Permission given by John J. Davis to offer this on YesterYear In Print (6/12/2007)
Copyright © John Davis 1983 For the Times-Union
Part 3 of Four Parts
"What kind of theology is it that virtually gurantees the intolerable suffering and eventually death of babies and little children?" the elderman asked while tears trickled down his weathered face. "Does the notion of no doctors and no medicine really have the endorsement of Scripture?"
Those questions came from the quivering lips of a broken-hearted grandfather whose grandson lies in the cold soil of the earth. The death of medically preventable.
Questions of theology and practice, along with issues of freedom of religion and parental responsibility, are at the forefront of current discussions, largely as the result of thefaith healing practices of Dr. Hobart Freeman's Faith Assembly located nar Wilmot.
The debate is not limited to theologians, for lawyers, doctors, legislators and pastors are also evaluating the implications of this movement.
Fath Assembly, it should be noted, is not a monastic enclave or cult center with black-robed priests, burning incense or a dark building featuring alters with the dripping blood of animals. It is a church. People come to worship, sing and pray. Testimonies are given and a sermon is preached.
Actually, the basic doctrinal positions of Faith Assembly differ little from any one of thousands of conservative charismatic churces around the country.
Why, then, all the publicity? What has happened that has drawn nationwide attention to this group?
It certainly is not its pietistic emphasis on personal separation from sch practices as smoking, drinking, theater attendance, abortion or drugs, for that is characteristic of many evangelical Christian churches.
Views about God, man, the world, angels, sin, Satan and redemption differ little from many conservatively oriented denominations. Even the idea of Divine healing through faith is not unique, for Protestants and Catholics alike have committments to this truth.
Unique to the Fath Assembly, however, is the insistence that all medicine is evil and Satanic, and that doctors are "medical dieties."
"You only have to consult standard encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover the historic connection between witchcraft and medicine," Freeman said in a private conversation. "For the Christian, the rest should be obvious."
The heart of Faith Assembly's theological system is what is commonly called "faith-formula theology," which asserts that when genuine faith is exercised by the believer and accompanied by a "positive confession," anything can be accomplished. God is obligated to heal every sickness in every circumstance if such faith is displayed.
"When genuine faith is present it along will be sufficient, for it will take the place of medicines and other aids," Freeman writes (Faith for Healing p.11).
It is at this point that the devine healing concepts of Faith Assembly differs with evangelists like Oral Roberts, or a large segment of the charismatic community, for that matter. Most will allow for the fact that God may choose not to heal supernaturally in every situation, but may utilize secondary causes such as medical care. In fact, many conclude that it might not be God's will to heal at all in some circumstances in accordance with an infinitely perfect will whose purposes are beyond man's understanding.
In addition to the exercise of genuine faith, Freeman teaches, supernatural healings cannot occur if there is no "positive confession." This, as it ultimately turns out, has been the teaching which has brought Freeman's followers into crisis situations and created unresolvable dilemmas for them. Instead of faithful prayer and positive confession bringing healing, death has often been the result. The heavens were silent. Why?
"These results can be considered in some cases to be discipline or judgment on God's part," Freeman explained. "In other cases there has been a complete lack of faith."
What exactly is this positive thinking and confession which stands at the heart of the Faith Assembly message? Freeman explains it thisway in his book Positive Thinking and Confession: "I designate this process of the cultivation of the mind 'spiritual brainwashing.' Satan seems to have most Christians' minds filled with thoughts of doubt, fear, inability, insecurity, worry and defeat; therefore, this negativism must be flushed out and the mind saturated with the positive Word of the Lord, before the Enemy can be forced to release his hold on the mind and thoughts.
"We must practice thought contol," he adds at a later point. "We must deliberately empty our minds of everything negative concerning the person, problem or situation confronting us."
The outcome of applying this doctrine is the total distortion of one's sense of reality. An intellectual and emotional insensitivity sets in and the individual ceases to respond to pain, suffering and even death.
May 15, 1978 might not be a special day for most, but for Dave and Tammy Gilmore, former members of Faith Assembly, it represented a brutal confrontation with reality. It was on that morning that they found 15-month-old Dustin Graham dead from the effects of spinal meningitis.
The child had been sick since April, but since the symptoms of sickness wwere just the evidence of Satanic activity, positive confesson was exercised denying the reality of the fever in Dustin's body.
"We did what we were taught to do," Gilmore said in a recent interview. "We got down and prayed."
Time passed and the flu-like symptoms intensified. His sister offered to take the baby to the hospital assuring them that wsuch an act would not represent a lack of faith on their part. The Gilmores refused.
Later, Dave went to check his son's hearing which his sister had suggested might fail in this situation. "I went over to him and started talking to him," Gilmore recalled. "There was no reaction. I started yelling and anything else I could do to get a reaction. He was gone -- there was no hearing at all.
"I called Tammy in, burt we did not pray again. We were taught to pray only once. We confessed. We said these symptoms are not real, jsut a lie of the Devil."
They later took a trip to the Holiday Inn in Goshen to get a change of setting. While at the motel, Tammy said, "Come here, come here." "There was fear in her voice," Dave related. "Graham can't see me," she said.
"I was angry and shook her, reminding her of the need for positive confession. "God's Word is true!" I told her. She calmed down and all emotion was gone."
As time went by, Graham's mouth set so it could not be moved and his neck became stiff. Finally, on Monday morning, May 15, Tammy went to Graham's crib to get him.
"She said, 'Come here,'" Dave remembers. "There was no emotion or fear in her voice. She was perfectly calm. Then she said, "There is something wrong." He was dead. His eyes had rolled back in his head and he was blue."
"I said, 'Tammy, he's dead.' There was no emotion ... nothing. I then covered him up, not because I considered him dead, but to remove from my sight what I still called the symptoms of Satan," Dave concluded.
So intense was the faith and committment of the Gilomores, that they played tapes of Dr. Freeman's preaching all day and part of the night.
The story of the Gilmores is not isolated. Many others have looked on suffering and pain without the slightest emotion. It has been this factor which has caused some former members and outside observers to suggest that some mind control techniques are being used in the Faith Assembly.
Members of the Assembly are instructed to withdraw themselves from all outside influences, including other Christians. All these influences, they are told, threaten a true, positive confession. As a result of this policy of isolation, many Assembly familes have adjustment problems in their communities.
A number of parents of Assembly members I spoke to have not talked to or even seen their children in years due to this practice of separation. The healing concepts of Freeman are also established by a constant flow of derogatory assessments of the entire medical profession and hospitals. Doctors are called "medical dieties" and their origins are traced to ancient Egypt and Babylon, where medicine was often closely associated with witchcraft.
All medicines and drugs are also associated with early forms of witchcraft and demon worship.
"Anytime God ever presents the picture of healing and doctors and medicines and human wisdom and intellect, it's always a negative thing with God. If you trust in that, you are under a curse," Freeman proclaimes in his taped message entitled, "Three Steps to Receive Your Healing."
The faith-formula theology, coupled with the positiv e confession concept, has led to other unique demands upon the members of the Faith Assembly. Those who have true faith, for example, will discard or destroy their eyeglasses.
"If you say, 'I don't see any better,' then it means you haven't come often enought to learn all the conditions. Don't take your glasses off until you're willing to break them ... crush them, walk all over them," Freeman admonishes in his sermon on "Three Steps to Receive Your Healing."
Confession vs Manifestation
But a serious problem enters the theological picture here. What happens if a perfect faith, coupled with a positive confession, does not result in immediate, supernatural healing?
The answer suggested by Freeman is that while the healing has been confessed and is claimed, the visible "manifestation" may not occur for days, months or even years.
"Sometimes it is a moment after; at other times it is a week, month or longer before the answer is seen in the visible realm. But true faith continues to confess that God has heard and granted our request and that we shall have it. We must always receive it in the faith realm, before we shall ever see it in the natural or visible realm. Fatith is not concerned with the calendar -- it is based on what God has promised, not on what physical circumstances appear to indicate at present," Freeman argues in Faith For Healing pp. 12-13.
It is by means of this doctrine that Freeman can limp to the pulpit each week with a polio-affected right leg and never be questioned.
"He has been healed," a current member explained to me, "but God has just not chosen to manifest that healing yet."
The explanation for non-healing or the occurences of death in the families of the Assembly's leaders are intriguing and clearly self-serving.
During a recent Friday evening message at Faith Assembly, Bruce Kinsey, Freeman's son-in-law, told the congregation how God miraculously healed his automobile's motor of a thrown rod during a trip to Milwaukee. He had only to place his hands on the hood and claim its "healing" by positive confession.
What he failed to explain to those folks, however, is why those same hands and positive confession did not save the life of his baby boy, Brent, who died of respiratory problems one day after birth on Feb. 11, 1980.
Is one to conclude that God is more interested in motors than babies?
The common explaination of that death and Freeman's continued limp is that these are "Job's trials" designed to enrich the ministry of each man. When other infants in the Assembly died, however, it was either a lack of faith on the part of the parents or the death was the result of disciplinary action by God.
Following the faith-formula theology, a number of other demans are placed upon members of Faith Assembly. They are not to have insurance policies, never utilize medicines of any type, refuse all immunization shots, remove seat belts from their cars, destroy all credit cards and never borrow money.
Embalming and traditional funerals are considered to be relics of pagan practices whose origins are traced to ancient Egypt and babylon. bodies are usually buried within 24 hours with a simple graveside service.
Young persons are regularly warned not to pursue "evil occupations" such as law, medicine, insurance or pharmacology. Marriages are to be with members of the Assembly.
Natural childbirth at home is strongly taught by ministers at the Assembly and reinforced by peer pressure among the women.
In my recent conversation with Freeman, he emphasized the fact that "the Assembly does not mandate or require this to be done. It is something the ladies decided on their own in the light of Biblical teaching. All my chiren were born at home." While there is no formal church law that requires this practice, the pressure to do so is intense.
But in this recorded message entitled "Raising the Dead and Natural Childbirth" Freeman states, "We believe in natural childbirth. That's the way it is in the Bible."
To resort to a hospital delivery, therefore, makes one unbiblical and totally lacking in faith.
In fact, Freeman discourages women from even going to natural childbirth classes. "I don't recommend you go to classes and learn the ways of the world with their mental suggestion and things akin to hypnosis," he suggest in his sermon "Raising the Dead and Natural Childbirth."
Public testimonies constantly refer to the blessing of natural childbirth without the evils of a doctor orhospital. To have a painless delivery is to demonstrate that by faith the monther has victoriously overcome the effects of the Edenic curse recorded in Genesis 3-16.
According to Freeman the exercise of faith can even restore youth. "I am really older than I look, but I confess Psalm 103 every day," he says on one of his tapes. "Those verses that we all confess. Do you really mean what you confess? I do. For the fifth verse said, "He restores your youth as the eagles.' Oh my friends, you are not any oldeer than you feel, but you can begin to look younger" (recorded testimony).
The pressure to exhibit physical healing among Assembly members is very strong. Isaw no less than five individuals slip their eyeglasses into the glove compartment of their cars before entering the Assembly service so they would not face the stigma of being labeled faithless and shallow.
During the service they squinted and their eyes watered from strain. Many Bibles were held only inches from their eyes so they could be read.
What kind of people are the Assembly members in the light of these commitments? They are sincere and without reservation committed to Freeman's faith-formula theology ... no matter what the cost may be.
Warsaw Times-Union Thursday, September 29, 1983