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  • Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR)—Overview

    Time Period: December 2001—June 2007 (Timeline, History)

    Participants: Local Church et al v. Harvest House et al

    At Issue: The Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR), authored by John Ankerberg and John Weldon and published by Harvest House Publishers, characterized “cults” as engaging in criminal, immoral, and anti-social behaviors. ECNR implied that such characteristics applied to the local churches by including a chapter on “The Local Church” among its noteworthy examples of “cults.” From January through November 2001, representatives of the local churches, Living Stream Ministry, and the co-workers of Witness Lee repeatedly sought dialogue with the publisher and authors. In response, Harvest House filed suit in Oregon. On the last day of 2001, potentially facing expiration of the statute of limitations, “The Local Church” (an unincorporated association in the state of Texas), Living Stream Ministry, and ninety-seven local churches filed a libel suit in Harris County District Court in Texas.

    Outcome: Harvest House’s lawsuit was quickly dismissed. The evidence gathered during the discovery process in the libel action showed that the authors had completely misrepresented the local churches. Both the authors and the publisher had ignored the letters of protest and had intentionally avoided learning about the lawsuit over The God-Men, which was John Weldon’s primary source in forming his opinion of the local churches. Furthermore, Harvest House had failed to apply basic editorial practices (for example, no member of the editorial staff read the book before publication) in violation of their own stated standards.

    The District Court rejected three separate motions for summary judgment from the defendants. However, before the case could proceed to trial, Harvest House appealed the District Court’s denial to the Texas Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case, declaring, despite ECNR‘s definition of the term cult as involving unethical practices, that the case was merely a “religious” dispute over theological issues. In fact, the plaintiffs’ complaint was not related to theological issues. The Appeals Court also ruled that none of the statements about the characteristics of cults could be understood to apply to the local churches. Both the Texas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case on further appeal. The Appeals Court’s decision set a dangerous precedent that if one party accuses another party of deviant behavior, but does so in a “religious” context, that party cannot be found liable for the damages it caused. Nothing in the court’s validated that any of the statements ECNR made concerning the local churches were true. On the contrary, the evidence in the case, including several admissions under oath by Mr. Ankerberg and Mr. Weldon, the authors of ECNR, made it clear that there was never any factual basis for the statements that were the subject of the lawsuit.

    History

    Throughout the year 2001 representatives of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry sought to engage Harvest House Publishers and its authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon in Christian fellowship. At issue was their Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, which attributed heinous actions to “cults” and named the local churches as one of the more significant cults on the contemporary scene. After Harvest House filed suit in mid-December, a group of over ninety local churches, The Local Church (an unincorporated association recognized under the laws of the State of Texas), and Living Stream Ministry filed a libel suit. This page includes an account of the case’s history.

    Letters of Protest

    Representatives of the local churches, Living Stream Ministry, and the co-workers of Witness Lee wrote six letters to Harvest House Publishers and its authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon, protesting the inclusion of the local churches in the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR). The last of these letters contained detailed documentation of the book’s errors and misrepresentations and included copies of the judge’s decision in Lee v. Duddy (The God-Men case), The Experts Speak, and Dr. J. Gordon Melton’s An Open Letter Concerning the Local Church, Witness Lee and The God-Men Controversy. Contrary to promises to carefully evaluate those complaints, Harvest House instead filed suit in Oregon. This page contains links to all six letters of protest concerning ECNR, including the enclosures with the last one.

    Court Documents

    Many documents were filed with the courts throughout the course The Local Church et al v. Harvest House et al, the litigation over the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. This page includes the most important court documents in the Harvest House case from the District Court, Court of Appeals, Texas Supreme Court, and U.S. Supreme Court.

    Responses to Public Concerns

    In the course of the litigation over the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, Harvest House and its authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon made numerous additional accusations against the local churches. These accusations ranged from misrepresentation of our beliefs and teachings to distortions of history and of the nature of the case before the court. In the interest of truth, DCP posted responses to those public accusations.

    Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions Timeline

    For a complete timeline of all the events that occurred during the litigation against the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, click here.


    List all 54 articles related to the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions