The Christian Apologist and the Frivolous Lawsuit
Paul Derengowski, ThM
We live in an age of litigation. Indiscriminate and frivolous lawsuits1 abound, and no one is exempt from the possibility of being sued for any reason. D. A. Carson opines that, “We have entered an era of multiplying litigation, in which punitive compensatory damages are ardently sought, less out of a passion for dispassionate justice than out of our passionate greed, out of vengeful pettiness that feeds on newly discovered forms of ‘victimization.’”2 It will be the object of this paper, therefore, to briefly discuss what the Christian apologist can do when he is faced with what amounts to be a frivolous lawsuit. Because in the ever-growing world of litigation more and more Christian apologists are becoming targets of frivolous lawsuits, which have nothing to do with exaltation of the truth and justice, but the financial destruction of the Christian—and his ministry—whereby his critical analysis of a given belief, doctrine, organization or idea is rendered silent.
The form this paper will take will be divided into four parts. Part one will look at what the Bible has to say about litigation and God’s people, with the express purpose of discerning what the Bible has to say in respect to the Christian’s response to those suing or mistreating them. Should Christians kowtow or “turn the other cheek” every time someone comes along and threatens him with a lawsuit? Part two will examine some of the more prominent and contemporary plaintiffs regularly filing lawsuits against Christian apologists. What does history tell us about them and their actions, along with what happened to their victims? Part three observes the modus operandi and agenda of those notorious for abusing the legal system to silence its critics. Are groups like the Church of Scientology and The Local Church of Witness Lee really after truth and justice, or are they out to accomplish something much less noble? Finally, part four will offer some practical suggestions that the Christian apologist may implement in an effort to ward off potential frivolous lawsuits. Although the suggestions do not provide a fail-safe guarantee of preventing anyone from suing the Christian apologist, nor are they to be considered legal counsel, they are helpful in keeping one as prepared as possible in case one is sued in a court of law. So, without further introduction, what does the Bible have to say about litigation and God’s people?
Christians and the Courthouse
The Bible is replete with examples of how God’s people were to address legal issues among themselves. In the Old Testament priests and judges were primarily appointed to handle judgments and lawsuits among the people. According to Hamp, “The lawsuit was carried out in the early nomadic period by the tribal chief, later by the elders at the gate of the city, and then by the king as the highest court and by his official judges. In difficult and uncertain cases the priests had to render a divine decision (Dt. 17:8).” 3 There were very few, if any, circumstances that the various divisions of judges and priests could not handle. For the more difficult cases, Moses initially intervened to decide, which was subsequently abandoned upon Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan. Faulty accusations against someone brought the same judgment against the accuser as would have been enacted against the accused had the accused been judged culpable of the accusation (Deut. 19:18-10).
When one turns to the New Testament not only is there recognition that the Christian should pay obeisance to the secular authorities (Rom. 13:1-5), but that the Christian should allow the legal system to runs its course without retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42). Unfortunately, there were some Christians who were using the secular courts to determine disputes between them and other Christians. The Apostle Paul deemed this to be shameful, and that it would be better to be wronged or defrauded than to present one’s case before a hostile, non-believing, secular judge as an arbiter of the dispute (1 Cor. 6:1-8). One reason why Paul discouraged such actions by Christians toward each other was because of the perverse nature of the secular judges and juries that convened to hear such matters. Not only was the legal system highly manipulated through financial and social means, the goal of such trials was to ultimately bring enmity between the plaintiffs and defendants through the legal rhetoric taught to the young men who would become orators in the courts. Bruce Winter observed that,
The prosecutor with his hostile speeches and the damaging evidence of his witnesses [who were not always truthful] caused great personal resentment with loss of dignity for the defendant…There were no rules of evidence which guarded against this. Defendants could be subject to muck-raking and fabrication and this lack of legal restraint helps to explain why prosecutor and defendant could so rarely avoid inimicitiae. 4
Consistent with the OT mandate, however, against bringing false charges against someone, Roman “law provided for calumnia, by which a person bringing a false charge was subject to the same punishment he sought against the accused.” 5
While the Bible is comprehensive in its instruction on what to do when legal matters arise between believers, it has little to say about the subject when secular or faulty religious organizations and individuals are the perpetrators of a frivolous lawsuit. What it does give are occasions when perverse men, whether secular or religious, abused the legal system to carry out oppressive actions against the righteous. For example, in Acts 6-7 Stephen is arrested by the “Synagogue of the Freedmen,” 6 because they were unable to cope with what he was doing and saying. After bribing a few individuals to slander Stephen, they summarily dragged him away to face the Sanhedrin and then trumped up charges of speaking against the Temple and the Law. Stephen is allowed a short rebuttal, which involved a concluding rhetorical question and accusation that “cut [the Sanhedrin judges] to the quick,” to which they responded by immediately taking him outside the city and stoning him to death, which clearly they were not allowed to do under Roman law. Stephen’s reaction was to submit to the stoning and to pray that God would not hold their sin against them (7:60).
Another classic example of judicial tyranny against a Christian is found in the person of the apostle Paul. Almost from the outset of his conversion the Jews were persistent in pursuing and subduing him to have him silenced. Paul, though, was equally persistent in his calling, believing that he had a message directly from Jesus Christ, and that that calling involved taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, the Jews managed to seize Paul more than once, with perhaps the most definitive abuses of the law by the Jews occurring when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and subsequently tried in Caesarea, to which Paul eventually appeals to Caesar in Rome (Acts 21:17-26:32).
Throughout the course of Paul’s legal confrontations he offers, perhaps, a paradigm relevant to the topic of this paper, namely what course an apologist can take when dealing with those who abuse the law. First, Paul knew the Roman legal system, and consistently and continually defended (avpologi,a) himself when it was necessary and when he was allowed (cf. Acts 22:1; 24:10; 25:8; 26:1, 2, 24). It was something that he never really looked forward to, defending himself, but became quite well practiced, as is witnessed in his second letter to the Corinthians. Second, Paul meticulously and respectfully spoke the truth about where he had been, what he had done, and what he had said to anyone who inquired. There was no duplicity on his part. He merely answered the accusations, though at times passionately, 7 which ordinarily left his critics speechless. Third, Paul exhibited great courage, yet compassion, amid the crowds and circumstances that he was forced into. To him ministry to the lost and the sharing of the gospel did not stop at the court room door. Hence, the Roman officials were repeatedly as interested in Paul’s message as they were the accusations against him, and he seized those opportunities to invite them to accept the truth. But of all the events recorded in the Bible where God’s people were illegally persecuted, none compares with what took place in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
From nearly the outset of Jesus’ ministry “the Jews were seeking to kill Him” (Jn. 5:18; 7:1). They did not like what he said, what he did, or what he claimed to be. Because of their seething hatred of him, they proceeded to scheme, plan, and strategize a way of disposing of him, even if it meant to hypocritically break their own laws to do it. The fruition of their plot began to take shape when the Jewish leaders agreed with the betrayal proposed by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16). Timing after the deal was made was everything for both parties involved, given the crowding of Jerusalem during the Passover. “The money was being paid for the right choice of time and place,” 8 and it did not take Judas long to come through. At night Judas leads a mob of Jesus’ Jewish enemies, along with a garrison of Roman soldiers, to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After transporting him to Annas’ Palace for a preliminary hearing before the former High Priest, Annas, 9 which was illegal, 10 he was sent to the acting High Priest, Caiaphas (Jn. 18:24), for another illegal proceeding. Failing to garner the desired response, namely Jesus incriminating himself, and lacking any credible witnesses, Caiaphas and his cohorts badger a statement from Jesus which is then slanderously used to trump up a charge of blasphemy. 11 Temporarily satisfied with their efforts, the leaders proceed to physically and verbally abuse Jesus, which was a violation toward a convicted capital offender, and sent him off to Pontius Pilate for a hopeful final sentencing unto death.
Sending Jesus to stand before Pilate, though, was as much of a legal farce as it was before the Sanhedrin. Pilate had not only sanctioned Jesus’ arrest without warrant the night before, but when he is presented to Pilate by the Jewish authorities, Pilate acts surprised as to why Jesus is even standing before him at all. Clearly there was no legal precedence for Jesus to be questioned by Pilate, and given the interrogation by Pilate that becomes even more evident. In fact, the Roman procurator declared five times that Jesus was either innocent or was not guilty of any criminal acts (Lk. 23:14, 22; Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6). Nevertheless, Pilate succumbs to the frothing crowd’s demands and proceeds to condemn to death Jesus by crucifixion for something that (1) was not the charge the Sanhedrin charged him with (blasphemy), and (2) Jesus was innocent of committing. Furthermore, the gleeful approval by the Jewish crowd to have Jesus crucified again violated Jewish law. 12 Also, ironically, when Pilate releases Barabbas (whose name means “Son of the Father”), a person was released who was guilty of the very crime that Jesus was innocent of. From beginning to end, Jesus’ trials were conducted illegally, and clearly could be labeled “kangaroo courts.” 13
But, what are some basic principles that can be learned from Jesus’ reactions? First of all, Jesus did not respond to specious accusations (Matt. 26:63; 27:12; Jn. 19:9). He knew what his accusers were after, and it was not truth and justice. Furthermore, he knew that they were not interested in a civil exchange; hence they would never answer his questions either (Lk. 22:67-68). Therefore, answering foolishness as foolishness deserves (Prov. 26:4-5) is the prudent thing to do. Second, Jesus remained cool, calm, and collected during the proceedings. He never lost control throughout what amounted to hours of unimaginable physical and verbal abuse. In other words, in the midst of wolves he followed his own advice delivered earlier to his disciples by not becoming anxious about how or what to speak (Matt. 10:19). Finally, when Jesus did speak, he stuck strictly to the facts, spoke directly to the questions asked, and was brief about it. He was on trial, regardless of whether it was legal or not, and Jesus knew that being verbose garnered him nothing, especially since his accusers, once again, where deaf to the truth. Hence, there was no need in putting additional bullets in their guns to shoot him with, so to speak.
Stephen, Paul, and Jesus are only three examples that the Christian apologist could point to who had legal dealings with the Jewish and Roman court systems of their day. Others might include Peter, John, Jason, and the Thessalonians believers. Whatever case, though, the patterns of conduct among the Christians when faced with legal persecution were nearly the same. With those in mind we now turn our attention to more contemporary times. The persecutors are no longer the Jewish elite, but their zeal to abuse the law has been no less notorious and legendary. For space considerations only three groups will be discussed: The Church of Scientology (CoS), Landmark Education Corporation (LEC), and The Local Church of Witness Lee (TLC).Notorious Plaintiffs
The Church of Scientology is the creation of the late pulp fiction writer “Commodore” Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, or simply L. Ron Hubbard (“Elron” to his admirers). Hubbard was an eccentric individual, meaning that what was written about him biographically by CoS was as inconsistent with truth and reality as his ideas were about the same. Having been touted as a great war hero, nuclear physicist, and staunch humanitarian, among other things, in reality he was a “mentally troubled” naval veteran with “suicidal inclinations,” who was a college drop-out, and anyone crossing his path in a manner critical of him or his inventions was subjected to some of the most inhumane retribution imaginable.
Scientology is a quasi-religious, eclectic mish-mash of Eastern philosophy and religion, human potential goals and techniques, and a dash of occult practices 14 and ancient Gnostic overtones. It is an outgrowth of Hubbard’s “technology,” that he labeled Dianetics. The alleged goal of Scientology “is to bring an individual to a sufficient understanding of himself and his life and free him to make improvements where he finds them necessary and in the ways he sees fit.” 15 Success at attaining the goal is accomplished through the individual subjecting himself to multiple, and often times expensive, “auditing” sessions whereby the adherent attempts to achieve a state of “clear.” 16 Of course arriving at the state of “clear” only means that the individual has partially arrived, since there are varying levels that all “Clears” should strive to attain as “Operating Thetans,” 17 (OT) of which there are numerous levels as well.
Perhaps the most peculiar of the OT levels that has caused the most amount of controversy with the critics of Scientology is the OT III level. 18 OT III is L. Ron Hubbard’s explanation of how overpopulation was solved in the galaxy millennia ago, along with the introduction of a menacing character named “Xenu,” (or, “Xemu”) who fomented a plan to reduce the population. Unfortunately, this same character, through his plan, introduced “body thetans” to everyone, which must be eradicated through Scientology’s auditing methods. Several accounts of the OT III level are available, which help to explain the essential content of the belief. Margery Wakefield attributes the following account to Hubbard himself when she explicates the OT III concept as,
“The head of the Galactic Confederation (76 planets around larger stars visible from here) (founded 95,000,000 years ago, very space opera) solved overpopulation (250 billion or so per planet—178 billion on average) by mass implanting.
“He caused people to be brought to Teegeeack (Earth) and put an H Bomb on the principal volcanoes (incident 2) and then the Pacific ones were taken in boxes to Hawaii and the Atlantic area ones to Las Palmas and there ‘packaged.’ 19
“His name was Xenu. He used renegades. Various misleading data by means of circuits, etc., was placed in the implants.
“When through with his crime, Loyal Officers (to the people) captured him after six years of battle and put him in an electronic mountain trap where he still is. ‘They’ are gone. The place (Confed.) has since been a desert.
“The length and brutality of it all was such that this Confederation never recovered. The implant is calculated to kill (by pneumonia, etc.) anyone who attempts to solve it. This liability has been dispensed with by my tech development.
“One can free wheel through the implant and die unless it is approached as precisely outlined. The ‘free wheel’ (auto running on and on) lasts too long, denies sleep, etc., and one dies….
“In December ’67 I knew somebody had to take the plunge. I did and managed very knocked out but alive. Probably the only one ever to do so in 75,000,000 years. I have all the data now but only that given here is needful….
L. Ron Hubbard 20
This is only one of the many bizarre beliefs held by Scientologists. It is also one of the beliefs that Scientologists believe is compatible with Christian beliefs. It is one of the beliefs held by a former Scientologist who defected from Scientology and developed his own self-help “technology,” that would evolve into becoming a highly litigious organization towards its critics as well. That person and organization was Werner Erhard and est, which is currently known as Landmark Education Corporation.
Landmark Education Corporation is the self-help business that evolved out of the 1970s Human Potential organizations known as est (Erhard Seminars Training), and the Forum. Begun by Werner Erhard 21 (formerly John Paul Rosenberg), est was the amalgam of several pop psychology, Eastern mystical, and human potential disciplines designed to help people discover themselves. 22 Although Erhard’s creation incorporated many different religious philosophies 23 and occultic techniques, Zen Buddhism, Scientology, and Mind Dynamics had the most impact on est’s development. Nevertheless, after 20 years of evolving “technology,” and amid mounting allegations of moral and financial wrongdoing, Erhard sold his human potential empire to the organization’s employees in January 1991, and the Forum, formerly est, became LEC/Landmark Forum. Presently, Harry Rosenberg (Werner Erhard’s younger brother) acts as the CEO of LEC, and their sister, Joan Rosenberg, serves as the Vice President of Landmark Education’s Center Division.
Although LEC officials have taken great strides in attempting to distance LEC from any affiliation with est/The Forum, including its founder Werner Erhard, the effort has been cosmetic at best. Because of an 18-year licensing agreement signed in 1991 with Erhard, LEC continues to use much of the same “technology and intellectual property” used in The Forum seminars prior to its dissolution. That is not to say that LEC has not added seminars to its repertoire, but that the fundamental basis for its programs and curriculum lie in what Werner Erhard created back in the 1970s and 80s. Therefore, in the Landmark Forum there are still “breakthroughs,” “rackets,” and “vicious circles,” all terms that Werner Erhard borrowed and then redefined to suit his particular brand of self-help psychology.
LEC acknowledges the “enormous contribution of Mr. Erhard’s ideas, and Landmark’s R&D team consult with him from time to time.” 24 And while some of the instructors conducting the seminars might be somewhat less verbally abusive today than they were in the past, a recent French documentary done in 2004—which led Landmark to actuate legal action against the Internet giant Google (that was eventually dropped) for retaining the video—showed that there is still plenty of “harassment,” “public humiliation,” and “violent words” taking place during a typical Landmark session. 25 In fact, introductory seminars are still conducted in enclosed hotel ballrooms, with covered windows, in precisely arranged seating for maximum effect, just like they were in the days when Erhard was running the show. No one is allowed to take notes during the sessions, watches are prohibited, and the hours are long and grueling (usually starting a 9 a.m. and lasting until 10 p.m., or later, with additional homework to be done after that).
While Landmark has posted several glowing reports from those who apparently have been “transformed” in a positive way by their “experience,” assertions of “brainwashing,” “cultism,” and “terroris[m]” (among others) still resound from those critical of Landmark’s tactics. 26 And given Landmark’s historical propensity to bully its attendants into submission during its seminars, as well as those criticizing it’s bullying, intimidating, and threatening on the outside, the assertions have more than an air of plausibility.
The Local Church of Witness Lee (TLC)is actually an offshoot of a Christian movement that was started in 1923, and known as “the Little Flock Movement.” That movement was founded and headed by Chinese Christian mystic Watchman Nee. Witness Lee came into prominence in 1946 when he was asked by Watchman Nee to assist him in his work in Foochow, China. Later, when Watchman Nee was imprisoned in China, Lee would diverge away from the Little Flock and venture out on his own, using the same structure, and taking with him several of Nee’s followers in the process.
It would not be until 1962 when Lee migrated to the United States that TLC would gain any prominence there. Unfortunately for Lee and TLC, with such prominence came much controversy, especially when TLC started proselytizing Christians and then making the outlandish claim that those who were not a part of TLC, but were Christians involved in a church other than TLC, were a part of “Babylon.” 27 In fact, according to the late Walter Martin, “Church members in the Southern California area began to disrupt other church’s services, and to call other Christians members of ‘Babylon.’ These practices soon spread to the other Local Churches.” 28
Several doctrinal questions and problems have arisen since 1974 when TLC began its assault upon various Christian leaders and researchers. 29 Questions about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and their relationship to each other in the Trinity have sparked one debate after another. Add to this is the fact that TLC has produced its own Bible version (The Recovery Version) which is relatively reliable as a translation. 30 The problems with the version, though, arise with subsequent commentary associated with it, where sin is equated with Satan (Jn. 3:14 31; Rom. 5:12 32), Christ’s redemption was supposedly enjoyed before he even went to the cross (Rom. 10:13), 33 and the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) is viewed as the “dead letter” (2 Cor. 3:7), 34 and churches and synagogues other than TLC are viewed in less than flattering terms (Matt. 16:18 35; Rev. 2:9 36).
TLC representatives have vehemently denied the charges of its critics that it taught doctrinal deviations contrary to biblically historical Christianity, even though as already seen, TLC has supplied several documented statements to justify the charges. Yet, perhaps the greatest evidence that TLC is not what it claims to be, namely a fair representative of the Christian faith, is the number and kinds of lawsuits that it has filed against Christians in an attempt to stifle the criticisms. It is a subject that we now turn to.
The Modus Operandi and Agenda of the Plaintiffs
The method of operation and agenda of those filing frivolous lawsuits has been varied, yet in each case there are at least two goals intended: suppression of the truth and bankrupting the critic. In the former instance prevention of exposure of the main teachings and practices that are propagated or engaged in is what is meant by suppression of the truth. Classic examples of this are seen in the Church of Scientology’s efforts to prevent its critics from divulging information relative to OT III level teaching on galactic origins, body thetans, and the evil ruler Xenu, or Landmark Education’s efforts to prohibit anyone from criticizing what goes on inside a forum as being “cultic” in nature. In the latter instance, not only are the punitive damages asked for extraordinarily high against the critic 37, a frequent strategy of those filing the lawsuits is to simply attempt to extend the pre-trial motions and discovery to the point where the financial resources of the defendant are exhausted, and hence the plaintiff wins by default in court or by an unfair settlement out of court. Three briefs examples relative to the three organizations previously mentioned above should serve adequately as proof as to what is going on in these types of lawsuits.
The Church of Scientology is probably the most litigious of the three groups mentioned, having been involved in over 100 lawsuits, in one respect or another, since 1990. Yet, one particular detractor of the CoS that met its end after years of contemplation, argumentation, and litigation was the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). CAN actually started as a parental support group in 1973, when a woman by the name of Henrietta Crampton saw her daughter accosted by a cult (the “Love Family”) in Seattle. From that event several other parents who also had children that became involved in various cult organizations formed what was then the Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF). The whole goal of CFF was to share information with individuals, parents, and organizations who inquired about cult organizations and activities in an effort to hopefully rescue loved ones out of the cults. In 1985 CFF changed its name to the Cult Awareness Network, and located an office in Berrington, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago).
Trouble in the early stages between the CoS and CAN was realized through harassing flyers and picketing of CAN’s meetings, even though similar behavior by Scientology proponents had been occurring long before CAN came into existence. CAN’s initial response was guarded, but typical, assuming that such hostile behavior came with the business. However, starting in 1991 the demeanor of Scientology’s adherents became even uglier when TIME magazine published a damning article that described the organization as “…a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.” 38 Also, in the same article, then executive director of CAN, Cynthia Kisser, asserted that, “Scientology is quite likely the most ruthless, the most classically terroristic, the most litigious and the most lucrative cult the country has ever seen. No cult extracts more money from its members.” 39 Shortly after the TIME article was published CAN was served with 50 lawsuits almost simultaneously, leaving Kisser to speculate that it was because of her comments made to TIME that the Church’s disruptiveness escalated. 40
Yet, it would not be until 1994 when a lawsuit was filed by 22-year-old Jason Scott that would spell the demise of CAN. Jason was not a Scientologist, but an individual introduced to a United Pentecostal church by his mother, Katherine Tonkin, who upon leaving the congregation, he refused to leave with her. She became worried about his, and his brother’s, welfare (who also refused to leave the church), and contacted CAN for advice on how to extricate them. Volunteer CAN worker Shirley Landa referred Ms. Tonkin to then deprogrammer Rick Ross, who was not an employee of CAN. He and some of his men flew to Seattle, extracted the boys from the church, and proceeded to deprogram all of them, or at least so he thought. Scott, it turns out, only played along with the abduction long enough to escape and call police officials.
During the kidnapping trial of Ross, Scott was contacted by attorney’s from the CoS and was encouraged by them to file a lawsuit against CAN, even though CAN was not directly responsible for Ross’ actions. Scott proceeded to follow the counselor’s advice, which was headed up by Kendrick Moxon. Scott was not aware of Moxon’s association with Scientology initially, nor the historical animosity that existed between Scientology and CAN. Nevertheless, due to the relentless pursuit to destroy CAN through the previous years of litigation, CAN was unable to financially defend itself in court, lost the suit filed by Scott, and eventually lost everything in a bankruptcy court auction to its rival, the CoS. To this day the Cult Awareness Network is owned and operated primarily by Scientology members and sympathizers, even though Scientology officials have attempted to make CAN look as diverse as possible with the hiring of a few non-Scientologists to run the main office which is now located in Los Angeles, California, which is also the geographical headquarters of the CoS.
When we turn to Landmark Education Corporation, once again, examples abound of the legal harassment it has engaged in, in order to stifle its critics. As mentioned earlier, LEC recently filed suit against Google for airing a French documentary revealing what takes place during a Forum session, which contradicted many of the denials of abuse and intimidation made by LEC. The suit was subsequently dropped. Other business entities and organizations that have faced the litigious LEC include Elle magazine, Metro Active, and yes, the Cult Awareness Network before changing hands with the Church of Scientology.
Nevertheless, there is nothing like personal experience with an entity like LEC, and the threat of a lawsuit, which better drives home the reality of the tyranny that such groups engage in to intimidate its perceived enemies. For in 1998 this author was subjected to such a threat by LEC after writing a “Profile” for the Watchman Expositor, which is a journal that is published by Watchman Fellowship for the express purpose of educating the public about entities like LEC. Watchman Fellowship is a counter-cult organization located in Arlington, Texas.
Shortly after the four-page Profile was published, legal counsel for LEC, Art Schreiber, contacted Watchman Fellowship via FedEx. 41 Ironically, Mr. Schreiber’s opening salvo had more to do with Watchman’s “1997 Index of Cults and Religions” than it did with the Profile itself. In 20/20 hindsight it appears that the Profile sparked interest in Watchman’s association of LEC with cultism, and LEC took exception with such an association, and hence anything else Watchman had to say about LEC, regardless of the truth. In fact, apart from a few general comments relative to Werner Erhard made by Mr. Schreiber, ten pages into the introductory threat letter, very little was said about the Profile.
In a response drafted by myself I attempted to address what I thought were the four main issues that LEC was concerned with, which LEC thought needed correction. Those issues were the definition of a cult, whether LEC propagated religious beliefs, the character of Werner Erhard, and LEC’s association with est/the Forum. In that draft letter I attempted to meticulously comb through the details and documentation to validate not only what was already true in the Profile, but to clarify any possible misunderstandings. That response was reviewed by other Watchman officials, including its attorney’s, and submitted to Mr. Schreiber for his approval and/or input. He responded thus:
This is to advise you that the proposed changes in the redraft of the Profile still contains a number of inaccurate and defamatory statements regarding Landmark and its programs. The basic problem stems from the fact that it is obvious no one in Watchman Fellowship has any personal knowledge of The Landmark Forum or other Landmark programs. As a result, the Profile is based on materials written about est, which Watchman Fellowship erroneously believes continues on with Landmark and its programs, which materials were prepared by people with no personal knowledge of Landmark or The Landmark Forum. 42
Granted, no one at Watchman Fellowship had taken a Landmark course. Then again, no one at Watchman Fellowship had ever engaged in a satanic ritual either, yet we were quite capable of writing and speaking intelligently and accurately about such an event by merely consulting with those who had participated in such and event, or with material written on the subject. The point being was that regardless of our efforts to appease Mr. Schreiber, it was clear to us that he was not going to be satisfied. What he wanted was a complete retraction of all comments, not in an effort to divulge the truth about LEC’s historical journey to the present, including criticisms about its conduct as reported by those who had participated in a LEC seminar, but to quash it. And sad to say, even after re-writing the Profile, which excluded any mention of LEC, and only focused on Werner Erhard and est, threatened fear of a potentially protracted lawsuit with LEC led Watchman to eliminate the Profile entirely, as well as any mention of LEC from its “Index of Cults and Religions.” Clearly, LEC bullied, Watchman blinked, and the rest is history.
Our final look at judicial abuse and the filing of a frivolous lawsuit concerns the activities of The Local Church of Witness Lee. What makes it particularly tragic, though, are its claims to be “Christian,” as it targets Christians in an effort to silence their criticisms. As a “Christian” entity, The Local Church has filed several lawsuits against Christian organizations and individuals in what it claims are efforts to “resolve an unrighteous situation with brothers.” 43 In 1980 it filed a lawsuit against Neil Duddy and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), and again in 1980 it filed a lawsuit against Jack Spark and Thomas Nelson Publishers. TLC won in both cases, although it would appear that in both instances the strategies used to win were dubious at best.
Yet, it is the most recent act of litigation by TLC against Harvest House Publishers, and more specifically against John Ankerberg and John Weldon, and their book Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR), that we will discuss here. In 1999 the ECNR was published for the specific purposes that those
“…on the outside who are unknowingly mislead by the claims of these groups who are thinking of joining. We wrote it for people on the inside who are members of these groups, to help them do some reality testing. We also wrote it for Christians who may unsuspectingly join these groups, or be introduced to them and confused by their claims to be compatible with Christianity.” 44
In December 2001, TLC took exception to it being addressed in the encyclopedia (about one-and-a-quarter pages worth of commentary), and subsequently filed a $136 million defamation lawsuit against the publisher and authors. In the original suit TLC’s main complaint could be summed up in a refutation that it was a cult, and that all that was written in respect to cult characteristics in the book were explicitly, and libelously, referable to TLC itself. Harvest House’s rebuttal was that the general statements made in the introduction and the doctrinal appendix about cults was in no way directly attributable to TLC. In fact, the introduction makes the following statement that, “Not all groups have all the characteristics and not all groups have every characteristic in equal measure, but if we were to make ‘the perfect cult,’ criminal cults excluded, it would include the following.” 45 Nevertheless, TLC begged to differ with the explanation and filed the suit anyway.
Nearly three years after the initial filing of the lawsuit, which included a series of denials for summary judgments 46 to dismiss the suit on the basis that what was written in the ECNR was not defamatory, as well as several amicus briefs pleading in behalf of the defendants, and a scathing decision against Harvest House, Ankerberg, and Weldon by a Texas Court of Appeals, it was decided in The Court of Appeals, First District of Texas, to overturn the lower court’s decision that the book was defamatory. According to Judge Sherry Radack,
The gist of the church’s complaint is that, by calling it a “cult” and including a chapter on it in the book, the publisher and authors have accused it of every “immoral, illegal and despicable action” mentioned in the book. However, as we stated earlier, under the group libel doctrine, a plaintiff has no cause of action for a defamatory statement directed to some or less than all of the group when there is nothing to single out the plaintiff. Eskew, 905 S.W.2d at 462. 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.
Hence, not only was the decision reversed, TLC took nothing in the suit. TLC subsequently filed a motion for the Texas Supreme Court to review the Appeal’s Court decision. It declined to review the case. That has not stopped TLC, however, from continuing its legal crusade, motioning in December 2006 for the Texas Supreme Court to hear their petition anyway. Furthermore, additional amicus briefs have been filed both in behalf of TLC and Harvest House, with TLC hoping to persuade the Texas Supreme Court to change its mind and review the case. As of February 9, 2007, when the last brief was filed, there was no change in the court’s decision. If history, and this paper, has demonstrated anything when it comes to these kinds of lawsuits, it is that those filing them are tenacious and well-funded, and barring an outright denial to proceed, the plaintiff will continue until it gets blood.
What is a Christian apologist to do?
Thus far it has been seen that legal action against God’s people has been fairly commonplace throughout history. And given the recent antipathy towards Christianity in an environment of ever-growing human skepticism, narcissism, and postmodern irrationalism, that trend can only continue, as the societal mantras of tolerance and diversity include everyone and everything except Christians with an absolutist worldview of the truth. Nevertheless, what are some practical steps that the Christian apologist can do to possibly prevent becoming the target of frivolous litigation?
Christian attorney John Eidsmore, in writing on the topics of defamation, slander, and libel in the media, offered five suggestions that he believes will assist in preventing the possible filing of a lawsuit. Although his advice is directed primarily to Christian broadcasters, it could be extrapolated by the Christian apologist as sound advice for him as well. Those points are summarized as follows:
- “The Christian [apologist] should therefore be cautious, but not intimidated, about what he says,” or writes. 47 He should “check his facts,” and “keep and use documentation for facts.” Although as witnessed above, there are going to be times when facts, truth, and justice are not necessarily the goal of those doing the suing, the prudent person dealing with apologetic issues can never totally go wrong by relying upon the truth as his goal for arriving at his conclusions, and to document the facts leading to them.
- The Christian apologist, when discussing “controversial issues,” should try to refrain from attacking persons, and instead attack ideas. And “If it is necessary to talk about persons, it is sometimes better to do so without naming them personally.” Although one is not guaranteed that someone is not going to file a lawsuit by merely addressing ideas, the likelihood of that happening is minimized if one tries to stick to criticizing ideas rather than persons.
- The Christian apologist, again, when discussing controversial issues, should attempt to refrain from using malice in his language. “Distinguish fact from opinion,” advises Eidsmore. Instead of saying that Landmark Education Corporation is a money-grubbing cult straight out of hell, state something to the effect that “I believe that LEC makes money from its programs using questionable means to do so, and here are the reasons why I arrived at my conclusion.”
- The Christian apologist, if he makes an erroneous statement about an issue of fact, or contributes to a falsehood in some way, “the best thing to do is issue a prompt and prominent retraction.” Although the offended may not necessarily refrain from suing, a retraction may mitigate possible damages. And if the retraction is accepted, in Eidsmore’s opinion, one “may wish to consult an attorney and obtain an agreement in writing, by which [the offended] agrees to release [the offender] from any possible damages for defamation.”
- The Christian apologist may find it wise to invest in libel/First Amendment insurance, otherwise known as a “Media Perils Insurance.” 48 Although investing in insurance will not take away the pain of being sued, or sitting through hours of depositions and court testimony, libel insurance can help the apologist pay any potential damages, court costs, or attorney’s fees, should he become involved in the costly process of defending himself and his work.
Additionally, Christian lawyer and apologist, Kevin A. Lewis, of Biola University, suggests the following tips as well. First, the Christian apologist should make the effort to know the law, particularly those aspects which deal with copyright and defamation law. In his words, “These are the two areas that will bring the most misery if violated.” 49 Furthermore, he continues that “knowing the First Amendment issues is an important foundation for maintaining our platform to speak in the Public Square.” In other words, it is one thing to speak openly, passionately, and truthfully in defending the Christian faith in light of potential litigants who do not like what the Christian is saying, but it is something else to speak in the same manner while being aware of what is going on around him in terms of current First Amendment arguments that allow him to speak and write at all. Yet, even at that, Dr. Lewis astutely observes, “You simply cannot prevent all lawsuits.” One can only take as many precautions as possible, and then deal with what may come as professionally, promptly, and proficiently as is feasible. It is not as if the apologist is being fatalistic about possible litigation. One is merely being a realist, knowing that because of one’s stand for the truth, one may also end up in court one day defending it and himself, and that despite all the preparation to avoid it.
Finally, Jassin and Schechter, attorneys who specialize in copyright and libel law offer the following on “How to Minimize Libel Claims,” 50 particularly those which have not already been mentioned. (1) “Recognize the People Most Likely to Sue,” particularly those whose reputations are on the line, and those who are notorious for filing suits because of “unflattering statements.” (2) “Perform a Careful Prepublication Review,” identifying potentially defaming statements and comments. (3) “Connect All Accusations with People Described.” In other words, create a list of the people to whom accusations have been directed, along with a list of “positive and nonembarrassing statements” as well. (4) “Determine Whether You Can Defend a Claim,” or simply make sure that if a negative comment is made, it can be backed up by the facts. (5) “If You Can’t Avoid a Potential Claim, Seek Legal Advice.” Given the cost of litigation, and the potential that one might lose during a suit, consulting with a competent attorney before a work is published is a sound preventative decision. And (6) If despite all the efforts one has taken to prevent a possible lawsuit fails, and someone wants to sue anyway, “take the threat seriously. However, do not admit guilt,” and be polite and prompt in any subsequent action, whether such action includes either a retraction or the publication of a withdrawal.
Being an apologist for the Christian faith is risky business, particularly when so many individuals and organizations that exist today promote worldviews and ideas that are either contrary to Christian values and truth, or they strive to mimic and undermine them. Furthermore, many of those individuals and organizations are brazen enough to file a lawsuit in an instant to hush up those criticizing their inventions or caricatures. And the risk of contending for the faith once delivered to the saints is not likely to diminish. In fact, the Bible predicts that in the future “dangerous” times will come, whereby men will be consumed by their self-love and ambition, and will turn away from the truth to follow myths (2 Tim. 3:1-5; 4:3-4). And given what was discussed throughout this paper, frivolous lawsuits and abuses of the law are surely to be a part of the danger.
Yet, amid such an ominous forecast the Christian apologist must still stand for the truth against the multiplying attacks which seek to subvert it. He must continue to exercise his God-given gifts of discerning and propagating the truth, while exposing and countering the deceptions. There are no other options. There are no other alternatives. The apologist may cautiously and carefully make plans to avoid potential frivolous litigation, but in the end, and amid the preparations, he must make his stand. For should the day come when the Christian apologist fails to stand, and conversely cowers in the course of the threats and intimidations of impending lawsuits, then he will have become like those making the threats and intimidations. He will not be worth his salt, and will have betrayed the very One who gave His life to provide a solid foundation upon which he could stand. This does not mean that the apologist should go looking for trouble, or simply causing trouble for the sake of provoking a lawsuit, but only that when trouble comes (and it will) he should do all that he can do, to stand.
1 What is meant by frivolous lawsuits are those actions, whether civil or criminal, taken by any given party against another for non-sensical or trivial reasons. Although there are certainly too many to list here, a few examples are worth noting for clarification purposes.
“The Sacramento Bee reports that Lee Williams, 23, is seeking $25,000 in damages from a tattoo parlor for misspelling the word “villain” on his right forearm. The problem is, the incorrect spelling “villian” came from Williams himself, who was unsure as to the spelling of the word upon entering the parlor. After much debate he settled on the incorrect spelling. In fact, Williams did not even notice the error until years later, when a friend made fun of him. Claiming the tattoo cost $1,900 to remove and left a scar on his forearm, Williams is now asking for $25,000 for his own mistake.” http://www.calahouston.org/best.html
“In 1998, Kellogg sued Exxon because customers might confuse the gas station’s “whimsical tiger logo” with Kellogg’s mascot, “Tony the Tiger.” It didn’t matter, of course, that Exxon had already been using this logo for 30 years. A federal court tossed the suit. Kellogg appealed the case claiming the Exxon tiger walks and acts just like Kellogg’s “Tony.” http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article11331.html.
“A man who was fired by IBM for visiting an adult chat room at work is suing the company for $5 million, reports the Associated Press. James Pacenza, 58, claims that he was visiting the adult chat room as a treatment for the trauma he experienced during the war in Vietnam, where he saw his best friend killed…A judge will decide next month whether or not the case will see trial.” http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=6186.
2 D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 50.
3 Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., 15 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, ), 3:190.
4 Bruce W. Winter, “Civil Litigation in Secular Corinth and the Church,” New Testament Studies 37 (Oct 1991): 567.
5 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 65. It is too bad that in the present judicial system of the United States, which is heavily influenced by ancient Roman jurisprudence and thought, that a similar concession has not been made. Perhaps that would help to stem the tide the many frivolous lawsuits currently on record.
6 “It was customary in antiquity for people of similar backgrounds and interests to form clubs or associations, often with a component of religious ceremony. The so-called synagogue of freedmen might well have owed its origin to Jews who had been taken as prisoners of war to Rome in the time of Pompey (63 B.C.). After their liberation they formed a colony on the banks of the Tiber…Tacitus relates that the Senate decreed (A.D. 19) that a number of Jewish freedmen should be transported to Sardinia and that the rest should leave Italy, unless they renounced, before a certain day, their profane customs…Many would naturally have sought refuge in Jerusalem and formed a synagogue there.” Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, ), 2:360.
7 F. F. Bruce comments on Paul’s lack of objectivity when defending himself before Agrippa in Acts 26. “The speech which Paul made, according to Luke, in response to Agrippa’s invitation to him to state his case, is as carefully adapted to this setting as his speech to the turbulent crowd in the temple court is to that setting…He [Luke] is no doubt true to life when he portrays Paul as unable to maintain complete objectivity in his statement…But Agrippa agreed with Festus that Paul could not reasonably be convicted on any of the serious charges brought against him.” F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 365.
8 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 652.
9 Only John’s Gospel gives this detail, which seems to be at odds with Matthew and Mark. Nevertheless, as Edersheim reports, “No figure is better known in contemporary Jewish history than that of Annas; no person deemed more fortunate or successful, but none also more generally execrated than the late High-Priest. He had held the Pontificate for only six or seven years; but it was filled by not fewer than five of his sons, by his son-in-law Caiaphas, and by a grandson. And in those days it was, at least for one of Annas’ disposition, much better to have been than to be High-Priest.” Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. in 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n. p.), 2:547.
10 “Mishnah. [32a] Civil suits are tried by day, and concluded at night. But capital charges must be tried by day and concluded by day. Civil suits can be concluded on the same day, whether for acquittal or condemnation; capital charges may be concluded on the same day with a favourable verdict, but only on the morrow with an unfavourable verdict. Therefore trials are not held on the eve of a Sabbath or festival. In civil suits, and in cases of cleanness and uncleanness, we begin with [the opinion of] the most eminent [of the judges]; whereas in capital charges, we commence with [the opinion of] those on the side [benches].” Seder Nezikin, The Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin I, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1935), 200.
11 One reason that the charge of blasphemy was bogus was the according to the Mishnah, or the legal guide for the Sanhedrin in trying capital cases, “The blasphemer is punished only if he utters [the divine] name,” and Jesus was merely answering the question of whether or not he was the Son of God, which he affirmed.
12 For those guilty of committing blasphemy, Jewish law prescribed stoning as the deserved punishment, not crucifixion or hanging (Lev. 24:16). Andreas Köstenberger affirms this by stating, “If Jesus had been put to death by the Sanhedrin, stoning would have been the likely mode of execution, since it is the penalty specified in the TO for blasphemy, the most common charge against Jesus in John.” Andreas Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 526.
13 kangaroo court n. 1) a mock court set up without legal basis, such as a fraternity, sports team or army squad might set up to punish minor violations of organizational decorum. 2) slang for a court of law in which the violations of procedure, precedents, and due process are so gross that fundamental justice is denied. It usually means that the judge is incompetent or obviously biased. <http://dictionary.law.com/>.
14 The occult involvement of Hubbard is particularly sinister, since it entailed admiration and engaging in some of the practices of the late British Satanist Aleister Crowley. According to the Los Angeles Time, “Hubbard’s intense curiosity about the mind’s power led him to a friendship in 1946 with rocket fuel scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Parsons was a protégé of British Satanist Aleister Crowley and leader of a black magic group modeled after Crowley’s infamous occult lodge in England.
“Hubbard also admired Crowley, and in a 1952 lecture described him as ‘my very good friend.’” Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos, “The Mind Behind the Religion,” Los Angeles Times, 24 June 1990, A37.
Although Church officials attempted to rebut reports concerning Hubbard’s interest in Crowley, former high profile Scientologist, Jon Atack, along with Hubbard’s son, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., both confirm the report, and refute the revised story that Hubbard was working undercover for Naval Intelligence to break up black magic in America.
15 What is Scientology (Los Angeles: Bridge, 1992), x.
16 Scientology defines the state of “Clear” as “a person who no longer has his own reactive mind and therefore suffers none of the ill effects that the reactive mind can cause” (ibid., 146). L. Ron Hubbard determined early on in his development of Dianetics that all human beings possess both Analytical (conscious) and Reactive (unconscious) minds. It is in the Reactive mind that all deleterious experiences have been stored, which are otherwise known as “engrams.” When the Reactive mind is erased or “cleared” of all these engrams, then the individual can function in the “self-confident, happy and generally successful” manner that it should, both in business and in relationships.
17 “Operating Thetan: a state of being above Clear, in which the Clear has become refamiliarized with his native capabilities. An Operating Thetan is knowing and willing cause over life, thought, matter, energy, space and time.” (Ibid., 814).
18 There are at least eight OT levels, with some speculation that that number could rise as high as 15 in the future. http://xenu.net/archive/conf_mat.html.
19 A Los Angeles Times article in 1985 adds to the account at this point, “After the nuclear explosions…the thetans were trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol and, during a 36-day period, Xemu ‘implanted’ in them the seeds of aberrant behavior for generations to come. When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.” Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos, “Scientologists Block Access to Secret Documents 1,500 Crowd Into Courthouse to Protect Materials on Fundamental Beliefs,” Los Angeles Times (reprint from electronic archives) 5 November 1985, Metro 2.
20 Margery Wakefield, The Road to Xenu (Tampa: Coalition of Concerned Citizens, 1991), n. p.
21 “Landmark began with a dynamic group of leaders, a powerful operations team, and the acquisition of a body of intellectual properties originally created by Werner Erhard.” <http://www.landmarkeducation.com/display_content.jsp?top=26&mid=654&bottom=665>.
22 John Newport aptly described est, or “‘The gospel according to Erhard’…as a philosophically distilled version of Eastern mysticism and human potential psychology packaged in a high-pressure group situation…This is taught not in a lecture format of critical discussion and evaluation, but in sessions in which trainees are jolted by a kind of New Age marathon shock therapy.” John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 385.
23 “est makes use of the best techniques and many different traditional religious and psychotherapeutic disciplines.” Luke Rhinehart, The Book of est (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1976), xi.
25 The following website is currently displaying the video taken of a Landmark Forum seminar: <http://www.culthelp.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1243&Itemid=12url>.
26 Ibid. Perhaps the one term that raise the ire of Landmark officials, and which almost inevitably catapults them into legal action is the term “cult.” They do not like being associated with the term whatsoever, obviously for negative public relations purposes, and have gathered several statements from several professionals of varying disciples in an attempt to exonerate them from such a label.
27 See section 10 entitled “The Truth Concerning Babylon,” where the author initially denies that the Local Church uses the term “Babylon” to describe Christians involved in non-Local Church as a part of Babylon, only to turn around and assert as much throughout the article. <http://www.contendingforthefaith.com/responses/bible-answer-man/deviations.html>.
Moreover, Witness Lee taught as much when he wrote, “Never think that in Babylon there is no gold, precious stone, or pearl. Not only are there many who are saved in the denominations, but there are many precious stones there. But look at the picture: if you have seen the vision, could you take sides with great Babylon? Could you say that since there are so many precious stones in Babylon you should remain there?…May the Lord grant you clear and transparent discernment that you may say, ‘Regardless of how much gold is there, regardless of how many precious stones and pearls are there, that is still the great Babylon, the great harlot, the mother of all the harlots.’” Witness Lee, Christ Versus Religion (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1971), 190.
28 Walter Martin, The New Cults (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1980), 381.
29 Most recently, however, in a response to 60 Evangelical scholars decrying the conduct and incendiary comments made by TLC leaders, dated February 2007, the “Great Lakes Brothers,” an autonomous group of Local Church adherents wrote in respect to the various attacks waged against Christians, “We confess that on occasion our past attitude toward other believers has been improper. We sincerely apologize to our brothers and sisters whom we have offended. Rather than condemning the Christian associations within which our fellow-believers serve the Lord, we wish to belatedly express our appreciation for their efforts to bring the gospel to the world.”
The response continues, “We feel the practice of resorting to the legal system is now yielding bitter fruit among us in the form of groups of local church members suing other members. Surely this is a shame to the Lord and a defeat to us. This is wrong. Therefore we echo your call to LSM [Living Stream Ministry] and those local churches involved to cease their legal action against Christian publishers and other local churches. We also exhort all believers in the local churches to forsake the use of lawsuits and threats of litigation against individual believers, local churches and Christian organizations.”
Perhaps such a humble and repentant attitude will eventually trickle up to the top of the TLC organizational structure and have as equally a humbling and repentant effect as well.
30 According to Witness Lee, “The Recovery Version follows, for the most part, the Nestle-Aland Greek text as found in Novum Testamentum Graece (26th edition),” and then goes on to tell the reader, “Departures from the Nestle-Aland text are sometimes indicated in the footnotes….The footnotes stress the revelation of the truth, the spiritual light, and the supply of life more than history, geography, and persons.” Recovery Version (Anaheim, CA: 1991), introductory comments.
31 “141 This chapter deals with regeneration. Regeneration, on one hand, brings the divine life with the divine nature into us. Other the other hand, regeneration terminates the evil nature of Satan in our flesh. In Gen. 3 Satan, the serpent, injected his nature into man’s flesh. When the children of Israel sinned against God, they were bitten by serpents (Num. 21:4-9). God told Moses to lift up a bronze serpent on their behalf for God’s judgment, that by looking upon the bronze serpent all might live. That was a type. Here, in this verse, the Lord Jesus applied that type to Himself, indicating that when He was in the flesh, He was in “the likeness of the flesh of sin” (Rom. 8:3), which likeness is equal to the form of the bronze serpent. The bronze serpent had the form of the serpent but was without the serpent’s poison. Christ was made in “the likeness of the flesh of sin,” but He did not participate in any way in the sin of the flesh (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). This means that the serpentine nature within fallen man has been dealt with. When a man is regenerated with the divine life in Christ, his satanic nature is annulled. Because of this, in this portion of the Word, when the Lord is revealed the matter of regeneration to Nicodemas, He specifically mentioned this point.
“Nicodemas might have considered himself a moral and good man. But the Lord’s word in this verse implied that regardless of how good Nicodemas might have been outwardly, he had the serpentine nature of Satan inwardly. As a descendant of Adam, he had been poisoned by the old serpent, and the serpent’s nature was within him. He needed the Lord not only to be the Lamb of God to take away his sin (1:29) but also to be in the form of serpent that his serpentine nature might be dealt with on the cross and that he might have eternal life. In the principle set forth in ch. 2, this is the changing of death into life.” Ibid., 377.
32 “122 Up to v. 11 sins (plural) have been dealt with. From v. 12 sin (singular) is dealt with. It seems that in chs. 5–8 sin is personified. Sin is not merely an action; it is like a person who can enter (v. 12), reign (v. 21), lord it over people (6:14), deceive and kill people (7:11), and dwell in people and cause them to do things against their will (7:17, 20). It is quite alive (7:9) and exceedingly active; hence, it must be the evil nature of Satan, the evil one, who, having injected himself into man through Adam’s fall, has now become the very sinful nature dwelling, active, and working in the fallen man. This indwelling, personified sinful nature is the root of all the outward sinful acts.” Ibid., 621-22.
33 “131 Calling on the name of the Lord is the secret not only to our salvation but also to our enjoyment of the Lord’s riches. Beginning with Enosh, the third generation of mankind, and continuing all the way down to the New Testament believes, God’s chosen and redeemed ones enjoyed Christ’s redemption and salvation and all His riches by means of this secret.” Ibid., 650.
34 “71 The ministry of the old covenant, a covenant of the dead letter, which kills.” Ibid., 771.
35 “184 The Lord’s building of His church began on the day of Pentecost…Yet the Lord’s prophecy here still has not been fulfilled, even up to the twentieth century. The Lord is not building His church in Christendom, which is composed of the apostate Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations.” Ibid., 99.
36 “95…Through all the centuries since then [NT times], religious people have followed their steps, persecuting those who genuinely seek and follow the Lord in spirit and life, while still considering that they are defending the interests of God. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as Judaism, all fit into this category, having become an organization of Satan as his tool to damage God’s economy.” Ibid., 1246-47.
37 In a suit still pending, the Local Church sued Harvest House Publishers and John Ankerberg for $136 million dollars. Although originally the suit was dismissed with prejudice, Local Church officials, as of this writing, are attempting to reopen the case for retrial.
38 Richard Behar, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” TIME (May 6, 1991): 50.
39 Ibid., 51.
40 Susan Hansen, “Did Scientology Strike Back?”, The American Lawyer (June 1997). <http://www.skeptictank.org/moxon.htm>.
41 After contacting Tracy Hukill of MetroActive and Carol Giambalvo of the then American Family Foundation, it became apparent that Mr. Schreiber’s standard first contact with those he threatened with legal action was to send a 10-12 page package delivered by FedEx which contained the same information denying Landmark’s involvement in any kind of cult activity, including physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. That Landmark was not a religion, provided “no theology or dogma or doctrine to believe in or follow,” and was just generally as pristine as the wind-driven snow.
42 Art Schreiber, General Counsel for Landmark Education Corporation, letter to A. Eric Johnston, legal counsel for Watchman Fellowship, 13 November 1998, faxed letter.
43 In a Reply Brief of Appellants offered in Houston, Texas during the Harvest House Publishers, John Ankerberg, John Weldon v. The Local Church, et al lawsuit, it was mentioned that The Local Church had initiated “14 legal proceedings, lawsuits, or threats of lawsuits…since 1973 against those who questions their teachings.”
44 John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1999), xx.
45 Ibid., xxiii.
46 “summary judgment, a decision of a court concerning the merits of a lawsuit, which is rendered on the motion of a party, when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the party who made the motion is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Wesley Gilmer, Jr., The Law Dictionary (Cincinnati: Anderson, 1986), 313.
47 John Eidsmore, The Christian Legal Advisor (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987 rev.), 346.
48 According to libel and copyright lawyers, Jassin and Schechter, “Most author-publisher agreements require authors to indemnify and hold their publisher harmless for the costs of any claims arising from the content of the book or from the author’s failure to obtain required permissions. Insurance policies are available to publishers and authors to protect against media perils and to cover the costs of any claims. These policies generally cover claims of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Some policies ever cover claims of misappropriation of ideas or infringement of a title. These policies may also cover the costs of defending a lawsuit, including attorneys’ fees and court costs.” Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C. Schechter, The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), 160.
49 Personal e-mail correspondence, dated April 18, 2007.
50 Ibid., pp. 132-138.