Local Church et al v. Harvest House et al—Questions & Answers
- Why did you sue over this book (ECNR)?
- What does ECNR say about you that is false and damaging?
- Why couldn’t you have waited longer before suing?
- Have you ever filed this kind of litigation before?
- Why did you sue for money?
- Why would people write such things about you and even sue to stop your protest?
- Who were the individual plaintiff churches (parties bringing the lawsuit) and why were not all the local churches named?
- Why do you think Scripture allowed for litigation in this case?
- Question: Why did you sue over this book (ECNR)?
Answer: ECNR falsely portrays the Local Church, Living Stream Ministry and the local churches, their teachings and their practices in a most horrific manner. It promotes religious bigotry of the worst sort, extolling “intolerance” as a “virtue” and attempting to collectively demonize us along with all of the groups in the book.
ECNR’s Introduction clearly labels all of the groups in the book as being guilty of the most deplorable, illegal and immoral acts and uses “guilt-by-association” to link a legitimate Christian ministry and thousands of innocent believers with the most vile and contemptible behavior. Its false statements affect our ministry and our relationships with fellow Christians, friends and relatives. Facts about the Pending Litigation supplies some of the history of our attempts to resolve this matter peacefully as brothers in Christ. The authors’ and publisher’s disregard for our efforts, their repeated delays in addressing the issues, and finally, Harvest House’s filing of a lawsuit against us convinced us that we really had no other reasonable alternative left. Based on our observations, if we do not protest such defamatory writing to the extent the law allows, others will believe and repeat these falsehoods, causing more harm to the churches and our ministry and stumbling untold numbers of people we are seeking to reach with the gospel of Christ.
- Question: What does ECNR say about you that is false and damaging
Answer: The book ascribes many evil traits to us as a “cult”. In general we are likened to groups like the People’s Temple of Jim Jones that ended in mass murder and suicide in Guyana, and the David Koresh group that ended in destruction in Waco, Texas. The book ascribes many evil traits to the cults, including: “deception and evil,” “authoritarianism,” “isolationism,” “financial exploitation.psychological intimidation,” “often subjected to psychological, physical harm,” “degradation and perversion of sexuality,” “encourage prostitution;” “sometimes raped women, beaten their disciples, molested children, practiced black magic and witchcraft, engaged in drug smuggling and other criminal activities, including murder;” and “human sacrifice.” In addition the book twists our teachings beyond recognition to make us appear to conform to their mold of what occult groups believe and practice. For a more complete understanding of the book’s false and damaging portrayal of the churches, see Letter dated November 20, 2001 and Lawsuit filed in Harris County.
- Question: Why couldn’t you have waited longer before suing?
Answer: Harvest House and the authors continued to advertise and reprint the book, despite our protests of the book’s falsity. The law requires anyone who has been libeled to file suit within a specific time from publication. Realizing that our letters and phone calls had gone unheeded, we wanted to assure that we would be within that time period. We tried to avoid filing a lawsuit by giving the publisher and authors an opportunity to voluntarily extend the statute of limitations while an equitable resolution was worked out. Instead of accepting this offer, Harvest House sued us. Even in the face of this, we gave them every opportunity to settle the problem in an equitable way and waited until literally the last day of 2001 to file suit.
- Question: Have you ever filed this kind of litigation before?
Answer: This is this first instance of either Living Stream Ministry or the Local Church filing litigation. Some of the local churches were involved in successful defamation actions over twenty years ago. This history can be reviewed at Introduction, Retraction and Decision.
- Question: Why did you sue for money?
Answer: Our main goal was to clear our name and to stop the damage this book is causing. The law requires that we claim the financial damages that we have suffered. A financial award is the court’s only way to right the wrong and to punish the wrong doers. (For example, the court cannot force the defendants to admit they were wrong, nor to admit that we are not a cult, nor to take their book off the market.) The actual amount of damages would have been determined at time of trial.
- Question: Why would people write such things about you and even sue to stop your protest?
Answer: We believe that, knowing these accusations about us were false, the defendants proceeded to include us in the book. One can only assume they did this to hurt us and discredit our ministry. This book unjustly instills fear in others, causing people to avoid any association with us. One of the authors of ECNR, Mr. Weldon, was a good friend and co-worker with some of those who made false and defamatory statements about us 25 years ago. Mr. Weldon even joined them in their fight against the churches that filed that lawsuit. In the trial that resulted, six highly qualified expert witnesses came forward on our behalf. Their testimony and the Judge’s references to those defendants’ admissions under oath can be read at Decision and Experts. (see also Open Letter)
- Question: Who were the individual plaintiff churches (parties bringing the lawsuit) and why were not all the local churches named?
Answer: The individual plaintiff churches were the local churches listed on our lawsuit filed in Harris County, Texas (see Lawsuit filed in Harris County). This matter was presented to many U.S. churches but had to be finalized quickly during the last week of 2001 (after we learned Harvest House had rejected extending the statute of limitations). Various churches decided not to join as individual plaintiffs due to considerations such as insufficient time for the church leadership to adequately discuss the matter. Nevertheless all the U.S. local churches were represented in the suit in that the authors wrote concerning the Local Church, and the Local Church is a plaintiff in the suit. Assumptions that there was some significance in a particular local church joining or not joining the lawsuit as an individual plaintiff are misguided. It is important to note that, from 2001 until the conclution of the suit in 2007, the churches’ leadership and co-workers among the churches consistently expressed united support regarding this action.
- Question: Why do you think Scripture allowed for litigation in this case?
Answer: Romans 13:1-7 tells us that the civil authority has been ordained by God, “for he is a servant of God to you for good.” There is a crucial difference between the lawsuits Paul condemned in 1 Corinthians 6 and the appeal to the civil authorities Paul himself took in the book of Acts: first to appeal to them based on his Roman citizenship, and then to appeal to Caesar when the opposing religionists sought to end his life and his ministry. Paul’s appeal to Caesar was greatly used by the Lord to further Paul’s ministry and to complete the New Testament revelation, thus justifying Paul’s appeal to Roman law. Our action was taken based on the same principle of an appeal to civil authority. We care for the truth; this legal action was not filed with a selfish motive to defraud or avoid being personally defrauded, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6. Rather, it became a necessary step for us to continue the ministry the Lord has entrusted to us.
The Christian way to resolve an unrighteous situation with brothers is described in Matthew 18:15-17. In 1 Corinthians 6:1, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not giving “the saints” the opportunity to judge the matter (i.e. for not proceeding as described in Matthew 18). In accordance with Matthew 18, we repeatedly sought to meet with Robert Hawkins, Jr., the president of Harvest House Publishers, and with authors, John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Their republication of the false charges and refusal to meet with us to seek reconciliation left us with no other alternative than to “let them be to [us] just like the Gentile.” This does not mean we disregard them or think they are not Christians. Rather, we pray for their repentance and earnestly desire to be reconciled with them as brothers in Christ. However, it does mean that they have proved unwilling to submit to the Scriptural remedy for their actions and thus have fallen outside the sphere of Christian fellowship in this matter.
For a further treatment of this subject see Scriptural Basis for Appealing to the Courts.