Article Summary:

A public statement concerning the decision to appeal the Court of Appeals decision which granted Harvest House, John Ankerberg, and John Weldon summary judgment in the libel action over the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions.

Why Are We Continuing Our Legal Efforts?

Current Situation

We are grateful to the Lord for the warm fellowship which He has provided us with many Evangelical friends over the past five years. In particular we are very happy about the statement issued in January by Fuller Theological Seminary chronicling our two years of mutually edifying fellowship. The editors of Christianity Today have also shown Christian love and fairness in engaging in fellowship with us and we are thankful to the Lord for their honest opinion as well as their agreement with Fuller’s statement. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was the first to engage in dialogue with us in the process of our communication with other Evangelical publishers. There are numerous other Evangelical believers who heard us and took it as their own burden to straighten out the many misunderstandings of the past. It is not because we are unappreciative that we have decided we must continue this struggle. We hear your comments that now we have, in fact, “won the war” and therefore, do not need to continue this battle. In this we have endeavored very much to pray and to seek guidance from the Lord. While we are reminded of our duty for Christian charity, we are also cognizant of our responsibility to keep watch over the interest of God’s allotment to us (Acts 20:31; 1 Pet 5:2-3). We ask your indulgence while we try to help you understand our very difficult position and the danger and damages that have already resulted from the book itself (ECNR) and further problems that have arisen from the recent ruling of the Texas Court of Appeals.

In the days following the Texas decision we began to hear from the many house churches in China that follow our teaching and practices. We heard words of great concern for how they could prepare for the new wave of persecution to come “now that we are a ‘cult.'” A crucial point that some Evangelicals seem to miss is that there are many governments on this earth that understand the word “cult”, not as theology, but as a threat to their society and a justification for persecution. This week further information came to us from Zhejiang province that government officials have approached our brothers to tell them that through the internet they have learned that a Texas court has now labeled them a cult. It was a warning of things to come.

The Result of the “Friends of the Court”

Now, we would earnestly like to ask our Evangelical brothers how we should answer these cries for help. Must we tell them that a group of American Evangelicals collaborated together as “friends of the court” to convince a Texas court that the word “cult”, even when defined with criminal characteristics, could only be understood as a theological term and thus our libel claim was negated in favor of the expression of religious speech? How shall we explain that they persuaded the court to hold Christian publishers to a lower standard than secular publishers must uphold? Perhaps those well-meaning Evangelicals did not foresee that their efforts to enhance their own freedom would be at the expense of the freedom of many others around the world. Will those Evangelicals come forward now to explain to our brothers and sisters in distant lands that some of them will have to suffer imprisonment and torture because the freedom of American publishers is more important than their lives? Although we have suffered many damages in the United States, including broken homes, due to this book, it is comparatively easier for us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) than it is for those who are affected in other parts of the world. We have suffered attacks and misunderstanding for thirty years in this land where we treasure the right of all religions to express their views freely. And while it is an insult to be portrayed as enemies of freedom of speech, yet insult and imprisonment are two different kinds of cheek to turn. We would willingly suffer that insult as we endeavor to spare other genuine believers from imprisonment. In the modern history of our ministry, our brothers, from Watchman Nee on, have demonstrated their willingness to be martyred for the Lord, but we feel a great responsibility not to add to the tribulation of their followers by being passive while American books and courts provide “justification” to their tormentors.

The Need for Righteous Consequences
To Lawless Acts

In addition, we believe in the rule of law in America and that there should be righteous consequences to lawless acts. ECNR was not an accident or mistake. It was not merely “loose talk” as some have described it. The authors, John Ankerberg and John Weldon, have been closely associated with those who attacked us in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Harvest House participated in selecting the groups in the book and made numerous decisions to keep us in the book. Furthermore, they and their authors have resisted every offer to meet face to face for more than five years. The evidence established in this case makes it abundantly clear that the book was published with reckless disregard for the truth.

Implications of Texas Court Ruling

Finally, we must point out that the decision of the Texas court adds bad law to the mix and will result in innumerable problems for us all. As a result of this decision, every writer who invokes a religious context is now free to make whatever evil allegation he wishes about whomever he wishes. This ruling destroys the proper legal protection for “the little guy” and empowers the already empowered to defame those with whom they may disagree. In this particular case the ruling protects the authors and publishers in spite of their making charges as serious as murder, rape, beating disciples and drug smuggling, all because they did it in a context including “religious speech”. In setting a frightening precedent, the ruling, as it now stands, protects the word “cult” as being, by law, impossible of having any meaning other than theological. This ruling ignores both common sense and the authors’ plainly written intention- which was to use the term “cult” for the secular meaning it has to those unconcerned with theology. Consequently, this ruling opens the doors for all manner of lawless attacks that will now be protected by law! The details of the main errors of this decision are expressed in our motion for rehearing.

So, we are determined to continue this fight with all the strength and endurance the Lord grants us. If we are considered somehow less than Christian for trying to protect other believers who are helpless, we are willing to suffer that. Our efforts to help the situation in China have not been limited to the present litigation. We have endeavored in many ways to address those issues. Fuller Theological Seminary among many other Evangelical groups has pursued similar goals. We are thankful for such efforts and hope more Evangelicals could show a similar love to those neighbors in Asia. We are open to anyone who has an alternate solution that would work to solve this worldwide problem. If other members of the Lord’s Body would do more, we would be happy to do less but they would first need to get into the facts of the case. As much as we have tried to explain the facts of this case, many do not yet understand that it is not about theology (see our Original Complaint). Meanwhile, we continue to seek the Lord, opening up ourselves to Him for His gracious shining, and we ask you for your prayer and support in these matters.

Motion for Rehearing

The motion for rehearing was filed with the same appeals court that recently ruled on this case. We are asking them to reconsider and reverse their errant ruling. If they decline to hear it, we then will take it to the Texas Supreme Court with a request for their review. We feel there are numerous issues of importance that should be of interest to them. If they choose not to hear it, we can then appeal to the US Supreme Court. If the case goes all the way up to the US Supreme Court and back to the lower court for trial, there could still be years of litigation ahead of us. It is altogether premature for Harvest House and the authors to claim victory at this point. Harvest House’s lead attorney has stated that they would take this case as high as necessary, even to the US Supreme Court. Why would we do less as we have much more at stake in the matter?

All of this confrontation could have been avoided if Harvest House and the authors had made a simple and principled decision to handle this as Christians as we have repeatedly asked them for more than five years. That offer has never been taken off the table.

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