Monday, May 5, 2008

Faith healing in an electronic age

Now that the Marathon County District Attorney, Jill Falstad, has charged them with second-degree reckless homicide, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of Dale and Leilani Neumann, the Weston, Wisconsin, couple whose 11-year old daughter, Kara, died on Easter Sunday. Thanks to the public release of portions of the police investigation into the Neumanns’ activities in the days leading up to Kara’s death, we know more about how their intense religious beliefs led them to eschew medical treatment and turn to prayer.

One particularly interesting aspect of the police reports is what they reveal about how Christian religious healing traditions have adapted to the electronic age. Like most devout individuals who turn to prayer to treat illness, the Neumanns took their cue in part from a passage in the Epistle of James that says of those confronted with illness: “They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (5: 13-15). The Wisconsin couple apparently followed this admonition by turning to the information superhighway.

Among the materials publicly release this week were email messages exchanged between the Neumanns and individuals connected with Unleavened Bread Ministries, an internet-based ministry interested in exploring, as its Web site explains, “end-time revelations for America and the world.” On March 22, 2008, a day death before Kara’s death, Dale Neumann apparently sent an urgent email to obtain the telephone number of David Eells, the ministry’s leader. The subject of line of the email reflected the Neumanns’ mounting sense of urgency: “Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!” The body of the message indicated that the couple sought from Eells “agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength.”

In a subsequent public statement, Eels revealed the extent of his communications with the couple, and was quick to downplay his influence over them. “Dale and Leilani Neumann from Wisconsin contacted one of our elders to ask that I (David Eells) call them to pray for their daughter. That elder got in touch with me Saturday evening and I called the Neumanns,” Eells wrote. “To my knowledge this was the first time I had spoken to them other than by a few emails over the last few years and posting a testimony on our site from their ministry. It has been reported that they are ‘under’ our ministry but they have had their own coffee house ministry for a few years in which they share the Gospel and we are glad of their work in The Lord.”

Eels has disavowed exerting much influence over the Neumanns, but he has highlighted their concern for their daughter and fervently endorsed their approach to healing. In his statement, Eels asserted: “They seem to be a very loving family who want to walk in the steps of Jesus, as do we. When I called they shared concern for their daughter, Kara, who had started getting sick in just the last day or so (not as is reported for the last 30 days). They asked me to pray and agree with them in prayer, basically because she appeared pale and listless (not a quote). They did not seem overly concerned because they had had healings before. This is not an unusual kind of request to us. I and our elders and prayer ministers are used to praying for the sick and have seen many healed by our Lord.”

Also disclosed in the police reports was the text of an email from Bill Rowe, who has been identified separately as the moderator of Unleavened Bread’s online Bible study. Responding to the Neumanns’ earlier request for emergency prayer for Kara, Rowe offered a detailed prayer that referenced several passages from the Christian scriptures, including the oft-quoted section of James. “We add our faith to Dale’s and Leilani’s and command Kara to be healed,” he wrote. “We command that spirit of infirmity to loose Kara now, leave her body, leave her home, and go back from where it came and stay there.” Rowe closed by noting: “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.”

As the prosecution progresses, it seems likely that the Neumanns and their supporters will continue to rely on the internet – this time to drum up support (and perhaps financial backing) for their defense. Unleavened Bread Ministries already has established a Web site ( devoted to touting both the legal and spiritual justifications for the couple’s actions. “This family had every right, by law and by Biblical principle, to pray for a healing and not seek medical attention. That is not murder,” the site asserts. “They loved their daughter and were only seeking to do as God teaches in His word. God tells us by faith we are healed.”

No comments: