Response to the Accusation That the Local Churches Are Litigious

Throughout the lawsuit, Defendants Harvest House Publishers, John Ankerberg, and John Weldon attempted to tar the local churches and Living Stream Ministry as “litigious” by making repeated comparisons to the Church of Scientology. In their brief to the Court of Appeals they stated:

The Local Churches also meet the public-figure criteria set forth in the Church of Scientology of California opinion. The Local Churches are notoriously litigious with a history of decades of legal actions and threats against those who criticize their publications, teachings, or leaders.

We believe a few simple facts will show the hollowness of this claim.

The following is a breakdown of the participation of the Plaintiffs in litigation prior to the Harvest House action:

  • Living Stream Ministry had never been involved in a lawsuit.
  • Seventy-four of the plaintiff churches had never been involved in a lawsuit.
  • Nineteen of the plaintiff churches were involved as plaintiffs in The Mindbenders litigation.
  • One of the planitiff churches was involved in The God-Men litigation.
  • The Harvest House action was the first litigation filed by any of the plaintiff churches since the The God-Men case in 1980.
  • The Harvest House was only the third litigation initiated by any of the plaintiffs individually or collectively.

By contrast, according to the authors in the book at issue, the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, “Scientology has filed hundreds of lawsuits against its critics.”1 A search of Westlaw performed in August 2004 turned up over 300 case citations involving Scientology, and these represent only those cases which have gone to higher courts on appeal.

All three of the litigations filed by the any of the plaintiffs have been related to the same source. The Mindbenders chapter and The God-Men were both developed from the same draft manuscript. John Weldon, the primary author of ECNR, worked with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) during the time both the draft manuscript and The God-Men itself was written. He continued working with SCP while the litigation over that book was going on. He corresponded with the author of The God-Men and asked Neil Duddy to review his own manuscript on “The Local Church”.2 (view) The manuscripts that eventually became the basis for the present Encyclopedia were developed during that time. Even a cursory examination of John Weldon’s drafts of “The Local Church” chapter show that he relied heavily on The God-Men as a source. That source was thoroughly condemned as false and defamatory in the judge’s Statement of Decision in 1985.

During a 2006 radio broadcast Harvest House President Bob Hawkins, Jr., said, “We’ve never had any lawsuits in the past over the 32 years that we’ve been in business, so this was the very first one.”3 Actually, that is not true. Harvest House had filed at least six lawsuits against mostly small Christian bookstores over credit issues.

Location Defendant Status Date Amount
Harris County, TX Frank Fleener, individual, and DBA Good News Bible Bookstore 05/26/1977 $286.49
Harris County, TX Joseph W. Simpson, individual, and DBA New Life 04/16/1984 $789.08
Westchester County, NJ Earl D. Darling and Living Light Christian Bookstore 08/10/1988 $1658.00
Maryland District Court Great Christian Book, Inc. 09/20/1999 $8965.77
New Jersey Superior Court Barbara Cobb 04/26/2000 $311.23
State of California, San Bernardino County Castles Christian Book Center 10/01/2001 $2474.00

These lawsuits were purely pecuniary in nature, meaning they were all the type of lawsuit that Paul specifically condemned in 1 Cor. 6. In addition, Harvest House:

  • Sued the Church in Fullerton, Inc., prior to the present litigation.
  • Sued its own insurance company over a $2,000,000 policy to cover their expenses in the present litigation over ECNR.
  • Was sued by (and settled with) one of its employees for wrongful termination in a case that involved charges of tampering with that employee’s e-mail by Harvest House management.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It simply illustrates that the hypocritical smearing of the local churches as “litigious” by Harvest House, its authors, and its lawyers in their callous attempt to prejudice both the courts and the public demonstrates a willingness to substitute self-interest for truth.


Notes:

1John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1999), pp. XXVI-XXVII.

2Letter from Linda Duddy to John Weldon, March 4, 1981.

3Robert Hawkins, Jr., on “Point of View” broadcast, March 14, 2006.