“The Experts Speak”—John Albert Saliba, Ph.D.
MR. MORGAN: What is your calling?
DR. SALIBA: I am a Catholic priest and a member of a religious order known as the Jesuits, and at the moment I hold the position of Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Detroit.
MR. MORGAN: How long have you held that position?
DR. SALIBA: Since 1970 I have been teaching there. I have been Associate Professor since 1976 or thereabouts.
MR. MORGAN: University of Detroit. Can you tell us something about it, what type of a school it is?
DR. SALIBA: It is a school founded, to be precise, in 1877 by Jesuits, and now it is an inter-city school. It has about twenty percent minorities; only fifty percent are Catholic. There are 500 foreign students in a 6,000 body of students, and there is all variety of people on the campus. It is a nice place to be to have contact with different people and cultures and religious groups.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I went to your University of San Francisco, so I join in your feelings.
MR. MORGAN: That was the next question I was going to ask you. Is it somewhat like the University of San Francisco?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, in fact, probably the University of San Francisco and University of Detroit, I think, are unique among the twenty-six Jesuit colleges there are throughout the country.
MR. MORGAN: Let me show you what’s been marked as Exhibit 20, and I will ask if you can identify what that is.
DR. SALIBA: That is my vitae plus a 1985 update.
MR. MORGAN: I will offer that into evidence at this time, your Honor.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: May be received.
MR. MORGAN: I just want to ask you a few things about it now, Father. First, can you tell us something about your educational background, where you got it?
DR. SALIBA: I was born and educated first on the island of Malta, and I went to a Jesuit secondary school, and I joined the Jesuit order after high school. It was the normal time to join a religious order in the Catholic Church at that time.
I spent the first two years with the Jesuits in a program mainly of the spiritual training, and then about a year and a half or two years I did a bit more Latin, Greek, and some literature. Then after that I went to England and got a degree in a Jesuit seminary called Heythrop College.
MR. MORGAN: Why to England? Why not Malta?
DR. SALIBA: For two reasons. First, we were too small to run our own seminary, the Jesuits. Second, they wanted to give us the experience of being overseas. Malta is a small island. You may become very provincial if you live there all your life.
MR. MORGAN: Okay, so you went to Heythrop.
DR. SALIBA: Heythrop College. It has theological faculties of philosophy and theology. Our degrees are related to the Gregorian University in Rome, and Heythrop College has moved to London University and is actually a part of London University since 1970 or thereabouts.
MR. MORGAN: Did you have any further formal education?
DR. SALIBA: Yes. I did anthropology, what is known as social anthropology, at the University of Oxford, and there I spent another four years at Heythrop doing theology, and then I came to Catholic University in Washington and did my Ph.D. there in their Department of Religion.
MR. MORGAN: What was your Ph.D. in?
DR. SALIBA: In my Ph.D. I evaluated the work of a leading historian of religions by the name of Eliade, who was a household word in the United States in all departments of religion throughout the country, and I did an anthropological evaluation of his works.
MR. MORGAN: Father, do you have some particular specialties today?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, my specialty has been mainly anthropology of religion, and that is the study of comparative cultures, especially the more primitive ones, and over the last ten years my hobby has been studying new religious movements.
MR. MORGAN: Did you ever become aware of SCP?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I had been in touch with their literature since probably ’71, ’72, or thereabouts.
MR. MORGAN: Can you tell the court how it is you became aware of their literature?
DR. SALIBA: Well, I spent the summer in Berkeley once, and I was around looking at different places, and if you were in Berkeley at the time, in the early seventies, you probably ran into what was known as the Christian World Liberation Front. You probably ran into them without planning to.
After that I just kept in touch. It was just like a hobby. I tell people, “Some people collect stamps. I go around and study these different religious groups.”
MR. MORGAN: Before we ever contacted you, did you make some study of some of the work of SCP?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, in fact, my study of SCP is published in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, which comes out of Temple University, and it is the only article in the respectable journal on the group.
MR. MORGAN: Before I get to that, can you tell the court something about your publications? Have you had a number of publications in well-known publications?
DR. SALIBA: I have. Besides my dissertation, which was published by Brill in Leiden, the Netherlands, I have published over the last twelve years a major article every year in extremely diverse journals, like, for instance, the Theological Studies, which is the leading Catholic theological journal, the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and now I also have a couple of articles coming out in a psychological journal.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I notice you have quite a list of articles here.
MR. MORGAN: Father, what was the basic thrust of your article on SCP that was published?
DR. SALIBA: Okay. Since I am basically a theologian and pastor, I was interested in how do you help people to cope with real problems they meet with when they join other groups. I was interested in the Christian response to these groups, so what I discovered first, by even looking at bookstores, was that the main responsible work was done by Evangelicals.
There was one semester when I wrote to lots of Bible colleges and seminaries to ask them what they were doing on the subject. And from the replies I got then, SCP came out frequently enough that I said they are a major influence. So then I zeroed in on them, because from a scholarly point of view it is much easier to work on a very definite body of literature rather than run all over the place. It is kind of like the ideal thing for a scholar to write an article on, when you have a body of literature there and you know you can read it all.
DR. SALIBA: Well, SCP belongs to a small group of Evangelicals who have as their basic principle: Attack and destroy any group with which we don’t agree. And that is their thrust of all the whole, everything you read.
I once thought of writing to them and suggesting they should find a different name for their group, maybe Spiritual Exterminators. It would be much more in line with what they were doing.
MR. MORGAN: What about their work? You have indicated their policy, but what did you see from your study as far as their work?
DR. SALIBA: Okay. Maybe I haven’t read everything, but I have read a lot of what they have come out with, and nothing that I can see is publishable in a respectable journal.
In other words, I have evaluated articles for like, for instance, the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and other journals. If any of their publications had been sent to me for evaluation, I would have told the editor, “Please, do not publish.”
MR. MORGAN: And why?
DR. SALIBA: Well, because first of all, they don’t have a methodology. You don’t know how they go about their research. They have a principle that the only way you can find out what a group believes is to go to ex-members who are disgruntled and get information from them.
MR. MORGAN: And what is wrong with that?
DR. SALIBA: Well, you are going to get a very biased view. It is just like asking an ex-Catholic priest who was dissatisfied and left, “What about your life as a priest?” He is going to look back and say, “I found too many obstacles.” While a person who is there in the group and happy, he is going to give you a much more plausible reason of what the group is all about.
MR. MORGAN: Did you form any opinions as to whether they appear to have preconceived conclusions in their articles?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I have an inkling that SCP is always attacking Eastern groups. Anything which has even the slightest, remote idea of being Eastern, they are going to be on their guard, ready: this must be dangerous because it is Eastern. And in their approach, somehow it’s gotten into their mind that the “Local Church ” is Eastern, and oh my goodness, it is Eastern.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Obviously in this trial we are learning that they attack the “Local Church.” Can you tell me what other groups they were attacking?
DR. SALIBA: TM, Transcendental Meditation. Unification Church. Yoga groups. Several of them. Zen. I can’t remember any really good examples of the literature in which they say anything good about any group they put their hands on.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: In other words, most of their writings are attacking somebody?
DR. SALIBA: It is negative, dangerous, and they have this vague idea it is Eastern mysticism, and this has a connotation. In fact, in my article I found out how they link all Eastern stuff with the devil. It is almost like a diabolical plot. They see the devil actually working to corrupt people by giving them Eastern religious groups, Yoga, and so on.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Generally, do they use a large number of people to write these articles, or is it generally done by a very small group?
DR. SALIBA: SCP has never had more than maybe ten at the most.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: That do all their writing?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, and it is varied. A lot of movement of people, too. Some steady people across, but they have changed a bit too over the years.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Have you ever done or found out what they use other than just talking to disgruntled members? Do they do something else?
DR. SALIBA: They have never researched or rather had any reference to scholarly articles, and whenever once in a while you find a reference, it obviously had not influenced either their method or their conclusions.
Like, for instance, to give you an example, there is a recent book by Enroth on the guide to new religions, and there is a fairly decent chapter on what a cult is. He knows the sociological literature, but when you come to the last two pages of the chapter, he goes to calling a cult diabolical, which is hardly the result of a sociological investigation. So a scholarly work has not influenced them at all.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I notice you have done a number of articles on cults and psychiatry. Would you feel that SCP has some kind of an attack on what they call cults?
DR. SALIBA: Oh, yes.
DR. SALIBA: Before I say it, the word cult is one of those where there are hundreds of definitions. Even in sociology, you could probably have a library on just what has been written on what the word cult is. Probably the most commonly used definition or interpretation is: A cult is a marginal religious group. That definition has in itself no great derogatory meaning.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: What do you think the average layman on the street thinks of the word cult?
DR. SALIBA: He is terrified of it.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: He doesn’t have a small, marginal religious group theory, does he?
DR. SALIBA: He thinks in terms of some mischievous group, evil, ready to control you, to take your money especially. In fact, I once said to a group of people, my belonging to a Jesuit order could also be used as being my belonging to a cult because, after all, I give my money to my order. I don’t earn any money. It goes straight to my order. I could be accused just as well as belonging to a cult. I don’t think I am.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I don’t think so either.
MR. MORGAN: Father, let me go on now. Did you at our request make certain studies regarding The God-Men publications as they relate to Witness Lee and also the “Local Church” itself?
DR. SALIBA: The first time I heard of the “Local Church” was in fact through The God-Men I. I had taken that as an example in my essay of what I called a bad approach to new religious movements.
MR. MORGAN: Why?
DR. SALIBA: Because the methodology they used, in my opinion, and in the opinion, I think, of most scholarly work, is too negative, meaning instead of understanding, they are trying to debunk, and they debunk before they understand. So you say, “Now wait a minute. You can’t figure out what they are saying if you start with the assumption that they are wrong.” And I took that book as an example for the simple reason that it was the major book they had published. The rest were just kind of two-page leaflets.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: The God-Men was their first big publication?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, as far as I know.
MR. MORGAN: I believe, your Honor, the only two major publications they really had have been The God-Men I and The God-Men II.
DR. SALIBA: And lots of little leaflets, which in scholarly language were called junk. And then there are the SCP journals which I think are not named properly. They should be called the SCP Diatribes.
MR. MORGAN: Let me ask you, tell us what you understood was your assignment from me and what you did in that regard.
DR. SALIBA: Okay. I first had to go over The God-Men II, and go over some of the material they quoted, and then figure out whether they misrepresented the “Local Church” or not.
MR. MORGAN: Did we also ask you to look into the “Local Church” itself?
DR. SALIBA: Oh, you did, because I spent a lot of time visiting the church, especially in Detroit.
MR. MORGAN: What was the reason for your examining the “Local Church” itself?
DR. SALIBA: Well, I wanted to see-first of all, if you are studying any group, in anthropology they call it participant observation, and that means you go with the group as much as you can, of course, and you participate because you see that you share something in common, and I found that even though I am a Catholic, and I don’t have the same theological views as the “Local Church,” there were lots of things with which I would relate, so I could actually genuinely participate, at least at times, in their services.
I also wanted to see how people reacted, the dynamics of the group, like, for instance, when you read some of the stuff which is coming out on the cults, you hear about the manner of treatment of children, and I had that in my mind.
With this group there were lots of young families. They had baby-sitters look after the children while at service, and you could tell from the kids that they were very well treated, and I could see this just by going there, and what I did is I went for two months or so almost every Saturday, and the reason why I made this continuous, every weekend, is because it means you never saw the same members.
You could tell it wasn’t like a group coming there almost like a military academy, where every Saturday they all come. There was a variety. Some people were there all the time, but there were people who hadn’t been there for some time, and they are coming back now, so I got a continuity of the church as the changes took place in it.
MR. MORGAN: What was your opinion, then, as far as the church and the church people themselves?
DR. SALIBA: I would say very average. I didn’t notice anything which either worried me or which I put down under the label of strange. Now, of course, their services are a bit more lively than what I am accustomed to in a Sunday mass. I grant you that. But it is a matter of objective observation rather than anything else.
MR. MORGAN: Okay.
DR. SALIBA: I have to admit that some of the spirituality I found, that some of them were saying, they told me when I was a Jesuit novice twenty-five years ago, which was interesting.
MR. MORGAN: Father, how about the book itself? What conclusion did you draw as far as The God-Men publication, as far as its truth and its fair representation of Witness Lee’s teachings and the “Local Church”?
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: First of all, I believe you read Witness Lee’s articles too?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I read about twelve books of Witness Lee plus lots of pamphlets, and I have read over 7,000 pages of deposition in the trial over the last two years.
MR. MORGAN: Now what I want to know is, what your conclusions were about the book; does it fairly represent Witness Lee’s teachings in the “Local Church” and the “Local Church” people?
DR. SALIBA: Simple answer, no.
MR. MORGAN: Can you tell us in what way it does not generally?
DR. SALIBA: Well, the first thing is that the book takes Witness Lee out of his Christian context with no attempt to see him historically, which is a very great fault, because in our culture we try to use history to understand practically everything. Psychologically, sociologically, and even in the courts.
A history of the individual can give a very different impression of what a person is like. But there is no attempt by the SCP to take the history of the “Local Church,” where it came from, its roots and the Plymouth Brethren. It came all the way to contemporary Fundamentalism.
Then, of course, I got the impression that the conclusions were already set at the very start and that the author was skimming the pages. Oh, this fits into here, and then, oh yeah, this fits into here. So it was almost like what we call in academic circles a scissors-and-paste method of making a study: you cut those little quotations which you think will fit.
MR. MORGAN: Did you find in your opinion that the book misrepresented the teachings of Witness Lee?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, and what worries me more is that I couldn’t see how a person could have done it who had some academic background as the author had. That is still a mystery to me.
MR. MORGAN: Do you have any opinion as to whether the misrepresentations were done deliberately?
DR. SALIBA: I hate to make judgements on people, but in this case I would be inclined to say they could not have been not deliberate.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Father, was there anything in The God-Men-obviously I haven’t read it-Is there anything in The God-Men that is complimentary to the “Local Church”?
DR. SALIBA: I haven’t found any. Okay, I think they praise them for their enthusiasm at one point.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: That’s about it?
DR. SALIBA: I made a list myself of what I call religious accusations and civil accusations, because theologically there are thousands of Christian churches, and we all disagree with one another. But I can disagree with you theologically without calling you names, and there is a lot of name calling.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: So in your opinion, then, the book does nothing in a constructive way as far as helping the “Local Church,” but it is a book written strictly from the standpoint of trying to downgrade the “Local Church.”
DR. SALIBA: That is the impression, and I think any person who read it would go as far away as he can from the “Local Church.”
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I do.
MR. MORGAN: First, as a Catholic priest, does that title give you some concern?
DR. SALIBA: Not at all. If you have been doing some theology the last twenty years, you will realize that the idea of Christ versus religion was first developed in the Protestant circles and even some Catholic writings, and basically what they are trying to say is this, that over the centuries religion, Christianity included, has built up a lot of accretions, and obviously sometimes we have made the mistake of taking these accretions as being more important than the center theme of Christianity. And there is a constant battle going on in the Christian church over the last two thousand years fighting this thing, and as Dr. Melton mentioned, Karl Barth was probably the first one who crystallized it in this term: Christ versus Christianity, or religion.
MR. MORGAN: Father, let me show you something from Duddy’s writings, where he says:
The Local Church, therefore, not only fails to express social or moral consciousness, but explicitly counsels its members to avoid any such awareness.
Now, first, what do you understand that Mr. Duddy is saying to the reader?
DR. SALIBA: Well, first, my immediate reaction is that he tries to isolate them from society at large almost like: Whatever happens in society, forget it. Ivory towers.
Secondly, morality is obviously not inculcated. In other words, what you call the average thing, don’t steal, et cetera, is not part of the awareness which the members are encouraged to develop.
MR. MORGAN: Based upon your readings of Witness Lee, is this a true statement of his teachings?
DR. SALIBA: No, it isn’t.
MR. MORGAN: What are the teachings of Witness Lee regarding morality and regarding social consciousness?
DR. SALIBA: I think I am more sure on morality than on the other, but I will talk about both.
My impressions are from the reading of Lee’s books and from hearing witnesses and people talking during the services that they accept basically the same morality I do, and it means the Ten Commandments plus also something beyond that. Meaning, you do not only try not to kill people but also try and be good to others too. Kind of like an added dimension to it.
From the view of social awareness I didn’t have time to investigate, like, to what degree they involve themselves in politics, for instance.
MR. MORGAN: Is that important?
DR. SALIBA: Not particularly. You see there is a section of the Christian church, the more liberal, which looks on involvement in political and social matters as being almost as important as other matters. So if you want to evaluate it from that point of view, I suppose you could.
MR. MORGAN: From the standpoint of your meeting the members of the church, what did you observe as far as their social consciousness?
DR. SALIBA: Okay. In order to understand any other group or person, I usually try and find something similar in my life to which I can relate; and I thought, when I visited the “Local Church” for a couple of months’ period, that there are some things I could compare to my own Jesuit community in Detroit, meaning, these were people who actually prayed together more than once every month or every year, so to speak, who ate together sometimes and discussed problems among themselves, very much as I would do in my community in Detroit.
There was no indication that they never talked to anybody else, but I would imagine that there was a community life among themselves which was more prominent than anything else.
MR. MORGAN: Let me ask you this. Would it concern you or would you say that they had lost their social consciousness if they didn’t particularly care to watch television?
DR. SALIBA: No. My reaction would be they wouldn’t be missing much.
MR. MORGAN: Let me go on to another one now. This is again one that I have covered with Dr. Melton, but I wanted the court to hear from you also. Duddy says:
Not only is the Local Church unwilling to exercise discipline, but, by intrinsic theological design, its ability to do so is foundationally inadequate because authority rests in conscious sensations from the Spirit-spirit whose voices may be many and varied.
First, Father, can you tell us what you understand Mr. Duddy is telling the readers there?
DR. SALIBA: It is not always easy to understand sometimes what Duddy is saying because he kind of like invents theological ways of putting stuff.
My conclusion is that apparently authority is not based on some kind of rule but rather comes from some kind of inner experience, kind of a “do what you will” mentality.
EDITOR’s NOTE: Other witnesses testified, proving the falsity of the following alleged incident. Dr. Saliba’s opinion here confirms that testimony.
MR. MORGAN: This follows the allegation of child rape, doesn’t it?
DR. SALIBA: Of course. If you have that kind of “authority,” you could easily fall into that.
MR. MORGAN: Mr. Duddy assigned blame to both Witness Lee’s teaching and the “Local Church” for the child rape incident that is referred in here.
DR. SALIBA: Yes.
MR. MORGAN: First, do you have an opinion on Mr. Duddy’s making that kind of a charge here?
DR. SALIBA: My own opinion is, from my reading of the depositions, I don’t think there is enough evidence for any person to make a charge like that. That is a serious charge, and if I had to do it or write something like that myself, I would have rechecked and rechecked and rechecked the material, because it’s really not something you write down.
MR. MORGAN: And he didn’t do that, did he?
DR. SALIBA: From his own deposition, apparently he didn’t. It was almost like: I say something, and you accept it, and then I tell you I accept it because you have said it. That is the process which is going on all the time: everybody confirming everybody else, and it is very hard to figure out where the actual rumor started. You can’t pinpoint it.
MR. MORGAN: What about Witness Lee’s teaching? From your reading, is Witness Lee’s teaching such that they are unable to exercise discipline and to even know that they need it?
DR. SALIBA: In my worst dream it wouldn’t occur to me that is the case.
MR. MORGAN: Tell us what your understanding is of Witness Lee’s teachings regarding morality.
DR. SALIBA: Witness Lee is basically very biblically oriented; he insists on the Bible which is the primary authority, which is very Protestant in spirit. There is nothing new with that. He accepts the basic morality of the Old Testament and New Testament, and I find practically no difference between my views on morality and his.
DR. SALIBA: They ruin his reputation. In a small church like the “Local Church,” there are different social and psychological dynamics which operate than, say, in a large denomination. And in the case like this, first of all, it ruins his reputation. When I talked to Witness Lee myself, I think he was practically brokenhearted over the matter, and if I were a member of the church-and I probably would not have believed it-but if I had doubts, I would have started thinking of leaving.
MR. MORGAN: What about the rest of the Christian community? What effect would these kinds of charges have on Witness Lee’s reputation?
DR. SALIBA: I would label him with the nice label C-U-L-T, cult, which includes beware, stay away from, and don’t ever relate to those people because there is something wrong with that group.
MR. MORGAN: Does that apply to the church as well as Witness Lee?
DR. SALIBA: The church itself, because when you join a group, you are actually not joining a person or a leader. You are joining a group as such.
Most members of the “Local Church” don’t sit with Mr. Lee very often.
MR. MORGAN: How about looking at these two different quotes used in The God-Men. It says:
In my Christian dictionary there is not such a word as “evil,” nor is there such a word as “good”! From the beginning to the end my Christian dictionary contains only one word-“Christ”! I understand neither good nor evil. I do not want help to do good; I only want Christ!
…Spontaneously we will bear fruit. This is the missing key. Trying to do good is a real temptation and a great distraction from experiencing Christ. [The Economy of God, p. 38]
Eventually, there is no right or wrong, no yes or no-only Jesus!… There is no law, no teaching, no regulations-only Jesus. And not a Jesus in doctrine but a Jesus who is so living, so instant, and so present. [Christ vs. Religion, pp. 63-64]
Now, first, those are quotes taken from Witness Lee’s statements, is that right?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, they are.
MR. MORGAN: Can you tell the court what you understand Mr. Duddy is attempting to convey to the readers here?
DR. SALIBA: Something which is very common in Christian spirituality, meaning, the key element in Christian life is a personal relationship with Christ.
MR. MORGAN: What I want to know is what Mr. Duddy is trying to convey to the reader?
DR. SALIBA: He is trying to say that if you join the “Local Church,” all you need to do is develop this kind of experience, and then do whatever you want. Don’t worry about what is right or wrong.
MR. MORGAN: But didn’t Witness Lee say, “In my Christian dictionary there is not such a word as ‘evil'”?
DR. SALIBA: I know, because the reason is this: If you really accept Christ, then you never really worry about the problem of doing evil. You automatically do good.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: That reminds me of when I was in Sunday school, we had a minister-I was a Presbyterian before I became a Catholic-and the teaching was, if you loved Christ, you could do anything you want, and we thought that meant we could go out and do anything, until he explained that the things you want to do, you wouldn’t do if you loved Christ.
DR. SALIBA: That is what Witness Lee is saying, and, your Honor, Saint Augustine is responsible for that saying. He is quoted as saying, Love and do whatever you want.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I suppose that’s true.
MR. MORGAN: Did you find in your readings that Mr. Duddy took these statements out of context?
DR. SALIBA: Not only out of context. I get the impression they were twisted around to mean what he wanted them to mean.
MR. MORGAN: And then are you saying that this isn’t something that was done inadvertently; this was done deliberately?
DR. SALIBA: Again, I don’t like judging people, but I cannot honestly see how this could have been a genuine, innocent mistake.
Often in reading Lee, you would think church government to be unimportant, since he derides forms and organizations so consistently, offering in their stead “spontaneous,” organic growth. In practice, however, he does establish an authoritative eldership and diaconate of sorts, composed of those who are “spiritually advanced.” They wield strong authority over ordinary church members.
“Toward one who has the ministry of the Holy Spirit we should really be careful! You may freely criticize those who walk on the street, but you should not freely criticize nor purposely dispute with one who has the ministry of the Holy Spirit…as soon as you criticize him and dispute with him, his ministry toward you is finished.” [The Knowledge of Life, p. 215]
Such authoritative leadership exerts great leverage in the church member’s life, generating intense dependency on the leader’s approval in both personal matters (home life, vocation, and the like) and church affairs. To differ with a leader’s counsel puts one in a “soulish” predicament, adrift from the spiritual flow of church life, so one understandably prefers submission with its security and approval to the exercise of personal judgement and individual decision.
Again, can you tell the court what you understand Mr. Duddy is attempting to convey to the reader?
DR. SALIBA: Okay, this talks about authority in the church, and the idea here is that this is a very authoritarian group, where Witness Lee rules more or less like a despot, and where the elders are more or less little despots in their own little fields, and they control everything, and you are just merely submissive to them.
MR. MORGAN: Doesn’ the quote Witness Lee there in the middle paragraph, that you should not freely criticize and so on?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, he does.
MR. MORGAN: Again, does that fairly represent Witness Lee’s teachings?
DR. SALIBA: No, I don’t think so. Again, we are not encouraged to criticize the pope, and it is not an imposition for us. We don’t feel it that way. I wouldn’t conclude that the pope is my dictator. So I think he is talking here of the way people should relate within the same community, and within a community the best relationship is not one of confrontation and criticism but actually dialogue and exchanging views and pointing out matters without a public debate, which I think is the correct way to do it.
MR. MORGAN: And did you understand that is the way Witness Lee teaches it?
DR. SALIBA: That is my impression.
MR. MORGAN: Here Mr. Duddy has put it in there to make it appear that Witness Lee is saying you don’t argue with the elders.
DR. SALIBA: Yes. I remember an incident at one of the meetings I attended, and one of the elders at the end of the service was encouraging people to go to a regional meeting. He was encouraging them without an imposition that I can tell you.
MR. MORGAN: In your visits to the “Local Church” have you observed any conduct that would appear to be that of autocratic rule or despots or anything of that sort?
DR. SALIBA: No, and I have been trained to observe all that stuff, because they teach in anthropology to use your eyes and ears like antennae. You are watching everything you see, so I was watching the mood of the people. I was watching how they were relating to each other. I was noticing everything. I was like a hawk sometimes.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: By the way, in one of these paragraphs, Father, it says they are ascribing to Witness Lee that he controls the home life and the vocations of his followers. Did you experience anything like that?
DR. SALIBA: I saw no evidence of it.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Or in his writings?
DR. SALIBA: There is nothing. But again if you think in terms of the “Local Church” as a community, very much as a resort is a community, I think you will understand what is happening much more easily.
If you look upon it as a huge church where people are going there once a month, then you will not really get a good glimpse of the actual spirituality and dynamics of the group.
People are always afraid when they see great commitment, because great commitment means you put limitations on yourself. But once you are committed, then limitations are never that damaging to you.
If I may give you an example from my own vocation, there are many Catholics and non-Catholics who are surprised how not being married isn’t a great sacrifice for me, and my reaction is, it is a sacrifice, but I don’t really feel it because I am committed, so that is the reason why I’d rather talk to people in the group rather than outside the group, because outside the group they have lost their commitment, they have lost their vocation. So when they look back to their past, they tend to look at those years or months as a waste of time.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I agree with you.
DR. SALIBA: My complaint with the SCP literature has always been that they don’t understand commitment, they have no idea of religious experience, what it means, and therefore, they misunderstand much of the groups they study.
MR. MORGAN: Did you learn in your reading that Witness Lee’s method of counseling or advising is to tell them to pray and find the answer?
DR. SALIBA: Yes. Several times, actually.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Mr. Morgan, are all of the people that references are made to in The God-Men people that have left the church?
MR. MORGAN: Yes.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: None of them were participating members of the church at the time the book was written?
MR. MORGAN: It is basically three or four, and what we are going to do at some point is put in evidence that Mr. Duddy attempted to get from them affidavits to substantiate what they were saying, and they refused to give them to him.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I think you had made that comment before.
DR. SALIBA: Your Honor, also in SCP newsletters, when they are investigating a group, they very often put a note asking for ex-members to contact them. It is a very common practice.
MR. MORGAN: We do know from our discovery that Mr. Squires, and he may be here today, he’s in the back there, sent out questionnaires. They have a mailing list of ex-members of the “Local Church,” and they sent out questionnaires, and it is important to us in certain phases because they didn’t get any negative responses back on certain things they were looking for.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Father, with respect to cults and the charge of a group as being a cult, do you feel that it is impossible over a period of time to ever eradicate that classification that is placed on you, right or wrong or otherwise?
DR. SALIBA: It is very difficult, given the climate in our society. In fact, the social stigma-I can’t see it in my lifetime.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: I agree with you. No matter what people’s connotation?
DR. SALIBA: Unfortunately, we tend to believe something of a strange rumor much more readily than something good.
The Local Church uses certain psycho-spiritual techniques to guide the experience of its members into a sense of mystical transcendence and collective solidarity. These techniques are based upon principles of mental manipulation that are as old as humanity, and as contemporary as est or Transcendental Meditation.
Then it goes on to basically calling on the name of the Lord and pray-reading.
First, what do you understand Mr. Duddy is trying to convey to the readers there? Actually, this is Mr. Alexander, but what do you understand?
DR. SALIBA: What he is saying is the common accusation against many religious groups, that they manipulate you, brainwash you, and then more or less you become, to use an extreme term but used in literature, a living zombie, so to speak.
MR. MORGAN: Any evidence that in the teachings or in the church there is any mental manipulation, brainwashing?
DR. SALIBA: None at all.
MR. MORGAN: These practices, the pray-reading and calling on the name of the Lord, you have seen those, have you not?
DR. SALIBA: Yes.
MR. MORGAN: Have you participated in them?
DR. SALIBA: Not in pray-reading. It was a little bit unusual. I am not used to the average “Local Church” meeting with everybody participating, and there is no prescribed order of prayer as there would be in my tradition. I don’t feel as comfortable as in my own tradition, which is understandable, but it doesn’t bother me. I wasn’t surprised or upset or anything.
MR. MORGAN: Did you see anything about that that created mental manipulation or brainwashing?
DR. SALIBA: I can’t figure out anything which would.
MR. MORGAN: In the book they talk about the fact that this repetition, saying the verses over and over again, will somehow get the person hyperventilating and then get them into an altered state of consciousness, and then Witness Lee can swoop down and manipulate their minds.
DR. SALIBA: The only thing I notice if somebody is hyperventilating and you are there after he is hyperventilated, you will see it. That is a physical phenomenon. I never saw anybody hyperventilating in any sense of the word. And after the meeting they talked like ordinary human beings. So they were not waiting for Witness Lee to more or less say something for them to do.
MR. MORGAN: What about the repetition? Do you see anything wrong in that?
DR. SALIBA: No. Repetitious prayer is often common in Christianity too. The old tradition of saying the Jesus Prayer is probably fifteen hundred years old. In the Catholic Church we say the rosary, which is repetitious.
And the important thing is, this is what I think the book doesn’t either understand or ignores or whatever, they try to compare pray-reading with the mantra. But that is not quite the case, because the mantra is magical, meaning you don’t even have to know what it means for it to work, and if you go to TM, for instance, they tell you that you don’t even have to believe in what they say or understand the mantra. It will work.
What the “Local Church” members were pray-reading were the sections of the Gospel from the New Testament in English, not in a language nobody understood. So they knew what they were doing. So I don’t see the similarity except that it is repetitious prayer.
MR. MORGAN: Father, what in your opinion does the cover of The God-Men portray?
DR. SALIBA: I get an idea of something of a person very powerful and hypnotic looking at me through eyes, which you don’t see the eyes, so there is an element of, “You are not sure who I am.”
There is kind of a seductive smile on his face. And then you have those pictures on the glasses. One is a temple. It is that which comes to me. I don’t know what they had in mind, and the other is people jumping around.
It wouldn’t attract me to the person. There is no doubt about it.
MR. MORGAN: In your opinion what has been the total impact of these publications on Witness Lee and the “Local Church”?
DR. SALIBA: Okay. I am not sure how much it has affected their members. I didn’t make any study of that. I can’t inform you on that matter. I would say in general it is negative because it could also instill some doubts in some people probably.
It also has caused them a lot of, I would say, internal trouble, because here you are being publicly, in writings and on TV, accused. I would never have heard probably of the “Local Church” if it had not been for the book, so that is the only book which there is on the “Local Church.” It is really a very negative effect.
MR. MORGAN: When you add to it the fact that Witness Lee is a Bible teacher, has been a Bible teacher for fifty years, what does that do to him and his reputation?
DR. SALIBA: I would say it destroys it.
MR. MORGAN: In the course of your reading, did you come across some teaching by Witness Lee on the book of Revelation?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I have.
MR. MORGAN: Simply, if possible, what is the book of Revelation?
DR. SALIBA: In the Catholic Church we often call it the Apocalypse, which, in fact, is the Greek word meaning revelation. It is a very symbolic book which talks on the seven churches. It is the most difficult book in the Bible, in my opinion. There are umpteen books and commentaries on the book of Revelation.
MR. MORGAN: In the course of your reviewing that, you saw Witness Lee when he was explaining the interpretation of that book, did you not?
DR. SALIBA: Yes.
MR. MORGAN: In the course of that, did he say things that were uncomplimentary to the Catholic religion?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, there is a common explanation, I forgot the exact chapter in Revelation where it refers to Babylon, and Babylon is interpreted to be Rome, and then the next step is Rome being the Catholic Church.
MR. MORGAN: Is that something that is unique with Witness Lee?
DR. SALIBA: No, it is fairly common among Fundamentalists. It wasn’t the first time I came across it.
MR. MORGAN: So when you saw that, did that in any way affect your ability to evaluate everything here.
DR. SALIBA: No, because, first of all, Witness Lee doesn’t harp against the Catholic Church all the time. It is not like some evangelists do on television. So it occurs occasionally, and I remember one quote, but I don’t remember the exact location where he says, Love everybody, Protestant and Catholic included; so I said, At least Witness Lee may interpret Revelation against my church, but he doesn’t hate me.
MR. MORGAN: Finally, in your review of Mr. Duddy’s writings and Witness Lee’s books, did you find that Mr. Duddy consistently took Witness Lee’s quotes out of context?
DR. SALIBA: Oh yes, I would have to look for exceptions.
MR. MORGAN: Did you find that he also distorted the use of Witness Lee’s quotes?
DR. SALIBA: Yes, I think he did very often.
MR. MORGAN: Thank you. I have nothing further.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Thank you very much, Father.
Copyright © 1995 Living Stream, Anaheim, CA, USA. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.