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News Watch

by William M. Alnor, and Others

from the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1992, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Financial Crisis Rocks Christian Science

Surrounded by charges of financial mismanagement, poor administration, and questionable editorial practices, the First Church of Christ, Scientist has accepted the resignation of its chairman, reorganized its leadership, and shut down its cable TV network. Since 1987 the church has spent close to $500 million in an attempt to create a secular media empire, and as of March 1992 it was reportedly running at a deficit of $6.5 million per month.

In 1879 Mary Baker Eddy founded the First Church of Christ, Scientist (also called the "Mother Church") in Boston and established her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as its "pastor" alongside the Bible. On the basis of her own healing experiences, and influenced by metaphysician P. P. Quimby, Eddy developed a meditative healing technique that entails renouncing the very existence of disease -- a technique Eddy called "Christian Science." Today her followers are estimated at 150,000 worldwide.

In the mid-1980s the sect's board of directors decided to move into 21st-century communications in a big way. Building on the reputation of the daily Christian Science Monitor, its Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, they launched a 24-hour news, culture, and public affairs cable network called The Monitor Channel; WQTV, a Boston UHF television station; a monthly news magazine, World Monitor; and a shortwave radio system, The World Service of The Christian Science Monitor.

But by 1988 this ambitious expansion had taken an increasing financial toll, forcing the last in a series cutbacks on the Christian Science Monitor and prompting the departure of more than 60 people, including the paper's senior editor and three associate editors. Each year thereafter, the church has had to draw upon restricted funds to subsidize its media expansion, with some total estimates reaching as high as $500 million.

The sect's most expensive venture by far was the Monitor Channel, which reportedly cost more than $125 million to operate during its 11-month lifespan. Christian Scientists expressed as much concern about the network's direction as they did about its cost: since the channel's only religious program was a five-minute broadcast at 5 A.M., many worried that their church was becoming "secularized."

Another crisis began unfolding in 1991 when, to qualify for a $97 million bequest, the church decided to publish The Destiny of the Mother Church by Bliss Knapp as "authorized Christian Science literature" and prominently display the book in "substantially all" of its 2,600 reading rooms (see the Winter 1992 Christian research journal). But according to historian Stephen Gottschalk, the publication of the controversial book, written in the 1940s, demonstrates "a crisis of authority" since it "virtually deifies Mrs. Eddy," placing her on a par with Jesus. Because Eddy herself rejected this notion on several occasions, many church members question the decision to publish and distribute Destiny, which seemed to put money above principle.

Soon after Knapp's book was published the four editors who jointly produce the sect's religious periodicals resigned, issuing a terse public statement: "In good conscience, we are unable to continue serving as editors under present board policies." Worse still, on February 24 Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum -- the bequest's default beneficiaries -- obtained a 90-day delay in hopes of demonstrating that the sect has not lived up to the terms of the will.

Historically, the Mother Church has certain "restricted" funds, such as endowments, which Christian Science officials have repeatedly said were not used for the church's day-today operations. However, on December 31, 1991 the church ran out of general operating funds and elected to borrow from these restricted funds to meet its operating expenses. After borrowing $5 million from the Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy and $21.5 million dollars from the pension fund in January and early February of 1992, the board borrowed an additional $20 million on February 28 to repay an earlier loan from the Christian Science Monitor fund. The $41.5 million in transfers from the pension fund reduced it to just over $60 million -- half the $120 million it contained only three years ago.

Almost immediately an unnamed church official leaked the news of the pension fund transfers to the Boston Globe, a disclosure which brought tremendous pressure upon the board of directors. Many church members expressed shock and disappointment on hearing news of the highly irregular loans. Amid questions surrounding the transfers, Harvey W. Wood, a 15-year member of the five-person board, resigned as chairman and was replaced by board member Virginia S. Harris. Simultaneously, the Monitor Channel -- then losing about $4 million a month -- was put on the market, with plans to dissolve the network on April 15 if a buyer was not found. The church's bureaucracy was also reorganized in a return to the cabinet-style government used in its early years.

Despite the church's financial turmoil, spokesman J. Thomas Black expressed confidence that Harris is fully capable of bringing the movement through this difficult period. "Everyone who knows her sees her as intelligent, gracious, and very much a listener, but also very decisive and authoritative," he said.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful that any change in leadership will reverse the sect's general decline. Not only has its newspaper's circulation dropped (from 240,000 in the 1960s to 100,000 today), but church membership itself has plummeted from an estimated 268,000 in the 1930s to some 150,000. (According to the March 14, 1992 New York Times, "There are more Roman Catholics in North Dakota than Christian Scientists in the United States.") And beyond concerns of dwindling membership and financial pressures, many Christian Scientists feel their church has not dealt with its underlying identity crisis, fearing that the recent leadership shuffle hasn't altered a much deeper trend towards secularization.

Some former Christian Scientists view the current leadership shakeup as a watershed in the movement's history. "I think this is the beginning of the end of institutional Christian Science as we know it," said Randall Childs of Boston. "These media projects will die, one by one -- the daily Monitor last of all. Eventually we will see a corporate implosion, and we will see a small, aberrant cult, no longer prestigious, a shadow of its former image."

Special Report: Worldwide Church of God in Transition

Following the 1986 death of its controversial founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) seems to be rethinking many of its distinctive -- and largely heretical -- dogmas. There is evidence that the WCG's leadership may have become orthodox on some points, while remaining unorthodox (or undecided at best) on others.

Michael A. Snyder, the church's Associate Director of Public Affairs, contacted the publishers of a forthcoming book on cults which will include the WCG. Consequently, we represented the publishers in a January 13, 1992 meeting with WCG leaders to discuss doctrinal changes they claim have been taking place within the church. Representing the WCG were Snyder, David Hulme (Director of Communications and Public Affairs), and J. Michael Feazell (Executive Assistant to Joseph Tkatch, the church's Pastor General and successor to Armstrong). Among other duties, the three oversee The Plain Truth magazine (2.7 million circulation), produce "The World Tomorrow" television broadcast (on 150 stations), and direct church affairs for the sect's 135,000 members.

Before the meeting we studied a "membership only" publication in which Tkatch stated: "When we find that we've been wrong....we have the obligation before God to change" (Worldwide News, 24 June 1991, p. 1). We were also aware that dissenters have left the WCG to form groups based on Armstrong's original teachings (see, for example, the advertisement run by the Oklahoma-based "Philadelphia Church of God" in the January 17, 1992 Los Angeles Times).

We questioned Snyder, Hulme, and Feazell about past doctrines and specific statements from Armstrong's writings.

- Armstrong taught, in effect, that the WCG is the only true church -- a claim the present leadership no longer makes. However, we are troubled by Tkatch's recent articles criticizing Christian denominations (e.g., Worldwide News, 21 May 1990). We expect such denunciations to cease if the WCG's new stance is to be consistent.

- Armstrong stated, "You are setting out on a training to become God!" In response, Feazell said, "[This] whole concept is something we do not accept." We then asked whether our sonship as Christians differs in any way from Jesus' status as the Son of God. Feazell replied: "Jesus is the unique, eternal Son of God by nature and by right. We become sons of God by grace...[But] we will never receive any of God's incommunicable and unique attributes." In contrast with Armstrong's heresy, we find these statements scriptural.

- The doctrine of the Trinity remains a stumbling block. On the one hand, a very orthodox-sounding statement in one recent church publication declares that the WCG "teaches the full divinity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." However, on further questioning we discovered that the men believe in one God who exists eternally as two persons -- Father and Son. The Holy Spirit, while "fully divine," is not regarded as a person. Rather, they spoke somewhat inconsistently of the Holy Spirit as the mind of God, as His active power, or possibly as the divine essence itself. The three assured us that they are still studying the issue; if they conclude that the Holy Spirit is a person, they will be Trinitarians.

- The three maintained that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ. When asked specifically whether baptism is a prerequisite to salvation, they said no. The WCG formerly taught that one was not born again until the resurrection, but this doctrine has also been changed. Still, we were dismayed to find recent statements that seemed to present baptism as necessary for salvation (e.g., The Plain Truth, January 1992, p. 9). We will monitor this inconsistency to see if corrections are made.

- Armstrong emphatically denied Christ's bodily resurrection, teaching a spirit resurrection instead. These leaders clearly affirmed that Christ was resurrected in a body of flesh and bone, based on Luke 24.

While the interview indicates that significant changes have either taken place or are now in process, only time will tell how permanent and thoroughgoing they will be, since the representatives' views are not necessarily binding upon the organization as a whole. Meanwhile, we need to pray for continued dialogue between evangelicals and the WCG in the hope that God will lead them into a full acceptance of essential biblical truth.

Note: Gomes and Van Gorden submitted this article to the WCG representatives, asking that they correct any errors of fact before its publication; as of press time no such corrections had been submitted.

Scientology-linked Group Sues Countercult Ministry

After a Los Angeles judge quashed a $9.5 million lawsuit against Watchman Fellowship by a business linked to Scientology, a new action against the countercult ministry has been filed by a branch of the Church of Scientology itself.

At press time, however, Watchman Fellowship -- which is based in Columbus, Georgia and has eight U.S. chapters -- had still not been served with the legal papers, according to attorney Eric Johnston, who is representing the ministry. But some of the defendants have been served, says Los Angeles attorney Toby Plevin, adding that Watchman Fellowship has definitely been named in the second suit.

The original action, filed by Sterling Management Systems on November 25, 1991, may be the first ever brought against an evangelical ministry by a Scientology-related concern. The suit alleged that Watchman and its codefendants -- including the ministry's Alabama State Director, Craig Branch -- engaged in a "conspiracy" to interfere with Sterling's business contracts.

Johnston, a Rutherford Institute attorney representing Watchman, called the suit "ridiculous," adding that Branch "was doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment right of free speech. We're talking about competing religious beliefs. [Scientology is] a false religious system that uses deception. It was not his goal to take away their business."

In November of 1988 Branch sent a letter to 1,400 dentists in Alabama warning them of "some controversial, and in some cases destructive groups (cults) that have adapted their programs to take advantage of this business market" -- specifically, Sterling Management.

A January 27, 1992 Watchman Fellowship press release noted that Time magazine's May 6, 1991 cover story labeled Scientology "The Cult of Greed" and identified Sterling as a "front group" and financial scam whose "true aim is to hook customers for Scientology." In the original suit Sterling presented itself as a "for profit, privately owned corporation" that has licensed the "technology" that Dianetics author L. Ron Hubbard developed to manage the Church of Scientology.

Johnston said that Watchman Fellowship is not necessarily off the hook, explaining that Watchman and Branch's names were removed from the suit because "Craig and Watchman have never been in California, and they have no business being sued in California. It violates their due process rights." But he added that Sterling has the option of initiating a new suit in Alabama.

Lawrence Heller, Sterling's Beverly Hills attorney, stated in an April 1992 telephone interview that his clients had not made a final decision whether to pursue the case in Alabama, but said he thought they were inclined to do so. Heller also said that the Church of Scientology's suit was unrelated to the original court action.

Heller stated further that Sterling's original suit is still ongoing against the remaining defendants: the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a secular countercult organization; and two of CAN's officers -- executive director Cynthia Kisser and past president Priscilla Coates.

Attorney Plevin said the new suit by the Church of Scientology of Orange County, California -- which is a "cross filing" (countersuit) to an action which her client, Dr. Glover Rowe of Centre, Alabama, filed against the sect -- alleges that Watchman and Branch conspired with Rowe, his wife, and others to defame the church. Plevin added that her client sued the Orange County church, alleging false imprisonment and invasion of privacy in connection with a Scientology seminar they attended in Tustin, California in November 1990.

The Scientology church's February 28, 1992 countersuit seeks damages in excess of $500,000 and punitive damages from each of the defendants, including Branch and Watchman Fellowship. It alleges that Watchman and Branch "conspired" with Mrs. Rowe and others to get her husband out of a Scientology seminar contract.

But the Rowes' attorney alleges that the sect "falsely imprisoned" the couple in a Scientology management seminar, and that when Mrs. Rowe attempted to flee, Scientology members chased her on foot through the streets of Tustin.

In recent months CAN has had to defend itself against at least eight lawsuits filed by the Church of Scientology, Sterling Management, and individual Scientology members, according to CAN staff member Marty Butz. -- William M. Alnor

Matthew Fox Defies Order's Demand

Controversial Dominican priest Matthew Fox, who proclaims a mystical "creation-centered spirituality" (see the Fall 1987 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL), is in trouble again. Following months of negotiations, the Provincial Council of the Dominican Central Province formally requested that Fox be dismissed from the order after he defied an ultimatum that he return to Chicago by January 25 or face expulsion.

Donald Goergen, head of the province, had said that "It is not the writings or the ministry that has been our concern....Our concern has been how to establish a relationship in which there would be a minimal level of accountability."

A spokesman for Fox said that the influential priest defied Goergen's "formal command" because to comply would mean abandoning his Oakland, California-based Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality, his magazine, and other activities. Fox has appealed the order to Father Damian Byrne, master general of the Order of Friars Preachers, or Dominicans, in Rome.

In 1988 Fox's provincial leadership sentenced him to a "year of reflection" and silence after critics contended that his teachings were more New Age than Catholic. (Some contend the silencing was actually imposed by the powerful head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.) Fox has stated that the role of those who support his theology is to "reconceive the universe as the mystical body of Christ."

End of document, CRJ0104A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"News Watch"
release A, May 31, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

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