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 4 of Four Parts
Emotions run high when the babies of Faith Assembly become the topic of conversation.
For members of the church, the announcement of a new birth brings joyful shouts of praise. Smiling mothers and proud fathers eagerly show the baby to friends.
Despair and dismay, however, characterize the sentiments of those outside Dr. Hobart Freeman's church because the memories of 28 reported infant deaths linger on.
Many of those deaths could have been prevented by routine medical care. Parents chose, instead, to exercise an unwavering faith and a positive confession for healing. It did not come.
Humble piety and sincere belief best characterize the vast majority of the more than 2,000 people who attend services at Faith Assembly four times a week.
They study many Biblical doctrines, but it is the emphasis upon divine healing that has attracted most of the attention. All doctors and hospitals are condemned as modern counterparts of the ancient witchcraft arts.
Is there a future for Faith Assembly? Will its insistence on no medical care for children result in new and perhaps dangerous legislation? What about Dr. Freeman? When he passes from the scene, who will assume the leadership and will this alter its doctrine and practices?
From the standpoint of Faith Assembly teaching, there is no doubt that they will have a significant future, for they alone have been called to proclaim end-time truth. All other denominations are considered as under divine judgment and for all practical purposes, dead.
This portrait of the Assembly's mission is frequently reinforced by special revelations and visions on the part of either members or ministers.
Former member David Gilmore recalls a vision which one member described to the congregation involving a giant wheel that covered the whole earth. The spokes of that wheel all pointed toward the center which was located near Wilmot, the home of Faith Assembly. It was declared to be THE center of true end-time teaching.
The ministry of Freeman is also regarded as the only true one. This too, was verified by the vision which Freeman himself describes on a recorded message entitled "Correcting Various Misconceptions."
"God recently gave a sister a revelation and spoke to her directly and said He's reserved the full faith message for the end time. And He (God) went on to say, 'I've revealed the full message to only one man'," Freeman said. "I won't say any more because the rest of the revelation is obvious.
The man with that message, of course, is considered to be Freeman by his congregation and that special, supernatural authentication of his ministry makes criticism of any of his teaching impossible.
If the message of Faith Assembly remains the same, fear of Divine curses and judgments will continue to dominate the thinking of its young congregation.
The key verse used in this regard is Jeremiah 17:5 and this is either quoted directly or alluded to in virtually every service. It reads: "Thus said the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD."
Depending on the particular speaker in the pulpit, the "arm of the flesh" would be variously defined as medicine, doctors, banks, insurance companies, glasses, funeral directors, lawyers, drug stores or seat belts.
Anyone contemplating leaving the Assembly is warned about various judgments which God would bring upon them. Jack Farrel, one of the associate pastors, put it this way in a recent message: "A young man recently left our ministry and just up and died." A crushing silence settled over the entire congregation. The implications were obvious.
In spite of the threats of doom, a number of former members have indicated that with less and less exposure to Freeman, many would drift away from the Assembly to other charismatic congregations.
Most "ministers" in the Assembly have no formal theological education (apart from that which they received at the Glory Barn) and are, at best, a pale imitation of Freeman.
Messages by his associate ministers I have heard at the Assembly or on tape (more than 40 in number) were shallow, poorly organized, full of Biblical references taken out of context, replete with absurd generalizations about other churches or denominations, saturated with veiled threats and redundant beyond imagination.
Many of the hour-and-a-half sermons could have been presented in 20 minutes and even that would have been stretching their substance.
"When Freeman is off the scene, there will probably be a tremendous power struggle with Bruce Kinsey and Steve Hill as the principals," Gilmore suggested.
Former member Lisa Zimmer, who was recently kidnapped by her parents and deprogrammed, concurs with that assessment. "Bruce Kinsey has a lot of power right now largely because Freeman has put him in important positions, but Steve Hill is very popular with the people."
Where do members of Faith Assembly go when they leave or are excommunicated by church leaders, and what happens to them?
Some members carry with them a deeply embedded bitterness, feeling they had been betrayed. They will not talk about their experiences at the Assembly and have discontinued going to church altogether.
Many gravitate to area charismatic churches and fit in nicely even though they have emotional and spiritual scars that need to heal. "I have two families in my church from Faith Assembly and they fit in beautifully," said Pastor Glen Mitchell of Warsaw's Abundant Life Assembly of God church. "They are very sensitive people."
Gilmore, who is currently pastor of Calvary Chapel in Warsaw, also has several families in his congregation and acknowledges that some have difficult readjustment periods.
Gilmore, even though losing a son because of Assembly doctrine, carries no bitterness. "They are very sincere people, but are held mentally captive," he said. "No, it isn't a cult. It has cultist aspects, but I don't regard it as a cult."
Virtually all former members agree that changes are unlikely to occur within the group relative to faith-healing concepts simply because of the closed system of instruction.
Formal education is discouraged, which by way of interest, has been a point championed by Freedman ever since his firing by Grace Theological Seminary.
In a published document entitled "The Faith and Practice of the Church of Winona Lake, Indiana" by Freeman dated 1964, he wrote, " ... Christian parents should seriously concern themselves about the spiritual welfare in regard to secular education especially at the college level, and the inadvisability of seeking to provide such higher education for them. Such institutions of learning (even those professing to be Christian) are dedicated to the promotion of materialistic, secularistic and pragmatic philosophies ..."
No outside speakers appear at the Assembly and only Freeman's books and tapes are sold in the book store. Occasionally Bruce Kinsey or Steve Hill will also make their tapes available at meetings.
Also discouraging to those who look for the possibilities of change or at least modification in some of the radical healing demands, is the cloak of secrecy which covers the group and its leaders.
"As I have stated many times, the Assembly's position concerning the Word of God about faith and divine healing, it is clearly stated on my tapes and in my literature for all to see, "Freeman told me in a private conversation. "To the media and others, it is strictly 'no comment.'"
Faith Assembly prides itself as being a true example of a New Testament church, but the very character of that first century church as described in the New Testament book of Acts was its openness and forthrightness in matters of teaching and practice. Especially interesting is Paul's defense before Agrippa recorded in Acts 26:26. Regarding the ministry of Christ and the Apostles he said, " ... I am convinced that none of this has escaped his (Agrippa's) notice, because it was not done in a corner.
There are two additional arenas where battles are being fought over the healing practices of Faith Assembly --the courts and the state legislature.
At the present time, some local officials believe there is nothing law enforcement or health officials can do regarding the death of Assembly children due to a special protection clause in Indiana's child abuse laws.
This exclusion of Indiana Code 35-46-1-4 (paragraph b) reads: "this section does not apply to a person who, in the legitimate practice of his religious belief, has provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer, in lieu of medical care, to a dependent in his care, custody, or control."
Rep. Robert Alderman (R-Fort Wayne) has indicted that he is interested in changing that exclusion so that parents can be held responsible for what might be perceived as a form of child abuse when medical treatment is withheld in life/death situations.
Some other legislators have indicated a similar interest, but all agree it is a legal can of worms. Any major legislative change in this code will likely be opposed by Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The issue concerning lawmakers is what can be done for infants or children who are not able to make choices for themselves in these matters. They would like to see that kind of law that would require that parents be held responsible when serious neglect occurs in the treatment of serious disorders, such as large tumors, etc.
Some religious leaders, while sympathetic with the intention of such law, feel uncomfortable with its implications. If the state can mandate certain actions in the physical real of religious practice, with the day come when religious training itself will be classified as mental, psychological abuse and be prevented?
Some religious leaders, while sympathetic with the intention of such law, feel uncomfortable with its implications. If the state can mandate certain actions in the physical realm of religious practice, will the day come when religious training itself will be classified as mental, psychological abuse and be prevented?
No less than 42 states currently have religious exemptions written into their child abuse laws, largely due to the lobbying efforts of the Christian Science Church, whose headquarters are in Boston.
If David and Nigal Oleson have their way, the battle will be fought in court. Mrs. Oleson was involved in a satellite group of Faith Assembly in Illinois, headed up by Steve Hill, Freeman's son-in-law.
With the assistance of the Citizens Freedom Foundation, Inc., a non-profit group based in New York, the Olesons hope to bring a lawsuit against Freeman forcing him to spend money and time in his defense.
Freeman said in recent conversation that he would not defend himself in a situation like that.
Such a case would be difficult to win, according to legal sources, because there is no formal membership roll in the Assembly, members do not sign any formal agreements and attendance at meetings is purely voluntary.
Many who have followed the Faith Assembly story in the newspaper or on television have wondered where the community is to go from here.
At present, state law restricts what health and law agencies can do in many of these cases and any circuitous approach to this problem would only be struck down in court.
Vigilante-type responses are certainly not the answer in a land where freedoms are protected by law.
Area churches clearly have a role to play in the ultimate resolution of this problem Before clerics wrinkle their robes in righteous denunciation of Faith Assembly and other similar groups, it should be pointed out that the sheer existence of a Faith Assembly is, in part, an indictment of many churches whose message to an agonizing world consists only of a few pithy platitudes and mini-moralisms. The Bible for some has become a mere novelty.
Assembly members feel that traditional churches have been reduced to museums for the display of a fossilized faith or sleeping cars for snoring saints. Rituals have in some cases replaced revivals.
Perhaps the return to biblical Christianity coupled with the expression of genuine love will end the search for many who long for truth that is eternal and rises above the mundane.
Many who leave the Assembly will take with them deep scars and bitter disappointments. Area residents and churches can help in a healing process that may well have lasting consequences.
Warsaw Times-Union Friday, September 30, 1983
[Marge's Note: There were a few other illustrations,
but the photo quality on the microfilm of the newspapers is awful
--thus the scans would be worse than awful. I have listed the
Interior of the Faith Assembly near Wilmot
Early homes of - one on West 12th Street in Winona Lake and the 3 car garage in the Barbee Lakes areas that served as a meeting house
Glory Barn that was home for Freeman's group from 1972-78
Faith Assembly building near Wilmot
Medicine, Eyeglasses taboo in Faith Assembly
David Gilmore - his 15-month-old son died
Freeman's books and tapes]
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