Members of the Upland-based Church of God, which is involved in a local manslaughter case stemming from medical neglect, were back in court this past week, this time in Ontario, Canada.
Child protective authorities are asking a judge in St. Thomas, Ontario, to allow them to routinely check on the welfare of seven children who were allegedly beaten as a form of discipline by the church last year, according to local news reports.
The children were removed from their home last July 4, two days before Julia Wiebe, 11 months, died of meningitis in Rancho Cucamonga. Her parents, Richard and Agnes Wiebe, face 10 years in prison if convicted of failing to seek medical help for their daughter out of religious conviction. They have a court hearing scheduled for June 14. Critics of the church say that its pastor, Danny Layne of Rancho Cucamonga, compels church members to obey his strict teachings by using the threat of excommunication, which completely cuts family members off from each other.
Layne is heard on an audio tape of a sermon he delivered on the subject of excommunication and mailed this week to the Inland Valley Voice.
The pastor, who is polite and shy in public, breathes fire on the tape, urging his flock to "cast out... those who are dirty." At the end of the sermon, dated March 23, 2001, he excommunicates two former church members, Pauletta Tinsman of Farmland, Ind., and Curtis Edwards, a minister in Jonesboro, Ga.
"We're dealing with heretics, apostates, hypocrites, blasphemers," Layne shouts, to whoops of support. "They're unclean. And they need to know they're unsaved."
Layne accuses Tinsman, a 22-year-old woman who changed her last name to Willis when she married, of "encouraging our young people to do the same kinds of immoral things that she did. [She] opens her home and makes it a place for people wanting to go to hell."
What she did, she says, was date her husband before she married him, and then give shelter to a young woman who wanted to leave the church to go to college.
"They don't encourage anybody to go to college," Willis said from her Indiana home. "Danny Layne is like ... he calls himself God. He acts like that. If you don't do what he says, you're disobeying God. He was telling me what color of underwear to wear, what to wear to bed."
Willis said she broke away from the church, and her parents, when she was 18. She said that because the church is such a large part of members' lives, it is exceedingly difficult to break away. It is especially difficult for women who have not worked outside the home and need to find a place to stay.
She has not had any contact with her parents in the year since she received her letter of excommunication.
"When it first happened, I was very angry, because I know down deep my parents don't want it that way. ... It was tough to think that my family had allowed Danny Layne to put them under such pressure."
Layne accused Edwards, who sheltered young men who wanted to leave the church, of working for the devil.
He said that church members were not to have contact with Edwards or his daughter, whom Layne singled out for criticism.
"She has made herself a little temptress to try to seduce our young people," he said. "And we need to proclaim it from the housetop."
Layne justifies excommunication with several passages from the Old and New testaments, insisting that the church has ultimate authority on Earth.
"The church has more authority than the federal government of the United States of America. The church has more authority than the United Nations, because her authority comes from God."
"When you deal with the Church of God, you deal with God. And God deals with you."
Layne, a former drug addict who spent 19 years on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles before finding God and getting clean, refers time and again to "the world" as a source of corruption.
"We have children and young people, and we love them. And we have a considerable investment in time, in love, in teaching them, with the hopes that they will grow up to be men and women of God, that they will never have to face the world like we did, that they will never have to experience the things we did."
Layne moves on to advocating "submission" to church leaders.
"They watch for your soul. They care about you. They love you. They care about whether you go to heaven or hell ... They have a heart full of love for you. They're not telling you to go on the corner and get drunk. They're not telling you to smoke the cigarette. They're not trying to put curse words in your mouth. ... Obey them and submit."
Willis said that Agnes Wiebe, whom she knew well when she was a member of the church, could never have taken her daughter to the doctor, for fear of being shunned.
"I know she's a good mom," Willis said. "It's so sad she's told what to do by the ministry. ... If she would have taken her kids to the doctor, she would have been excommunicated right then and there."