Letter to Keith R. Tolbert from Rick Ross
Rick Ross, Consultant to Keith Tolbert of the American
Religious Center in June, 1994
June 1, 1994
American Religious Center
Trenton, MI 48183
I have still not received any response to my letter dated May
16th. I expect a letter of apology regarding the false
and/or misleading statements about me that you have made in public,
both orally and in writing.
Since our meeting in April, I have tried to verify the claims
you make about yourself and the "American Religions Center"
(ARC). This background check is based upon the packet you distributed
at a press conference for Victory Church April 14th,
at Grand Forks, North Dakota, when you acted as a paid spokesperson
for that church. Pastors Ed and Renee Julison hired you to respond
to allegations about their finances and abuse of church members
(e.g. shepherding practices). The Grand Forks herald also ran
paid advertising and coverage of your visit. I have copies of
all these materials on file along with audio tapes of your remarks.
You claim to have "earned a philosophy degree" (Bio
and ad Grand Forks Herald attached) and another degree
in "biophysics" (1984 The Detroit News attached)
from Wayne State University, Detroit MI. However, according to
the student records office (Ethel Settler pH. 313-577-3531) you
only attended classes, but never received any degree. By the
way, only one Keith E. Tolbert has ever attended Wayne State University.
You claim to be a "professor" at Valley Bible Institute
of Saginaw MI and to teach a "course" there in "Understanding
Cults". However, the office of records (Heather Medler ph.
517-791-2131) states that though you have lectured there, you
hold no full-time position as a "course" instructor
and have not lectured there since 1992. The Valley Bible Institute
requires at least a bachelor degree to teach there. According
to their records, you met this requirement by claiming two degrees
from Wayne State University.
You also claim to be a "lecturer of apologetics" at
"Ashland Theological Seminary" (according to "ARC/Tyndale
Symposium" brochures 1988, '89 and '90 attached). However,
I spoke with the assistant to the President of that seminary,
Ms. Lennie Riech, an 18 year staff member (ph. 313-832-0400) and
she has never heard of you. Ms. Reich made inquiries, but no
staff she spoke with had ever heard of you on your work.
You list a daily radio program called "Heart and Mind"
on WLQV in Livonia, MI (under "ARC
your promotional literature attached). However, I spoke with
John Yinger, the station manager at WLQV and he advised your program
has been off this air since May of 1992. Moreover, you left WLQV
with bad debts (e.g. bad checks attached). Also, the station
was served interrogatories naming you as a "garnishee defendant"
in a collection action regarding James and Jill Cooper (see attached).
I spoke with Mary Ann Waterman, the attorney for the plaintiffs
in the previously mentioned legal matter. Ms. Waterman advised
that there is still an unpaid judgment against you (1991) for
about $20,000.00. Also, that the Copper's seem to have given
the money to you in hope of helping your ministry (i.e. ARC).
You state that the "American Religions Center" (ARC)
"is a non-profit educational corporation". However,
I spoke with your former "Media Public Relations Rep.",
Mike Mrazik (ph. 313-347-3767) and he said that he was informed
that ARC has no IRS records as a non-profit corporation. Likewise,
Ms. Waterman and a former business advisor to ARC, Sam Avarado,
also verified this fact.
I spoke with Mr. Avarado, he advised that you were paid about
$12,000.00 for radio advertising by his business the "Mexican
Fiesta" restaurant. He was a sponsor for your program "Heart
and Mind." However, you still left unpaid bills amounting
to thousands of dollars at WLQV. He said that you "never
rally explained where all the money went." You also collected
thousands of dollars from other advertisers according to Mr. Avarado.
He "attempted" to act as your business manager, but
could not because of your secrecy, lack of disclosure and questionable
Your checking account is titled "Apologetic Research Coalition"
(ARC) on the previously mentioned bad check, rather than "American
Religious Center" (ARC) as it is now called. Several people
have advised me (e.g. Mike Mrazik, Ms. Waterman) that you have
used both names for ARC.
Fund-raising you may have done as a "non-profit" would
be considered fraud, unless you are a non-profit corporation.
In the 1984 article in The Detroit News, it states that
the "9-year-old nonprofit organization [ARC] runs on the
$50 to $500 fees Tolbert collects" (see attached). By the
way, this article refers to "Apologetic Research Coalition"
(ARC). Ms. Waterman said you were a non-profit some "years
ago", but never made a point of filing proper reports etc.
and that the corporate non-profit status "lapsed."
You claim to have gone on a "world tour" of the "Philippines,
Australia, Africa, Germany, [and] England." You also advised
in the previously mentioned interview with Diane Katz of The
Detroit News that you were "one of a select few invited
to present a paper to 150 religious teachers from around the world"
at a "Harvard symposium" in 1984 at "Harvard Divinity
School." Again, Mike Mrazik, your former assistant, said
there was no "world tour" and he has not seen proof
of the so-called "Harvard symposium."
During your time in Grand Forks, North Dakota, you attacked so-called
"secular anti-cult organizations" (e.g. Cult Awareness
Network), the notion of "mind-control," interventions
(e.g. "deprogramming") by families to bring loved ones
out of cults and the book Thought Reform and the Psychology
of Totalism and author Robert Lifton, MD you said Lifton had
Obviously you don't do your homework. Robert Lifton is alive
and your critique of his book indicated you really had not read
it. For example, you said that "if you only had one or two
points [Lifton's eight criteria chapter 22] would you be a cult?"
First, Lifton does not offer the criteria to prove who is or
is not a "cult", but rather whether a group is using
thought-reform. Second, he states that if six of the eight criteria
are evident, thought-reform is active. You should have read the
You then stated there are "no studies to substantiate [Lifton's]
criteria" and no "evidence for brain-washing."
Again, you need to read more before making judgments. Lifton
conducted interviews with about 40 victims of Chinese Communist
thought-reform. This research was sponsored by the Asia Foundation,
Washington School of Psychiatry, the Ford Foundation and administered
through Harvard University.
Moreover, further research on this general subject was conducted
by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. for his book Influence. Likewise,
still more by Flavil Yeakley, Ph.D. for his book, The Discipline
Dilemma. In the chapter "A Psychological Study",
Yeakley discussed how he tested 900 members of the so-called "Boston
Church of Christ" (often called a "cult") with
the Meyers-Briggs Type Personality Indicator. His results demonstrated
personality changes as a direct result of undue influence and
control exerted by the group. Further testing yielded the same
results in well known cult groups, but sharply differed in main-stream
The Encyclopedia of Sociology has published an article
entitled "Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change,"
The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, the most widely
read medical book in the world, has also published on this topic
in their 15th edition. Both the American Psychological
and Sociological Associations have passed resolutions that acknowledged
the reality of though reform.
The DSM-III-R (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American
Psychiatric Association) includes the following within diagnosis
300.15, Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: "dissociated
states that may occur in people who have been subjected to periods
of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing,
thought reform, or indoctrination while the captive of terrorists
or cultists). [emphasis added]".
During your diatribe about "deprogramming" and any recognition
of the existence of "brainwashing" you went on and on
likening this to an attack upon "religious freedom,"
"reprogramming" and "assaulting the personality."
These claims are ridiculous and unsubstantiated. I asked you
to interview former members of Victory Church, some who had been
"deprogrammed," but you refused. No former members that
I know of have renounced their Christian beliefs. I also asked
you to call Wellspring Retreat (rehabilitation center for former
cult members) where many ex-members of Victory Church sought help.
The staff there is composed of Evangelical Christians.
You seem to have drawn all your conclusions based upon your interviews
with leaders and members of Victory Church. I began my work with
this group by reading their literature, listening to their teachings
and reviewing their materials. It was not possible to interview
members at that time due to client confidentiality. When did
you ever allow anyone abused and traumatized by this group to
share with you? Or, asses the group with professionals who have
treated their casualties? You certainly have had that opportunity.
Books are available about destructive Bible-based groups written
by Evangelical Christians. You refused to acknowledge this during
your lectures. Churches that Abuse, by Robert Enroth,
Toxic Faith, by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, and
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and
Jeff VanVonderen are some examples. Moreover, books have been
written about the "Word of Faith" message currently
being debated ( a primary doctrine of Victory Church). Christianity
in Crisis, by Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute
or A Different Gospel, by D.R. McConnell explore this issue.
Are these Christian scholars attacking "religious freedom?"
It seems you have become a cult apologist. During your press
conference and lectures you aligned yourself with well-known cult
apologists such as Gordon Melton (you claim is "the greatest
scholar of our day" regarding religion) and George Robertson
of the so-called "Friends of Freedom."
Melton has testified as an expert witness on behalf of a cult
against an Evangelical organization the Spiritual Counterfeits
Project. He has a long history of association with cult groups,
e.g. Scientology. I have a letter on file in which he apologized
(after a warning) for crediting me for a police raid on a cult
in Vermont. I had no part in the raid and have never been in
Vermont. Melton presented this information in an "academic
paper." Is this your idea of a "scholar?" Perhaps
he is your model.
George Robertson has long associated with Scientology and is a
member of the cult formerly called the "Bible Speaks"
(Carl Steven, MA) now named "Greater Grace of Baltimore,
MD." Robertson was the first apologist chosen by the Julison's
for Victory Church. His credentials are also specious.
These matters are very serious. You have falsely claimed credentials
you do not have and used these claims to deceive others. You
may have collected donations under false pretenses. You seem to
prey primarily upon the Evangelical Christian community and have
tried to manipulate many Christian scholars, clergy, academics,
organizations, schools, church's and publications such as Christianity
Today and Charisma. Likewise, members of the media
have been subjected to your fraud, e.g. The Detroit News,
and the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.
The most important issue, however, is the way you mislead people.
You came to Victory Church as their so-called "cult expert,"
largely based upon your false credentials. But you did not warn
the members about shepherding and mind-control helping them to
beak free from their bondage. Instead, you made them feel that
their church is being "persecuted" and that they should
stay. This could cause them years of abuse and pain. How many
more lives will you damage through work like this?
Over a month ago, you said you would "fax" documentation
to verify your claims. I am still waiting.
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