A word of explanation:
1992 saw the publication of Christian sociologist Ronal Enroth's
book Churches that Abuse in which he took a hard look at
several churches and Christian movements that, according to the
testimonies of many former members, hurt people by legalism, authoritarian
leadership, manipulation, excessive discipline, and spiritual
intimidation. Most of these were not what many would consider
"fringe churches" - they were churches others would
recognize as "orthodox" as the their statements of faith.
And yet they were creating spiritual and emotional casualties.
Enroth followed up this book in 1994 with his Recovering for
Churches that Abuse. In this book many other similar casualties
tell their stories of the hurt they experienced in yet other doctrinally
"orthodox" churches and fellowships. Enroth does more
than describe the abuse related by these individuals. He also
relates, as the title indicates, how most of them have recovered
or are recovering from the abuse they suffered.
As may be imagined, the churches described in these two books
felt their toes stepped on, with a few actually threatening legal
action against Enroth and his publisher, Zondervan Publishing
House. In addition, several prominent Evangelical scholars and
church leaders, coming to the aid of their friends, objected to
Enroth's portrayal of certain of the churches as "abusive."
Several of the groups which found themselves uncomfortably under
the microscope initiated campaigns of damage control, perhaps
none more vigorously than Jesus People USA (JPUSA, or JP) of Chicago.
Over the years we at Wellspring have received a number of inquiries
about JPUSA from parents whose sons or daughters had joined the
organization. Along with those inquiries we heard stories of
abuse similar to those related by Enroth. At first, we tended
to discount the stories as being, exaggerations of what we assumed
to be JPUSA's legitimate exercise of biblical discipleship and
discipline, or as the accounts of real abuse that had happened
in the past (and which JPUSA has acknowledged) but no longer occurred.
We were also reluctant to believe such things of men and women
we regarded (and still regard) as friends and colleagues. For
many years JPUSA, through the investigative journalism of its
magazine Cornerstone, has provided the counter-cult community
with some of the best and most well-researched material about
cults, as well as exposes of fraudulent Christian writers such
as "former Satanists" Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford.
However, as the accounts of alleged abuse multiplied we were
no longer able to ignore them or discount them, especially after
on former member sought counseling at Wellspring.
As you will read in Dr. Enroth's "Reply to Cornerstone Magazine"
the JPUSA magazine devoted 15 ½ pages to Volume 22 Issue
103 to critical responses to Dr. Enroth's book, even though
they had not yet read it. The various writers didn't just
seek to deny or refute the testimonies of the ex-members, but
also attacked Enroth's research methods and even his integrity
and motives. Dr. Enroth sent a reply of his own to Cornerstone
requesting that they publish it in full in light of the number
of pages of criticism of him. The Cornerstone declined
to do. So, in the interest of fairness, we offered to publish
Dr. Enroth's reply in the Wellspring Messenger. Readers
interested in reading the Cornerstone articles may write
the magazine at the address indicated.
A 2001 Update from the Wellspring Staff: "In recent years, however, we have been in contact with several people who have left the group recently. These were long-time members of JPUSA, some as long as 20 years, who gave us credible reports of spiritual abuse they suffered from the leadership while in JPUSA. These alleged incidents were not just in the distant past, but right up to the present. These reports greatly disturb us, and we stand ready to assist these and other former members in any way we can."
939 Wilson Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640
Ronald Enroth--Reply to Cornerstone Magazine.
Never before has one of my books received such advance publicity
- especially by people who had not yet read the manuscript. I
want to comment on some of the articles you printed concerning
my work and particularly my book, Recovering from Churches
that Abuse. Since you devoted more than two dozen pages to
my work in your recent issue, I hope that you will print this
response in its entirety.
In the first paragraph of the lead article, "AN Acid Test for Christian Accountability," you make a statement which sets the tone for the subsequent essays. You refer to "charges made against us by Dr. Enroth." I know that you will disagree with me, but it is my conviction that it is both inaccurate and misleading to use words like "charges" and "accusations" and "attacks" to describe the concerns I spell out in the book. Why? Let me quote from page 151 of the book:
JPUSA pastors and Covenant administrators have received my research
findings as "accusations," "charges," and
"allegations." Unfortunately, this inaccurate redefinition
of scholarly research may give some the impression that I am personally
bringing complaints against a Covenant congregation. It unfairly
casts me in an adversarial role, something I reject.
Your editorial staff approaches the content of my book (even though
they had not seen the content at the time of their writings) from
the perspective of investigative journalism. I am not an investigative
reporter; I am an academic person, a sociologist of religion,
a scholar and researcher who is sharing findings and conclusions
with a largely non-academic audience. As a Christian sociologist,
I am attempting to help victims (I know you don't like that word)
of emotional and spiritual abuse find healing and wholeness through
God's grace and his loving concern. I am not interested in bringing
"charges" and "accusations" against anyone.
Your readers need to know my perspective on your invitation for
me to visit JPUSA facilities, which you state is "a repeated
offer which to date has not been accepted." That is an incomplete
and misleading statement. On January 5, 1994 while in Chicago
meeting with JPUSA representatives and administrators from your
parent denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, I accepted
your offer to visit JPUSA. Dr. Stan Gundry of Zondervan Publishing
house was there and will verify this. Upon returning to my office,
I checked my schedule and contacted one of your pastors regarding
Zondervan graciously offered to pay my airfare. I then learned
about several false statements that had been circulated about
me by Jon Trott as well as breaches of what I considered to be
confidential information regarding some of my respondents, ex-members.
I asked for apologies from Jon Trott and placed my trip to JPUSA
on hold until these serious problems could be resolved. No apology
was ever received and I did not visit JPUSA. I'm certain that
you have a different spin on all this, but my acceptance was not
acknowledged in Cornerstone.
On a related theme, you write "Throughout this painful process,
we have tried to maintain a loving and respectful attitude toward
those who once lived with us." I view this as official rhetoric,
just as I see much of the content of your lengthy "Open Letter
to Dr. Ronald Enroth" as expected, appropriate, official
rhetoric, sometimes not matched by practice. The ex-members whom
you claim to love and respect view this kind of statement
with cynical skepticism. However, it sounds impressive
to the uninformed and sympathetic Cornerstone readership.
Uninformed because you do not mention that at our January 5, 1994
meeting, leaders of JPUSA named several ex-members who had talked
with me and then proceeded to repeatedly discredit them, attacking
their integrity. I felt that these former members were subjected
to insult and that their feelings of pain were not recognized,
even though you may not acknowledge the reasons for that
pain. I also received a lengthy letter from one of your editors,
Mike Hertenstein, about one of these ex-members. It was very
long on condemnation and very short on Christian compassion.
So your claim of respect and love for all ex-members strikes
me as rather hollow.
On another matter of importance, you claim that I accuse JPUSA
of "purposely and/or continuously doing damage to those within
our fellowship." Such a statement grossly misrepresents
what I said in my book. But then again, the Cornerstone
staff did not READ my book before they came to such unwarranted
conclusions. On page 17 of Recovering from Churches that Abuse,
I raise the general question, "Do the abusers intend to inflict
hurt? In most cases, probably not. They usually are unaware
of what they are doing to people in the name of God." I
quote pastor and author Ken Blue who notes that "Spiritual
abusers are curiously naïve about the effects of their exploitation.
They rarely intend to hurt their victims. They are usually so
narcissistic or so focused on some great thing they are doing
for God that they don't notice the wounds they are inflicting
on their followers."
This observation is echoed much later in the book (p. 153) when
I am specifically talking about JPUSA. "Leaders may sincerely
not recognize that their leadership style and policies are experienced
by many members as a spiritual elitism and an authoritarianism
that borders on 'speaking for God.'" I then quote a former
JPUSA member who illustrates my point. "I believe that the
leaders themselves have become victims
They have no idea
how much pain they have caused in hundreds of people's lives."
I agree, and the highly defensive tone of the many pages of Cornerstone's
current issue devoted to the "controversy" gives credence
to the sad fact that JPUSA's leadership (and that of the Evangelical
Covenant Church) may be totally unaware of the damage they have
inflicted on some (note that I say "some", not "all")
You state: "Many of the accusations Dr. Enroth raised
flatly contrary to our written policies and community teachings
Again, I make no accusations of any kind. That is JPUSA's reconfiguration
of my work, not my intent or practice. If I were to tell you
that most of my respondents also reported that they had some very
beneficial impacts while at JPUSA, would you also term that finding
an "accusation"? Or are only the findings you dislike
called that? I try in the book to convey what ex-members feel
about the disjuncture between official community policies and
teachings occurred in real life situations. Note my comment on
page 153: "JPUSA may well be an instance in which a significant
distance has developed between the official teaching of the organization
and the reality experienced by many rank-and-file members. This
is what sociologists describe as the differences between 'ideal
culture' and 'real culture'" In other words, ex-members
claim that JPUSA leaders do not always practice what they preach
or what is proclaimed in their published statements.
This important dimension of daily life at JPUSA must be kept in
mind when reading the lengthy "Open Letter" to me published
in Cornerstone. That letter indicates that I will have
to "produce verifiable statements from our leadership
or publication endorsing such things as public humiliation, spiritual
elitism, double standards, etc
You must prove your allegations
with valid evidence or documentation which shows that our leadership
supports, endorses, or willfully ignores abusive behavior."
I think that most reasonable people would understand that I don't
know of a single church anywhere that officially endorses or openly
promotes public humiliation; I know of no church whose publications
proclaim "yes, we are indeed spiritually elite and proud
of it!" Likewise, I know of no church whose formal, written
ministry policies advocate "insensitivity re pastoral care"
or whose bulletin says "Welcome to our abusive church."
But do such behaviors occur at some churches despite their public
pronouncements to the contrary? My research indicates that they
do. I'll let my readers decide whether the consistent, convincing
evidence presented by a multitude of independent witnesses is
worth taking seriously.
In the lead essay, the Cornerstone staff identifies one of the key misunderstandings in the controversy surrounding my book - the matter of my research methodology. Let me quote:
It must be noted that when we repeatedly asked Dr. Enroth for
details of specifics about these charges, he told us that most
of the allegations of wrongdoing he heard were conveyed to him
in confidence and that it would be a violation of his "professional
ethics" for him to share details of these cases
Then, "We find this to be a very strange and backwards kind
of Christian confrontation
First, as previously noted, Cornerstone's use of words
like "charges" and "allegations of wrongdoing"
are your dramatic terms for my legitimate social science
research findings. I have followed standard research procedures
in the social and behavioral sciences in that I promised anonymity
and confidentiality to my respondents, something I have routinely
done in over twenty years of research into cults and new religious
movements. Whether I am studying cults or Christian churches,
the commonly accepted professional ethics of my discipline apply
equally. I have always promised former cultists that they would
remain anonymous and that I would not reveal the specifics of
my interview of them without their permission. I do the same with
former members of Christian churches/organizations, employing
a legal form that I have used for two decades. For me to violate
that promise of confidentiality would mean that I would violate
not only my professional ethics, but Christian ethics as well.
The people at JPUSA and the Covenant headquarters are not
behavioral scientists and apparently do not comprehend that promises
of research confidentiality are standard practice in psychology,
sociology and anthropology. Cornerstone's in-house psychologist,
Dr. William Backus (listed as a "contributing writer")
says that he is puzzled by my methodology. He seems unaware that
his own professional accountability organization, the American
Psychological Association, has published ethical guidelines which
clearly and unmistakably state that information obtained about
a research participant during the course of a research project
is confidential unless otherwise agreed upon in advance.
Dr. Backus states that my methodology "sounds like something
peculiar to sociologists." No, Dr. Backus, you are quite
wrong. If you will consult a standard text in research methods
in your own field (like Research Methods in Psychology,
4th edition, Elmes, Kantowitz & Reodiger) you will
discover the following statement regarding confidentiality on
page 265: "An ethical investigator protects the welfare of
research participants by following the ethical standards of the
American Psychological Association
Unless the participant
otherwise agrees, information relating to his or her participation
The same kind of statement can be found in standard textbooks
in sociology and anthropology. As a sociologist, I have used
these same principles of research for two decades and no one in
the Christian countercult camp (including Dr. Ruth Tucker) has
ever questioned my methods. Why now? Why does Cornerstone
seek to deflect attention from my ethical obligations as a sociologist
by suggesting that I am not following "scriptural methodology"?
It seems to me that it would be quite unscriptural for
me to trivialize a commitment on my part to promised confidentiality.
That, in large part, is why I would not agree to be "put
on trial" by JPUSA (p. 8, Cornerstone) and reveal
all the details of people's experiences that was demanded of me.
As a result, JPUSA leaves your readers with the impression that
they are the "good guys," the people who hold to "biblical
standards of evidence, sound logic and reason," while I'm
the "bad guy" who refuses to be held accountable for
his "very strange and backwards" research methods.
Whether it is an indicator of your unfamiliarity with the world
of academic scholarship or a deliberate attempt at damage control,
the staff of Cornerstone has done a disservice to truth
and accuracy by attempting to distort and discredit my credentials
as a Christian sociologist and author.
An inaccurate and uninformed understanding of my very conventional
interview methodology has led to both JPUSA leaders and Covenant
administrators making reference to my use of "nameless people"
"unsubstantiated, anonymous quotations," and "anonymous
characterizations." The president of your denomination,
Dr. Paul Larsen, in a letter to me speaks of my use of "secret
informants." He makes it sound like I've been conducting
some kind of furtive investigation, lurking around in dark shadows,
talking with "secret informers" and plotting the downfall
of a Christian organization. Not true! Instead, I see administrators
who are more concerned about image than about the possibility
that real people have really been hurt. To quote a letter to
the editor which you received (and I was sent a copy), one observer
noted, "I don't believe that orthodoxy gives one the license
to hurt others or, if the wounds are unintentional, to dismiss
the hurting ones of your community because their pain is inconvenient
to your public image."
That hits the nail on the head. The lack of sincere compassion
for those ex-members of JPUSA who just might be telling the truth
about their hurt is demonstrated over and over in the words and
attitudes of the denominational leaders at ECC with whom I've
interacted and corresponded. If one is in total denial about
a problem situation, how can there be compassion for those who
have been hurt?
A case in point concerns Rev. Herbert Freedholm who is named in
your piece, "Kaiz Replies." Regarding the role of the
Evangelical Covenant Church and their investigation of the alleged
"charges" being made against JPUSA, "Kaiz"
states: "Several denominational leaders have made respectful
but quite detailed inquiries over every charge
I would say
that they have been very thorough." Mention is made of Rev.
Freedholm, Central Conference superintendent of the Covenant Church.
Because Rev. Freedholm and others had made much of my refusal
to provide names, etc. of my respondents, I decide to ask a number
of those respondents for permission to release their names and
phone numbers so that I could share them with Rev. Freedholm.
I wanted him to hear their concerns first-hand, as I had. Seven
months later I contacted each person who had willingly agreed
to speak with this Covenant Church administrator. Not one of
them had been contacted by him! Freedholm was willing to fly
to Los Angeles airport with a colleague for an urgent discussion
with me about the "charges," but when I gave him the
opportunity to follow up and check out my information, he did
nothing for more than seven months. The "Kaiz" comments
about respect and thoroughness should be evaluated in this context
Speaking of "Kaiz" he claims that "JPUSA is about
as closed as a Denny's Restaurant!" I recently received
a letter from a former member who was sent a copy of the current
Cornerstone by a current member with the admonition that
the ex-member learn about the "real Ron Enroth." When
the ex-member suggested to the current member that she telephone
me to talk with me directly, she refused. "It's against
the rules," she said. No, not quite like Denny's, Kaiz.
Several of your contributors argue that evangelicals have become
preoccupied with "victimization." Dr. Backus, in fact,
trivializes the idea of being a victim, a recipient of abusive
behavior. He claims that it is "politically correct"
for Christians to want to use the term "Spiritual abuse."
There is no hint of Christian compassion for the victim in his
remarks and certainly no suggestion that compassion is in order
for any of the former members of JP.
Dr. Backus had admitted at least two things which are true: (1)
that he doesn't know me, and (2) that he has jumped to certain
conclusions. It is on that uncertain ground that he lays the
foundation for his revealing commentary. His discussion of the
role of perpetrators and victims is a complete distortion of my
views. But then, of course, he admits that he doesn't know me
nor has he read the book. He argues that I feel no need to talk
with the perpetrators since authentic victimhood has already been
established by those who subjectively feel they have been abused.
As he states, "There is no defense against the charge, 'What
you said made me feel terrible.'"
I wonder how psychologist Backus would handle a research study
of, say, 50 or 60 women who claim to have been physically and
verbally abused by their husbands and boyfriends. He would probably
grant that they had been physically abused if there were "objective"
evidence in the form of bruises, blackened eyes, broken bones,
etc. But following the logic of his Cornerstone discussion,
he would have great difficulty with their reports of emotional
and verbal abuse. We all know, according to Dr. Backus, how "subjective"
those unsubstantiated reports can be! And as Dr. Ruth Tucker
points out in a letter to me, "I know how easy it is for
people to exaggerate when they think they've been wronged."
To repeat Dr. Backus' point, there is no defense if the women
were to say, "What he said to me made me feel terrible."
Following his own logic, Dr. Backus would have to either dismiss
all of the women's subjective evaluations of the impact of verbal
abuse, or he would have to spend equal time talking to "the
other side," checking out the victims' claims with the perpetrators,
the men who did the alleged abusing. In his view, in order to
have a balanced, scientific study of spousal abuse, one must always
give equal time to the abusers and have a healthy skepticism regarding
the subjective statements of the women under study.
I disagree. It is my opinion that much can be learned about spousal
abuse by interviewing in-depth 50 or 60 women who have been abused
- physically or otherwise. My guess is that Dr. Tucker and I
also have an honest difference of opinion here. She writes in
a letter to me, "I simply do not make a career of interviewing
people privately and quoting them without disclosing who they
" There are many behavioral scientists who have
established a reputation and made a distinguished career based
on interviewing large numbers of people without disclosing their
names. One example that comes immediately to mind is the prolific,
award-winning Harvard child psychologist and champion of social
justice, Robert Coles. Speaking of the men, women and children
that form the basis for his many books, Dr. Cole writes: "I
have not used the real names of the people I have interviewed,
and I have done as much as possible to conceal their real names
I have no qualms whatsoever about publishing my findings about
cults, authoritarian churches, or abused women based on carefully
conducted interviews and consistent data drawn from those interviews.
I'll let the reader decide whether my comments and concerns about
abuse are valid. And I'll let Dr. Backus and his colleagues decide
otherwise, as they already have.
In her essay, Dr. Tucker claims that my research gives the impression
that there is only one model for the Church - the affluent, suburban,
middle-class church. I presume she comes to this conclusion based
on Churches That Abuse. It is not the impression of authoritarian
Christian groups ranging from upper middle class to working class.
In the new book (which she has not read) I mention a very upper-middle
class church in affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
So allow me to set the record straight: abusive behavior, whether
spiritual, spousal, verbal, or otherwise, crosses all social class
lines. People should not conclude that they are more "spiritually
secure" (Prof. Tucker's term) in the materialistic comforts
of a suburban Presbyterian or Covenant church than they are in
an urban, inner city congregation. The same is true in reverse,
One final important omission in your discussion of me in the various
Cornerstone articles. You failed to mention that I asked
one of your senior editors, Eric Pement, to provide me with a
list of names and phone numbers of former JPUSA members who had
left your community with positive feelings about their
time there. I told him that since I was focusing my research
on those who had left the organization, that I would be
willing to interview the "satisfied customers" as well
as those who were dissatisfied. I told him that I would be willing
to devote space in the book to their reports. Zondervan Publishing
House extended my manuscript due date so that I could obtain that
and other pertinent data. I repeated my offer to you at
least once. I never received the name of a single individual
from Eric. Your readers need to know that too.
In conclusion, I have only one request to make of Cornerstone
readers: Before you cast stones in my direction, have the courage
to read my book first - with an open mind - and then compare the
overall tone of my message in that book with the tone of the Cornerstone
I regret that you feel the need to refer to me as "former
(italics mine) colleague in cult watching." Just two years
ago in Cornerstone (vol. 21, issue 98), you refer to me
as a "Christian leader." It's sad that you now consider
me to be a hostile adversary. I bear no ill will toward any of
you and I reaffirm what I say in the book: "But JPUSA has
also had a wonderful ministry to the margins of society in the
inner city of Chicago. The organization has had a positive impact
on the Christian world through Cornerstone magazine and
I pray that through the good services of the Evangelical
Covenant Church and the Alban Institute, JPUSA will become a shining
example that reconciliation with former members and genuine change
are possible." Maybe I should insert a footnote about Christian
authors in that part about hoped-for reconciliation.
"Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ's family
and being called by His Wonderful Name. God has given each of you
special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing
on to others God's many kinds of blessings." I Peter 4:16
Ronald Enroth, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology