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First Century Gospel Church

Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Pennsylvania, who believe in faith healing, were sentenced earlier this year to between 3 and one half and 7 years in prison following the death in 2013 of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. At the time of Brandon’s death, the couple was on 10 years’ probation following a jury conviction in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 2-year-old son, Kent, who died of untreated bacterial pneumonia in 2009. The 2011 decision included orders for them to seek medical care if any of their other children got sick.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of a small Pentecostal community in northeast Philadelphia, First Century Gospel Church, which teaches that to call on the help of a doctor is a sin. In a 2013 police statement, Herbert Schaible said, “We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power. … [Medicine] is against our religious beliefs.”

Testimony at the couple’s preliminary hearing described Brandon’s symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties, and the prosecution has described both boys’ symptoms as “eerily similar.” Although Catherine Schaible’s lawyer said her client had tried to feed Brandon and had applied baby powder to keep him comfortable when he was ill, the parents had requested a church pastor to come pray with them in their home as they rocked him instead of taking him to the doctor. Philadelphia Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins’ testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated Brandon’s death was the result of dehydration and bacterial pneumonia, which he could have survived if he had received antibiotics and fluids.

The couple expressed remorse for violating the earlier court order and not seeking medical care for Brandon. In November 2013, they pleaded no contest to third-degree murder charges in his death. Their pastor Nelson Clark has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives, and he insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.

After completing their sentences, the couple will face 30 months of probation. The Schaibles have 7 surviving children, 6 of whom are under the age of 18 and are now in foster care. (Huffington Post, 2/19/2014) [IT 5.2] 

Philadelphians Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church, who are now serving a 10-year probation for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of their toddler—they treated his illness solely with prayer—are being investigated in the recent death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. Prosecutors wanted the couple jailed, but a judge let them remain free because their seven other children had already been placed in foster care. The DA said the judge “feels they are a danger to their children—not to the community.” Their church says, “It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; it is real faith to trust on [sic] the name of Jesus for healing.” (Huffington Post, 4/24/13) The Schaibles have now been charged with third-degree murder in Brandon’s death. In their reliance solely on prayer, the couple violated the terms of their probation in the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent; they had been ordered to seek medical attention in similar circumstances in the future. An assistant district attorney said, “How many kids have to die before it becomes an extreme indifference to the value of human life…? It was our assessment that the murder charges were appropriate.” Catherine Schaible’s lawyer responded, “To suggest that Catherine was indifferent to her children’s lives and health couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a woman who is a completely devoted mother.” Church pastor Nelson Clark has said that the children died because of their parents’ “spiritual lack,” and in the wake of Brandon’s death he urged parishioners to remain steadfast as outside groups tried to “dissolve our faith.” The Schables’ remaining seven children have been placed in temporary foster care. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/24/13) [IT 4.3 2013] 

A former member of Philadelphia’s First Century Gospel Church, who asked to remain anonymous because she still has relatives in the church, calls it a cult. She says members are prohibited not only from seeing physicians or getting vaccinated, but also from owning property, buying insurance, and attending college. “They think that if they don’t do everything exactly the way they’re taught in church … they’re going to burn in an eternal lake of fire and it’s never going to end.” Telling her personal story of growing up in the church, she said that when she was sexually abused as a child, she was told, “If something bad happens, you pray about it and then you don’t talk about it. If you talk about bad things, you’re giving Satan glory when you should be giving God glory.” Another former member, an African American, now 52, who left 35 years ago estimates that blacks once comprised 25 percent of the congregation. He says that church leaders did not always lived by the rules they set for parishioners, and “Just like any false teaching or any other cult, they cut you off from the outside world.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/14/13) [IT 4.3 2013]

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