Why Did the Schaibles Let Their Children Die?

The DA says Herbert and Catherine Shaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church, watched their two sons die because they refused to let them see a doctor. The Schaibles have another explanation: It was God’s will.

It is Dave Schaible, at 40 the closest brother in age to Herbie, who provides some pause on the way to seeing Herbie and Cathy Schaible as hopelessly lost in a bubble of their church’s teachings. (Herbie and Catherine declined to comment for this story.)

A small man with an amber goatee and an easy, straightforward manner, Dave works in construction as a painting supervisor. He has six children, aged 10 to two.

One hot night in Lawndale, Dave and his brother Richard—the next brother of nine Schaible siblings—sit at Dave’s dining room table and talk about how the burden is on us, to make sure God is listening to our prayers.


“God will show you where you’re out of line,” Dave says. “You’ve got to be willing to correct that. If our heart is right with God, He will show us a hidden resentment toward somebody, or hatred, or anything. But He’s also a jealous God, and when you put something between us and Him—it says in the Bible, ‘There should be no other gods in your life.’”

I remark that it seems an incredibly demanding command to live by.

“Yeah, but it isn’t. The things God gives us back, it overrides that. God is love.”

I’m not debating the basis of faith, but recognizing the fact of it—that is, what it seems to create in the lives of First Century congregants I am getting to know. “The world worries,” Dave tells me. “We tend not to.”

They don’t use birth control, for example. “It’s all part of God’s plan,” Dave says. “A blessing from God. If you listen to the world, it’s all money and finances. I’ve worked with super-nice guys who have maybe one or no kids who are so worried. They say, ‘You have six, how do you do it?’

“I live paycheck to paycheck, day to day. It’s such an awesome feeling. We wish more people would understand where we come from, the peace that we have. No matter what, God will take care of us.” Dave gets paid, tithes, pays his bills, gives to charity, and whatever is left over—if there is anything left over—he can spend on his family.

There is a gentleness, an ease, about Dave, not unlike Pastor Clark’s. More to the point, I can feel the seductive power of giving in, the surrendering of the world’s concerns. Theirs is a classic leap of faith, to a place that’s strict and demanding and different—and very simple. It’s a strange feeling, sitting with Dave and Richard as they talk about growing up with big brother Herbie taking over as head of their household at 26, since both of their parents died young. Sports-obsessed Herbie, who spent so many hours as a kid listening to the Phillies and Flyers on his radio headset, working the living room recliner back and forth, back and forth, back and forth so much that their father, a machinist, had to take it to work to reweld the frame. Herbie, who built a hockey net so his younger brothers could play in the street, which they’d all do every day when he came home from his construction job in Jersey, before he was a teacher; Herbie, who when their father passed went into the bedroom where Richard and the three youngest brothers waited and told them calmly, “Do what the Lord wants you to do. Read your Bible, say your prayers, take time for the Lord, respect your elders. It’s the truth.” “To this day, I remember that,” Richard says. “‘It’s the truth.’ If you belittle it, it haunts you later on.”

Listening to them is a little like driving around farmland near Lancaster and spying the pristine netherworld of the Amish: I never get that peek without a strong suspicion that they know something the rest of us don’t, though none of us makes the leap into their lifestyle. They don’t want into our world—“the world,” as First Century congregants refer to ordinary society—either.

A few stories of First Century’s pull sound like frontier tales out of Twain: Cathy’s grandmother on her father’s side was a postmistress in tiny White Earth, North Dakota, back in the ’30s. A great-aunt had a serious illness, and it just so happened that Pastor Clark’s grandfather, Ambrose, had been sending his sermons to postmasters far and wide, to share as they would. This aunt began following Ambrose’s ideas of faith, got healed, then made her way to Philadelphia before the war, where she joined First Century. Cathy’s grandfather, who’d become a welder on oil pipelines in Montana, got a job offer from Sun Oil in Philadelphia; his wife—Cathy’s grandmother—wanted to check out First Century herself, and they came to stay in 1943.

Mostly, though, backgrounds are obscure. One Sunday afternoon between services, Dave Schaible and his wife, Sally, explain why family history isn’t important to them: pride. “It says in the Bible not to focus on family genealogies,” Sally says. Instead, there was a beginning, in their families, “when they found out about the truth.” That is, God’s truth. Their families’ lives began then.

The truth. It’s a forbidding concept. I spend another summer evening talking to Dave and Will—Sally Schaible’s youngest brother, the youngest of 16 children—at the Schaibles’ dining room table. Will is a slim, brown-haired boy, with an impish grin and full lips, though there’s nothing impish or full-lipped about him. Mostly the conversation centers on Herbie, who taught Will in seventh and eighth grades—on how he’d pour a life lesson into the middle of English or history or math, “to tell us to never get pulled into anything wrong that’s going on in the world.”

I ask what he wants to do with his life.

“He’s a very good artist,” Dave tells me. “He could sit here and draw your face.”

Will shows me some of his pencil drawings, of hockey and soccer players with striking faces and large, detailed eyes. They are beautifully rendered. Will has taken some art classes, but he’s done with that now. He’s good at math, and says architecture, maybe, could be a job. Then he says, “I’m not going to go to college. I’m told by the church it’s wrong, planning out your life—you’re supposed to live day to day, depending on the Lord.”

Oh, my.

But he says it with such equanimity—it’s simply a given for him. He won’t be an architect. He’ll be done school in another couple years, when he finishes ninth and 10th grades, and then he’ll get a job.

Will leaves Dave’s house, and then it’s just the two of us—Sally has their six kids out at some ball field. We walk out onto his front porch, into a lovely warm evening.

“Do you get a night to relax a little?” I ask.

“Oh,” Dave says, “I’ll probably do something.” He nods across the street. “There’s a widow who lives over there. I’ll probably cut her grass.”

I laugh—as if he doesn’t have enough to do.

Dave shrugs. “I’m just trying,” he says, “to shine the light a little.”

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  • J joseph

    Praise Jesus Christ for someone in this wicked world still believes and demonstrates faith for the healing of body.

    • Chrissy

      I agree with this comment^^

    • ChuckV

      When it takes letting your child die of a treatable disease to show your faith, something is very wrong with your faith.

  • J Joseph

    If nothing is at stake, there is no faith required.

  • leppy240

    they are only doing what they have been taught all their lives. I am pretty sure they never expected the kids to die. they are good people under some messed up teaching.

  • S.I. Rosenbaum

    wow. What I want to know is why this is not taken to other extremes. Why don’t you say, the lord will provide food without us ever going shopping, and then wait for food to arrive? How is that different from the faith required to eschew medicine for the sick?

    I also want to know how they explain people getting better by taking medicine, without prayer. Is that the work of satan? did God favor those people for some reason without them knowing it?

    there is something about the relationship between god and bodies that makes faith healing different from waiting for groceries? Is there something fortifying about the death of these children?

    • PsychicSecretary

      Exactly. Why do we need the artificiality of food to be nourished?

      Whatever this is, it is not Christianity, which does not require human perfection for God to hear our prayers.

      And how can these churchgoers claim genealogies are not important? Have they read Genesis, Numbers, I Chronicles or Matthew?

  • hagdirt

    I was taught that God works with human hands.

  • Georgina Yang

    Miracles work through a Messiah, currently dead for the last two thousand years. The rest of the time we are bound to plebeian laws of nature.

    • Michael

      I can’t say I agree with what these people did, but in reponse to this comment:
      Newsflash: Jesus is alive.

  • kc49

    Since they opt not to wear seatbelts, I would like to know if they lock their doors.

  • Antonette

    Using their logic that using seat belts is an affront to God, saying that you don’t trust him, then using crosswalks would be too. Or obeying red lights, or not walking into traffic or trying to put out a fire that’s burning down your house …

  • DRig

    I have faith in a Christian God too, but I have faith that He has also empowered us to be able to care for ourselves. If you believe that God is all-powerful, then why can’t you believe that people have vaccines, medicines and seat belts because that is God’s will and He created intelligent people, empowered to do these things to protect us?
    Have faith and trust in God, but also understand it may be His will that you get antibiotics, vaccines and birth control.

  • jane smith

    Letting your child slowly suffocate to death as he struggles to breathe for hours and hours isn’t faith-it’s torture. These people are disgusting.

  • Max Freeman

    These vile, twisted people should be put away for life. It’s ironic how much evil is possible through religion.

    • typedriven

      They’re not vile and twisted. They are simply people who believe in the example of Christ, as they call him. I agree with you that much evil is possible through blindness disguised as religion, but you have only to read this article with an open mind to see that these are genuinely loving, trusting people. Their inability to think about the modern world is a separate issue.

      • Charles Stevens

        I agree. I am an atheist and anti-theist; when I first heard of this family I felt very much like Max but I see now that these people are mentally ill. They had no intention of harming their child and they did not want their child to get sick or die. It is the same as any other crime being done through mental illness. These people need to have their remaining children removed from their home, but imprisoning them does not seem right. They need to be institutionalized.

  • typedriven

    I have a lot of respect for people’s faith, of whatever kind. People don’t believe what they do because they have malice or a deliberate lack of logic. They have deeper reasons for their faith. Yet when it comes to something like this — letting your children die for lack of medical care because you believe that Jesus didn’t use medicine, he used faith, and that God will heal you if he chooses — just defies a very basic logic. After all, these same people drive cars with gas engines and use electricity to light up their homes. You might ask: did God give men and women their intellectual gifts to help them understand the world? Certainly, they’d say. Did men and women use those God-given gifts to understand mechanics and combustion and electricity and so forth? Certainly, they’d say. Do you use an electric chainsaw to cut wood for your carpentry projects? Certainly, they’d say. Yet, wasn’t Jesus a carpenter? Did he use an electric saw? Well . . . they’d say. So you’re saying that you’ll take advantage of almost everything in the modern world, including things Jesus didn’t have, and yet medicine, where men and women have used their God-given gifts to develop mastery over illness and death, is some sort of exception for you? The single most important thing in the modern world, provided for you by God, and you won’t use it? These people should be sent to jail, not for negligence, but for a simple inability to think.

    What adds a further kink to the logic is that these people consider themselves to be living by God’s law. Thus, if you rely on your faith, your devotion to God, for healing, then it would stand to reason that your family would be healthier than Godless families that don’t live by faith. Yet, somehow it has escaped their notice that the children of the Godless aren’t dropping dead all around them, while they are losing child after child. Seriously, it’s not that their faith is wrong. It’s a simple lack of an ability to think outside certain very narrow limits of logic, of ability to actually look at the world around them and reason about what is there. They are truly a hazard to themselves and to their defenseless children.

  • MGN

    “They have prayed for greater understanding. To understand what it is they were doing wrong, what it is that would lead God not to answer their prayers to save Kent, and then Brandon.”

    The simple answer is: there is no god! Or they just happened to pick the one wrong god out of the 500+ that are worshipped in the world today.

  • JoJoJas

    Religion is bull. Face it. The truth shall set you free.
    -from an ethical Humanist