Spiritual Counterfeits Project, NEWSLETTER July-August 1983 Vol. 9, No. 3
The Changing Face of SCP: An Update
The Legal Case [Lee vs Duddy; Neil T. Duddy was an SCP researcher who wrote The God-Men and was named with SCP (and the Swiss publisher) as a defendant in the law suit.]
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As most of you know, in December of 1980 we were sued by Witness Lee, leader of a group known as the Local Church. The object of the lawsuit is a book about Witness Lee published in the German language and distributed in Switzerland. The Local Church first sued us in Switzerland, but lost the case when the Swiss court ruled that the proper plaintiff (Witness Lee) had not brought the action in the matter.
Witness Lee then filed suit against SCP in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California. After 21/2 years we are still in discovery phase of the legal proceedings, where each side gathers information about the other. Interrogatories (written questions) are being answered and depositions (live interviews) are being taken of witnesses.
Litigation between Christians is the subject of scriptural rebuke and warning (see Matthew 18:15-17 and I Corinthians 6:1-11). Despite these biblical admonitions, Witness Lee has personally filed lawsuits against authors and publishers who have dared to review his teachings and the practices of the local Church in books made generally available to the public. Because of Lees action, we have been given no choice but to defend ourselves.
This lawsuit has great legal significance for Christians in America and worldwide because it places tort law doctrine against constitutionally protected religious speech. (Tort is defined in law as any wrong, injury, or damage not involving breech of contract.) The suit puts in issue the rights of an author to offer the opinion that a ministers teaching is heretical. SCP is taking the steadfast position that its statements are within the Fair Comment Doctrine and thus are constitutionally protected speech.
The lawsuit filed by Witness Lee against Jack Sparks and Nelson Publishers regarding the book, The Mindbenders, was recently settled out of court. Reports and best estimates indicate that total expenses for both sides may have exceeded one million dollars! That would be big money for an SCP-sized budget!
We need the prayers of all of you that God will provide the funds we need and will give us prudent legal strategy so as to keep expenditures and loss of valuable work time at the lowest possible level. Pray too that Witness Lee will choose to settle his dispute with us out of court, as the Scriptures teach, so that all can avoid unnecessary expenses and waste of resources.
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MR. MORGAN: Now you have listed in Exhibit 10 as publications the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Can you tell the court what that is?
DR. MELTON: Encyclopedia of American Religions is the standard reference book surveying American religious groups.
MR. MORGAN: I am holding up two volumes of it, and is that the book or the books?
DR. MELTON: Thats two-thirds of it. The third volume is ready to appear.
MR. MORGAN: What is your function with this Encyclopedia?
DR. MELTON: I am the author of it.
MR. MORGAN: Just generally, what does the Encyclopedia purport to present to the reader?
DR. MELTON: It presents a write-up on each of about 1,500 denominations, religious groups, currently alive and well in America. It presents their doctrines and beliefs in their historical context, how they are related to other religious groups.
MR. MORGAN: You say you were the author. Can you tell the court what was the scope of the work you did in preparing this Encyclopedia?
DR. MELTON: Well, up until the time it appeared, it had consumed most of my adult life. I did a great deal of research on it. I spent three years on the road gathering material for it. The actual writing took about five years.
MR. MORGAN: Can you give the court some indication of the size of your library dealing with religious books?
DR. MELTON: At the time the book appeared, my library was about 18,000 volumes. It is now about 25,000.
MR. MORGAN: Doctor, there is just one other thing I wanted to ask you about the American Academy of Religion that you have indicated that you are a member of. What is that?
DR. MELTON: The American Academy of Religion is the prime scholarly association for religious scholars.
MR. MORGAN: Can one join it just by paying a membership fee or is there some criterion?
DR. MELTON: You have to have academic credentials and pass a review board, as with most scholarly associations.
MR. MORGAN: Fine. Doctor, do you know an organization entitled Spiritual Counterfeits Project?
DR. MELTON: Yes.
MR. MORGAN: How long have you been aware of that organization?
DR. MELTON: Since its inception. I became aware of its predecessor organization, Christian World Liberation Front, in the early seventies.
MR. MORGAN: And how well do you know the organization?
DR. MELTON: Well, I followed its publications since I became aware of it around 1970, 1971. I have a fairly complete set of the material that they have published. I have visited with them. I know most of the leadership, some of them on a first- name basis.
MR. MORGAN: Have you made a study of the history of SCP?
DR. MELTON: Not particularly what we'd call a formal study. I have just been aware of it by receiving its publications, which I have read regularly for nine years.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Dr. Melton, are they listed in your Encyclopedia of American Religions?
DR. MELTON: No, they are not what I call a primary religious group. They are not a denomination. They are an organization made up of people who are members of other churches. They are not listed there.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: They are, in a sense, not a formal religion, per se?
DR. MELTON: Right.
MR. MORGAN: Lets talk about the Local Church.[Witness Lee] Is the Local Church listed in your Encyclopedia?
DR. MELTON: Oh, certainly.
MR. MORGAN: Can you tell the court under what category it is listed?
DR. MELTON: It is listed under what I call Independent Fundamentalist Churches and the subcategory under the Plymouth Brethren.
MR. MORGAN: Can you explain to the court what you mean when you say Independent Fundamentalists?
DR. MELTON: Well, fundamentalism is the thought world that runs through much of the evangelical church in America. Mainline Christianity in America is the evangelical movement. The main part of that movement grew out of the British movement called the Plymouth Brethren, started by a man named John Nelson Darby.
Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, who are among the founders of what we call the Local Church here, were formerly members of one branch of the Plymouth Brethren, so the thought world is very much the same.
MR. MORGAN: Let me go back to SCP now. Could you give the court a brief history of how it came into being?
DR. MELTON: Christian World Liberation Front was originally a part of the Jesus People Movement in the San Francisco Bay area. It started in Southern California and spread up the coast.
That movement had a crisis in the mid-seventies and split into several factions, one part of which became what today we know as the Evangelical Orthodox Church. Another part became the Berkeley Christian Coalition, and SCP was a part of the Berkeley Christian Coalition and gradually emerged as the dominant part, as the Christian Coalition faded away.
MR. MORGAN: The Evangelical Orthodox Church you referred to, was there some individual who was a leader?
DR. MELTON: Jack Sparks is the prime one who is known as the continuing person. He was a very prominent leader of Christian World Liberation Front and is one of the bishops of the Evangelical Orthodox Church.
MR. MORGAN: Lets talk about SCP again. What does SCP represent to be its purpose or function in this country?
DR. MELTON: SCP carries on a function that the Christian World Liberation Front had begun before it, namely to become Christian apologists on the campus where a number of different alternative religions had arisen to do evangelism. They were trying to do Christian apologetics, both to refute the teachings of non- Christian groups and to present Christianity in a light that was both evangelical and acceptable intellectually in a campus situation.
MR. MORGAN: Can you explain the term apologetics?
DR. MELTON: The traditional sense of apology, of presenting your teachings in a most attractive way to your audience and explaining to them clearly.
MR. MORGAN: At some point did SCP become known as an anti-cult organization?
DR. MELTON: As the SCP grew and became affiliated with other groups that are also doing Christian apologetics in this area, in general, they took on a popular image as an anti-cult group. There are a number of Christian ministries that are also engaged in Christian apologetics in this area. Those ministries have become associated, in the public mind, with secular groups which arose during the mid 1970s and are generally all lumped together as anti-cult.
MR. MORGAN: Can you give the court some indication as to the visibility or the awareness of the religious public about SCP? Is it well known?
DR. MELTON: SCP is one of the two or three best-known groups who are working in this area. They are not the oldest by any means and probably not the single best known, but they are certainly one of the best known, and their reputation has been built upon the quality of their material. The quality has been much higher than most of the groups working in this area.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: Doctor, if I may ask you, where did they get the word Counterfeits Project? How did that happen to get in their name? Do you know?
DR. MELTON: It is part of theological jargon. The idea is that non-Christian religions are a counterfeit product of the devil, of Gods true religion, and their project is to define and refute the counterfeit and present the truth.
It is a theological term. It does not carry, at least in the theological jargon, the connotation that the people involved in the other religion are frauds or putting out fake money. It is a spiritual counterfeit. One of the problems that they have is that most people are not aware of that jargon.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: So the name in effect refers to what they are so-called fighting against rather than what they believe in themselves.
DR. MELTON: Right.
JUDGE SEYRANIAN: The counterfeit part is what they oppose.
DR. MELTON: Right.
MR. MORGAN: Has it been your observation that to the average person, when SCP goes against a particular organization, the person then envisages that organization as a counterfeit or a fraud?
DR. MELTON: Thats been some of the problems with SCP all along.
MR. MORGAN: Has it been your observation that when SCP goes after an organization, they are given a lot of credence; in other words, people accept what they say about organizations?
DR. MELTON: Right. SCP has overall, through the last decade, done the best work in this area. The quality of some of their books is quite good. Their book on Reverend Moon, their book on Buddhism, and their book on Holistic Health, these have all been quite well received; and they are, from an evangelical Christian point of view, excellent books.
MR. MORGAN: Can you make the same statement for the books that are the subject of this lawsuit? [referring to Witness Lees Local Church the subject of SCP Neil Duddys book The God-Men, InterVarsity Press.]
DR. MELTON: No, I cant.
Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails, Ronald M. Enroth and J. Gordon Melton, (Elgin: Brethren Press, 1985),
[This may have been during the time that Enroth was not serving on the board at Spiritual Counterfeits Project, but he would later return to the SCP leadership.]