In November, 1980, Witness Lee, William Freeman, and the Church in Anaheim, Inc. filed suit against Neil Duddy, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), and Schwengeler-Verlag over the publication of The God-Men by Neil Duddy and the SCP. This action became a landmark case in the history of the abuses of the Christian countercult movement.
For a general background of the events leading up to the publishing of The God-Men, see “The Christian World Liberation Front, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, and the church in Berkeley.”
In 1977 SCP self-published the first edition of The God-Men: Witness Lee and the Local Church based on Wallerstedt’s manuscript. SCP sought to promote its book through a consortium of campus evangelical and anti-cult ministries that had come together in November 1976 to discuss how to counteract the influence of certain groups on the college campuses, including the local churches. The local churches were soon confronted with a situation in which their members were subjected from everything from ostracism by friends and families to physical assault. The appeals to the SCP from members of the local churches were uniformly ignored.
In 1979 Schwengeler-Verlag published a revised, expanded edition of The God-Men: An Inquiry into Witness Lee & the Local Church by Neil Duddy and the SCP. This edition contained even more outrageous distortions and outright falsehoods than the first edition. The second edition was subsequently published in English in 1981 by InterVarsity Press. Representatives of the local churches sent IVP a 200 page rebuttal of the book’s distortions, but received no response in return. When all attempts at dialogue were rebuffed and after a thorough consideration of the alternatives and the Scriptural basis for an appeal to the courts, the church in Anaheim, joined by Witness Lee and William Freeman, filed a libel suit against Neil Duddy, Schwengeler-Verlag, and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project on December 8, 1980.
The litigation in The God-Men case took almost five years to find its way to the courtroom. In that time over 17,000 pages of testimony were taken. Extensive depositions were taken by both the plaintiffs and the defendants. Depositions taken by the Defendants included a ten-day deposition of Witness Lee. Depositions taken by the Plaintiffs included:
- Neil Duddy, the author;
- Brooks Alexander, the director of SCP; and
- James Sire, the president of InterVarsity Press.
The testimony of those involved in producing the book repeatedly demonstrated a lack of proper research and a practice of taking statements made by Witness Lee out of context and twisting them. As time permits we will post portions of those depositions and the document produced during the litigation to substantiate the claims made on this Web site.
Because the Spiritual Counterfeits Project represented themselves as experts in the field of new religious movements, the local churches asked a group of six highly qualified experts in a wide range of fields to evaluate the teachings and practices of the local churches. The testimony of these experts at the trial has been published in the book The Experts Speak. One of those experts, Dr. J. Gordon Melton, the director of The Institute for the Study of American Religion, was so distressed at how The God-Men had misrepresented the teachings of the local churches that he wrote and published An Open Letter Concerning the Local, Witness Lee and The God-Men Controversy.
On the day the trial was to begin, the SCP declared bankruptcy, stating that it could not afford to pay the anticipated judgment. Neil Duddy had moved to Denmark during the course of the litigation and neither he nor any representative Schwengeler-Verlag attended the trial. Although there were reasons to question the SCP’s bankruptcy claim (donations to the SCP were higher in the pre-trial months than at any time in their history), the plaintiffs opted not to do so because of the additional time and expense. Instead, they presented the evidence accumulated to date to the judge along with the testimony of the expert witnesses.
Judge Seyranian’s Statement of Decision, documented from the testimony of the experts and the deposition testimony of the defendants themselves, clearly demonstrated the defendants’ reckless disregard for and intentional, knowing distortion of the truth regarding the local churches. Judge Seyranian ruled that The God-Men was “in all major respects false, defamatory and unprivileged, and, therefore, libelous” and awarded $11,900,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. In his decision, Judge Seyranian stated, “The damage to the plaintiffs cannot be erased by this action, but the following awards of punitive damages will vindicate the plaintiffs and deter others similarly situated from issuing further deliberate untruths about the plaintiffs.” In fact, the plaintiffs only received about $34,000 from the SCP due to their bankruptcy filing. This was only a small fraction of the cost incurred for pursuing the litigation, but it did at least to a degree redeem the good name of the plaintiffs and opened the way for their service to the Lord to proceed.
In the aftermath of the trial, SCP criticized the judge’s findings on the grounds that the defendants had not had the opportunity to present their evidence in court. This was not true. Even if one were to accept the validity of the SCP’s bankruptcy claim, the incontrovertible fact is that there were two other defendants, neither of whom chose to appear in for the trial.
SCP also criticized the qualifications of the plaintiffs’ experts, in spite of the fact that they were generally considered among the most knowledgeable in their respective fields and far more qualified than anyone on the SCP staff. It is important to note that the SCP did not refute the findings of fact on which the judge’s decision was based, including the deposition testimony of the defendants themselves. The expert testimony simply framed what the defendants themselves had admitted-that the research on which the book was based was inadequate, that statements of Witness Lee were quoted out of context giving the wrong impression, etc. Also, SCP did not address the qualifications of experts such as Dr. Rodney Stark, co-developer of the Loughlin-Stark model, which The God-Men claimed to use as the basis for analyzing the “Local Church” approach to recruiting and conversion. Of Duddy’s treatment of this model, Dr. Stark testified, “If a student had ever given me that, a freshman, I’d have flunked him,” and, “He misses the entire point.” Nor, for example, did the SCP rebut the points made in Dr. Melton’s Open Letter, in which he clearly demonstrated how Duddy/SCP had, as he testified in the trial, taken “sentences from the middle of the paragraph out of context and made them appear to say things they were not talking about.”