As ironic as it is, given the Observer’s typical slant, the origins of the story line Hannaford follows are found in attacks on our community started by a fundamentalist group that claims the mantle of defenders of Christian orthodoxy. These fundamentalists organized and fed these ex-members the story line they now repeat with ever new embellishments.
Though we have had a few critical ex-members through the years, their criticisms had generally revolved around personal grievances. This is common to most religious groups. All this changed, as we’ll explain, when a doctrinal dispute was added to the plot by this fundamentalist organization, another irony considering Hannaford’s false claim that we have contended that we primarily suffer attacks from “secular” enemies of religious freedom. The truth is that this slander against us began from what many besides us see as the unscrupulous work of the “Watchman Fellowship,” or of at least that organization’s particular representative who was sought out by those who attacked us to guide them in their efforts. (This seemed to us somewhat like the Gentiles who desired the bishoprics that were occupied by “Murrano” Jews in the sixteenth-century Spanish church. So those Gentiles sought the Grand Inquisitor as to how best to displace the Murranos, whose posts they envied.) This organization may somewhere in some circumstance have dealt honestly and with integrity, but their representatives in dealing with us lacked all integrity, refusing even to speak with us before launching their carefully formulated attack. Our first encounter with this brewing storm came when one of our ministers received an anonymous phone call. It came in the dark of early morning a few days before this fundamentalist group had its first meeting with our disgruntled ex-members. The caller had an Australian or New Zealand accent. He announced in a taunting, mocking tone, “We are going to start rumors, then go onto the Internet, then to the media. Pretty soon everyone will be talking about the next big cult in Waco, and you’ll come to the same end as the Branch Davidians. You know, that’s the way things work.” He laughed, and he then hung up. We, of course, reported the call to the authorities. Within a few days, the now seemingly endless postings against us began, led by the representative of Watchman Fellowship, posting as “Old Watchman.”
Some in these watchdog organizations have insinuated themselves, and what many see as their far from Biblical doctrine,* into the position of a self-appointed belief police over all Christians. And if you’re small enough, if they dislike you or your beliefs enough and if you have no long-term social standing or political clout, then they will begin a well-plotted and relentless attack, soliciting and guiding false testimony from acrimonious witnesses whose credibility or character is never questioned, at least not as long as they serve the agenda. They then start email campaigns to important public figures, badgering newspapers and television outlets to become their torch to ignite a public media burning by doing exposés based on fraudulent “facts” and unscrupulous witnesses, directing thousands of Internet postings and encouraging the most outrageous lies, even to the point of having their agents from overseas call anonymously (and sinisterly) in the middle of the night, mockingly threatening your soon-coming and well-planned destruction. They are what sociologist Stanley Cohen termed the “entrepreneurs” in “moral panics,” the modern sociological tag for a witch hunt. In short, truth to them isn’t strong enough to defend itself, so they must use lies, coercive powers and fearmongering in order to make sure no one believes differently than what they dictate or even so much as listens to those who hold different beliefs, who are to be painted with the face of the terrifying “enemy.” The world has seen this sort of Christian watchdog group before, in Spain from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. It killed 129,000 Christians, more than the Roman Empire killed. Its chief investigator’s name was Torquemada. The watchdog group’s name was “The Inquisition.”
In 1945, just prior to his martyrdom by the Nazis, Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about compromised Christianity then almost totally under the sway of Nazi ideology. He characterized the doctrine of these “Christians” as “cheap grace,” which was a false grace amazingly similar to the view held by many in Watchman Fellowship, a view of grace Watchman then passed on to our now hostile ex-members. Already by 1937, Bonhoeffer had called their doctrine what it was—“grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”1 He added, “It is under the influence of this kind of ‘grace’ that the world has been made ‘Christian,’ but at the cost of secularizing the Christian religion as never before. The antithesis between the Christian life and the life of bourgeois respectability is at an end. The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of [cheap] grace. The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest, has freed me from that.”2 Bonhoeffer further contended that grace as merely a “doctrine,” a “principle” or a theological “system” had created, in the pre-Nazi German church, the sort of “cheap grace” where “an intellectual assent . . . is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins,” where anyone who “holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace,” where there is “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner,” where “grace alone does everything, . . . and so everything can remain as it was before,” where there is “forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, . . . grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”3 In such a church, the believer is freed “from obedience to the command of Jesus,” and a “forgiving grace [has] automatically conferred upon the world [including even Nazi Germany] both righteousness and holiness.”4 This, said Bonhoeffer, has given “the world . . . a cheap covering for its sins,” a covering that eventually comes to “destroy the world’s faith” and make “the Christian rest content with his worldliness.”5
So, according to Bonhoeffer, it also became an “orthodoxy [that] spelled the end and destruction of the Reformation.”6 And in Germany, it brought “the collapse of the organized church.” Bonhoeffer declared that the consequences for Germany, specifically in the rise of Nazism, were bitter: “We baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition” and gave “that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving,” making “men rest secure in their ungodly living.”7 Finally, instead of bringing “justification of the sinner in the world,” the doctrine “degenerated into the justification of sin and the world.”8 He later noted, prior to being hanged with piano wire by the Nazis, that “the price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost . . . . We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard . . . . This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ, it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience . . . . The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.”9
This sort of “cheap grace,” supposedly to save Christians from “commandments of works,” precisely characterizes Watchman and what organizations like it have done by reducing too much of American Christianity to a hypocritical profession of faith without a walk of faith. To ex-members troubled in their consciences from past misbehavior, Watchman’s offer of this psychologically soothing doctrine, which requires nothing of the believer, was simply too seductive. But once this handful of ex-members embraced the doctrine, then our community, which had always taught that a Christian must live up to his or her profession, became “spiritually abusive,” a threat to their precarious psychological equilibrium. The accusations of spiritual abuse have now morphed into accusations of physical and even sexual abuse, accusations having no more connection to reality than their original charge. Hannaford simply has no theological understanding of the issues involved and has, amazingly, been sucked into what is in fact an attack by fundamentalist “cheap grace” advocates on our belief that a Christian ought to act like one.
Nonetheless, in spite of the grim lessons of the past, those who push this “cheap grace” continue to pose as “expert” “standard bearers” of what Americans will be allowed to accept as “orthodoxy.” They then denounce as “anti-grace” all who struggle to rise above the low standards of “cheap grace.” Yet we here at Homestead Heritage have seen absolutely no sound reason—Biblical or otherwise—for accepting their presumptuous and arrogant claims of authority to police all Christian belief, nor has any legitimate electoral process put them in such a position of power. Even if they have established themselves as an authority in the eyes of some believers, it doesn’t mean they should have the right to trample on the freedom of conscience of all other Americans by co-opting the powers that be, including the power of the public media.
Regrettably, the Anti-Cult Movement (ACM) as a whole, of which the Watchman Fellowship forms part of the hard-liner and fundamentalist core, has a general history of showing almost total disregard for any standards of integrity or fair treatment, a fact acknowledged, as we show,† by scholars and even leaders of the ACM itself. This shoddiness certainly continues to hold true in our case. For instance, the “Old Watchman” (as he liked to style himself) consistently refused to fairly read and respond to what we actually wrote and said. Instead, he simply tried to force us into the mold of his predetermined list of psychological “cult” characteristics. Whether or not the facts of our case fit this list, for him the merest accusation against a church, no matter how untrustworthy the witness, sufficed as an opportunity to shove them into the mold, even if the so-called “investigators” have to cut, chop and bloody their victims up a bit to make them fit.
Their approach is similar to that of jigsaw puzzle manufacturers—the picture on the box already shows what the pieces of the puzzle must portray—a cult—so all that’s necessary is to cut out pieces that fit that picture. You can even manufacture your own pieces once “Old Watchman” has showed you what you’re supposed to find and how to “find” it. All other pieces that don’t fit the picture should simply be tossed out. The picture already selected in this case, even before examining the evidence, is that of a “cult.” So no evidence can then be accepted that doesn’t fit this preselected portrait.
Such practices, sadly, are apparently common among these extreme and sometimes vicious fundamentalists, who have cleverly adopted the mask of anti-cult “ministries” in order to push their theological and political agendas. For instance, Gordon Melton, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, addressing a gathering of these so-called ministries in 2002 in the attempt to inject a measure of fairness and integrity into their ultra-fundamentalist agenda, voiced this complaint: anti-cult “leaders need to develop firsthand knowledge of those groups toward which we direct ministry and about which we write. It would mean that along with reading what others say about groups that we actually read the literature produced by the groups that we critique and that we make an effort to understand it.”10 He adds, “In this process, it also becomes important to visit the centers of activity, participate in worship and other activities, and interview leaders.”11 Yet in our case, and contrary to this advice, “Old Watchman” simply wrote to an ex-member (whom he was trying to entice into joining the Watchman’s attack against us, as he’d done with so many others) that he could “care less” about meeting with us to verify anything. He said he already had “bookshelves” of our literature to tell him what we believe (which is false on the face of it, since we haven’t published or distributed to anyone “bookshelves” of literature). But if what he quoted from our literature represents his understanding of our position, then this only proves that he raided, and did not read, our literature, filtering it through the lens of the ex-members’ reconstructed memories, which he’d already accepted and had even helped form without even calling us. In short, he did exactly what Dr. Melton accused unscrupulous anti-cult leaders of doing—he failed to “develop firsthand knowledge of [our] group,” or to even “actually read the literature,” or simply “make an effort to understand it.” As the Old Watchman stated in the letter to the man he saw as a prospective opponent to Old Watchman’s attack, “I could care less.”
It is not surprising, then, that Melton also addressed a devious tactic that Old Watchman used to “explain” our writings, a tactic similar to the “editorial” methods Hannaford used on the few pieces of literature of ours that he perused. Melton said that statements “taken out of context . . . can become the basis of outrageous charges directed against individual groups.” Such tactics can and do, Melton asserts, “destroy one’s credibility in those more thoughtful circles of real influence. We have seen this over and over again in court cases where outrageous charges . . . are shown to lack substance.” Melton added, “When the cases went to court, the charges proved to have no relationship to the people in court.”‡12
Examples of such extremely poor, even shadowy and strange, scholarship and carelessness appear on Watchman’s own website. One example is directly tied to the “Old Watchman.” It’s the strange case of James Trimm, whose articles, as of this date, still appear on the Watchman website. Trimm had, in the past, worked closely with the same Watchman representative who first coordinated the current attack on us, “Old Watchman.” Trimm still claims a doctorate from the St. John Chrysostom Theological Seminary, which has been exposed as a “degree mill,” a bogus institution awarding fraudulent degrees.13 Trimm presents a transcript complete with nonexistent courses and a list of semester hours allegedly taken, none of which was true. (The name of the bogus seminary is even misspelled on the transcript!)14 This, then, is not just a case of a flaky mail-order degree but of outright fraud. Trimm also claims to be a Jew, but isn’t.15 Trimm even holds that Christianity is an aberrantform of Judaism.16 Yet Trimm received praise from the same “Old Watchman,” who has so relentlessly attacked us, as a “great collaborator” and was recognized for his “great” contribution to “Watchman efforts.”17 After Trimm’s exposure as a fraud, Old Watchman, who claims for himself a ministry of “discernment,” attempted to distance himself and the Watchman organization from Trimm. “The Old Watchman” even “brought the subject up” with his boss at Watchman, suggesting removal of Trimm’s material from the Watchman website. In attempting to distance himself from Trimm, Old Watchman even called his old “great collaborator” an “antichrist”!18 Inexplicably though, despite such serious problems with Trimm’s integrity (not to mention Old Watchman’s), the Watchman organization has chosen to stand by the posting of Trimm’s material on their website, and it remains there to this day.
* A doctrine denounced by J. I. Packer, John MacArthur and other noted theologians and ministers ( J. I. Packer, “Understanding the Lordship Controversy,” TableTalk, May 1991, p. 7; John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, “Follow Me”?rev. and exp. ed. [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994], pp. 37-38, 190; R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, Baker Books, 1995], pp. 25-26), a doctrine of an unbalanced and unbiblical view of an absolutely “free grace,” which really is no more than what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship [New York: Simon and Schuster, A Touchstone Book, 1995], p. 43).
1 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 44-45.
2 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 50-51 (emphasis added).
3 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 43-45.
4 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 48-49.
5 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 43-44.
6 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 50.
7 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 54.
8 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 50.
9 Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, pp. 54-55.
† See Mind-Control Theory: Are You Part of a Cult and Don’t Know It? by Howard Wheeler (Elm Mott, Tex.: Colloquium Press, 2005).
10 J. Gordon Melton, “Self-Consciousness in the Study of New Religions,” WorldWide Religious News, http://
wwrn.org/articles/6752/?place=united-states (emphasis added).
11 Melton, “Self-Consciousness in the Study of New Religions.”
‡ John W. Morehead, himself the former head of the Evangelical counter-cult umbrella organization, Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, echoed Melton’s concerns: “We are all familiar with various criticisms raised by friend and foe alike: poor scholarship, reliance upon secondary or tertiary research sources rather than upon primary source materials, the resulting lack of accuracy and balance in representation of new religions, the often inflated resumés of those in ministry to new religions, concerns about the validity of our educational background and degrees related to religious studies as applied to new religions, the problem of plagiarism, faulty reasoning, and distortion of data (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to fit a particular agenda” (John W. Morehead, “EMNR’s Paradigm for Viability in an Age of Religious Pluralism,” Cornerstone Magazine, http://www.cornerstonemag.com/cart/txt/EMNR-jm.htm).
12Melton, “Self-Consciousness in the Study of New Religions.”
13 Vicky Dillen, “Doctor James Scott Trimm,” Seek God, http://www.seekgod.ca/trimmdoc.htm.
14 Dillen, “Doctor James Scott Trimm.”
15 Vicky Dillen, “Letter from Stan Eisenberg,” Seek God, http://www.seekgod.ca/stanletter.htm.
16 Vicky Dillen, “Doctor James Trimm’s ‘Jewish’ School and International Beit Din,” Seek God, http://www.seek
god.ca/yeshiva.htm; James Scott Trimm, “The Error of Two Torah Theology,” Hebrew-Roots, http:// www.hebrew-roots.com/html.
17 Vicky Dillen, “James Trimm’s Diploma Revisited Part 2: The Four Letters, Seek God, http://www.seekgod.ca/ trimmletters.htm; Ingrid Trimm, “Academic Profile for James Trimm,” The Trimm Family Website, http://www. trimmfamily.com/.
18 Dillen, “James Trimm’s Diploma Revisited Part 2.”