As we have seen throughout this book, the victims of faith theology come from many different social and theological backgrounds. Dr. Anthony Chu is a gastroenterologist. He specializes in ailments connected with the stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, and small intestine. Originally, both Chu and his former wife were Catholic.
I asked Chu how they ended up at Victory Church. He told me that while he was in college, both he and his wife were saved at a Bill Bright crusade. In the seventies, they joined the Catholic charismatic movement, but they left the Catholic church after moving to Detroit, where Chu studied internal medicine. During their time in Detroit, they attended a nondenominational church. After that, Chu studied gastroenterology at the University of Iowa.
You might be wondering why I have included so much information about Chu's educational background. I did it to dispel the idea that only uneducated people get drawn into cults. Despite many years of advanced education, Chu still ended up in one. And, if it happened to Anthony Chu, it could happen to almost anyone. Abusive faith theology is not restricted to groups of unsophisticated followers, as many seem to believe.
Following his studies at the University of Iowa, Chu and his wife moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the mid-1980s. It was to be a town that would forever change Anthony Chu's life. Never did he imagine what lay ahead for him there.
We were new in town, very vulnerable. We shopped around at different churches. We found this [Victory Church], and the people were extremely friendly. My wife really liked it, and I really liked it, and in fact [I] told her this is where God wanted us and that's how we got involved.
As time went on, however, Chu began to feel uncomfortable at Victory Church. He just couldn't figure out why. Following a church split, he began to feel even more uneasy. "The church split was over alleged advances by the youth pastor towards the girls. So they let him go". Chu was told that half of the congregation objected to the youth pastor being let go for that reason.
Although Chu was in favor of the dismissal at the time, he found out later that the allegations of sexual impropriety weren't the real reason for the split. It was something entirely different. Ten years later, Chu talked to some of the people who had left and discovered what had really happened. After reading a book that warned against the errors of the shepherding, or discipleship, movements, some of the people realized that this was what was being taught at Victory Church. Pastor Renee Julison denied that the doctrine was being taught, but those who were concerned about it felt they should leave the church. It was after this that the control factor spun out of control, Chu recalls.
After the split, Chu became concerned when his wife refused to miss even an occasional Sunday at church. Problems were compounded when Chu, an American-born Chinese, found out that his artwork from the Orient wasn't acceptable because it was "representative of demons."
I found a lot of TV was restricted. We [Chu and his former wife] got into many arguments, because she was always at church at night doing something. We continually argued about the church. I'll give you an example. My wife would tell Renee Julison about all the people she counseled. I said, "That's not right. That's a violation of confidentiality."
According to Chu, this wasn't the only violation of confidentiality. A licensed social worker who used to attend the church left when she was required to tell Pastor Renee Julison about her counseling sessions. She refused, explaining that this would be unethical.
A lot of the arguments between Chu and his wife centered around church finances. He recognized that Victory Church was a poor congregation, and he had a hard time with the Julisons' constant displays of affluence. After Chu confronted his wife about this, she immediately called Renee Julison. When Chu caught his wife calling Julison, that led to another argument. The cycle went on.
One church requirement in particular created friction between Chu and his wife. Every decision Chu's family made had to be checked out with Renee Julison. Chu explained this was done under the guise of agreement in prayer. The pastors maintained that "because they were anointed of God, they had a direct line to God. They were the under-shepherd of the Shepherd Jesus Christ. So our prayers alone were not going to be enough. We had to get in agreement with them because they had more power than we did."
Chu strongly objected to that, saying he couldn't see any scriptural justification for such actions. As the arguments between Chu and his wife got worse, he quit going to church for a month or two at a time, hoping it would pressure his wife into leaving the church. Finally, Chu realized that his efforts were not going to work.
He moved out of his house, but even that didn't persuade his wife to leave Victory Church. By this time, Chu's wife was in an important position at church. She spent her days there, counseling and helping members with their problems, becoming a role model for others in the church. All the while, her marriage was falling apart.
During the time he was away from home, Chu said church members pursued him with reading material, introducing "Sheep, Goats and Wolves" by Mark Barclay. Chu described the book.
All of it's shepherding. Of course, the goats were people who complained, or didn't follow along with the congregation. The sheep were what they wanted you to he very compliant. Even Julison said sheep are dumb; they need pastors or shepherds. Of course, the wolf was the worst one. The wolf was the one that was gossiping and trying to break up the work of God.
Finally, Chu succumbed to the group's efforts. They convinced him that he wasn't following God and that he was a rebel. "go I crawled back home and crawled back to the church on my knees. I repented before Renee Julison in a so-called counseling session, and I was broken to tears. I guess at that point I was basically a broken person."
Riddled with guilt, Chu went along with things for a while, reasoning that at least he could see his wife. He still believed he was a spiritual rebel who was dragging his wife down.
Although Chu had stopped fighting with his wife, he developed a number of aggravating physical symptoms, including insomnia and a stress-related allergy. As a result of these ailments, he became an exercise fanatic. It wasn't that he necessarily wanted to; he had to. The tension he'd kept bottled up inside was taking its toll on him.
Chu talked with me about some of the church's more obvious excesses. The Julisons' constant emphasis on giving troubled him. Chu gave twenty thousand to thirty thousand dollars a year to the church-more than a tithe for him-which he didn't feel comfortable giving. He had no idea where the money went, although he saw Pastors Ed and Renee Julison buying expensive clothes and taking trips. The whole situation made Chu uncomfortable because he wasn't giving with a cheerful heart, and he knew he was supposed to.
The Julisons claimed not to believe in the "name it, claim it" doctrine, but this wasn't evident from the way they preached, according to Chu.
You would always feel if you confessed with your mouth you would get whatever you wanted. It was like you can plug in God anytime you wanted, and if you didn't get it right away it's because you don't have enough faith. You just have to keep confessing it. That's how they get to control people.
It was difficult to know if members achieved results or not. Admitting failure would be regarded as a negative confession; therefore, members typically spoke only in faith phraseology: "I'm believing for this healing," or "I've got these symptoms, but I'm feeling fine," or "I've got these symptoms and they're gone in Jesus' Name."
One apparent consequence of the Julisons' ministry was a surprisingly large number of divorces among members.
Chu blamed Renee Julison, saying women were deceived by her. "My wife told many women that men don't follow God. They get that from Renee, because Ed came along and got saved after Renee did. Renee was the one who pushed him into everything. He's been propped up as a leader." Chu suspects that Ed Julison never wanted to be a leader and wasn't leadership material. In Chu's experience, Renee Julison was clearly the leader of Victory Church.
What about the children who attended the church? Chu said the Julisons used them as tools. The church's school had over a hundred children enrolled, and Chu said they were encouraged to spy on their parents. "I know this for a fact. I'm not telling you anything I can't document."
Chu also charged the Julisons with encouraging children to move to Florida against their parents' wishes. His best friend's daughter was promised help by the Julisons if she would move to Florida with them. They told her to "follow God" and leave her parents.
The church's philosophy was that if you left the church, you were leaving God. "My wife was their spiritual hit person. She would go to people and tell them they would go to hell if they left the church." If this message frightened some members into staying despite misgivings, it traumatized others. Chu's eight-year-old daughter screamed in terror when Chu drove her away from the church to be deprogrammed. She was convinced that she was going to end up in hell. Chu's wife even told one person that if she left she was going to die in an accident within two years. The woman lived in terror for the next two years.
Chu was even indoctrinated himself. While flying to Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center for therapy, he feared for his life.
I was praying the whole time, because I was concerned Renee Julison was going to crash the plane. I finally realized through the deprogramming [at Wellspring] that it was indeed a cult, and I wasn't crazy. I wasn't just a rebel, and all these feelings I was having were legitimate. [However], I still felt she had supernatural power, and I'm not a dumb person.
Chu thinks that church members stay, despite warnings from others, because they're convinced outsiders are simply persecuting them because of their Christianity. They seem to turn off their critical thinking and train themselves to stop thinking altogether. In Chu's experience, church members were taught that bad thoughts about the church came from the devil. This often caused members to ignore their doubts about church doctrine and practices. Instead, they were told to be guided by the pastors' interpretation of "The Word." Chu explained, "The Word says there's going to be an attack on God's church, so if you allow these thoughts in your mind and don't tell the Julisons, you're allowing the devil to work on the church."
The entire experience took such an emotional toll on Chu that he even considered suicide. His anxiety was compounded by his feeling that he was a lousy Christian, combined with his wife's refusal to leave Victory Church. Things came to a head for Chu one night while he was riding in the car with his wife. Suddenly, he felt he couldn't stand the situation anymore. "I just freaked out. I pounded on the dashboard. She was driving, and I jumped out of the car while it was running. It was at night, and I thought about drowning myself in the creek." His wife didn't even stop. Chu walked home alone.
By 12:30 that night, Chu's wife still hadn't returned home. The kids weren't home either. Soon, a cadre of church members arrived, trying to talk sense-as they saw it-into Chu. But, Chu had had enough. He decided it was time for a telephone call to Pastor Ed Julison, who was in Florida at the time starting a new ministry there. Chu told Julison he was leaving. But, he also told Julison that he still believed Julison was anointed. "Even up to that point, I still believed they had an anointing, because they pointed out the right Scriptures." Nevertheless, Chu also insisted that Julison let his wife go.
Chu devised a scheme to deprogram his wife, but somehow she found out about it. Before he could proceed with his plan, he received a call from her, telling him that an emergency had come up at church. Chu raced to the church, where he found the van running, with his two boys inside.
First, Chu grabbed his daughter, who had been with his wife inside the church. The child began screaming hysterically, "I don't want to go to hell." Chu's sons became angry over what they saw as a disruption of their life. Chu drove like a maniac to [a friend's home in Grand Forks] where deprogrammer Rick Ross was waiting to talk to the family. "My boys wouldn't listen. My-daughter locked herself in the bathroom, and she covered her ears." Quite naturally, Chu thought deprogramming wasn't going to work. He wondered if he had made a mistake.
Three or four days later, the situation improved [the deprogramming was a success]. Another Christian physician [also associated with the church retained Rick Ross to work with him and his family. That intervention was also successful]. During this time, Chu discovered that his wife had been giving at least [and additional] hundred dollars a week [directly] to Renee Julison, without his knowledge or consent. After their divorce, Chu's wife wrote him a long note explaining why she had given away so much money without telling him. Apparently, she thought he had really wanted to be generous to Renee Julison but couldn't bring himself to do it because of his feelings about money. "She did it for me," Chu said. "She did it for God. She didn't want to argue with me about giving them money and stuff, so she did it all on her own."
As in many divorces, money and child custody were areas of contention when the Chus separated. Chu's ex-wife wiped out the couple's savings. The custody issue was a little more complicated.
Initially, Chu and his ex-wife had joint custody of the children. Chu would stay in his house for two weeks, then he would move out for two weeks. During the time Chu was out of the house, he lived in a friend's basement. The situation changed after the court appointed a legal guardian to study the case and make a final recommendation to the court. [Rick Ross submitted an affidavit regarding his experience with the Chu family and others affected by the church]. The court also appointed a child psychologist. The legal guardian recommended that joint legal custody continue, but that Chu have physical custody of the children. This was a victory for Chu, because it allowed him to decide which church and school the children attended.
During the break-up, Chu's ex-wife accused him of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. But, according to Chu, there wasn't any abuse. "The only physical 'abuse' was when she would grab on me, and I would push her away, trying to keep her away from me, because the pressure was too much."
This is not the first time it has been alleged that Victory Church wives were instructed to set up situations to give the appearance of abuse. The same scenario occurred with Dave and Theresa Leonardi. Chu said if the husband raised his voice, that was considered verbal abuse. Wives were conditioned to look for anything potentially abusive.
A court-appointed psychologist soon understood that Chu was quite normal. 'We were going through some little stresses and so forth," Chu recalls. "But my wife, she was paranoid, fearful and confused- way off whack on her testing. It's because she was under stress, but we were all under stress; tremendous stress."
The psychologist also recommended complete legal custody of the children for Chu, which Chu's ex-wife eventually agreed to. "Her rationale was that she made a Solomon decision. She gave up the kids for their sake." But, Chu believes there was an ulterior motive behind that "Solomon decision." Chu had considered going public with his experiences. His ex-wife may have wanted to protect the church from any more adverse publicity.
Chu still has his children and his house, but he's lost everything else, including half his pension. His sixteen-year-old son is doing fine, but his fourteen-year-old has been having a harder time. Chu proudly told me, however, that this hasn't stopped them from pulling straight-A's in school.
Chu said he's doing fine himself "I'm a single parent, and we have help twice a week. I have a busy [medical] practice. I'm cooking four days a week, and doing all that other stuff, and taking up Chinese cooking."
But, although his family life has stabilized, his spiritual life is still in transition. Chu continues to shop around for the right church for himself and his family. His experiences at Victory Church shook his faith and made him very cautious. Sadly, Chu is even a little afraid to witness to other people, because, he said, "I don't know if I'm imposing things upon them."
Chu's experience shows what enormous physical and spiritual havoc an abusive church can cause. Fortunately, Victory Church isn't typical of most word of faith churches. But, I am firmly convinced that the word of faith doctrine is laying a solid foundation for groups like Victory Church to flourish.
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