“The Experts Speak”—Introduction
The Experts Speak records the sworn testimony of the expert witnesses at the trial of Lee v. Duddy, et al in the Superior Court of California in May 1985. Six experts, representing diverse religious backgrounds, were asked to study the teachings and practices of Witness Lee and the local churches. The experts were also asked to study the charges and criticisms printed against the local churches in the book, The God-Men, published by Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP). Finally, five of these men were asked to present their conclusions under oath in the Superior Court of California. The sixth expert, Dr. Gaustad, did not testify at the trial, but his research was summarized in a paper that is reprinted in this book. This is their expert testimony concerning Witness Lee and the local churches.
The lawsuit was not over doctrinal differences, but libel, claiming The God-Men presented a false, malicious and damaging portrayal of Witness Lee and the local churches. Yet the many charges used by SCP to create the “cult” image were related to the churches’ beliefs and practices. Their accusations were a mixture of theology, psychology, sociology, and “factual” events. Thus, the total misrepresentation of the book, including doctrine, had to be demonstrated. Since SCP had set itself up as the expert in judging the local churches, it was essential to obtain the testimony of some who were more qualified in the fields involved. For this reason, qualified experts in each area were sought out and asked to study the local churches and to evaluate the charges in The God-Men. The conclusions of truly qualified experts concerning both the local churches and their critics can be found in The Experts Speak.
Why did those in the local churches bring suit against other Christians? The first choice in resolving conflicts among Christians is, of course, not the law courts (1 Cor. 6). According to the admonition of Scripture, attempts should be made by Christian brothers to solve a problem by way of Christian fellowship (Matt. 18:15). Unfortunately, the attitude of SCP from the early 1970’s was never that of brothers seeking truth or reconciliation with other Christians. Rather, from the first, their attitude was to judge, condemn, and destroy a “spiritual counterfeit” that they never really understood. SCP ignored repeated efforts by those in the churches to point out their error.
A manuscript was produced by SCP in 1976 that eventually became the first edition of The God-Men. Ultimately, another book came out of that one manuscript, Jack Sparks and others developing it into The Mindbenders. Jack Sparks had been an early leader among SCP. He was then in the process of breaking with SCP to join with other previous associates from a local church splinter group. Sparks provided a copy of the SCP manuscript to embittered members of the splinter group. That manuscript was developed into The Mindbenders.
Thus, two books were published in 1977, apparently from different sources, but actually cloned from one manuscript. They are so similar that they even reproduce the same typographical errors in the original manuscript. It is no wonder their arguments and conclusions are so similar. Strong protest was made against both books by members of the churches before their publication. Both were published, however, despite those protests.
As a result, these two books became extremely damaging to those in the local churches. At first, those in the local churches naively felt that no one would believe books that were so far from the truth. Yet because no protest to those books reached the public, people accepted their accusations as truth. The charges were republished in the media as fact again and again. Within a year the local churches were on everyone’s “cult” list. Once the local churches were labeled a cult, the response was automatic. People reacted with suspicion, fear, contempt, and avoidance, and these reactions were beyond the power of reason to dispel. There was no way to get a public forum to correct the error. No bookstore wanted to carry the reply of a group branded as a “cult.” The members of the local churches experienced and endured severe problems in their work; some lost their jobs. More emotionally wrenching were the problems in family relationships as frightened parents and friends tried to “rescue” loved ones. The outreach of the local churches met with devastating rejection.
In 1978 the mass suicide at Jonestown added new horror to the word cult. Capitalizing on the opportunity, the publishers of both The God-Men and The Mindbenders announced that their books would be released in second editions. Appeals by the local churches to authors and publishers again fell on deaf ears. In desperation, litigation was considered. There seemed no other avenue open for the local churches to respond. They considered the filing of a lawsuit as a modern “appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:9-10), which the Apostle Paul had exercised when his life was threatened by the Jewish religionists of his day. The goal of the lawsuits was to make the truth known to the public and thus stop the unrelenting persecution. In 1980, after three years of frustrated attempts to correct grievous misrepresentation and after immense suffering, lawsuits for libel were filed against the two sister publications, The Mindbenders and The God-Men.
Those lawsuits became the forum to test the truth of the books’ allegations. Detailed investigation and discovery was done on every issue. Sworn testimony of the people involved was recorded by deposition. Over two hundred volumes of sworn testimony were taken. Countless thousands of documents were produced and analyzed. Every libelous charge was examined in detail, as were all the persons involved. The writers and publishers had every opportunity to establish the truth of their accusations under oath; they had every opportunity to impeach the experts that would testify for the local churches. Later they would claim that because they did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the experts during the trial, the outcome was not reliable. The fact is, however, that they carried out their examination for over three years of depositions in preparation for the trial. Through that long examination their books were not vindicated; rather, the motive, malice, and deliberate distortion of the writers and publishers were exposed.
The six experts studied the church and the critical publications with the freedom to investigate in any way they wished. They read much of the sworn testimony of those involved in writing The God-Men. Some of the six attended the depositions of the witnesses and experts named to support the writers. Some gave detailed consideration to the testimony of hostile and critical ex-members of the local churches. The six men were prepared to deal with all the issues and present their conclusions in the face of hostile cross-examination.
The detailed and impartial conclusions of the six experts are overwhelming in their condemnation of The God-Men as a deliberate misrepresentation of the true beliefs and practices of Witness Lee and the local churches. The experts found the cult charge to be a fabrication of the authors. They found quotes consistently made to mean something opposite to what Witness Lee meant. They found “case studies” to be built upon unsubstantiated reports of persons of questionable motive. They found the trappings of social science used to give the book a false air of scholarship. The teachings of Witness Lee were taken from their Christian context and twisted to fit the cultic accusations.
After three years of discovery and deposition, the publisher of The Mindbenders withdrew the book from publication with an apology to Witness Lee and the local churches. That retraction was printed in major newspapers around the country on April 10, 1983. It is included here in the Appendix. The authors of The Mindbenders also signed the settlement agreement of which the retraction was a part. That legally ended publication and distribution of The Mindbenders.
The case against The God-Men was ready to go to trial in April 1985. However, just hours before the start of the trial SCP filed for reorganization under the protection of the bankruptcy court. Although they had an extensive base of support and had consistently raised funds during the discovery process, SCP claimed they could not afford to go to trial. This action allowed them to avoid the trial with a potentially large damage award and the cross-examination that had exposed the motive and methods of their work in the past three years of sworn testimony.
The God-Men’s main author, Neil Duddy, separated himself from SCP and moved to Denmark. He did not appear at the trial. The Swiss publisher of the German edition, Schwengler-Verlag, also failed to appear. Thus, the trial was uncontested. Nevertheless, Judge Leon Seyranian took a very active role in questioning the witnesses concerning both the factual matters and the opinions of the experts. Despite the non-appearance of the defendants, the facts of the case and the conclusions of experts were presented before the court.
The 32-page Statement of Decision that resulted from the trial condemns the complete falsity of The God-Men. The facts referenced in detail by the judge come from the sworn testimony of the defendants as well as the experts. Those facts speak for themselves. The Court’s opinion began:
This matter came on regularly for trial and was heard as an uncontested matter…. Although the trial was uncontested, the Court feels that the plaintiffs have presented competent and reliable evidence, and the Court was very impressed with the stature and quality of the witnesses presented. Moreover, the Court was provided with a complete opportunity to question and cross examine the witnesses in order to ascertain the truth as the Court should do in a case involving First Amendment rights, regardless of whether the defendants appear or not. There was nothing that the Court wanted to see or to ask that was not provided. Furthermore, the evidence on behalf of the plaintiffs was substantiated by independent evidence from qualified expert witnesses. Accordingly, the Court finds that the manuscript by Neil T. Duddy, entitled The God-Men (Exhibit 1) disseminated (published) in the United States, the book Die Sonderlehre des Witness Lee Und Seiner Ortsgemeinde published by Schwengeler-Verlag (Exhibit 3) disseminated (published) in Europe, and the book The God-Men, An Inquiry into Witness Lee and the Local Church by Neil T. Duddy and the SCP published by Inter-Varsity Press (Exhibit 5) disseminated (published) in the United States and England, are in all major respects false, defamatory and unprivileged, and, therefore, libelous. (California Civil Code 45)
The entire text of the Statement of Decision is available from this publisher.
The financial award of $11.9 million reflected the Judge’s opinion of the damages done and his reaction to the malice involved in writing the book. However, none of the money awarded in that judgment was ever awarded to the plaintiffs. SCP reorganized under the court’s supervision and went back into business.
The most valuable award of the court’s action is the testimony recorded in this book. Although The God-Men and The Mindbenders were withdrawn from publication, the rumors they created linger on. With every new cult scare, the old, false information is repeated. The testimony of this book is an antidote to those accusations that are still being repeated.
Ten years after their testimony, the six experts found in this book remain firm in their conclusions concerning Witness Lee and the local churches. All have reviewed their testimony before the publication of this volume and had opportunity to make current comments. Dr. Melton tried to use his book Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, published in 1993, as an opportunity to inform people of the wrong classification of the local churches that was initiated by these two books. Unfortunately, some assumed that his mere mention of the local churches in that book meant he had changed his mind and now considers the local churches a cult. A recent letter dated July 3, 1995, from Dr. Melton to a person in Japan who had made the same assumption, states his present position clearly:
For a brief period in the early 1980s, a few people with a personal vendetta against the Local Church, accused it of being a cult. However, such accusations have proved unfounded and have not been heard here for almost a decade.
I emphasize most strongly, that my inclusion of them in my book (as was clearly stated in the introduction) was solely to refute their likeness to the other groups discussed in the book. In North America, no literature has appeared in almost a decade which even hints at the Local Church being a “cult.” After several years of examination of them, I concluded that the Local Church was an orthodox Christian Church whose differences from other churches was primarily in matters of ecclesiology, piety, and eschatology, i.e. the same matters upon which all Christian denominations disagree and about which disagreement is allowed.
At last the public can consider the testimony of truly qualified experts and come to a proper conclusion concerning Witness Lee and the local churches. The issue here is not merely vindication of a person or group. Those in the local churches rejoice for an examination of the truth. If some readers can receive new light and inspiration concerning God’s economy with man on this earth, all the labor has not been in vain. If some choose to disagree in the details of belief, it is still satisfying to know that the real belief of the local churches has finally been made more clear. To the great court of public opinion we commend this book. May your reading bring you the light, the freedom, and the joy that is found only in the truth.
October 26, 1995
Copyright © 1995 Living Stream, Anaheim, CA, USA. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.