(this is an excerpt from a longer essay)
In 1975 my husband and I had become full-Gospel, charismatic, tongue-talking, Bible-carrying believers, and we thought that Jesus was the answer to everything. We had faith, and faith was the key to everythng: health, prosperity, happiness. We knew that if the Bible said it, it was for us to "claim." We "claimed" for ourselves verses like Mark 11:22 "...Whoever says to this mountain, 'be removed and be cast into the sea' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, and he will have whatever he says."
Our preacher, Dr. Hobart Freeman, as well as many other charismatic teachers of the time (that we eventually were told by Freeman to disregard because they didn't show "true faith"), taught us what it meant when in Hebrews it said, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." We were to have faith not merely for salvation, but for ALL things that we needed: a home, an income, a family. And medical needs, including home-birth deliveries of our children. And a nice car, maybe even a Cadillac like Freeman himself drove. For the men, a full beard. Clear skin for the women. Broken bones were to be neither straightened nor set except by way of prayer. No need for a doctor but sometimes you could use a dentist. And you must only use real butter in your home-made cakes. Women were not to work outside the home. Insurance showed that you didn't have faith. Only certain jobs were "approved." Don't wear glasses, because Jesus died for your "healing." And the legalism extended on and on - to the clothing, the brand of shoes, and whether or not ears could be pierced and still hold on to your salvation.
As faith was applied to serious illness like cancer, natural childbirth without the aid of a doctor or licensed midwife, and when chronic diseases were ignored in favor of "faith for healing," people began to die. A friend, Alice, as well as her unborn baby, died after she labored for days without medical treatment. Judy's full-term baby was stillborn. One baby died due to the fact that it would show "lack of faith" to suction the mucous from the baby's nose and throat. One report says that there were as many as 52 deaths associated with Faith Assembly and Freeman's teachings.
In the fall of 1975, six months after we married, and when I was pregnant for our first child, we packed up our stuff and left in the night, telling almost no one, and we moved to live nearer our parents.
Meanwhile, with all the peer pressure of that group, Faith Assembly, neither we nor anyone else ever stood up to Freeman or his circle of ministers and said, "Enough. People are dying. It doesn't work. You're wrong." For all the good intentions and spiritual goals, for several years mothers giving birth continued to die needlessly, babies and children suffered with treatable illnesses, and others were orphaned when their parents wanted to be healed by faith at ALL costs. Finally Hobart Freeman himself died, yet I think there are still devout followers who hang on the the illusion that it was the people who erred, not Freeman himself. How wrong and how sad because many even turned from God altogether - they'd suffered enough. My descriptions cannot show how badly families deteriorated as the direct result of this cult of "faith." Many were left in the wake of cultish behavior, and it was all in the name of Christ.
Fast forward to the present. The group I've described seems way-out and out-of-touch. It's seen as legalistic and radical to think that to show your faith it is required to disregard medical treatment. Whether or not you wear a certain brand of clothing does not prove anything about your spiritual walk with God. And surely we have moved toward women taking full advantage of the opportunities and career paths.
And yet today, Christians are still trying to apply principles of faith to something that does not work: they think faith can change the sexual orientation of gay people. Despite medical and psychological evidence, first-person accounts, and the witness left by the suicides of so many, why is it that so few Christians will STAND UP to say, "Enough. Gay people are dying. It doesn't work. You're wrong." Having come out of that cult of faith-mentality, it still applies to this area, and I'm standing up, calling it wrong. I see it as the same thing - and I'm not so timid as I was when I left in the night!
Just like at Faith Assembly where people needlessly died because they believed so desperately, there are young people (and old) who feel that being gay is a sin and their solution is death at their own hand. Let's not let more young people die over this!
Even more, groups today like Focus on the Family, who have hypocritically turned away from Ted Haggard and his family, yet put out negative information about the movie, "Prayers for Bobby," think that any opposing evidence will hurt their cause. Many churches, where I've heard them say that it is the "gay lifestyle," that causes suicide, will not accept that really it is the alienation, depression, and hopelessness that a gay person feels from their Christian family, church, and from their friends. They are even told that it is God that rejects them.
My question is this: When will others in church stand up and say with me, "Enough. Gay people are dying. It's wrong. Your "cure" doesn't work."
In the same way that I, as a Christian, (one who grew up into faith in Jesus, and who wanted it to be evident that I trusted in God), finally had to put off the myth of a legalistic and super-spiritual cult, I now must stand up for my gay and lesbian friends. It means I am not the same as the fundamentalists that helped frame my Christian life. It means that I have to stand on the principles that Jesus taught: love and forgiveness, rather than the fundamentalist assumptions of my old friends. It means that I'm a straight ally of people like Bobby Griffith, who committed suicide because he was gay, and the late Harvey Milk, and all others that have come out in the last 30 years.
To look back from my years in the pew of a country church, to church camps, and to coming out of the cult, all the way to where I am now, a lot has changed. In another 30 or 40 years, I wonder what else I'll look back upon and see as my journey evolves. I know this, that I'm still a follower of Jesus. It means that for those who are trying to just live their lives, I am standing with you.
(to the right is a photo of Bobby Griffith and his mom)