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With membership of less than 2,000, the Followers of Christ church has attracted controversy for its practices of faith healing and the alleged shunning of members who violate church doctrine, including those who seek medical care. Church members and at least one politician (Idaho state Senator Lee Heider) have argued that parents should have the right to select whatever methods of healing they deem appropriate for their children; and public policy, which requires use of conventional medicine over faith healing, constitutes a violation of freedom of religion.
Faith healing is going further in the case of Idaho couple where the father sexually abused their daughters and the mother just prayed about it. Actually, her religious beliefs prohibited her from telling the authorities about her husband’s creepy habit.
Idaho Press reports:
Sarah Kester and her husband, Lester Kester Jr., are affiliated with the Followers of Christ Church. The church, which has a prominent following in Canyon County and in Oregon, faces criticism for refusing medical care for children and adults in favor of faith healing.
After her July 11 arrest, Sarah Kester told deputies from the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office that she didn’t tell police about her husband’s alleged abuse because it was against her belief system to involve agencies such as law enforcement, child protection services, or counseling services into personal or family matters, according to a sheriff’s office press release.
Lester Kester Jr., 48, was charged with four felony counts of lewd conduct with a minor under 16. Sarah Kester, 50, was charged with one felony count of injury to a child on the suspicion that she did not report the abuse.
According to Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, “anonymity and seclusion” of the Followers of Christ sect in Canyon County undermines law enforcement’s ability to ensure public safety, especially of minors. “That is certainly a concern for law enforcement, for my detectives and myself personally,” Donahue told the Idaho Press.
Sarah Kester told deputies she tried to protect her children by praying for “the demon” to leave Lester and keeping her husband busy with other tasks, according to a press release from the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office. Lester Kester Jr. told detectives on July 11 that he had been consumed by a “bad guy” or a “demon” and admitted to various forms of sexual contact with all four of his daughters until they were approximately 10 to 12 years old.
“The followers kind of believe like Las Vegas. What happens in the families and what happens in the church stays in the church,” Linda Martin, a former church member and vocal advocate against faith healing exemptions, said in a phone interview Saturday. “You do not speak to outsiders about anything in the church or in your home as far as that goes.”