columns from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1991, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
Werner Erhard Flees in the Wake of Tax Liens and Child Abuse Allegations
In the wake of tax troubles and allegations of wife and child abuse, Werner Erhard, founder of est/The Forum, appears to have left the country.
According to a report in the March 3 San Jose Mercury News, the former pop psychology guru had "left the [San Francisco] Bay area" and since then, according to the newspaper, no one has heard from him.
Increasingly Erhard has been in the center of a storm of allegations (and lawsuits) pertaining to his personal life and his self-help empire. As the February 18, 1991 issue of Newsweek put it, many of the allegations are "that he was running not so much an enlightenment program as an authoritarian cult."
Newsweek also cited four pending lawsuits against Erhard, one of them filed by a long-time member of his inner circle. "This year alone, three lawsuits -- involving allegations of wrongful discharge, wrongful death and fraud -- are expected to go to trial." And the San Jose article cited yet another suit against Erhard for $54,000, which was seeking to attach Erhard's warehouse property for unpaid rent.
Perhaps the most damaging blow of all against Erhard was a March 3 "60 Minutes" television report that detailed testimony from three of his daughters, several former est leaders, and a housekeeper. Together, they accused Erhard of being a tyrant and a cult leader who declared himself to be God at staff meetings, administered a savage beating to his son, ordered his ex-wife nearly strangled to death during a two-day beating, and sexually molested one of his daughters and raped another.
The "60 Minutes" report also detailed that Erhard had bailed out of his $70-million-a-year business. Published reports say he sold his human-potential movement empire in February to a group of his employees for an undisclosed sum and put most of his possessions (including the yacht where he lived in Sausalito harbor) up for sale. The San Jose Mercury News, speculating that Erhard may have fled the country, quoted a witness who said he watched three men load boxes and steamer trunks from Erhard's warehouse into a Tokyo Express moving van.
Directly after the "60 Minutes" report -- around the time he disappeared -- there was more trouble for Erhard. The Internal Revenue Service filed a $14 million lien against him followed by a $6.7 million lien in April that included property in California and New York. This placed his total tax liability at $20.9 million, according to the April 14, 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Werner Erhard was originally a used car salesman from Philadelphia named John Paul (Jack) Rosenberg who was at the time married with four children. But in 1959 he had an affair and ran off with June Bryde, surfacing in the San Francisco area. According to the February 4, 1985 Philadelphia Inquirer, Rosenberg and Bryde decided to change their identities in order to evade his wife, Pat. Browsing through a magazine article about West Germany, "three names struck his fancy: physicist Werner Heisenberg, Bishop Hans Lilje, and then-economics minister Ludwig Erhard. Ingenious. The folks back home would never think to come looking for Werner Hans Erhard." They married, and Bryde became Ellen Erhard.
Once on the West Coast, Erhard became involved in several businesses and hooked up with people in the San Francisco human awareness movement, including a man who led Erhard into the Church of Scientology. Erhard also became associated with Alex Everett, founder of Mind Dynamics, a self-hypnosis mind control enterprise which was a forerunner of est and other human potential organizations.
During the same time period, Erhard became deeply involved in the occult and "studied or became involved in numerous disciplines" including "Zen Buddhism, hypnosis, Subud, yoga, Silva Mind Control, psychocybernetics, Gestalt, encounter therapy, and transpersonal psychology," according to re-searcher John Weldon's report, The Frightening World of Est. He also went to India where he spent time with Hindu gurus, including Swami Muktananda and Satya Sai Baba, according to the Jesus People USA's (JPUSA) tract, "est, Getting It or Losing It?"
Est was launched in 1971 and was "the fruit" of some of these disciplines, Weldon said. It lasted until 1985 when Erhard repackaged est into a new self-improvement seminar called The Forum, specifically design-ed to attract yuppies and corporate leaders at $525 apiece.
What was est? According to the JPUSA tract, "William Bartley, pro-est author of an Erhard biography, says the goal of est is to 'blow the mind' in order to bring about a 'higher consciousness.' He writes: 'Teaching no new belief, it [est] aims to break up the existing wiring of the Mind and thereby to trap the Mind, to allow one to take hold of one's own Mind, to blow the Mind. Such tactics create the conditions...into which a mutant of higher consciousness can be born.'"
As a result of this philosophy, est seminars were notorious for their strictness and long hours. According to JPUSA, the "training is delivered in an authoritarian, confrontational manner. Trainees are belittled, ridiculed, told their lives don't work, and generally harangued into submission, with language heavily laden with profanity." Weldon noted that the "est belief system is designed to destroy the validity of the Christian world view. Est is supposedly nonreligious, but since its purpose is to...instill a...pantheistic belief in impersonal divinity, est qualifies as religious."
In The Forum, however, the hours are shorter, there is less profanity, and rules have been relaxed into requests. Nevertheless, many over the years (see, e.g., Fortune magazine, Nov. 23, 1987) -- have accused both est and The Forum, as well as Erhard's "Transformational Technologies" (aimed at large corporations), of causing mental breakdowns.
Despite such criticism, Erhard's organization flourished. He created several offshoot firms, and in 1977 he launched The Hunger Project to eliminate world hunger, not through relief work, but by applying est philosophy to change public consciousness. His organizations have attracted major celebrities such as Valarie Harper, Yoko Ono, Cher, and John Denver. By 1985 est turned out half a million alumni (one out of every 364 adults in the U.S.) and had stretched around the world with 530 employees, 20,000 volunteers, and an annual gross income of $35 million, according to the 1985 Inquirer article.
According to the "60 Minutes" report, when Erhard began est he reconciled with his first family and moved them to California. Things went well at first, according to daughter (by his first marriage) Deborah Pimental of Honolulu, and then Erhard molested her and raped her sister who was in her early 20s at the time.
Erhard has denied both the molestation and rape allegations. In a taped interview with the Mercury News, he said it was "just plain not true and anybody that would say something about it's gotta be sick."
Controversial Boston Church of Christ Continues to Flourish, Expands Overseas
Officials at Washington University in St. Louis have ordered campus police to arrest St. Louis Church of Christ recruiters as trespassers if they enter the campus again.
The action came after university officials determined that the group's recruiting practices violated campus regulations, according to the September 21, 1990 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. University officials said that the St. Louis Church, which is affiliated with the Boston Church of Christ/ Crossroads/Multiplying Ministries Movement, failed to comply with a university rule requiring groups to register annually with the student affairs office if their members are primarily nonstudents.
The action was among the latest to affect the Boston movement on college campuses nationwide. According to the December 1990 Cult Awareness Network (CAN) News, the sect is banned at Harvard and Boston universities, and media reports from across the U.S. indicate the church has faced controversy (including allegations that it exercises mind control and encourages members to sever ties with their families) at many other colleges as well.
"They've infuriated chaplains nationwide," according to Steve Hassan, a cult "exit counselor" and author from Boston who has followed the church. "This group destroys people's relationships with spouses, families, and friends. It interferes with education. It has caused people great despair. It's a group that believes no other church is Christian and that no one can be saved other than people in their church."
Many involved in cult evangelism have received inquiries concerning the Boston movement for some time. Bill Kellogg of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project of Berkeley, California said they have received more inquiries (some of them complaints) "by far" about the Boston movement in the past year than any other religious movement.
The CAN report, which included several testimonies of former members who were recruited while in college, states that officials at Harvard and Boston University were upset with the church because "an inordinately high number of its students drop out of school before graduating" after meeting up with the sect.
Despite the ongoing controversy, the sect continues to flourish. It posted a 36 percent increase from 1989 to 1990, placing the number of "disciples" at 28,724, according to its Winter 1991 Discipleship Magazine. What's more, it is continuing to expand rapidly throughout the world. Leaders say Kip McKean, the Director of World Mission (and the self-proclaimed apostle-like leader of the church), now based in Los Angeles, is gearing up to try to start a congregation in Moscow.
According to Discipleship Magazine, besides having many congregations in major metropolitan areas of the U.S., the church also maintains congregations (several of them thriving) in London, New Zealand, Australia, India, Singapore, Sweden, Germany, South Africa, Jamaica, Kenya, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
Although the church is not now affiliated with the traditional churches of Christ, it was from within that denomination -- at the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida -- that the group began in 1971. Also, the movement is not affiliated with the mainline United Church of Christ or the Disciples of Christ denominations.
The Boston movement's literature, however, claims that the movement is the "reconstructed" Church of Christ, "God's...modern day movement [which is] restoring original Christianity" (Roger Lamb, "Back to Square One," Discipleship Magazine, Winter 1991, 4). And because of these claims of exclusivity, many churches of Christ have been at odds with the Boston church due mostly to their efforts to get various churches and leaders to join their movement.
According to documentation letters reproduced in What Does the Boston Movement Teach?, a two-volume set by former Boston leader Jerry Jones, a number of church splits have occurred within the churches of Christ as some of its leaders have joined the Boston movement and have attempted to persuade their congregations to come with them.
Jones's book also contains statements from leaders of various churches of Christ in Alabama, Tampa, and elsewhere condemning the movement. Perhaps the most interesting statement was issued in August 1990 by the Crossroads Church (where it began) that charged the Boston movement with abuses including "one Christian trying to control another Christian or one congregation exercising control over another congregation. We do not believe that any Christian has the right to control another Christian (Eph. 5:21)." The statement issued by the Crossroads leaders also asked for "forgiveness" for its role in the abuses of the Boston movement.
"There certainly have been abuses," said Al Beird, an elder and evangelist with the Boston Church of Christ in a telephone interview. "But never is abuse advocated or taught by the leadership." Beird added that the church is "open to the charges of exclusivism" due to its teachings on baptism, "but we feel like we're following the Bible.... We're continually examining our teachings."
Doctrinally the Boston movement is a lot like other churches of Christ. They hold that water baptism by immersion is essential for salvation, teaching that when one is baptized he or she is "baptized into Christ." Like the churches of Christ, they don't use musical instruments during services.
But they differ from the churches of Christ in other ways. They usually meet in rented facilities such as hotels and sports arenas when moving into a new area. (The Boston Church, for example, which is considered the mother church of the movement, at last report was still meeting in the Boston Garden arena, drawing a Sunday attendance of about 4,500.) And unlike the churches of Christ which have a strong tradition of autonomous congregations, Boston movement leaders demand churches to be submitted to a hierarchical structure of authority. Members seeking to join the Boston movement from the traditional churches of Christ almost always have to become rebaptized when joining, according to Jones.
United Methodist Church officials have dismissed charges against the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas pertaining to their allowing a self-avowed witch to conduct a ceremony at the school. The 9.1-million-member denomination's university senate ruled that the practicing witch's ceremony at the seminary-sponsored event did not constitute a pattern that would warrant discipline. (See the Winter 1991 Journal for background on the case.)
The pyramid-shaped Eckankar temple planned for Chanhassen, Minnesota (near Minneapolis) has recently been opened. It is the first Eckankar Temple ever built.
Aboriginal dancers -- animists -- helped open the World Council of Churches' Seventh Assembly in Canberra, Australia in February. The 11 dancers, in white body paint and loincloths, conducted a traditional rite of cleansing prior to the meeting by dancing and chanting around a small fire at an altar which represented the "Holy Spirit," according to the World Council of Churches. The pagan ceremony, however, angered some conservatives at the gathering, but a WCC spokes-woman in New York defended it: "It was an attempt to approach the original inhabitants of the island so the [World] Council would be agreeable to them." According to a news release, the WCC invited 10 participants from non-Christian faiths, 23 observers from the Roman Catholic Church, and 200 observers from nonmember Christian bodies. The WCC also called for closer relations "between the ecumenical and pentecostal-charismatic movements."
Two key court cases involving large cash judgments against the Hare Krishna sect and the Church of Scientology have been returned to lower courts by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled that constitutional limits could not be set on the awarding of punitive damages.
Things are bound to get tougher for cult "exit counselors" and so-called "deprogrammers" as two Colorado courts ruled against the "choice of evils" defense. This defense has allowed certain exit counselors (and pro-life demonstrators) to escape punitive judgments by alleging that they had chosen the lesser of two evils by their ac-tions. In the case of religious cults, the lesser evil, they alleged, was kidnapping and talking cult victims out of their faiths. One of the cases that led to the decision was the abduction of a 29-year-old Unification Church member from a street in Denver in 1987.
The Worldwide Church of God continues in its march toward Christian orthodoxy. As discussed in the previous issue of this journal, the WCG has been conducting a doctrinal review, which resulted in the sect pulling away from some of its long-held beliefs. Now, according to spokesman Michael Snyder, the church has pulled its revised edition of The United States and Britain in Prophecy, which was one of its main texts promoting Anglo-Israelism. WCG leaders also met with the faculty and graduate students of Trinity Evangelical Seminary which was "very helpful in our doctrinal review," according to Snyder.
End of document, CRJ0140A.TXT (original CRI file name),
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