Misplaced faith

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Faith healing sect member wants to share story with film

By Mark Ambrogi

Josh Wilson is convinced there is a story that needs to be recounted so history will not repeat itself.

It’s a story not many know of a charismatic leader whose faith healing doctrine cost many their lives. Wilson’s younger brother died in childbirth. Wilson said it was minor complication that wouldn’t have happened in a hospital.

“There is largely, undocumented, untold story that reveals an ugly yet interesting chapter in Indiana history,” Wilson said. “This cult did lasting harm to me, my family and many of my friends so I want to raise awareness about it. I believe wholeheartedly awareness can prevent this happening to other children.”

Wilson’s parents were members of Faith Assembly, led by faith-healing preacher Hobart Freeman. The extreme Christian church, which was located in Noble County, near the town of Wilmot, was started by Freeman in the mid-1970s. Investigations by the Chicago Tribune and ABC News indicated it was likely at least 90 Faith Assembly members, including newborns, died during Freeman’s ministry because they didn’t seek medical care.

Freeman was charged with negligent homicide in the death of a 15-year-old girl. Her parents tried to relieve her kidney failure through prayers, according to news reports. But before Freeman went to trial, he died of bronchial pneumonia and congestive heart failure in 1984. In the weeks before, Freeman, 64, refused to get medical help for an ulcerated gangrenous leg.

“His own doctrine killed him,” Wilson said.

Four years after Freeman’s death, his parents moved to Fishers and began attending a Faith Assembly satellite church in Indianapolis before his father had a doctrine dispute with the head of the church and the family finally broke away. Wilson, a 1994 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, and filmmaker Jack Pennington, from Winston-Salem, N.C., plan to interview those who grew up in Faith Assembly for a documentary. They already have a list of more than 50 people set to interview. Originally a Kickstarter campaign was started on March 23 to raise the $16,000 needed to make the documentary. However, they have stopped that campaign on April 12.

“Due to the Kickstarter campaign and the word being spread, we have some partnerships and I think we’ll be able to pursue more traditional funding and make a little better movie,” Wilson said.

Pennington said instead of a bare-bones film, they now plan to make a full feature.

Wilson and Pennington met through mutual friends and Pennington filmed a short interview with Wilson. This would be the first feature length documentary Pennington has taken on. Other Faith Assembly members have shared their thoughts on a Facebook page with Wilson.

“I was surprised they had similar experiences to Josh and how many people had been affected by this church and continued to be affected by it today even though it doesn’t exist,” Pennington said. “But people are still dealing with what happened to them during their time there. There are so many that want to share those stories.”

Wilson, a 39-year-old Indianapolis resident, was about five years old when his younger brother died in childbirth. Wilson said if a child got sick, all the parents did was pray.

“People would pray and it didn’t work, that’s neglect,” Wilson said. “Kids die, I can tell you that first hand.”

Wilson said the first time he or his siblings went to the doctor was around 1990 when his brother broke his arm at school. The HSE middle school principal pressured Wilson’s parents into seeing a doctor.

Wilson never saw a doctor or a dentist until his senior year at HSE when his parents finally took him. Only then was he able to solve life-long ear problems he had from infections.

Wilson said most of the Faith Assembly children were home-schooled, but said he and his five siblings were fortunate to be sent to public schools. Nonetheless, Wilson wasn’t allowed to socialize with non-Faith Assembly members in the neighborhood.

“Only people that went to our church were OK, everyone else had it wrong,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who said he is no longer religious, said he went through a stage of being angry at the world in his 20s.

“I don’t harbor too much resentment,” Wilson said. “My parents were unsuspecting young teenagers who were seeking answers to the world’s complex questions through religion. They got sucked in by this bigger-than-life-personality (Freeman).”

For more information, visit childrenoffaithassembly.com.

“The whole process was cathartic for me,” said Wilson on revisiting his childhood as a Faith Assembly member.

About Josh Wilson

Age: 39.

Personal: Lives in Indianapolis and single.

Education: Graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 1994. Was a National Merit Scholarship finalist his senior year at HSE. Graduated from Indiana University in 1999 with a double major in finance and accounting and minor in economics.

Job: Consultant who specializes in Microsoft Excel spread sheets.


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