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When Kings Go Out to Battle
Bill Gothard’s Evangelical Talmud – Part 2

For one in leadership in the Church being accountable is crucial. James writes, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) More visible positions of leadership carries greater responsibility due to the influence one has over those that look to them for leadership and direction. That is a main reason why the filing of Amicus Curiae with the Texas Supreme Court by CRI on behalf of The Local Church of Witness Lee is so grievous. All of us have feet of clay and are prone to making mistakes. Again, James points this out, “For we all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2a). However, when speaking or writing, especially when making a public statement, great care and clear thinking must be used.

Several weeks ago it came to my attention that Hank Hanegraaff had filed an Amicus Curiae. For those who are unsure what this is, Amicus Curie is Latin and means “Friend of the Court”. It is filed by a party who is not directly involved with the case as an attempt to persuade the court in a particular direction. Motives can vary as to why a party may file and we cannot always access motives. So far, this is the case with Hank Hanegraaff, President of CRI as well as Gretchen Passantino of AIA who also filed an Amicus Curiae on August 18, 2006 agreeing with Hank Hanegraaff’s filing. The case in question is between The Local Church of Witness Lee who are attempting to sue John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Harvest House Publishers over being included in their volume Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR).

There is a brief history of the legal battles between The Local Church and John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Harvest House Publishers at Apologetics Index. However, a short description of the issues here may be helpful. The Local Church focused in on a portion of a paragraph in the introduction discussing what some cult leaders have done which reads:

…oppose moral convention, denied their followers blood transfusions and medical access, encouraged prostitution for making converts, sometimes raped women, beaten their disciples, molested children, practiced black magic and witchcraft, engaged in drug smuggling and other criminal activity, including murder… (John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR, 1999, p XXV)

The claim by The Local Church is that the average reader would assume that The Local Church is being accused of all of these behaviors and crimes because they are included in the volume. If this is true ECNR would be defamatory. By excerpting or taking this partial paragraph out of its immediate context and attempting to append it to the preceding section the claim by the Local Church is that these criminal activities are part of Ankerberg and Weldon’s characteristics of the cults listed in this volume. The problems with this are two-fold. First, on page XXIII the last paragraph on the left column begins:

“The characteristics of cults illustrates the applicability of the term.” (John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR, 1999, p XXIII)

A few sentences later, as they are preparing to give a list of characteristics they state:

“The list is not exhaustive. Not all groups have all the characteristics and not all groups have every characteristic in equal measure.” (John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR, 1999, p XXIII)

They then go on to list of 12 characteristics that would comprise a hypothetical “perfect cult.” The list ends on page XXIV. Page XXV begins with the words, ‘Another problem with the term “cult…'” which signifies a transition from the list of 12 characteristics to something else. In this case how the word is used. The Texas Court of Appeals ruling as authored by Chief Justice Sherry Radack came down to two essential points. One was, “Therefore, we conclude that being labeled a ‘cult’ is not actionable because the truth or falsity of the statement depends upon one’s religious beliefs, an ecclesiastical matter which cannot and should not be tried in a court of law.” In other words, the term “cult” is religiously defined and the court does not decide religious truth. It should be noted that The Local Church and John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Harvest House Publishers are all in agreement that this case is not over the use of the term “cult.”

The second point, which is likely the most important point, is that the section in question is not “…of and concerning the church…” The courts reasoning was that in order to qualify there had to be some indication that these criminal activates were being applied to The Local Church specifically or to all of the groups in the ECNR. Simply being in a volume which says that some groups which may or may not be included in this volume have done these things is not the same as saying that The Local Church or any particular group in this book has done any of these things. As Chief Justice Radack stated:

We have already held that nothing in the book singles out the church as having committed the ‘immoral, illegal, and despicable’ actions alleged in its petition. Simply being included in a group with others who may have committed such ‘immoral, illegal, and despicable’ actions does not give rise to a libel claim

As E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary points out:

The Local Church’s complaint depends on readers’ reasoning thus:

[The book says that] some cults commit illegal acts.
[The book says that] the Local Church is a cult.
Therefore [the book says that] the Local Church commits
illegal acts.

…the argument commits the fallacy of undistributed middle and therefore is not reasonable, i.e., no reasonable person would draw that conclusion from the book. The court recognized this and ruled accordingly. I cannot but agree, …

After the Brief Interlude

After reviewing the brief, which had been filed with the Texas Supreme Court on August 14, 2006, I immediately attempted to call Hank at his offices in Charlotte, NC. After being put on hold for a few minutes I was told that they could not put me through to Hank but that CRI’s V.P., Paul Young, is the one who would answer questions related to this. I was put through to Paul’s voice mail, left a message as to why I had called and requested a call back which never came. Shortly after that a copy of Hank’s brief surfaced on the Internet and with its availability I posed some questions to CRI publicly in our weekly E-Letter The Crux.

1) Is it now CRI’s position that the courts should be the ones to determine correct theology? If so is CRI going to close their doors in deference to the courts determining sound biblical teaching?

2) If Hank and CRI believe that The Local Church is a theologically sound Christian group in the essentials of the Christian faith, as he indicates, why would he appeal to a court of unbelievers asking them to clear the way for believers to sue other believers before a court of unbelievers in clear violation of 1 Corinthians Chapter 6?

On Tuesday October 17, 2006, CRI posted their Position Statement: PSL001 titled, “Statement From Christian Research Institute And Answers In Action: Re: Our Amicus Filings On Behalf Of The Local Churches.” There are a number of problems with this document but, as Anton Hein from Apologetics Index points out:

The most glaring problem in CRI’s statement is that both Hank Hanegraaff and Gretchen Passantino appear to have bought in to the very issue the court has so thoroughly rejected: it appears they believe that an excerpt from the introduction of the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions could be construed by – as the court’s ruling puts it – “a person of ordinary intelligence,” to apply equally to all the groups listed in the main part of the book – the Local Church included.

CRI’s Position Statement argues that somehow the courts refusal to interfere with our First Amendment rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion jeopardizes our “First Amendment rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion.” No where in the document do they explain exactly how this is the case. CRI’s Position Statement spends a fair amount of time castigating the Appellate Court for not ruling on the definition of the word “cult.” The court refrained as they saw the definition of this term as primarily theological and they were not willing to wade into theological waters. To quote Chief Justice Radack again:

“Therefore, we conclude that being labeled a ‘cult’ is not actionable because the truth or falsity of the statement depends upon one’s religious beliefs, an ecclesiastical matter which cannot and should not be tried in a court of law.”

It seems that Hank and CRI recognize and agree that the courts should not be arbiters of theological claims:

While our courts quite rightly are prevented by our Constitution from deciding the truth or falsity of theological or religious claims (Position Statement: PSL001 )

I assume that means CRI is not planning on closing it’s doors anytime soon in deference to the courts determining the truth and validity of religious claims which I am sure is a relief to many. Unfortunately the Position Statement goes on to create a straw man argument as it continues:

…our courts are expressly charged with deciding whether or not secular claims are upheld or libelous in issues such as fraud, sexual abuse, false imprisonment, larceny, bioterrorism, pedophilia, and so forth (the kinds of characteristics ECNR uses for cults). When ECNR attributes those kinds of actions to the groups they term cults, they are placing themselves in a position to be challenged legally in the realm of libel if they cannot substantiate their charges. (Position Statement: PSL001)

That the court did not take a position on the use of the term “cult” does not mean that the court didn’t take a position on whether or not the 39 words on page XXV mentioning a number of criminal activites were libelous against The Local Church itself. It seems to be missed, avoided or simply not commented on, whether intentional or unintentional I do not know, that the court was clear that the criminal behavior could not reasonably be “…of and concerning the church…” (The Local Church). The CRI Position Statement also contends that:

…the use of the term cult is not the foundation either for our Amicus support or for the suit or its appeal. (Position Statement: PSL001 )

While I cannot confirm or deny this claim, that was the sole focus of the Amicus while not a word was said in an attempt to demonstrate that the 39 words in question had in fact been applied to the Local Church by the authors or publisher. The court was clear. Simply being written about in a volume which contains those words in no way demonstrates that they were “…of and concerning the church…”.

Three Opposing Views

To complicate this even more, it appears that at the time CRI released their Position Statement they were holding three opposing views simultaneously.

1) Their 1996 view, “Our conclusion can only be that some of the basic teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church are heretical and dangerous” in the article titled The Teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church by Cal Beisner, Bob and Gretchen Passantino. (Oddly, after I mentioned this in a recent issue of The Crux it vanished from the CRI website).

2) Hanks position in the Amicus was that the Local Church is not a cult and that he disagrees with The Local Church on secondary issues as he does with other Evangelicals and denominations. It is implicit here that he views them as orthodox in the essential doctrines of the faith.

3) They will make a decision and public announcement as to the orthodoxy or heretical nature of The Local Church in the future once they complete their research.

We asked that if position one is incorrect will CRI publicly repent and publish their apology for bearing false witness in their 1996 paper to at least the same degree as they promoted this position? So far there is no official answer on that question either. This brings us back to our original questions:

1) Is it now CRI’s position that the courts should be the ones to determine correct theology? If so is CRI going to close their doors in deference to the courts determining sound biblical teaching?

2) If Hank and CRI believe that The Local Church is a theologically sound Christian group in the essentials of the Christian faith, as he indicates, why would he appeal to a court of unbelievers asking them to clear the way for believers to sue other believers before a court of unbelievers in clear violation of 1 Corinthians Chapter 6?

The answer to question number 1 is no. Question number 2 is as yet unanswered. Now we have more unanswered questions. Has CRI been bearing false witness against The Local Church all of these years? If so, are they going to publicly repent to at least the same degree as they have borne their false witness? Are they bearing false witness against John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Harvest House publishers by claiming they made libelous statements against The Local Church when they did not as both the court and Dr. Calvin Beisner have demonstrated?

Hank Hanegraaff is a high profile leader but does he wear that responsibility biblically as a servant? Is he accountable or does he consider himself above accountability in a papal way less tbe big hat? Is the Board of Directors at CRI in agreement with him and more to the point, is he accountable to them or are they simply a figurehead? I certainly don’t have answers to these questions but I do know that the Church which is the Body of Christ does have a way to bring accountability to a leader that has strayed if those to whom he is supposed to be accountable do not or cannot bring about repentence and restoration. They may not be able to vote in a meeting but there is something that may speak louder than the voice, letters or emails. Nickels and noses are a very powerful vote.

The Apostle Paul penned some very powerful words pointing out that the Jews were condemned by the Law when he wrote:

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? (Romans 2:17-21)

Hank, like the rest of us in discernment and mission to cults and new religions, are correctors and teachers. As such it is even more critical for us that we are consistent in living out our teaching and being correctable ourselves. Somehow abandoning biblical teaching in order to assist in facilitating litigation before non-believers does not exemplify that.

When Kings Go Out to Battle
Bill Gothard’s Evangelical Talmud – Part 2