07 January 2006

Publisher prevails in important lawsuit

This is very good news: "Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Harvest House and Its Authors, John Ankerberg and John Weldon."*

Harvest House had been the target of a protracted lawsuit** filed by "Living Stream Ministry" and "The Local Churches," an aberrant group closely associated with the teaching of Witness Lee, and known for answering their critics with litigation.

The group's litigious tendencies have effectively silenced most of their critics. The suit against Harvest House came after a short chapter critiquing the group's teaching was included in the Ankerberg/Weldon book Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. The four-year-long legal battle has been extremely costly to Harvest House, but they have persevered rather than settling (as some other publishers have done previously), because they were fighting for an important matter of principle.

The court's ruling Friday included this:

Because the allegedly libel statements are not defamatory, as a matter of law, we sustain the publisher and authors’ first issue on appeal. Accordingly, we need not address the remaining issues and decline to do so.

We reverse the judgment of the trial court and render judgment that the church take nothing from the publisher and authors.

*The first link in the above article goes to a news release published at the Harvest House Website. They have also posted a thorough account of their position in the suit. Links at the site will take you to some documents filed in the suit, news accounts, and other information that will help you understand the nature of the case.

**The second link above goes to a website operated by "The Local Church." In my opinion, it is evident from the sect's own slanted accounts that this lawsuit was frivolous and sinister from the start. Even the spin they put on the facts cannot disguise that fact, and I therefore always believed it was merely a matter of time before Harvest House would be vindicated in court. Unfortunately, the lawsuit might have (what I suspect was) the intended effect anyway: silencing others from speaking out because they fear a costly, protracted lawsuit like this.

For a brief, helpful overview of "The Local Church," see this entry from Anton Hein's Apologetics Index.

Phil's signature


Evers said...

You might note that the link you provided under "protracted lawsuit" is an extremely one-sided presentation of the history of said lawsuit, provided by the (now defeated) plaintiffs, i.e. LSM/The Local Church. You'll note that the copyright on their site belongs to "The Church in Fullerton." Rather than provide what I expected -- an objective history -- that site basically presents their side of the story. Just a caveat for those who click to a website called "contendingforthefaith.com" which is anything but.

Disclosure: I've had my own share of negative experiences with Local Church related folks on college campuses and am unsurprised to hear of their very aggressive and legal tactics to silence critics. I knew of Christian brothers who were essentially evicted without cause from an apartment building that the Local Church purchased and then filled with members of their own group.

What's rather pathetic is their faulty line of reasoning in the lawsuit: that being included in an "encyclopedia of cults" implies that the authors/publishers intended to label them, as they claim, "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."

That being said, I can think of no more deplorable or immoral act than corrupting the very truth and Word of God: of that they are surely guilty. May God have mercy on their souls and deliver the many misled from their midst.

Evers said...

Harvest House's presentation of the history of the lawsuit seems prudent to include, as it responds to a number of the misrepresentations on the contendingforthefaith.com site.

Carla Rolfe said...

Phil, this is very good news indeed. I know of other scenarios where folks are known to answer their critics with litigation, or at least threaten it. In these cases, the threat of potential legal action has also silenced more than a few critics as well.

I was glad to read this, this morning. Thank you for sharing this. Maybe it will be an encouragment for those who feel their hands are tied when it comes to speaking out for truth. I hope so.


Steve said...

Evers, thanks for providing the links to the Harvest House presentation so readers could get the full picture of what happened.

Phil Johnson said...

Evers: Thanks for your comment. I should have pointed out the source of that link. I assumed it would be clear, because the headlines on the stories at that page are so clearly slanted. It seemed pretty obvious that this is propaganda for "The Local Church."

On second thought, however, people unfamiliar with the case might not immediately realize that, so thanks for making it explicit.

I linked it because it's both fascinating and infuriating to see the lengths to which this sect went to spin the facts of the case and drag out this lawsuit. It seems clear that their strategy is designed mainly to silence critics by intimidation.

For example, a researcher named Jim Moran devoted a significant amount of effort to documenting the aberrant tendencies of "The Local Church." His website was once a valuable resource for those seeking to understand why the group is regarded as seriously unsound by so many. See this account of what happened to Jim Moran's website for an insight into how "The Local Church" deals with its critics.

Steve said...

Thanks, Phil...the new information you provided in this blog entry does a great job of covering all the bases.

Yes, lawsuits such as this can certainly have a disquieting effect on legitimate and responsible apologetics ministries that want to speak the truth in love yet cannot afford to do so because the cost of defending one's self is so exorbitant. We can only hope that this ruling may help restore a bit more boldness among members of the apologetics community.

Paul L said...

This is great news. I have a copy of this valuable resource on my nightstand and use it often. I tried to find one for my pastor recently and then remembered this lawsuit. I encourage everyone to get this and use it. Paul,

Adjutorium said...

Just in case you or other readers do not know, Anton Hein is vehemently opposed to Calvin and Calvinism and misrepresents Calvinism. He is not open to discussion about it. It is a shame, as his Index is a reasonable resource for this and that.

Calvinism and Arminianism

NetRealist said...

I just wanted to say thanks for posting info on this group.

Here in Taiwan, the Local Church is by far the largest "Christian" group. They are so large and powerful here that they are simply beyond any criticism.

The local mainstream Protestant groups, like the Baptists and Presbyterians, are doing absolutely nothing to counter the heretical teachings of this cult. These mainstream Taiwan churches have lost their discernment and can't prevent "baby" Christians from being seduced away by the false teachings of aggressive Local Church disciples.

The recent infusion of Rick Warren's nonsense into Taiwan has made the situation much worse because books like PDL deliberately promote anti-doctrine thinking, preventing new Christians from learning doctrine that would innoculate them against false teachings. Additionaly, Warren's "cell group" methodology matches the Local Church practice of home churches almost exactly. Both groups also stress numbers as signs of spiritual growth. Therefore, those of us who are trying to fight against the corrupting influence of the Local Church often have to defend against those who would use Warren's teachings and results to defend their own practices. That's not easy to do considering that PDL has sold 20 million copies.

Christians in Taiwan need your prayers.

Steve said...

While I appreciate Douglas's concern about Anton's stand on Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I thought I would point out that Anton is one of a very tiny handful who have refused to give in to the Local Church's numerous litigious threats against those who challenge their theology in print or on the Internet. In fact, it is EXTREMELY difficult to find any truly biblical analysis on the Local Church on the Internet because so many have caved in to their litigious threats. On this matter, Anton has refused to compromise.

étrangère said...

Well it hadn't taken me long to figure that a student friend of mine was a modalist, had a strange Bible version, had distinguishing ideas on prayer and was a bit strange in going to a different city for church on the basis that it was The Church... and now I know the name for it. I did figure it was bigger in the US since this friend kept going to the States for conferences. Interestingly, he did take part in our CU small group Bible studies, never suggesting that we were attending false churches or anything. I wish I'd known more about his beliefs so that I could discuss with him more intelligently - I mean, you don't dismiss someone as a heretic for having a bad Bible translation and a strange way of praying.

I once came across a couple of non-student girls offering free Recovery Version Bibles on campus and engaged them in conversation about what they were doing, and asked how they came to know Christ (always good as it's either encouraging or revealing!) They weren't interested in discussing the gospel or knowing about CU evangelism but only in pushing to me the Recovery version (I would, aparently, have a deeper level of Christianity in discarding my current version and reading it). They were rather thrown when I said that I had read it in parts (aforementioned friend's copy), thought it was a bad translation where it differed from my own and was quite convinced that there was no 'higher level' of Christianity because I had every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. Anyway, since they weren't students and had no permission to be there it was fairly straightforward to share my concerns with the university chaplain and they weren't seen again.

I find sects awfully sad.

Cesar said...

Hello Mr. Johnson. Thanks for the recent post (and the blog btw). I've wondered whatever happened to that lawsuit, especially in regards to who's suing. I found out about the Local Church Movement 2 years ago from one of my old roomates, and was very surprised at their beliefs. I was explaining it to my cousin, and told him about the kind of language that is used of God as being modalistic, and was soon shocked to find out he was a part of the group himself. We even talked about the lawsuit, but I didn't really know much about it at the time. Good to know that other people are aware of the group, and how important it is to know who you're talking to, because chances are they might be following something you might not want to be a part of.

I'm not sure if anyone remembers this or not, but CRI had 2 articles written concerning the Local Church. I have it in Word format, but does anyone have it in PDF?

Darel said...

Just thinking out loud...

I wonder if the ACLU or the EFF could be leveraged to get free legal defense for people speaking their mind about this group?

It would be ironic to see the ACLU turned to a good use for once.

The Man said...

"I find sects awfully sad."

You must be using tissues by the bushel then, because if you hadn't noticed Christianity is full of sects. Orthodox or non-orthodox, cult or non-cult or supposedly a cult, they're all sects; not just the Witness Lee crowd, but independent fundamental churches, non-denom evangelical churches, Pentecostal wack-job churches- they're all sects. They're all sad because they all believe that they're the ones and the other guys don't have it. Don't believe me? Just check out the evangelical Christian blogging world, where more energy is spent telling readers who is out than telling them how to get in.

That's what is sad.

Aaron S said...

More info on this movement:


Good Christian Boy said...

This article has inspired me to set up a new blog: liites.blogspot.com

Edifying criticism welcome.

By the way, my grandparents were ong time members of Grace Community and so was I until I moved. However there was a period of twelve years during which a parent went astray and took the family to a cult. My blog is an exercise in healing.