Beware the Rumor Weed

Rumor weed text graphic 2

(This originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2001 edition of the MCOI Journal)

Don’t you just love the VeggieTales videos? They communicate deep truths to children in a way that is both comical and easy to understand. One of our favorites is Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed. In the story, Larry-Boy, the large superhero cucumber, tries to save the town from a giant Rumor Weed. The Rumor Weed was sown by a small “little white lie” told about another character by two “kiddy-veggies,” Junior Asparagus and Laura Carrot, but grew to monstrous and dangerous proportions as it was passed around “Veggie town,” Bumblyburg. The moral of the story is that little “harmless” rumors can grow to be ugly and dangerous ones if they aren’t “rooted out” when they are still manageable.

Since the beginning of time, it has been easy to get “inadvertently” caught up in gossip where real harm can be done to real people. In our day, however, it is easier than ever to get caught up in the rumor mill: through the talk shows that have become a ubiquitous feature of our modern cultural landscape or the high tech gossip that flies to our e-mail boxes begging to be believed and forwarded. Not all rumors and hoaxes are “dangerous” by any means—many are just plain silly. The following is a tongue-in-cheek amalgam (author unknown) of some rumor-weed emails we have received:

“I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M’s (sent to me because I forwarded an e-mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is ‘MM’ in Roman numerals), when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which is predictable, since as everyone knows, there’s no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is why the government made them change their name to KFC).

“Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep and when he awoke he was in his bathtub and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEY HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said, ‘Call 911!’ but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his computer that would destroy his hard drive if he opened an e-mail entitled ‘Join the crew!’

“He knew it wasn’t a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250.00 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It’s true – I read it all last week in a mass e-mail from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e-mail to everyone I know.)

“The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidney, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy’s expense. Then reaching into the coin-return slot he got jabbed with an HIV-infected needle around which was wrapped a note that said, ‘Welcome to the world of AIDS.’

“Luckily he was only a few blocks from the hospital – the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is, the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an e-mail and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every e-mail he receives. I sent him two e-mails and one of them was a bunch of x’s and o’s in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck but for only 10 people you will only have OK luck if you send it to fewer than 10people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS).

“So anyway the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation.

“Send THIS to all the friends who send you their mail and you will receive 4 green M&Ms — if you don’t, the owner of Proctor and Gamble will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck: you will get sick from the Sodium Laureth Sulfate in your shampoo, your spouse will develop a skin rash from using the antiperspirant which clogs the pores under your arms, and the U.S. government will put a tax on your emails forever.

“I know this is all true ‘cause I read it on the Internet.”1

Gullible’s Travels

The foregoing satirical e-mail, while humorous, pinpoints a problem. Each individual element of the story was culled from e-mails which millions of people received, ostensibly believed, and forwarded to their friends. A week does not go by that we do not receive multiple e-mail myths, hoaxes, and legends ranging from the almost believable to the downright absurd. For example, we have received numerous e-mails asking us to write to the FCC to protest RM-2493, which is supposedly Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s attempt to ban all religious broadcasting from the air waves.2 This story has been going around since the early 1970s and was as untrue then as it is now. Here’s where the story veers off into the absurd—O’Hair is dead. She disappeared mysteriously in 1995 and her remains were found in Texas during January of this year—she had been the victim of a murder-for-money scheme. Did that stop the e-mail campaign in its tracks? Not at all! It just evolved and was renamed:

THOUGH SHE’S DEAD AND HAS JUST BEEN LOCATED AFTER 5 YEARS, THIS LADY CONTINUES TO HAUNT US FROM HER SHALLOW GRAVE. 

While she lived, O’Hair was indeed an enemy of our faith and opposed to everything Christians hold dear. But the woman is dead, and the story is just plain false. Humanly speaking, it is easy to believe and pass on the worst about someone with whom we so strongly disagree, but Christians, out of all people, must take care to be accurate and truthful in what we say, even about our enemies. Even though this particular myth was debunked years ago, the story is still circulating on the net. It seems that human beings don’t like the truth to get in the way of a “good story.” The next example is a reliable perennial that refuses to die. 

Satanic Soap Salesman 

Have you heard Proctor and Gamble is just a front for the Prince of Darkness—Satan? This ridiculous story came to life when someone noticed, at the height of a “satanic panic” that swept through our culture, that the giant soap manufacturer had the moon and stars in its logo. Thus began the pernicious rumor that Proctor and Gamble was secretly a satanic company that showed the world its true colors by using a satanic logo. Let’s just put on our thinking caps for a second—if P&G were trying to keep its affiliation with Beelzebub a secret, would they really put a satanic logo on all their products? Just how stupid are they? If all Satanists are that dumb, they probably pose little threat. Proctor and Gamble, meanwhile, obstinately refuses to fess up, insisting that the logo has no hidden meanings or dark undertones. 

“Procter & Gamble maintains that the moon and stars in its logo represents a picture of the ‘man in the moon looking at the stars, which represents the original 13 colonies,’ according to a 1982 Los Angeles Times article.”3

Well, everybody knows Satanists are a bunch of liars anyway, so P&G’s denials largely fell on deaf ears. Then, throwing fuel on the fire, word went out on the net that the president of P&G appeared on the Phil Donahue Show and admitted, nay, bragged about his satanic connections.

No doubt, he and his stockholders felt such an admission would help their bottom line. More recently, this account was revised to assert it was the Sally Jesse Raphael Show on which the knave appeared. The problem? It never happened! Neither the president of P&G nor any executive of the company ever appeared on either the Phil Donahue Show or the Sally Jessy Raphael Show! In August of 1999, Maurice Tunick, the executive producer of the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, issued a statement declaring:

“Anyone who claims to have seen such a broadcast is either mistaken or lying. It never happened!”4

Undoubtedly, we shall soon receive e-mail confirmation that Mr. Tunick is a Satanist also, and we shall be asked to sacrificially boycott a show we wouldn’t dream of watching in any case.

Don’t You Believe It! 

“Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy, do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread …” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NIV)

Although the Internet makes spreading such slanderous rumors easier and faster than ever before, tale bearing always has been a popular pastime for the masses, and rumors of conspiracy seem to be the all-time favorite type of tale to bear.

It seems that no matter who you are, there is a conspiracy theory tailor-made to fit into your worldview. Many black Americans truly believe AIDS is part of a government conspiracy to wipe out their race. Nut-hatch extremists, both black and white (or something in between ), are convinced “the Jews” really “run everything behind the scenes” and are conspiring to take over the world. Or, perhaps, it is the Illuminati, the Masons, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Rothchilds or the Rockerfellers, or the fill-in-the-blank who are conspiring to seize control. Many liberals seemed to believe a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was somehow responsible for the endless scandals that enmeshed the Clinton administration, while the right-wing Patriot movements were seeing black helicopters everywhere and believing UN tanks were fixin’ to roll down Main Street. Scary tales.

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to spot a ridiculous conspiracy theory when it is leveled against one’s own group or religion? And how difficult it is to carefully inspect our own beliefs for signs of imbalance or outright paranoia? 

Ideas Have Consequences

Some may wonder what harm is really done by the conspiracy theories or popular rumors that make the rounds. Who gets hurt? Historically, this human penchant is far from harmless, with wars and genocide often the direct result of ideas that have put down roots. Ideas are not harmless! They play out in the real world. Karl Marx’ brainchild of a Utopian “worker’s paradise” was a fine idea—one that ended up in loss of freedom, gulags, death by starvation or the sword for countless millions in the former Soviet Union. Furthermore, everywhere his fine idea was exported, death and destruction followed in its wake. Ever hear of the killing fields of Cambodia? Ever wonder why they had to build walls to keep the people in the “people’s paradise?”

Then, there are often terrible consequences of rumors, myths, and fables. Hitler didn’t dream up the “final solution” all by his little lonesome. The scourge of the twentieth century did not emerge from a vacuum. Myths and fables about Jews eating Gentile children and secretly committing other atrocities made the rounds for centuries and only culminated in this terrible holocaust. Adolf Hitler never could have wrought such destruction if so many “good” Germans had not bought into the ludicrous notion that International Jewry was dangerous, evil, and bent on world domination. Ideas do have consequences. All of humanity is susceptible to believing false rumors that coincide with our particular worldview. American Christians are certainly not immune and have fallen for some outrageous lies told with straight faces to naïve and trusting audiences. 

Satanic Panic

During the 1970s, a man named Mike Warnke came along and convinced millions of Christians he had been a high priest of Satan who had converted to Christianity. Millions who bought his bestselling book The Satan Seller accepted his fantastic tale at face value. The Christian community really didn’t question it. The seed was sown … Warnke became an immensely popular speaker at churches and conferences giving his “testimony.” In the process, he influenced millions of people to believe there was a vast satanic conspiracy afoot in the land—hitherto unknown and viciously anti-Christian. The conversion tale was so exhilarating that no one stopped to ask, “Is it true?” Not only that, Warnke’s book spawned others, every one more sensational and outlandish than the last. In July of 1993, Mike Hertenstein, from Jesus People USA, came out with his book Selling Satan in which he proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Warnke had been perpetrating a hoax. He and coauthor, Jon Trott, showed Warnke’s facts and dates just didn’t add up. Cornerstone Magazine5, in an article by Hertenstein and Trott, even published a picture of Warnke taken at his wedding, looking for all the world like a very meek and mild, close-cropped young man, just at the time when he supposedly had six-inch fingernails and waist-length, white hair! 

Rumor wed graphicThe Ugly Rumor Weed Grows

Sadly, it seems books exposing popular figures and movements as frauds are not nearly as widely read nor as readily believed as sensational accounts of dangerous alleged conspiracies, and today, many Christians still are unaware of Warnke’s hoax. Added to that, the movement within the Church Warnke, perhaps inadvertently, sparked soon developed a life of its own, impervious to Warnke’s exposure as a fraud. His one lie quickly bred ten more, and fairly soon, Christian bookstores were well-stocked with first-hand accounts of people who were either claiming to have been highly placed Satanists (converted, of course) or horribly abused victims of Satanists. Lauren Stratford told her “story” (a highly fictionalized account, it turns out) in her book Satan’s Underground,6 but she was quickly outdone by Rebecca Brown, M.D.7 and others.

It wasn’t long before these accounts (and others—both Christian and secular) spawned an urban legend that was widely believed—with the help of Sally Jesse Roseanne Geraldo Raphael—that black-robed bands of Satanists were routinely sacrificing children in wooded areas outside of nearly every town. Many thousands of children allegedly were kidnapped every year for this purpose. As the “rumor weed” grew, it became “common knowledge” that babies were being specially bred just to be sacrificed. It wasn’t long before “everyone knew” that law enforcement agencies and the court system had been thoroughly infiltrated by these monsters.

The detailed accounts of ritualistic abuse grew increasingly bizarre as the legend picked up steam, and fairly soon, ritual abuse victims were coming out of the woodwork. Therapists were astounded to “discover” how many apparently normal young women and men were harboring deep, dark secrets of long-repressed maltreatment at the hands of the people they trusted the most. No one could have predicted how much damage this beastly “weed” was about to inflict upon secular society and the Church.

A quirky confluence of events—psychiatric adoption of the highly controversial notion of “repressed memories;”8 cultural consensus formed by such secular best sellers as Sybil9 and Michelle Remembers;10radical feminists searching for an abusive man behind every bush; large numbers of Christians suddenly convinced there was a vast satanic conspiracy; society’s general embrace of victimology—spawned the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement. This horribly destructive phenomenon washed across the land like a hurricane and has yet to completely subside, although there are hopeful signs the tide may be turning back to sanity.

The Satanic Ritual Abuse movement stormed into the Church, destroyed many individuals and families in its wake, and we believe, will be seen one day (and rightfully so) as the “Salem Witch Trials” of the twentieth century. Fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, pastors, elders, and respected Christian leaders, were accused of heinous crimes by their own daughters and (less often) sons. Innocent men and women who loved their children were being accused of being secret Satanists—members of secret satanic cults—who had forced their own children to perform sex acts, or ritually murder babies, or both. The accusers themselves (the very people who supposedly had been horribly abused) were completely unaware of their dark past. They suddenly “recovered memories” of the abuse usually under the guidance of a helpful (often Christian) therapist whom they typically had gone to see to help them with an eating disorder (such as bulimia or anorexia). Sometimes therapeutic hypnotism or drugs were involved in the “recovery” of these alleged memories. Sometimes the power of suggestion alone, either from a therapist or gleaned from one of the numerous books churned out by the “survivor movement,” was enough to convert a loving daughter into an angry “abuse victim.”

Exposing the dragon

“John Proctor: There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it. Reverend Parris: We are here, Your Honor, precisely to discover what no one has ever seen.” —Arthur Miller, The Crucible11

“If you don’t remember your abuse, you are not alone.” Many women don’t have memories, and some never get memories. This doesn’t mean they weren’t abused.” —Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal12

Incredibly, their therapists and the “survivor industry” told these “victims” it was not necessary to prove they had been abused. They claimed that absolutely no collaborating evidence was necessary to bring charges or lawsuits against their alleged abuser or abusers!13All they needed were their “memories”—even if these memories were “fuzzy,” “vague,” or even if no “memories” were forthcoming—no matter how hard the patient worked to “remember.” Incredibly, the victims were encouraged to hold onto their victimization, and go forward with lawsuits and accusations, even if subsequent inquiry into times and circumstances proved that these “memories” did not correspond to reality. For example, young women claimed to have given birth to a sacrificial baby or two, but no one in their life (teachers, friends, doctors, etc.) recalled them having been pregnant within the alleged time frame. Also, in these cases, there was no recollection by friends and/or family of the terrible abuse that purportedly occurred and no convincing evidence that the alleged abuse had marred the child’s personality or scarred his or her body. Meanwhile, law enforcement came up with no physical evidence to corroborate the accounts of the accusers.14 Anderson’s books, there has been no corroborative documentation that there is any widespread, multigenerational, multifamily, organized, nearly undetected, almost invincible satanic conspiracy propagating murder, mutilation, cannibalism, and other criminal activities. Investigation by law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, journalists, academic researchers, and historians here and abroad has conclusively shown that the satanic alarm of the 1980’s and 1990’s was a hysterical myth, a genuine witch hunt.” Elliott Miller, CRI Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4, p13]

If mother or dad objected, or if aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, etc., tried to defend themselves or to simply set the record straight, they were often as not accused of being either “part of the conspiracy” or “in denial.” As memory expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus states, in her excellent book, The Myth of Repressed Memories:

“Denial was the ever-present word, the inherent unalterable, indisputable truth. Survivors are in denial. Families are in denial. Child abusers are in denial. ‘Denial’ is the answer to every question. If accused family members have nothing to say, it’s because they are guilty; if they claim innocence, they are trying to hide something; if they don’t remember an event the way the survivor remembers it, they are in denial. There was always an answer and the answer always involved the word ‘denial.’”15

Simply to attempt to persuade the accuser/“victim” that what he or she “remembered” did not correspond to reality often resulted in being cut-off from any relationship with them. Everyone was expected to “believe the victim” without question, and families were tragically divided—child from parents, sibling from sibling. Family members were often “forced to choose” who to believe, and who to “side with.” Often times, the “victim” ended up alone with their memories and with their therapists and/or support group, which only locked them more deeply into the sad delusion.16

We presume the majority of therapists and “care-givers” who are heavily involved in this tragedy are well intentioned, but sadly, often as deluded as their patients. I (Joy) talked to a Christian therapist who claimed her specialty was counseling “survivors” of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). She earnestly told me that I just wouldn’t believe the type of people who are really secret satanic cultists, informing me that most were upstanding men and women in the community and church who gave no appearance of evil at all. Well, silly me … I asked her why, then, since they seemed so upstanding and righteous, did she believe they were, in fact, Satan’s minions? What type of evidence had she found to support her patient’s accusations of murder, rape, child molestation, and sacrifice? Her answer chilled me. Evidence, she asked? Well, whatever did I mean by “evidence?” I answered, well, you know—bones, blood, teeth, fingerprints, black robes, altars, eyewitnesses—the Perry Mason stuff. To which she replied, Oh no, there’s nothing like that. These people have connections within the police departments and judges, up to the highest levels in the nation. Evidence like you’re asking for will never be found. It was an astounding conversation, and one I will never forget. How do we know there is a conspiracy? Because there is no evidence!

Many people just don’t seem to recognize the danger to all of us in this type of thinking. Our judicial system, based upon the presumption of innocence, is the only thing that keeps us safe from the Inquisitions and pogroms of the past. Don’t people understand that if we once eliminate the “burden of proof” for reasons of expedience today, it will not be there tomorrow when we are unjustly accused? But that is exactly what the “survivor industry” has done.

Consequently, with nary a shred of evidence, and sometimes based solely on identification of alleged “symptoms of abuse” that could fit virtually anyone,17 the accused are sometimes imprisoned, often sued, with their careers, reputations, and families ruined. The worst aspect of all this is the emotional toll such egregious accusations take on innocent and loving parents. Words often cannot express the feelings of those so accused and shunned by their own children.

What’s the harm, anyway? 

“Avoid being tentative about your repressed memories. Do not just tell them; express them as truth. If months or years down the road, you find you are mistaken about details, you can always apologize and set the record straight.”18 

According to Renee Fredrickson, author of another popular “survivor” manual, it really is not such a big deal if your “memories” even turn out to be just figments of your imagination. So what if you happen to have accused your father, mother, grandmother or brother of being a satanic high priest who conducted orgies and murdered babies and small children? So what If you turned them in to the child protection authorities or made them the target of a police investigation? So what if they lost their job, their friends, their dignity, their reputation, and in some cases, their freedom…No worries… You can always “set the record straight” later. What is Ms. Fredrickson smoking? Who could POSSIBLY straighten out the mess that is now your family?

Part of the problem the Church has had in dealing with the issue of recovered memories and accusations of long-repressed abuse is that the victim’s stories are so heart-rending and compelling. It almost seems, well, unchristian to doubt any detail, no matter how bizarre.

Nevertheless, what hasn’t been heard is the voice of the accused—the people whose lives have been turned upside down and nearly destroyed by false accusations. Typical is the story of Alan Nash,19a former Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) pastor from North Dakota. His daughter, Raydene, while on a trip to Canada in 1993, suddenly recovered “memories” that implicated him in appalling crimes. Raydene, a grown woman, suddenly “remembered” when she was child of 11, she and her 12-year-old brother (who, by the way, vehemently repudiated her story) had been present while Nash smothered a baby he had allegedly fathered with a 17-year-old girl. She also “remembered” her father had conducted orgies and sodomized young boys. The alleged crimes were reported to and investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police along with the North Dakota Child Protection Services. 

The upshot? Nash’s life was turned completely upside down. Without Nash’s knowledge, the SDA administration conducted interviews with his daughter. Her “recovered memories” of his (supposedly ongoing) criminal acts were assembled in a file Nash was not even told about, much less given the chance to refute. One problem with secret files is that they have a way of going public. According to Nash, portions of that file were shared amongst SDA leaders across the nation. Some of this false information “leaked” onto the denominational gossip “grapevine.” 

In May 1995, Nash was “downsized” out of the ministry. He was told this action was necessitated by financial considerations due to a short fall in the tithe income that paid pastor’s salaries. By this time, he was hearing the gossip about his daughter’s “recovered memories” but the administration denied her accusations were in any way connected to his termination. He lost his pastorate, and along with the pastorate, he and his family lost their home—they had to move out of the parsonage. For one year, this homeless family was forced to move in with his wife’s parents. During the ensuing months, Nash became painfully aware that some church administrators in Canada and the United States were shying away from rehiring him because of his daughter’s allegations. Nash’s wife, Lorinda, resumed her career as a RN to keep the family solvent. Nash waited in vain to be vindicated and reinstated to his pastorate. The call from his church never came. 

Eventually, Raydene saw a different doctor (in a psychiatric hospital) and realized her “memories” were fabrications, and thankfully, she retracted her bizarre story. She called her father and told him, “I’ve come to myself.” But, as is the case in much of life, once a rumor is tossed into the wind, it is impossible to get the Genie back into the bottle—impossible to right the wrong and undo the injustice. His church never apologized; neither did it rehire him as a pastor. Raydene tried to make things right and printed a recantation. Copies were sent to the SDA leaders who were authorized to recommend that Nash be rehired, but no recommendations were forthcoming. As Nash himself puts it, “the recantation was dismissed beneath a load of ecclesiastical ‘bafflegab.’” Where does one turn for justice when one has been so grievously harmed?

I asked Nash what this whole episode had done to his faith in God. He answered me that his faith did not waver, but that it was put to the test. He said he and his wife eventually came to the realization they were “like Joseph, imprisoned on the basis of a false accusation, not knowing if they were to be executed tomorrow.”  

Part of the “imprisonment” when one is accused of any type of child abuse is that the charge seems to carry with it the assumption of guilt. Think about it—whom would you tell that your own daughter or son had accused you of sexual abuse, much less Satanic Ritual Abuse? Who would support you and stand by you? Would your church friends be brave enough to hang around with an accused Satanist—an alleged child molester/murderer—even without evidence? 

Nash’s story sounds depressingly like too many others I have personally heard or read about. Like Nash’s daughter, many former accusers are now recanting and rejecting their fabricated “memories” and are attempting to repair their broken lives and families. By the grace of God and as a testament to parental love, some families have forgiven and relationships have been restored. To put it mildly though, this type of emotional damage is not easily undone.

The Responsibility of the Church  

“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.” (Deuteronomy 19:15-19)

What is the Church’s responsibility regarding all of this? Even though the tide finally seems to be turning, should this injustice now be swept under the rug just because it is an uncomfortable truth that Christians had quite a hand in creating and perpetuating the myth? Christian counselors and well-known Christian mental health clinics20.” When Dr. Dobson pointed out that the FBI has on file only one confirmed case of a ritual murder, Meier responded, “We have interviewed a couple of police chiefs from major cities who have found human skeletons and things of that nature, so I know it does exist, and it does happen, but it does get over-dramatized for sure.” How much more over dramatization do we need than Meier’s own statement that Satanists are murdering babies all over the nation, when he presents for evidence that he has talked to “a couple of police chiefs.” Did he examine the evidence? Did he check every supposed fact thoroughly? Does the FBI or other law enforcement agencies concur with the opinion of these anonymous “couple of police chiefs.” What has happened to the patients that the clinic has treated for SRA, and what has happened to their families?] have often led the pack in the “recovery of memories,” yet they have never admitted their guilt or been made to face up to the terrible consequences of the witch hunt they instigated. Christian churches often turned their backs on the falsely accused or had them put out of the church without making a “thorough investigation” to establish and verify all of the facts. Often the accused was found guilty on the testimony of no witnesses, as even the accusers’ only glimpse of the alleged event was in their “mind’s eye.”  

“Honor your Father and your Mother” is the fifth commandment given to Moses. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is the ninth.21 It goes without saying, then, that any movement that dishonors parents and promotes false accusations cannot be good, friends. 

It is important, at this juncture, to explain we do not deny the reality of either sexual or physical abuse. It does happen, and it is undeniably a great evil. True victims of abuse deserve our sympathy. Pamela Freyd, co-founder of The False Memory Syndrome Foundation,22 told us she believes one reason so many churches leaped on the abuse bandwagon is because the Church, as a whole, had kept its head in the sand far too long concerning instances of true sexual and physical abuse. With every good intention, this time the Church was determined to support the victims who often had been ignored before. However, we cannot emphasize enough that the swing the Church took from one extreme to another has only created a whole army of new victims—those of the falsely accused! Meanwhile, true victims of sexual abuse who always remember what happened to them are not given the attention and compassion they deserve because their experiences seem tame by comparison to bizarre satanic ritual abuse claims. 

As a Church, we may not be able to turn back the water that already has gone “under the bridge.” But we can speak out against the injustice that is still going on today, inflicted upon naive young men and women and their innocent families by Christian personalities, movements, and organizations. Although the tide of SRA accusations finally seems to be receding, many segments of the Church are keeping it alive. Neil Anderson23 is a popular Christian author-guru riding this beast. The Theophostic Counseling movement24 is a recovered memory therapy that seems to be gaining popularity among Christians. 

How does this happen? How, especially, are Christians caught up in these destructive fantasies and the movements and trends that spring from them? Lack of discernment certainly is one culprit. Lack of healthy skepticism is another.

Faith vs. Skepticism

There is a common misconception among Christians that faith and skepticism are mutually exclusive. If one has faith, by definition, one is not skeptical. On the other hand, if a Christian has a skeptical mindset, he or she is viewed either as a “weak” Christian or not a Christian at all. This is dangerous, folks. It leaves gullibility as the only approved option, and sadly, a look at so called Christian television programs leaves no doubt many believers are making that ‘sanctioned” choice. We are supposed to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16), not the other way around. Although faith and skepticism are different, they are not mutually exclusive. They work together. Part of the confusion over the issue results from a misunderstanding of faith. Faith is not a blind leap—it is a rational step taken in response to convincing evidence. Some Christians actually fear rationality as though rational thinking inevitably leads to unbelief! This attitude is quite bizarre.

In our discussions with unbelievers, we have found that people do not reject the gospel because it is irrational—they irrationally disregard the bountiful evidence for belief. Unbelievers ultimately reject Christ and Christianity because they do not want to believe it. They unreasonably suppose that if they refuse to believe it, it will not be true! Theirs is a false hope! Christianity is TRUE based upon abundant and irrefutable evidence which we need not abandon our minds to accept. We also need not—and dare not—abandon rational thinking when it comes to evaluating other truth claims.

Many Christians seem to assume we in the Church are somehow invulnerable to deception, that deception is something that traps cultists and people outside the gates. After all, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. As long as we are “right with God” (the thinking This tragically false thinking only encourages us to let down our guard and accept whatever our Christian friends believe or what well-known Christian celebrities assert is true. How many Christians believe Benny Hinn truly heals people, or that the Holy Spirit has an interest in pinning people to the floor or throwing them into uncontrollable fits of laughter? How many intelligent and rational Christians bought into the Y2K scare, when that pernicious “bug” was surely going to shut down the civilized world? The fact is that Christians (of whatever intelligence) are not immune to deception, which is why the Bible warns us time and time again not to be deceived. If we could not be deceived, why the warnings? (Matthew 24:4, Colossians 2:4, 8)

We are not “speaking down” as if we are personally invulnerable to deception. When Mike Warnke came on the scene in the late 70’s, we bought his book, read it, and passed it on! Just like so many others, we did not question his claims at the time. We didn’t think to check out his story. Why? Because we bought the book at a Christian bookstore, and it was published by a Christian publishing house. Moreover, Warnke claimed to be a Christian—would a Christian lie about his life? In addition, we believed in Satan, so it stood to reason he would be very active in the world. And so he is! The trouble was we had not yet recognized his activities often involve making monkeys out of naïve believers! We now more clearly see his works in the lives destroyed by false teachings, false accusations, and/or rumors. We are not so naïve these days, partly because we have been burned in the past, but we do not suppose that we are now completely incapable of being deceived. To be so complacent might be, well, naïve.

It is very important Christians do not give credence to myths and “scary tales.” We need to be extremely skeptical about rumors and cautious about believing something just because we heard it on “Christian” television or radio, or because it is presented as truth in a book that sells at a Christian bookstore. If we do not follow the Apostle Paul’s counsel to “examine everything carefully”,25 we will not only hurt innocent people—the last thing we as Christians desire to do—we will bring shame to the cause of Christ.

Shortly before taking his final leave of the Ephesians, Paul solemnly charged the Church leaders in Acts 20:28-32 to shepherd God’s people and protect them from grievous error. He fervently warned them to be alert for “savage wolves,” false teachers, outside the Church or within, who would promote false teachings, myths, and fairy tales that would destroy the flock. As Christians, we must be conscientiously cautious about what we believe and extremely careful about what we pass on to others.Ω

Joy sig

© 2015, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Anonymous e-mail circulating under the title It Must be True, I Saw it on the Internet, cited on Citizen Link – A web site of Focus on the Family, http://www.family.org/cforum/hotissues/A0007214.html, August 4, 1999
  2. A similar story claims O’Hair is trying to have the show “Touched by an Angel” removed due to the use of the word “God” on the show. This is also false
  3. Anonymous e-mail circulating under the title It Must be True, I Saw it on the Internet, cited on Citizen Link – A web site of Focus on the Family, http://www.family.org/cforum/hotissues/A0007214.html, August 4, 1999
  4. Anonymous e-mail circulating under the title It Must be True, I Saw it on the Internet, cited on Citizen Link – A web site of Focus on the Family, http://www.family.org/cforum/hotissues/A0007214.html, August 4, 1999
  5. Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein, “Selling Satan,” Cornerstone, Vol. 21, Issue 98, p8
  6. Stratford and her book were thoroughly researched and proved fraudulent by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott. Says Passantino, “Careful research, by us and Cornerstone editor Jon Trott, revealed that author Lauren Stratford was actually Laurel Rose Willson, a troubled woman from Washington State who spent most of her teen and adult life fabricating horrendous stories of victimization by a variety of people in a variety of settings … Our investigation, published in late 1989, was the first in-depth analysis of a particular testimony of Satanic Ritual Abuse. It provided the first concrete evidence that at least some such stories could be the result of troubled minds, bad therapy, and credulity regarding Satanism, and not the result of actual events. In the years since the discrediting of Satan’s Underground, Lauren developed a new story that put her in the midst of another survivor support community this one for actual survivors of a massive horror shamefully hidden by its perpetrators, but chillingly documented by overwhelming amounts of both eyewitness and historical evidence. Lauren Stratford became Laura Grabowski, child survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Polish Jew who was experimented on by the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele, liberated to a Krakow orphanage at the end of the war, brought to the United States, and adopted by a Gentile couple at age nine or ten. Lauren Stratford: From SRA to Holocaust, www.answers.org
  7. Rebecca Brown, MD, has been likewise researched and proven to be fiction masquerading as fact in the article by G Richard Fisher, Paul R. Blizzard, and M Kurt Goedelman, “Drugs, Demons and Delusions,” Personal Freedom Outreach Quarterly Journal, Vol. 9, No. 4, Oct.-Dec. 1989
  8. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, memory expert and recently elected President of the American Psychological Society, says she thinks there are serious questions about the authenticity of repressed memories. Loftus asks: “How can we determine if memories of childhood abuse are true or false? Without corroboration, it is very difficult to differentiate between false memories and true ones. Also, in these cases, some memories were contrary to physical evidence, such as explicit and detailed recollections of rape and abortion when medical examination confirmed virginity. How is it possible for people to acquire elaborate and confident false memories? A growing number of investigations demonstrate that under the right circumstances false memories can be instilled rather easily in some people. The finding that an external suggestion can lead to the construction of false childhood memories helps us understand the process by which false memories arise. Some mental health professionals encourage patients to imagine childhood events as a way of recovering supposedly hidden memories … A procedure for planting “impossible” memories about experiences that occur shortly after birth has been developed by the late Nicholas Spanos and his collaborators at Carleton University. {Spanos}findings confirm earlier studies that many individuals can be led to construct complex, vivid and detailed false memories via a rather simple procedure. Hypnosis clearly is not necessary … False memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others.” Elizabeth Loftus, Professor, University of Washington, Scientific American, September 1997
  9. The Daily Herald newspaper reported in 1998 that “a psychologist says tape recordings that lay forgotten in his desk for 25 years show that the popular story of Sybil, the woman with 16 personalities, is bogus. The newfound tapes suggest these personalities were actually created during therapy, through suggestions to a highly pliable young woman, says psychologist Robert Rieber of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.” Daily Herald, 8-17-98, Sect 1
  10. Mark Pendergrast, in his excellent book, Victims of Memory, writes “… the idea that someone could completely forget horrendous abuse, then suddenly recall it years later, had been popularized in Michelle Remembers, a 1980 account of how Michelle Smith, a depressed young woman of 27, sought therapy with psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder in the wake of three miscarriages. A Psychology major in college, she had a long history of nervous complaints, stemming in part from a childhood spent with an alcoholic father … Under the charismatic care of Dr. Pazder, Michelle began to remember lurid scenes from her childhood under a type of auto-hypnosis … Michelle eventually convinced herself and Pazder that she had repressed memories of grotesque abuse at the hands of a satanic cult, led by the devil himself, when she was five years old. Throughout her months of ‘remembering,’ Michelle disclosed that she had been held naked in a cage full of snakes, that the sadists had burned and butchered stillborn babies and fetuses in her presence, killed kittens, and forced her to perform lurid sexual acts … Michelle Remembers fails to mention Michelle’s two sisters, neither of whom recalls any abuse. A family friend describes the mother as a woman ‘whose whole life was for her children. You couldn’t have a nicer, more charming person.’ Other claims fall apart when examined. For instance, a neighbor and former teacher recalls Michelle attending first grade regularly in 1955 just when she was supposedly locked in a basement for months at a time.” Mark Pendergrast, Victims of Memory (Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access, Inc., 1996) p3
  11. As quoted by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham The Myth of Repressed Memory (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994)
  12. Bass and Davis, The Courage to Heal: a guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994) p81-82
  13. Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, who together authored The Courage to Heal, considered by many to be the “bible” of the survivor movement, write, “If your memories of the abuse are still fuzzy, it is important to realize that you may be grilled for details.’ ‘You are not responsible for proving that you were abused.’” Bass and Davis, The Courage to Heal, p127
  14. Elliott Miller of Christian Research Institute writes: “Despite the tens of thousands of reports of satanic crime and abuse that have blanketed therapist’s couches, televisions talk show stages, and the pages of [Neil
  15. Loftus & Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False; p24
  16. Bass and Davis admit the process they recommend as necessary often destroys marriages and intimate relationships … The authors clearly want their readers to embark on a very painful journey. Only when all their fundamental assumptions are destroyed, when their family relationships lie in ruins, will they develop their new identity as Survivors. Pendergrast, Victims of Memory, p41
  17. Ibid., p35-39. “Symptoms” include feeling powerless, different from other people, lack of motivation, seeking perfection, fear of success, feelings of inadequacy, alienation or loneliness, depression, confusion, addictions or eating disorders, insecurity or failure in relationships …”
  18. Renee Fredrickson, Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse (New York, NY: Fireside/Parkside, S&S, 1992) pp161-162, 203-204
  19. Nash is in the process of writing a book about his experience titled, Recovered Memories, Deprived Lives
  20. Minrith-Meier New-Life Clinics were heavily involved in the “recovery” of repressed memories, not only of child sexual abuse, but of so-called Satanic Ritual Abuse. Dr. Paul Meier, a guest on the Focus on the Family radio program stated, “We have a Chicago clinic that specializes in Satanic Ritual Abuse where we help people who have been victimized by that …there are Satan worshipping cults all around the country that are [sacrificing babies
  21. Exodus 20:12 & 16
  22. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, 1955 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 stands ready to help the falsely accused. They can be contacted at 1-800-568-8882
  23. Neil Anderson is the author of best seller The Bondage Breaker, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, and Released From Bondage, Here’s Life Publishers, 1991. In Released from Bondage, Anderson devotes a chapter to so-called dissociative disorders, repressed and recovered memories, and Satanic Ritual Abuse. Anderson goes off on a long diatribe about what is involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse, how Satanists are murdering (sacrificing) babies and children, etc. He offers NO proof for his slanderous assertions. For example, on page 225, we find, “In Satanic Ritual Abuse, children are often forced to do the killing themselves…. children are forced to kill because it forces them into secrecy. People are not about to tell the outside world that they killed an innocent child or animal…. Most satanic rituals are ripping, banging violent sexual orgies, not sex as normal humans would experience it. The ultimate high is sexual orgasm at the time of the kill.” Thanks to Anderson and others, many people are now telling the outside world they sacrificed innocent children and animals. These tales, however, are false
  24. The Theophostic Ministries web site claims “thousands of Pastors, Professional Counselors, and Lay Counselors” have benefited from their training program. Anton Hein’s excellent apologetic web site critiques TheoPhostic Counseling and calls it “Agnes Sanford’s inner healing in a new jacket.” www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/c55.html
  25. 1 Corinthians 5:12

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