Vision Forum posted their letters to MCOI on Friday, September 21, 2007. This is an updated explanation of our response which follows:
On August 20, 2007 we received a letter from Vision Forum dated August 17, 2007 . It was 15 pages in length of which 3 pages were endnotes. At their request in the letter I called to confirm I had received it, typed a short response that I had received it and prepared it for mailing. A couple of hours later Wesley Strackbien and Michael Gobart called as I was leaving for a meeting. I agreed to talk for a few minutes (it ended up being nearly an hour). After receiving the letter which had been done prior to our conversation Wesley Strackbein sent another letter on August 29, 2007.
September 5, 2007
Wesley Strackbein, Managing Editor
Vision Forum Ministries
4719 Blanco Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78212
Dear Mr. Strackbein,
Again, thank you for your letter of August 17, 2007 as well as the opportunity to talk with you and Michael Gobart by phone on August 20. After completing the response to Rev. Dr. Brian Abshireâ€™s letter of July 25, 2007 and having it reviewed by one of the Board of Directors, one of the Board of Advisors, my Senior Pastor and a Presbyterian pastor I mailed it to Dr. Abshire as well as mailing a copy to you. We will post the response on the blog with a link to Dr. Abshireâ€™s letter on his website.
I have also let the MCOI Board of Directors and Advisory Board as well as the Board of Directors of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) of which I am currently the President, as well as my Senior Pastor know of your concerns and am sending them copies of Rev. Dr. Brian Abshireâ€™s letter of July 25, 2007, your August 17 letter and other pertinent material as well as a copy of our response to Rev. Dr. Brian Abshire. I will also copy them on this response which will also be reviewed prior to sending.
During the process of reviewing and discussing your August 17 letter, our August 20 telephone conversation and beginning our response I received your August 29, 2007 letter. I will address a couple of those items here and the balance a bit later on.
In paragraph 3, page 1 you write:
â€œAt this point, it seems clear that you have not only rebuffed these appeals, but that you remain committed to a pattern of misrepresentation. Examples of this are evident: (1) in your recent blog entry: (2) your voice message and subsequent lengthy conversation with us; (3) and now in your certified letter.â€
Item one seems disingenuous for it gives the impression that this is something which occurred subsequent to your original letter and/or our telephone conversation. This is something which you raised in your August 17 letter on page 8 in the last paragraph. It may be an unintentional duplication.
Regarding item 2, it is true that our telephone discussion was not mentioned in my certified letter of August 20 and the contact information for the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors were not included but there was no deceit nor was I â€œself-consciously omitting a key conversationâ€¦â€ (p 2, par. 1, August 29 letter). Rather, the letter had been written and ready to post prior to our talking. As requested on page 9, section â€œd,â€ point 1, I had included the contact information for my Senior Pastor, Richard Wollard. I did not include our doctrinal statement (an oversight on my part) which is available on our website. Please also find it included with this correspondence. I did let you know that all of the other contact information would be included in this response. It is included as an addendum as some of the contact info is home addresses which should not be made public. As you may recall, I was on my way out of the office to another meeting when you returned my call and delayed my departure in order to talk. I did not further delay leaving for the meeting in order to rewrite the letter.
As far as item 3, I am a little unclear. The letter simply acknowledged receipt of your August 17 letter and that at your request (at the end of your letter) I called your cell and acknowledged receipt. It went on to give the contact information for Pastor Richard Wollard and gave an overview of how we intended to proceed. I am not sure what this gives evidence of in your mind. You may have to clarify this one.
Regarding your August 17 letter, you have stated on page 2 that there are 2 issues, â€œYour Misrepresentations and Alliance with Renegades.â€ The synopsis of issue #1 on page 2 you give is:
â€œYou Have Broken the Ninth Commandment and Have Lovingly Been Called to Repentance by Dr. Brian Abshire, Pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church.â€
By this time you should have received a copy of our response to Dr. Abshire which either is or shortly will be posted to our blog. Therefore I will not belabor what has already been addressed.
Regarding issue #2 you give as a synopsis on page 3:
â€œYou Have Publicly Aligned Yourself with and Drawn Support from Individuals Who Have Been Excommunicated for ongoing Unrepentant Sins and Who Have Demonstrated a Pattern of Continued Sinful and Lawless Activities Since their Excommunication, as Affirmed by Several Jurisdictional Entities.â€
1) On pages 4 & 5 there are 17 assertions lodged against Mark and Jennifer Epstein with 20 endnotes. As of the time of this writing we have not been able to contact the individuals or organizations cited in order to validate the claims and assertions or spend a great deal of time reviewing the Internet sites listed. We had a similar problem when Jennifer originally contacted us about Doug Phillips and BCA (Boerne Christian Assembly). We were clear in our discussion that simply because an individual claimed a church or organization is abusive doesnâ€™t mean that it is. Over the years we have been contacted about a number of churches and organizations with claims of abuse and upon investigation confirmed that the church and/or organization had acted appropriately and within biblical guidelines. We were also clear that at present we do not have the available resources to devote to BCA and it isnâ€™t always appropriate or biblical to intrude without permission into matters of a local church. If I understand your letter correctly many of Jennifer and Mark Epsteinâ€™s charges regarding Doug Phillips and BCA are publicly available. I will forward your letter to them that they may be aware of Vision Forumâ€™s charges against them as well.
2) Since you have raised this issue another question surfaces. Is it your position that the local church the highest authority in matters of excommunication?
3) I am not sure what these issues have to do with the content of the article. A portion of the article dealt with position papers which are publicly available on Vision Forumâ€™s website and had nothing whatever to do with BCA. Neither Jennifer nor Mark Epstein provided any research, writing or input in to the article.
This brings me to the second part of this issue which has a synopsis on page 6:
â€œUNDENIABLE EVIDENCE: Your Alliance with Notorious Internet Assassins and Church Excommunicants is Irrefutableâ€
Regarding point #1. It is true that Jennifer Epstein requested a copy of the article in advance of its official printing. It was in the final stages of edit and layout at the time. It is not unusual for individuals or organizations to request a review copy of a project we are working on as it is being completed. It is also true that she requested permission to reproduce it to take to a home schooling convention. In light of it being a couple of weeks away from being published we didnâ€™t see any reason to not give permission. She wasnâ€™t acting in any official capacity for MCOI. Your citation xxv in page 15 confirms that we gave permission, but you provide nothing other than your assertion that she was acting as our agent or in concert with us.
Regarding point #2, you indicate in xxiii on page 15 that Jennifer â€œwas cited with a criminal trespass warningâ€ and in xxvi quote Jennifer as confirming this fact. Was MCOI implicated or cited by the authorities? Was there anything communicated to the authorities by Jennifer that she was acting under any authority than her own or in concert with any organization, specifically MCOI?
In point #3 you assert that we posted our articles on the Ministry Watchman website, however, the citation given in xxvii on page 5 clearly states:
â€œThe following article has been republished here with the permission of the author, Don Veinot.â€
Giving permission to someone else, whether a book author, magazine journalist or website operator to reproduce our material in part or in whole is not that same as posting it ourselves.
On point #4, the emails were written, as you point out, as private emails. The first was published with my permission and mentions that due to 2 articles, the one concerning Vision Forum and the one about G12, we have done something we have never done before and that is to upload the Journal to our website. I donâ€™t recall ever saying anything about being â€œpleasedâ€ although I have been and have stated that I have been surprised. This is also mentioned in the second private email which was posted (I donâ€™t recall if permission to post that one had been requested or not). Contrary to point 5 of your August 17, 2007 letter, we do not have a practice of making appeals for funds. Instead we stated how fiscal year closed out to those who expressed interest.
As to point #6:
â€œThe Epsteins have written extensively about their communication and working relationship with you.â€
Your endnote xxxi does not seem to support it:
â€œJennifer states several times on her blog that she is communicating with you. There are comments that either express or intimate the same on the Epstein familyâ€™s other blogsites.â€
As we reviewed and discussed this we are unclear how â€œseveralâ€ equals â€œextensiveâ€ and how â€œcommunicating with youâ€ equals â€œworking relationship with you.â€
On point #7:
â€œYou have permitted comments by the Epsteins on your own website.â€
There are many who post on our website, and due to time and resource constraints we have chosen to do very limited moderation of blog comments. Some we agree with and some we donâ€™t. For example, Gwen Shamblinâ€™s attorney (Weigh Down Workshop/Remnant Fellowship), spent a great deal of time posting and interacting with others. For the most part we do very limited moderation. We try to ensure that spam does not get through. Those who post are entitled to their beliefs but cannot be nasty or vulgar and must be prepared to be challenged by those who disagree. We donâ€™t see why Jennifer Epstein would be treated any differently than anyone else.
This brings us to page 7:
â€œIMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Your Opportunity to Set the Record Straightâ€
â€œa. Preliminary Question Regarding Your Alliances with Lawless Individualsâ€
In response to question #1:
A) You have not demonstrated that we are â€œteaming up with unscrupulous individuals.â€
B) Again: are you saying that the local church the highest authority in matters of excommunication?
C) Having experience with some who have falsely accused local churches of tyranny as well as individuals who have been spiritually abused by tyrannical leadership we do not as a rule take sides without having the opportunity to properly investigate. That is true here as we have not sided with either the Epsteins or BCA.
D) Up to this point anything we have written with regard to Vision Forum was based on information available on its publicly accessible website.
On points 2 through 4, we would not approve of anonymous attacks. Everything we do we do publicly. Even our private correspondence is sometimes posted, as you are aware. We assume no responsibility for anything anyone else does. Since you have provided a list of Vision Forum accusations, as we have time and available resources we will attempt to follow up on them. We will do the same with any claims that Jennifer and Mark Epstein now choose to submit.
On section â€œbâ€:
â€œQuestions Pertaining to an Apparent Lack of Integrity on Your Part Regarding Your Responsibilities toward the Local Church, Pastors and Brothers at Vision Forum Ministriesâ€
On question #1, B & C above will serve as a response. On question #2, as previously stated, we didnâ€™t look into accusations about Boerne Christian Assembly nor did we write about them. We did not and other than making the assertion you have not demonstrated that we solicited â€œâ€¦the aid of a couple adjudged to be treated as â€˜heathen and publicansâ€¦,â€™â€ We do believe that absent a higher court of authority than the local church in matters of excommunication, believers need other agencies to contact for assistance and guidance. It is the case that some local churches act in unbiblical, tyrannical and spiritually abusive ways.
On question #3, this has already been responded to.
Regarding question #4, our question in the article revolved around the claim of practicing â€œbiblical patriarchy.â€ We demonstrated from the Bible how patriarchy was practiced biblically and wondered if that is what Vision Forum is advocating? If it is not and there is a biblical patriarchy that is different than what we find in the Bible but is as is claimed part of the â€œgrand sweep of revelationâ€ (â€œTenants of Biblical Patriarchy,â€, par. 5) and that â€œfaithfulness to Christ requires that it be believed, taught, and lived,â€ (ibid) that we would be able to find it in the Bible. Something that the Bible supposedly requires to be believed, taught and lived should be abundantly plain and clear, particularly if it is part of the â€œgrand sweep of revelation.â€ In addition we raised the question of women voting. As we pointed out in our response to Dr. Abshire, in the paragraph immediately preceding the one we quoted we read, â€œGod does not allow women to vote (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11 ff).â€ Aside from being unable to figure out how 1 Tim. 2:11 supports the claim, wouldnâ€™t that mean that if a woman votes she is doing something that God presently (â€œdoes notâ€ is a statement in the present tense) allow? If the assertion is true, then by voting she would be sinning. On the other hand, if she is not sinning than isnâ€™t the assertion false?
Back to your most recent letter, August 29, 2007, much of it is a restatement of claims and question of your August 17, 2007 letter and has been responded to in the foregoing. With regard to #1 on page 2:
â€œYou Were Unwilling to Provide Contact Information for your Board in a Timely Mannerâ€
If by â€œtimelyâ€ you mean at the precise moment of the request, even if it meant further delaying a previously scheduled meeting which you had been made aware of before we began the discussion, then the answer is yes. I was not willing to further inconvenience someone with whom I had a prior obligation when I could comply with your request within what most people would consider a reasonable amount of time. Furthermore, I did tell you that the contact information would be in this response both on the phone and in a letter which had been completed prior to my preparing to leave for the meeting which I delayed in order to talk to you.
On point 2:
â€œYou Were Unwilling to Acknowledge That We Are Your Christian Brothersâ€
On this one I am completely baffled. I have never said or indicated that you were not. We havenâ€™t even said that Bill Gothard is not a Christian. We believe that in spite of his false teaching that he is.
Regarding our Statement of Faith, please refer to Addendum #1 (this is also available on the website).
See Addendum #2 for the contact information for the Board of Directors and Advisory Board for MCOI.
Yours in His Service,
Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.
L.L. (Don) Veinot Jr.
Cc: Rev. Dr. Brian Abshire
MCOI Board of Directors
MCOI Advisory Board
EMBR Board of Directors
Mark and Jennifer Epstein
Pastor Richard Wollard, Meadowland Community Church
Pastor Paul Winters, Spring Valley Presbyterian Church
MCOI Crux Blog
Another article on the Vision Forum website that may be of interest is: How to Respond to a Tale-Bearer: Dr. Brian Abshire Models an Apologetic of Sound Reasoning and Christian Charity for Family Reformers.