dying from treatable conditions because their parents relied on faith healing rather than modern medicine.

"They sit there and let their children die," said Cunningham.

The Hickmans testified in their own defense during their trial.  While on the stand, Shannon Hickman said she believed what happened to her baby would be up to God.

Myrna Cunningham said she believes the recent convictions will serve as a wake-up call to some church members, but not all of them.

She said she's pleased with a bill signed into law this year by Gov. John Kitzhaber that removed Oregon's legal protection for parents who rely only on faith healing to meet their children's medical needs. 

The new law also subjects parents to sentencing under Oregon's measure 11.

"I think sentencing should be harsher, in order to make a real impact on the people," said Cunningham.  "It's just terrible, it has to stop."

Fox 12 tried to reach the Followers of Christ church for comment but was unable.  Church members also declined to comment following Thursday's verdict.

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