60 Minutes interview with Diane Sawyer - May 31, 1987
DIANE SAWYER: While everybody is talking about the scandal surrounding Jim and Tammy Baker and the PTL ministry, there's another fundamentalist church also trying to fight off a sea of trouble. It's called The Bible Speaks. It claims a worldwide membership in the thousands. Its founder is Carl Stevens. But just last week, a federal judge accused Stevens of "clerical deceit, avarice and subjugation." We first told you about Stevens earlier this year, in a report that began with Stevens' warning those who dare to question God's man, meaning himself.
CARL STEVENS: Don't you say a sentence, not a sentence, not a line. Don't presume or you'll die.
BARBARA BROWN: He intimidates you from the pulpit. He says that if you leave The Bible Speaks and you speak anything about The Bible Speaks, meaning speaking anything negative about The Bible Speaks, you'll get cancer of the throat, cancer of the larynx, you will die.
SAWYER: And in another sermon on those who speak against The Bible Speaks.
Mr. STEVENS: I have no right to say they're not spiritual, but if they run down The Bible Speaks and tell lies, I have a right to say they're spiritual bastards. How do you like that one? [Laughter]
SAWYER [voice-over]: We can only show you photographs of Stevens, 1ike this one from his marriage to his second wife, and home movies, because he refused our request for an interview. When we tried to talk to some of his followers at the headquarters in Lenox, Massachusetts, they told us they were instructed not to talk to CBS. And the lawyer for The Bible Speaks told us we wouldn't be allowed on the grounds in Lenox, a serene campus where some people come to live and some to train as missionaries. Home of the Stevens School of the Bible and a church where Stevens preaches.
PAT MANCHESTER: He comes across so spontaneously that you think it's right from the throne of God.
BRUCE BROWN: Someone that sincerely wants to follow God, a man like Carl Stevens can suck 'em up in his tailwind so fast they can't see the - the danger for the dust. And by the time the dust settles, they're trapped, they've sold their home, they've changed their position, they've given up their job, they've done all these things, their children are in a school, all their friends are no longer from - from back home, they're here. And you're going to make them rip away from that? You're going to cut loose? I'll tell you, it is a frightening experience.
SAWYER [voice-over]: Bruce Brown and his wife Barbara and Pat Manchester are just three of the dozens of ex-members of The Bible Speaks with whom we talked. Many of them told us stories of intimidation and manipulation by Stevens. At one point, we showed up at a service off-campus to try to ask Stevens about the things his former followers were saying. He saw our cameras and raced into the auditorium. We weren't allowed to film the sermon, but we listened to it. When Stevens spoke, almost everyone took out a notebook and wrote down what he said.
JAMES BJORNSTAD: In the early days, be used to tell them, mark it down, mark it down. But today you still have that.
SAWYER: We saw that at a service. Everyone took out notebooks and started writing down -
Mr. BJORNSTAD: Yes.
SAWYER: That's because they think they're writing -
Mr. BJORNSTAD: Something that comes directly from heaven through Pastor Stevens.
SAWYER: James Bjornstad, the academic dean at Northeastern Bible College, who has been studying The Bible Speaks for years and believes that it operates much like a cult, gaining control of people because they believe what Stevens says comes from God, something, according to Bjornstad, Stevens encourages.
Mr. BJORNSTAD: First of all, you're taught that Stevens is the man of God, and you're told that this is a very unique organization blessed by God. God anoints all the messages of Pastor Stevens.
Mr. STEVENS: I was guaranteed that angels would come every time I preach, and that's the truth.
SAWYER: Stevens, who was once a bakery truck driver, uses the title "Dr. Stevens" and he's written to people that he graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Illinois. But after the Moody Institute said he is not a graduate, Stevens claimed his letters were a mistake.
Mr. BJORNSTAD: When I brought that up to Pastor Stevens, he dismissed those letters by saying it was a secretarial error.
SAWYER: As for those doctorates, Bjornstad says those are honorary degrees from an unaccredited school. Whatever the story on Stevens' credentials, several former followers said they were taught it's all right to lie for The Bible Speaks, and some said that wasn't the only surprise from Pastor Stevens.
Ms. MANCHESTER: He was very seductive in my life.
SAWYER: You're saying what, he made a pass at you?
Ms. MANCHESTER: Well, he's very affectionate. He hugs and kisses all the girls, and when he takes them in the office he doesn't limit his hugs and kisses, and I mean I don't know how far he goes with every woman, I guess every woman would have to say that to you personally. I'm not proud of it. I felt -
SAWYER: Pat Manchester and her husband were such strong believers in Stevens that they say they gave close to $35,000 to The Bible Speaks. Some of it came from the sale of their home. Bruce Brown says he almost sold his home and gave the money to The Bible Speaks because Stevens urged him to do so.
Mr. BROWN: He looked at me and he said, "Bruce, you still own your house up in Maine, don't you?" I says, yeah. He said, "How much do you think that's worth?" I said, "Well, it's not finished, $25,000." "Sell it" Just like that. "Sell it."
SAWYER: How much do you think he cared about the money?
Ms. MANCHESTER: I think the worship, the adoration, was more than anything. I really believe it's even more than the money. But I can't absolutely say that. I mean, I know money certainly played a big role, because he certainly knew how to get it. This couple that we knew said that right from the beginning Carl Stevens used to say to them all the time, "If only I can just find one millionaire."
SAWYER: And apparently he did.
How much did you give?
BETSY DAYTON DOVYDENAS: Oh, about $7 million.
SAWYER [voice-over]: Betsy Dayton Dovydenas, here with her husband Jonas, is one of the heirs to the Dayton department store fortune. She joined The Bible Speaks in 1982, and now she's suing to get her money back. She says she was manipulated through flattery and fear.
Ms. DOVYDENAS: I was told that God could trust me with so much money, because He knew that I wouldn't keep it, that I would give it to The Bible Speaks.
SAWYER: How could they do that? How could you not know what you were doing?
Ms. DOVYDENAS: I think that my desire to find a church made me vulnerable. I had no way of knowing that every little thing they were saying was a lie, was just lie after lie. And I think there is just no way to - to say strongly enough that they are so good at what they do.
SAWYER [voice-over]: The Bible Speaks says Betsy's donations were all voluntary and that she's been brainwashed against The Bible Speaks by her husband and her family. As proof that she gave of her own free will, they produced a letter, a letter in which Betsy said, "No one from the ministry has ever asked me to give a gift...I have never been pressured into giving money in any way."
Ms. DOVYDENAS: Stevens asked me to write that letter. And in fact he told me what to put in the letter. And the next day, Kathy Hill dictated that letter and I just wrote down what she told me to write.
$AWYER: So they dictated letters to you in which you said you weren't pressured.
Ms. DOVYDENAS: Yes.
SAWYER [voice-over]: Kathy Hill, a loyal follower of Stevens, became Betsy's closest friend.
[Interviewing] You think she was assigned to watch you?
Ms. DOVYDENAS: Yes. More than just to watch, to influence me.
SAWYER: And report back to him?
Ms. DOVYDENAS: Yes. Mm-hmm.
SAWYER: You believe they tried to break up your marriage?
Ms. DOVYDENAS: Absolutely.
SAWYER: They come close?
JONAS DOVYDENAS: They came very close. [Betsy laughing]
SAWYER: Jonas Dovydenas objected to his wife's increasing involvement with The Bible Speaks. He says Carl Stevens, in a letter, tried to buy him off in the hope that he would stop interfering. "Please don't repeat to her," meaning Betsy, "this next suggestion which I gave to her two weeks ago. I suggested that she give you $1 million to invest in any way you saw fit with her hands off."
Mr. DOVYDENAS: I look it as a kind of payoff. "Well, you know, I've got a million. You - you can have a million too. I'll talk to Betsy about it."
SAWYER: By December 1985, Betsy's last month in The Bible Speaks, she says her fortune was managed by the same lawyer, accountant and financial advisor who worked for The Bible Speaks. She even wrote a new will, leaving most of her remaining estate to The Bible Speaks, with Kathy Hill as executor. And since the law required that some money go to Jonas, Carl Stevens was put in charge of that money in the new will.
Ms. DOVYDENAS: It was dictated by Kathy Hill, and even some of the ideas were made by the Bible Speaks' lawyer.
SAWYER: What about your children? Did you leave anything to your children?
Ms. DOVYDENAS: They were totally left out
SAWYER: Betsy says she might never have left The Bible Speaks without the help of her family. And what would Carl Stevens say about all these allegations and his critics? He might dismiss them as he has in the past.
Mr. STEVENS: They're trying to divide us from each other, but they're not going to do it as long as I'm pastor, because I know how to handle them, because I'm God's man.
SAWYER: Well, Stevens may say he's God's man but the judge who heard the case of Betsy Dovydenas certainly thought otherwise. He ordered the church to return nearly all of Betsy's $7-million donation, saying that Stevens "abused the trust of Betsy as well as the trust of many good and devout members of the church."