Manual of The Mother Church, Article VIII, Section 20: “Illegal Adoption”

This Manual By-Law has its origins in the decision by Mary Philbrick, a student of Mary Baker Eddy, to “spiritually” adopt an adult, George W. Bevan. Unfortunately, Bevan seems to have been mentally unstable and in letters to Eddy made a number of false charges against Philbrick. Bevan wrote to Eddy on January 26, 1894, and claimed that Philbrick held him prisoner mentally and further insinuated that his adopted mother’s hypnotism had a sensual component to it. Bevan continued his charges in a follow-up letter to Eddy dated January 30, and added that Philbrick refused to give him any money. Here he also stated that Philbrick had led him to believe that she was Eddy’s eldest daughter and “had made in me [Bevan] a demonstration equal to if not superior to your [Eddy’s] demonstration of a son.”1 (Eddy had legally adopted an adult son, Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy, on November 5, 1888. He was later dropped from membership in the Church in June 1899, and joined the unsuccessful “Next Friends Suit” in March of 1907. For more information about Foster Eddy and the lawsuit, see Robert Peel’s Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial and Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority and Gillian Gill’s Mary Baker Eddy.) Philbrick was, of course, not Eddy’s daughter (she had only one son) and this and the other claims by Bevan about Philbrick proved to be false as well.

In keeping with customary practice for correspondence of this nature, Eddy’s longtime secretary, Calvin Frye, did not show Eddy these letters from Bevan when they arrived. Only later, when Bevan began to tell more and more Christian Scientists about Philbrick’s alleged mistreatment, did Eddy see Bevan’s letters. Eddy sent Philbrick a letter in response, dated July 17, 1895, instructing her to not take Bevan back to live with her and that instead, Philbrick should warn Bevan to stay away from her.2 That same day, Eddy also sent the “Illegal Adoption” By-Law to William B. Johnson, who responded by saying that the By-Law had been adopted by unanimous vote that evening.3 This By-Law was published in the first edition of the Manual of The Mother Church later that year. This By-Law originally stated,

Any member who is found living with a child improperly, or claiming a child not legally adopted, or claiming, or living with a husband, or a wife, to whom they have not been legally married, shall immediately and forever be excommunicated on the grounds of moral unfitness to be a teacher of Christian Science, or a member of this church.

In the second edition the words “and forever” were deleted. In the twenty-ninth edition, published in 1903, the By-Law was changed to read,

No person shall be a member of this Church who claims a spiritually adopted child or a spiritually adopted husband or wife. There must be legal adoption and legal marriage, which can be verified according to the laws of our land.

 

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  1. George W. Bevan to Mary Baker Eddy, 30 January 1894, IC 343.
  2. Eddy to Mary Hinds Philbrick, 17 July 1895, V01369.
  3. William B. Johnson to Eddy, 17 July 1895, L16843.