Church holds fast to healing beliefs

Members chose prayer over doctors, medicine, even as county officials seek charges in deaths

Denver Rocky Mountain News/July 30, 2000
By Jean Torkelson

GRAND JUNCTION - Trevette was the little boy the Glorys had been waiting for. "My son was so thrilled - he was their little cowboy," says Trevette's grandmother, Judi Glory.

Now 18-day-old Warren Trevette Glory lies in a flower-strewn grave near Grand Junction, his memory marked by a stone cairn and the words, "Our little wrangler, asleep with Jesus." And his parents, Josh and Mindy Glory, are marked by a felony reckless endangerment conviction that carries 16 years' probation, holding them responsible for the 1999 death of their cherished only son. Then, a few weeks ago, 2-day-old Billy Ray Reed was carried lifeless from his parents' Grand Junction home, "his arms flopping out and his face blue," recalled neighbor Autumn Johnson. The cause of his July 9 death apparently was congenital heart failure.

His parents, who have been living away from home because of media attention surrounding the child's death, also may be charged. The church to which the families belong - the white clapboard Church of the First Born, nestled near a peach orchard in Mesa County - is undergoing trial by public opinion.

At First Born, members shun medicine and seek healing by faith alone. And if someone dies? "Then it's the will of God," says Larry Glory, a construction worker and Trevette's grandfather. Like his wife, he is a direct, well-spoken Oklahoman whose age, in the mid-40s, belies his grandparent status. "God knows what's best. If a child dies, there may be a reason, some future danger that he is protecting the child from." After all, said Judi Glory, "Graveyards are filled with people who went to hospitals, too."

Even Mesa County prosecutor Frank Daniels believes there are no bad guys in this story. In his airy courthouse office, Daniels indicates a long sofa before his desk. "The parents sat right there," he says. "It's hard to find a nicer couple than Josh and Mindy Glory. These people were doing what they thought was right - or what they thought God wanted. On top of that they suffered the loss of their baby."

Yet Daniels, a husband and father of four daughters, says that doesn't excuse what they did - stand by while little Trevette suffered for five days, before suffocating from pneumonia.

"This was not inadvertent," said Daniels, 51. During the 2000 legislative session, he asked for the repeal of a common provision of child abuse statutes, called the Faith Healing Exception, which allows parents to have a certain amount of latitude in using faith instead of medicine to heal their children.

Since 1982, three other child deaths involving the Church of the First Born have been investigated. One case involved a breech birth; the other two were appendicitis cases.

"There is a right to belief in faith healing - to a point," says Daniels, an Episcopalian. "I pray when my children get sick. My wife and I have disagreed about the best time to call a doctor. But the right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose a child to ill health or death."

The issue is equally clear for the 40 members who roll up to this church for Wednesday evening service, which begins as the sun sets across the rock-ribbed mesa wall circling the city. "We're not ashamed of what we believe," said Doug Jacob, 35, a well-dressed electrician from Indianapolis. "Nothing is ever brought up about how many people die in hospitals - nobody knows for sure how many. I just wish I could get across to you what I've seen - how faith heals. People raised from the dead."

Church members range from young families to old-timers. Children meet a stranger's eye with a friendly smile. The accents are Oklahoma and southern states where the group, which dates from 1702 in Texas, is common. The woman wear no makeup, their modest dresses fall below the knee. That's why they were hurt when TV crews arrived, said Judi Glory. "They came even wearing short-shorts. That's wrong - this is our church," said Glory, whose long print dress, erect bearing and brown hair tumbling halfway to her waist would make her a credible lithograph of a pioneer woman.

So peaceable are the members of the Church of the First Born that even the sheriff's department feels protective of them. "They're thought of as very kind and gentle people," says sheriff's spokeswoman Janet Prell.

Inside the simple meeting room, marked by oak pews, is a plaque detailing the history of this group, which believes it has retrieved the original spirit of Christianity. There are no ministers, and anyone may rise to begin a hymn or a prayer. Most pray crouching on the floor, their foreheads touching the carpet.

"Lord," prayed retired plumber Fred Herring, "I pray we may be kind and courteous to those who do not understand." But they believe the clearest way they can demonstrate to God that they are following his Scripture is to trust God to heal.

Until the horrible day last year when her grandson died, Judi Glory said she saw the joy of faith healing - over and over again. "Of our 27 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren," she says, "Trevette is the only one we've lost."

Like most members, Glory can recite a litany of healings, going back generations - fountains of blood that stopped with the touch of a healing hand, broken ribs healed. She is puzzled by what she sees as society's inconsistency, which allows the choice of abortion but would punish parents who chose faith healing to save their child.

The Glorys also are troubled that some parents who willfully kill or abuse their children pay their debt to society far more quickly - whether in a few years of prison time or by probation. Josh and Mindy Glory, who were following their beliefs, will have to seek permission to leave the state for the next 16 years. Yet the family and the church vow to accept such punishment rather than turn their back on Scripture.

Judi Glory insists there is no broken body that cannot be healed by God. "When we pray, God takes the pain away, a lot faster than aspirin ... even when they do end in death, they get great relief before that happens." Why include children in such a rigorous faith - shouldn't it be limited to adults, who can choose for themselves? Glory pauses for a moment and then says simply, "Because that's the way we believe."

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