April 20, 2004
In 1999 Harvest House Publishers and authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon initiated a public attack upon Living Stream Ministry, the Local Church and the local churches by including them in the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR). That book, which portrays itself as a definitive resource and reference on the subject, undeniably characterizes cults as being both criminal and immoral, while maintaining all the groups in their book “deserve the title” “cult”.1 Living Stream Ministry and the local churches responded in a Christian manner based on the biblical admonition put forth in Matthew 18, requesting a face-to-face meeting to resolve the problem. This offer was repeated to the authors and publisher at least six times in writing and twice in telephone messages over an eleven-month period. Harvest House responded first with lawyers and ultimately with a lawsuit against LSM and the local churches, asking an Oregon court to rule that the book was not libelous. The court dismissed that suit.
A Pattern of Intransigence
Harvest House’s unwillingness to address the issues in a Christian manner left Living Stream Ministry, the Local Church, and the local churches with no recourse except to file a libel suit in Texas court. Even after the suit was filed Harvest House continued to print and distribute the book. Since that time Harvest House and its authors have engaged in two years of delaying tactics, while avoiding the factual issues of the case. Meanwhile, almost 70,000 copies remain unretracted and in circulation. In March 2004, Harvest House and its authors exhausted their last attempt to have the case dismissed and have now moved this legal strategy to the Texas Court of Appeals. In their last court appearance their lawyers admitted that Harvest House and the authors do not know whether or not the libelous things in ECNR are true of Living Stream Ministry and the local churches.
A Renewed and Expanded Attack
In spite of that admission and their repeated losses in court, Harvest House, Ankerberg and Weldon have renewed their attack in the court of public opinion with postings on Harvest House’s Web site and circulation to various media. In so doing, they are not only repeating things that the court has ruled are not true, but also have expanded their attack to matters that are irrelevant to this litigation, continuing to misrepresent the teachings of Watchman Nee, Witness Lee, thousands of local churches and hundreds of thousands of genuine Christians that utilize the publications of Living Stream Ministry.
Thus, we now are faced with an even greater task—to correct these gross misrepresentations being broadcast in an expanded way, while we seek to clear our name of the original libelous accusations of alleged criminal activity and immorality in their book. We deeply regret that exposing the failures of others must now be addressed in public. We take no pleasure in doing so and once again declare that our strong preference remains to meet together with the offending parties as believers and seek a righteous resolution. But as they have chosen to further air this matter publicly, instead of doing the right thing by retracting the book and accusations they cannot substantiate, we find ourselves left with no other option than to publicly respond with the truth.
Publisher Bob Hawkins testified that he still does not know whether “The Local Church and Living Stream” is a cult. This means he has staked his company’s credibility upon Ankerberg and Weldon’s flawed writings. Now Harvest House and its authors have made public statements that twist the facts and testimony established under oath. Thus they further establish their culpability in creating and disseminating false and libelous accusations against us.
A Lack of Ethical Standards
Harvest House’s behavior in this case violates the standards Christian publishers have adopted in the “General Principles and Practices” of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Furthermore, the authors have neither fulfilled their responsibility as Christians concerned for the truth, nor as the scholars they claim to be. The actions of Harvest House and its authors should be of concern to all who consider integrity and responsibility important values in Christian writing and publishing. Such standards are particularly important when Christian writers appoint themselves as the definitive authority to judge others’ behavior and teaching. We believe the time has come for the public to turn its spotlight on these issues through the graphic details brought forth in this case.
Demanding a Response
A careful examination will show that the accusations they continue to make concerning the teachings of Living Stream Ministry and the local churches are simply not true. Their assertions also raise issues about the truth of the gospel that must be clarified. Therefore in coming days, we will continue to post regular, short articles that clearly establish the facts and pertinent issues related to this controversy, legal and otherwise. For this reason, beginning today, the material on this Web site related to the controversy with Harvest House and its authors will be divided into two sections—a section monitoring the progress of the litigation and a section providing responses to new public accusations by Harvest House and its authors, including their misrepresentations of our teachings. We commit the eventual conclusion, based on the actual facts of this case, to the readers, to the court and the jury, and ultimately to the Lord Himself.