This is one of those horrible stories that you really hate to even dip a toe into most of the time, but the grim reality forces us to pay attention. The Washington Post reports on the results of a trial out in Oregon where the parents of Ginnifer and Evelyn Mitchell pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment yesterday. The twins were born to Sarah and Travis Mitchell in March of last year. Ginnifer weighed only 3 pounds, 6 ounces at birth and lived only four hours before dying in her mother’s arms. Her sister, slightly larger, somehow survived. Neither the twins nor their mother had ever seen a doctor over the course of the pregnancy or after their birth and no effort was made to summon medical help which likely would have allowed Ginnifer to survive in a prenatal ward.
There was a grim scene waiting for Eric Tonsfeldt inside the single-story house set among the pine trees outside of Oregon City, Ore. — a tragedy that had played out there before.
It was around 8:45 on March 5, 2017, and the Clackamas County official was responding to a report of a dead newborn…
Tonsfeldt found the newborn’s mother, Sarah Elaine Mitchell, in the master bedroom cradling the dead child in a blanket. As the official later recounted in a probable cause affidavit obtained by KGW8, the child’s father, Travis Lee Mitchell, was also in the room, as was Sarah’s father, Walter White. Tonsfeldt would say that when he questioned the individuals in the room about the death, the answers were “stilted and forced.” No one would make eye contact.
The Mitchells are members of the faith-healing sect the Followers of Christ Church. The small group with roughly 1.000 followers has been witness to the deaths of a staggering number of children since the Pentecostal branch was founded by Sarah Mitchell’s grandfather in 1955.
It’s difficult to even begin speaking of a situation like this. There’s an immediate instinct to back off because we are, after all, talking about a church and the religious liberty of the congregants. Having the government go in and dictate their religious practices to them can and should produce a knee-jerk negative reaction. But when the victims are children and infants, how do you remain silent?
It’s even more difficult to criticize when you realize the primary tenet of their faith which leads to these horror stories. They believe in the healing power of the Lord and place their faith in Him that He will keep them well and cure their ills. In short, they not only believe in miracles, but they rely on them as their sole source of healthcare. But as is widely recognized across many faiths, not all miracles take place through direct, divine intervention on the part of the Lord. Sometimes the miracle is the neighbor who just senses that something isn’t right and stops in to check on the reclusive widow who has fallen and is dying on the floor of her own home. Sometimes the miracle is the friend or family member who asks, “Are you okay? I think we need to get you some help.”
The deaths of this many children can’t be ignored. But what is the government to do? Shut down and disband the church? I don’t see the Followers of Christ Church as being evil or on the same level as groups such as Westboro Baptist. (A congregation which appears to be under the sway of men who are little more than cult leaders with a deranged, destructive agenda.) They’re just interpreting scripture in an extreme way, much the same as the churches where the handling of serpents is practiced.
The Mitchells were sentenced to six years in prison. Will that force a change in the rest of the congregation? Doubtful. But with that many children dying, something needs to be done. I’m just glad that I’m not responsible for figuring out what that “something” should be.