The Abbreviated Rebuttal to the UtmosT Article

The Spring 1991 edition of the UtmosT magazine, the student magazine of the University of Texas at Austin, contains an article entitled “The Lord works in mysterious ways” by Rachel Alterman, managing editor. The subject of the article is Christians on Campus, a registered UT student organization, and the local churches, which are comprised of blood-washed, born-again Christians meeting together in various localities worldwide. The particular local church mentioned in the article is the church in Austin, the church with which many of the members of Christians on Campus fellowship. A brief description of the local churches can be found in Dr. J. Gordon Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions.

The goal of Rachel’s article is to convince her readers that Christians on Campus and the local churches are a cult with all the attendant evil cultic characteristics. As will be shown below, her groundless accusations against these two groups are virtually identical to those made about the local churches in a book entitled The God-Men, An Inquiry Into Witness Lee and the Local Church.

In 1985 the Superior Court of the State of California had struck down The God-Men, finding it “in all major respects false, defamatory and unprivileged, and, therefore, libelous.” The lawsuit resulted in an $11.9 million judgment against the authors and publisher. The twenty-four findings of the Superior Court were based on the sworn testimony (evidence) of church opponents, current church members, and five well-qualified independent experts who testified on behalf of the local churches.

Ignoring the Superior Court’s Statement of Decision and the evidence presented in that case, Rachel fabricates her own case to show that both groups are a cult. First she establishes the definition and evil characteristics of cults by paraphrasing and quoting three leaders of cult awareness groups. Then, for each of the cultic characteristics described by these leaders, she produces alleged stories and statements from seven local church opponents in an attempt to impute to the local churches these characteristics. She thus accomplishes her goal of portraying the local churches (and Christians on Campus through

its association with the church in Austin) as an evil, destructive cult. Rachel’s own verdict is clear: the local church is a cult.

Whose verdict concerning the local church should one believe: that of the Superior Court of the State of California or that of Rachel Alterman of UtmosT magazine?

In arriving at a decision, one must understand that the two verdicts concerning the local church have radically different bases. The Superior Court’s verdict is based on the evidence of five competent and qualified authorities who conducted in-depth research. It is also based on the evidence of both church opponents and current church members. Rachel’s verdict is based solely on her own superficial research and the unsubstantiated hearsay of seven opponents whose stature is unestablished and who are unqualified to definitively classify a group as a cult. Furthermore, her verdict is not based on a single authority; in fact, it ignores the authorities’ judgments about the local church.

The Superior Court of California cited fourteen accusations in The God-Men, which it found to be “false, defamatory and

unprivileged, and, therefore, libelous.”

Rachel’s article accused the local church of twelve of these fourteen accusations, omitting two related to immorality. In this rebuttal, two of Rachel’s twelve accusations concerning control of church members by church leaders are combined, resulting in a total of eleven accusations. Each accusation in Rachel’s article will be presented, followed by the California Superior Court’s finding in its Statement of Decision concerning the same accusation alleged in The God-Men.

Accusations Answered

Accusation:
The local church is a cult.

Court:

“All of the defendants’ publications create the image that Witness Lee and William Freeman are leaders of a cult [the local churches] and that the Church in Anaheim is a cult. All of the express and implied statements to that effect are false and defamatory.” (Page 2, lines 20-23)

Accusation:
The local church engages in deceptive recruiting practices.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that plaintiffs either engage in or advocate deceptive recruiting practices in order to bring people into the Local Church are false and defamatory.” (Page 4, lines 11-14)

Accusation:
Witness Lee exercises authoritative control over the local churches.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that Witness Lee rules the Local Churches with an ‘iron rod’ or ‘with a firm hand’ are false and defamatory.” (Page 6, lines 19-21)

Accusation:
The local church engages in brainwashing.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that plaintiffs or any of the Local Churches engage in mental manipulation, or any of the various forms of what is commonly referred to as ‘brainwashing’ or ‘thought reform’ are false and defamatory. The statements concerning the practice of pray-reading and calling on the name of the Lord as being mental manipulation techniques causing, among other things, blurred mental acuity, is also false.” (Page 8, lines 12-19)

Accusation:
The local church controls church members’ lives.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in the defendants’ publications that plaintiffs and Local Church leaders control every aspect of church members’ lives, including discouraging friendships, prohibiting dating, arranging marriages, controlling the use of finances, dictating where members should live or work are all false and defamatory. “ (Page 9, lines 21-26)

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that Local Church elders have created an unchallengeable power structure that makes it impossible for church members to maturely exercise their faith and bear responsibility for their own lives are false and defamatory.” (Page 11, lines 22-26)

Accusation:
The local church destroys social and family relationships.

Court:

“Duddy [defendant] testified that he intended to depict the Local Churches as quarantining members from relatives who were outside of the Local Church…and causing people to withdraw and be isolated from society….” (Page 11, lines 5-9)

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that Witness Lee and the Local Church elders isolate members from society…is false and defamatory.” (Page 10, line 26-page 11, line 4)

Accusation:
The actions of the local church cause its members to be psychologically disturbed, even to the point of suicide.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that plaintiffs have publicly humiliated members and that some Anaheim church members and an alleged Northern California leader were hospitalized for psychiatric care because of plaintiffs’ acts are false and defamatory.” (Page 17, lines 7-11)

Accusation:
Witness Lee and the local church financially exploit church members and are guilty of financial mismanagement.

Court:

“All of the false statements set forth above were defamatory in that the same convey to the readers…that the plaintiffs are exploiting these people financially for plaintiffs’ own gain….” (Page 24, lines 15-16, 27 to page 25, line 1)

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that Witness Lee, or any of the plaintiffs, were guilty of financial mismanagement including any alleged misuse of $235,000 intended for a Stuttgart meeting hall are false and defamatory.” (Page 22, lines 5-9)

Accusation:
The local church members and leaders conceal information, are deceitful, and lack forthrightness in self-representation.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that William Freeman, or any elder in the church in Anaheim, deceived Fuller Seminary is false and defamatory. Furthermore, the express and implied statements in said publications that ‘this alleged lack of forthrightness in self-representation is a quality which the Local Church displays’ is also false and defamatory.” (Page 19, lines 4-10)

Accusation:
The local church uses fear tactics or threats of reprisal to keep members from leaving.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that plaintiffs use fear tactics or threats of reprisal in order to keep members loyal to the Local Church and prevent them from leaving are false and defamatory.” (Page 20, lines 14-17)

Accusation:
The local church ostracizes ex-members and opponents.

Court:

“The express and implied statements in defendants’ publications that ‘most people who have left the Local Church find it necessary to relocate’ in order to avoid Local Church persecution and that any such persecution occurred (including vandalizing of ex-members’ homes) are all false and defamatory.” (Page 21, lines 7-11)

In conclusion, we reiterate the question “Concerning Christians on Campus and the local church, whose verdict should you believe: the California Superior Court’s or Rachel Alterman’s?” The correct response should now be obvious: the Court’s.