In 2006, Harvest House President Bob Hawkins, Jr., appeared as a guest on the Point of View broadcast.1 In his comments on that broadcast he gave a very distorted view of the interactions between representatives of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry and those involved in producing the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (ECNR), namely Mr. Hawkins and the authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon. In this article we will examine Mr. Hawkins’ statements and contrast them with the actual historical facts.
[BH] Originally, it was back in January of 2001 when we first heard the word that the Local Church was concerned with our publication, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, and we received a just one-page letter. It was just general in its nature and didn’t deal with any of the specific allegations toward the Encyclopedia.
[Facts] Based on the Lord’s instruction in Matthew 18, the local churches and Living Stream Ministry (LSM) sought fellowship as brothers in Christ, not as opponents in a controversy. The letter indicated serious concerns with the content of the book, particularly the association of the local churches with the sociological characteristics of “dangerous” and “evil cults” that pose “a significant threat to society.” It asked for a face-to-face fellowship to address them.
As followers of Christ we are observing His teaching to bring this offense to the attention of our offending brothers in an attempt to be reconciled. We feel this can be best done by a time of direct fellowship, face-to-face to discuss our concerns… To that end we are offering to come to Eugene to your offices to meet with you in the near future.2 (view)
To have initiated fellowship with a long list of criticisms or demands would have immediately put the interaction on an adversarial basis and been counterproductive to the desire to engage in Christian fellowship. Nevertheless, the letter did make it clear that the objections to the book included both the contents of “The Local Church” chapter and the inclusion of the local churches and LSM in a book full of accusations of deviant practices:
Both in the chapter titled “The Local Church” and in various other parts of the book we are made to share the vilification that your authors heap upon all they label “a significant threat to society.” They do this with direct words and the innuendo that “a far darker picture could have been painted.” They write with the animus that praises “intolerance” as a “virtue” and then direct that intolerance against those, including “The Local Church,” said to be illustrative of evil cults.2 (view)
All of the language quoted is from ECNR‘s introductory sections (“How to Use This Book” and the “Introduction”), showing that from the very beginning the objections raised were related to the framing of “The Local Church” chapter by the general discussion of the deviant practices of “cults” in the book’s introductory sections.
[BH] And so we followed up with a letter just a couple of days later and asking them if they could specifically let us know what their concerns were about what particular information on them in the book.
[Facts] In fact, the request for Christian fellowship by the representatives of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry was not answered by Harvest House, but was handed over to the office of an outside attorney who represents Harvest House for him to respond. Its tone gave a clear indication that Harvest House had no intention of responding positively to the request for Christian fellowship.
[BH] And so they did respond to us but it took them four months to do that…
[Facts] Contrary to Hawkins’ account, the local churches and Living Stream Ministry did not wait four months to respond to his rejection of our request for fellowship. Due to the nature of Harvest House’s response, a second letter was written within two weeks and was sent to author John Ankerberg, again seeking to resolve the matter in Christian fellowship. That letter stated:
…As you may know, we asked Mr. Hawkins of Harvest House Publishers for such a time [of speaking face-to-face] and were refused by a letter from their attorney who offered to give us “a meaningful response” in place of the fellowship we had asked for with Mr. Hawkins. He demonstrated Harvest House’s apparent lack of interest in who we were by citing the wrong book in reference to our request. Although Harvest House has initiated the use of lawyers, we hope you will join us in preferring to settle this in a more Christian manner.4 (view)
The next month attempts were made to contact Ankerberg during the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention, but he did not return calls. Bob Hawkins was no doubt aware of our attempts to contact Ankerberg, because Harvest House produced a copy of a subsequent letter we wrote to Ankerberg which mentions them. That letter said:
We wrote to you in January on behalf of the group you describe as “The Local Church(es).” In that letter we attempted to set up a time to come to you to discuss the offense and damage your writing has caused and seek to resolve the problem as Christian brothers. We feel that this is the clear path taught in the Scriptures (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:5-7). We further attempted to contact you by leaving a phone message on your hotel phone in Dallas at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in February, but you did not return our call.5 (view)
[BH] … so these letters went back and forth for about a year. And we just never received specific information from them with regard to what their problems were with the Encyclopedia.
[Facts] All of the letters that were sent to Hawkins, Ankerberg, and Weldon in May referenced a decision in a prior libel case and provided them with a Web site where they could review that court’s decision. The letters informed them that:
[BH] Well, we came back to them and said we just don’t have the specific information and we, they wanted to meet with us, but we chose not to meet with them until we knew what their problems were with the book, because we didn’t want to blindly go into a conversation, so we finally received a letter in late November of 2001, where they put forth a lot of documentation and mostly it was complaints about the chapter that was only, like you say, Kerby, a page and a quarter in length, but there’s really nothing that they, when they finally sued us, they didn’t even complain about that particular chapter.
[Facts] As Hawkins well knows, there were two categories of objections to the material in the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions concerning “The Local Church”:
- The association of the local churches and Living Stream Ministry with the criminal and immoral practices attributed by the book to cults.
- The misrepresentation of our teachings.
The November 20 letter addressed both of these issues. For example, concerning the deviant practices attributed to cults, it plainly stated:
For example, the book alleges that cults subject their members to “physical” and “psychological” “harm”, engage in the “perversion of sexuality,” “restrict” the “independent thought” of their members, and demand “unquestioning obedience” to group “leaders.” The authors further allege that cults engage in “occult practices,” engineer “cover ups of the group’s history” or that of its “leaders,” subject members to “intimidation,” perpetrate “deception and fraud,” engage in fraudulent “fund raising,” and issue deceptive statements concerning “financial costs.” The authors go so far as to suggest that these cults practice “witchcraft” and literally cause “cancer” in their members.11 (view)
It also cited Dr. Edward Finegan, a linguistics professor at the University of Southern California, who stated:
The clear implication to the reader is that the front matter frames each chapter. An average reader would associate the front matter with every group mentioned….and would believe all of the groups mentioned are immeasurably damaging.12 (view)
Furthermore, it extensively documented the Encyclopedia’s distortions of our teachings. Harvest House and its authors has never responded to any of the material provided to them except to publish more unbalanced and out of context excerpts from the ministry of Witness Lee on the Internet.
In Hawkins’s response to the November 20 letter, he says:
This was never done. Instead, the authors busily set themselves to broaden their attack on Living Stream Ministry and the local churches in the next printing of the Encyclopedia. Then, while the local churches and Living Stream Ministry were still seeking in good faith to resolve the issues surrounding the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions without resorting to the courts, Harvest House filed suit against The Church in Fullerton.14 (view) That, apparently was Harvest House’s idea of an “appropriate response” to the local churches and Living Stream Ministry providing what they had asked for to initiate dialog (see A Brief Chronology of Events for details).
This article’s account of the history of the attempts by the local churches and LSM to engage in fellowship with Harvest House and its authors is confirmed in the lawsuit Harvest House filed in Oregon.15 (view) The contents of the Amended Complaint demonstrate that Harvest House did understand the nature of the protests by the churches and LSM, contrary to Bob Hawkins’ public statements otherwise.
2Letter to Robert Hawkins, Jr., from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, January 11, 2001.
3Letter from Leonard D. DuBoff to Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, January 19, 2001.
4Letter to John Ankerberg from Daniel Towle and Andrew Yu, January 31, 2001.
5Letter to John Ankerberg from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, May 24, 2001.
6Letter to Robert Hawkins, Jr., from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, May 16, 2001. The page containing the Table of Contents for the Statement of Decision in The God-Men case has been moved to http://www.contendingforthefaith.org/libel-litigations/god-men/decision/completeTOC.html.
7Letter to John Ankerberg from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, May 24, 2001.
8Letter to John Weldon from Daniel Towle, Richard Taylor, and Andrew Yu, May 24, 2001.
9Deposition of John Ankerberg, 144:7-145:3.
10Deposition of Robert Hawkins, Jr., 359:11-359:18.
11Letter to Robert Hawkins, Jr., cc’d to John Ankerberg and John Weldon from Andrew Yu, Richard Taylor, and Daniel Towle, November 20, 2001.
12Letter to Robert Hawkins, Jr., cc’d to John Ankerberg and John Weldon from Andrew Yu, Richard Taylor, and Daniel Towle, November 20, 2001.
13Letter to Andrew Yu, Daniel Towle, and Richard Taylor from Robert Hawkins, Jr., November 29, 2001.
14Complaint – Declaratory Judgment, Harvest House Publishers v. The Church in Fullerton, filed in the Circuit Court for the State of Oregon, County of Lane, December 14, 2001.
15Amended Complaint, Harvest House Publishers v. The Church in Fullerton, filed in the Circuit Court for the State of Oregon, County of Lane, December 31, 2001. (Note: There is, however, an inaccuracy in the account in Harvest House’s complaint. Paragraph 12 places the response from Harvest House’s counsel after the first letter to Ankerberg and designates Harvest House’s counsel as “Plaintiffs’ counsel,” meaning that he represented both Harvest House and Ankerberg. Both of those assertions are incorrect.)