'The Speaks: problems of power, dissent'
This is the first of a three-part series.
By Daniel T. Keating
The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Monday, Nov. 4, 1985 44 pages - 30c
Lenox – Numerous religious organizations shun The Bible Speaks, and many former members criticize the church on grounds that excessive devotion to its leader causes abuses.
The Bible Speak’ attitude toward founder and President Carl Henry Stevens Jr. led to a deep split in the fundamentalist, evangelical church in the early 1980s. Former members interviewed in a six-month investigation by The Eagle cited alleged instances of financial explotation, division of families and use of fear to manipulate members.
People familiar with The Bible Speaks emphasize the group is not a cult, but repeatedly point to what they view as “cultic characteristics.”
Even critics note, however, that organization is filled with earnest Christians with an unusual dedication to service. Former leaders and members say they do not want to harm the ministry with their crit¬icisms, but maintain that some as¬pects of the church hurt people.
The Bible Speaks, which has its headquarters on the 86-acre Kemble Street campus, responds that the criticisms against it come from a conspiracy of exmembers with grudges against the ministry, and from Christian researchers deceived by the former members. Any church that exceeds the traditional norms it its dedication and service to God will have critics, The Bible Speaks contends.
The Bible Speaks adheres to the standards in the Bible, says John E. Leotard, president of the Stevens School of the Bible at The Bible Speaks. "We get criticized by a non-spiritual world that doesn't understand the rules of the game," he complains.
After learning in March that the church had beet rocked by dissension, The Eagle interviewed more that 100 people, including more that 60 former members and leaders of The Bible Speaks. Their statements about The Bible Speaks include allegations of:
• Teaching that the words of Stevens have a special anointing from God, and that God punishes people who question or speak out against the church, sometimes with cancer or violent death;
• Dividing families by teaching members not to discuss the church with outsiders who may be "satani¬cally deceived." That teaching is part of a general doctrine against listening to criticism of the church;
• Requiring unusual dedication to The Bible Speaks and to Pastor Stevens, including incidents of having members take tape-recorded vows never to speak against the ministry or Stevens;
• Encouraging and soliciting fami¬lies to sell their homes and donate all proceeds to the church under the assumption - which proved false - that they could live rent-free on campus;
• Eavesdropping on members' phone conversations and taping some of them without permission;
• Obtaining honorary academic degrees for Stevens and other church leaders from unlicensed ins¬titutions;
• Receiving accreditation for the Stevens School of the Bible. from an organization that is not recognized by private or public bodies of higher education.
It the early 1980s, The Bible Speaks was split by a dispute that resulted it the departure of a large number of its members and leaders, including Steven's oldest son.
The focus of the dispute was "delegated authority." As preached in The Bible Speaks, critics say, that is the authority God gave to leaders like Moses, and, by associ¬ation, Stevens. As practiced at The Bible Speaks, the delegated author¬ity puts Stevens it the place of God, placing him beyond criticism or reproach, they say.
Stevens stood firm on the issue it the face of internal and external pressure for change, and members supporting change dropped out. How many left is unknown, but the town street list shows that the number of people age 17 and over living on campus dropped from 370 in 1978 to 280 in 1982. And enrollment it the college, which had hit 450 it 1979, declined to about 175 in 1982.
The Bible Speaks, however, began a new period of growth after the defection. Enrollment at the college was 626 tgus fall, climbing toward a stated goal of 1,000.
The most striking departure was that of Stevens’s son, Bruce, who left in 1982. He was vice president of the organization and held the title of president briefly. In an intereview theth The Eagele, Bruce Stevens said he had been “groomed” to take over the business aspect of the ministry.
Bruce Stevens said he left because he could not condone the way people were being treated or the way The Bible Speaks was being operated. It ran counter to what he had been raised to expect, he said.
Half faculty left
Another striking exodus was the departure of six of the college's 11 faculty members on Dec. 4, 1981. Among them were President H. Eugene Hollick and Allen Bonner, dean of students. At the time, Hollick said they were leaving solely because they had decided to start a new kind of Bible school.
Hollick recently told The Eagle, however, that he and the other teachers left largely because they refused to teach the delegated au¬thority doctrine as championed by Carl Stevens.
Besides the faculty members, oth¬ers who quit during those years included four public relations men, the attorney, the assistant to the president, fund-raisers, the business manager, the head of the print shop, the purchasing agent, the security chief, pastors and other administrators. Many had been with the ministry since its start in the early 1970s in Maine.
Because people who have left are seen as threats, ex-Bible Speaks members say, they are often deni¬grated by the church in order to camouflage complaints.
Bruce Stevens said The Bible Speaks has given false reasons for his departure. He said he heard that his father told a group of clergy in Maine and others that Bruce left because of an impending breakdown. Other former members confirmed hearing that explanation.
He said he told his father and brothers that he left because of dissatisfaction with the ministry. The story they are telling, he said, is "an out-and-out lie."
`Our enemy now'
Bruce Stevens also said that when his father received Pastor Ron Kelly's resignation, "He barged in 'and said, `They've got hold of him now. He's deceived. He's our enemy now.'
"You're supposed to believe he's an enemy of God because he's an enemy of The Bible Speaks," Bruce Stevens added.
Members of The Bible Speaks who have stayed characterize the events of the early 1980s very differently.
Leonard, president of Stevens School, said the ex-members had conspired to oust Carl Stevens and take control of the church. Failing that, Leonard said, the dissidents have tried to destroy The Bible Speaks.
The Bible Speaks has refused re¬peated requests by The Eagle for an interview with Carl Stevens.
Leonard said that when the dis¬senters left, unity returned to the campus. The church has grown and gained momentum since the split, he said.
The title of a 1984 pamphlet pub¬lished by The Bible Speaks - "A Local Church Conspiracy: A Masterpiece of Satan” – makes clear The Bible Speaks’ position on the split in the church.
The catalyst of the division was a series of reports on The Bible Speaks by the Christian Research Institute of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Headed by Walter Martin, au¬thor of "The Kingdom of the Cults," the institute is known for its work on cults The National Association of Evangelicals in Wheaton, Ill., and a number of other religious
organization contacted by The Eagle call the institute a reputable organiza¬tion.
After receiving complaints about The Bible Speaks, the institute con¬ducted an extensive theological study of the church from 1979 to 1983 to examine its position within the Christian community.
Bible Speaks cooperated
When Carl Stevens and other church administrators learned of the investigation, they invited the institute to work with the church.
In its reports, the Christian Re¬search Institute says that the church's teachings on delegated au¬thority foster an unquestioning atti¬tude toward Stevens, a belief among members that The Bible Speaks is on a higher religious plane than other churches, a fear of leaving The Bible Speaks and an unwillingness to listen to any criticism of the group. Ex-members interviewed by The Eagle agreed with those findings.
In an 85-page response published last year, The Bible Speaks says the institute's report "is filled with bitterness, resentment and slanderous motives." Written by Leonard, Ste¬vens and church elder Richard Coby, the response says many of those quoted by the Christian Research Institute were drug addicts, drug pushers, immoral, maritally unfaithful and "unsaved."
The Bible Speaks denies that Stevens is exalted. Instead, the church maintains it holds an orthodox position on delegated authority. As proof, it offers positions outlined in two earlier publications, "The Bible Speaks Goes on Record" and "An Apologetic on The Bible Speaks' Position on Pastoral Authority."
But the authors of both those texts have since left The Bible Speaks. Robert F. Olivadoti and Stephen J. Quinlan, two of the three authors of "The Bible Speaks Goes on Record," told The Eagle that one reason they left was the ministry, and Carl Stevens in particular, were not following the biblical principles set forth in their booklet. Charles E. Carter, the third author, could not be reached, but has said the same thing in a report he wrote.
One of the authors of the other book, Mario Maston, was quoted in the Christian Research Institute report. He said, "I reject the asser¬tion . . . that both the teaching and implementation of ecclesiastical au¬thority at The Bible Speaks . . . is orthodox."
Task Force '84
As part of its response, The Bible Speaks cites the good it does through its religious and community programs. Included in the list is Task Force ‘84m a political awareness organization that started showing its power on local issues last year. But Lilliane C. Schmidt of Lee, founder and head of the group ardently denies that her organization was created by, or is associated with The Bible Speaks.
Many of the former leaders of The Bible Speaks say they left when they realized the church was not genuinely interested in correcting what they saw as problems. One of those leaders is Bruce Stevens.
He said he attended a meeting with his father and Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute. He said Carl Stevens told Martin that the research organization's recom¬mendations had been adopted. After Martin left, Bruce Stevens said, his father commented, "Who does he think he is, telling us how to run this place?"
Reports from Martin's organiza¬tion and other groups, as well as firsthand experience, have led to a cold reception for The Bible Speaks in the religious community. Eight evangelical organizations or major religious spokesmen contacted by The Eagle said they do not associ¬ate with The Bible Speaks.
The exception to that pattern, cited by The Bible Speaks, was the ministry's membership in the Na¬tional Religious Broadcasters. The Bible Speaks also works with mis¬sionary organizations, particularly in the Caribbean.
The Bible Speaks applied for membership in the National Association of Evangelicals in 1979 but was turned down. Maryann Petlon of the field services department told The Eagle that The Bible Speaks was "not classified as a cult, but it was certainly cultic."
And J. Christy Wilson, who teaches a course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton that includes an examination of modern cults, told The Eagle he considers The Bible Speaks "a real Christian organization with cultic characteristics."
Graham group critical
The Billy Graham Telephone Counseling Center that was based in Watertown in 1982 turned down members of The Bible Speaks who wanted to be counselors. The Rev. Bruce C. Stutzman of Wellesley, a member of the center's executive committee, sent the applicants a let¬ter with five reasons why the Billy Graham group did not want to asso¬ciate with The Bible Speaks:
• Exaltation of Stevens;
• Prophecies of divine retribution against people;
• Teachings that only people in The Bible Speaks are "saved," or born again in Christ;
• Lack of truthfulness in fund raising (citing an example of collecting money to pay for a radio broad¬cast on Trans World Radio when that company had already refused the request for Bible Speaks to air the show);
• Stevens's use of "The Lord told me . . . " during sermons.
The third oldest Bible college in the country, Berkshire Christian College, is located, across the street from The Bible Speaks campus. But the older college has no official rela¬tionship with its neighbor.
President Lloyd Richardson of Berkshire Christian refused to discuss the reasons for the detachment, saying they are historical, but added that his school did not want to suggest credibility for The Bible Speaks by associating with it.
Tomorrow: From liquid waves of love to divine retribution.
Pastor Stevens: words of obedience, retribution
The Berkshire Eagle
November 5, 1985
This is the second in a three-part series by Daniel T. Keating
LENOX - "In the early 1960s when Pastor Stevens was preaching to a couple of very small congregations, God called him one day to the back of the woods near a lake. Then the Lord Jesus baptized him with what Pastor describes as liquid waves of love. Along with this experience, God promised him several things. First and foremost, God promised an anointing upon every message he would preach from then on."
So reads a passage in "The Bible Speaks Book of Miracles" describing The Bible Speaks founder and President Carl H. Stevens Jr.
The. Bible Speaks removed the book and other early publications from its bookshelves in 1978 and 1982 after external criticism. But former heads of the ministry and other ex-members say the practice of exalting Stevens has persisted within the church. The Bible Speaks simply became more savvy about its public pronouncements after receiving the criticism in the early 1980s, said Robert F. Olivadoti, a one-time public relations man.
Numerous Bible Speaks pastors and members interviewed by The Eagle denied that the church is authoritarian or that undue power is given to Stevens. Pastor John E. Leonard, president of the Stevens School of the Bible, and other pastors said that authority in the ministry is in accord with the Bible.
The Christian Research Institute of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., asserts in a 1983 report that exaltation of Stevens led to "comments reflective of an attitude much more reminiscent of cultism than evangelical Christianity."
In a taped sermon from June 1976 called "What It Means to Be Baptized Unto a Man," Stevens outlines how people should be faithful to their leader:
”Obey his teachings, submit to his love, protect and honor his ministry, co-labor with his purpose without question, without pretense, without hesitation, without giving him a hard time" - Stevens's voice rises as he goes on - "without putting him off again and again in procrastination and disobedience, and subtle rebellion."
Later in the tape, 'Stevens says the believer "must be baptized unto a man of God, be true to him, honor him with double honor, submit to him, never criticize him, being willing to die with him."
The Bible Speaks has said the publications that are no longer distributed are correct, but could be misinterpreted by readers not familiar with the Bible. It has also said that the criticisms church come from disgruntled members who have grudges against the church.
Stevens, 55, is a dynamic speaker who is admired by his followers and critics alike for his long world and tireless travel. He preaches for about an hour at both the morning and evening services in Lenox each Sunday, about an hour Wednesday night. He also has daily "rap sessions ' attended by people on campus, and taped for those who are not there in person. Stevens teaches a class at the Stevens School of the Bible three days a week.
He travels constantly to Eastern Massachusetts, Maine and other branch ministries around the country and the world. He cites the Bible fluently and uses humor and dramatic turns of voice throughout his sermons.
Ex-members say teachings like those in “What It Means to be Baptized Unto a Man” force people into a position of submission that can be traumatic. One says he was caught in a devastating conflict when he was unable to reconcile his doubts about some of Stevens's teachings with his belief That Stevens's words were anointed by God. The man told The Eagle it had been a factor in his mental breakdown.
Stephen J. Quinlan of Princeton, N.J., one of the pastors who left The Bible Speaks, said the turmoil "characterizes the attitude of a lot of people." A Stevens School of the Bible graduate and faculty member and later assistant to Stevens, Quinlan left in 1981 after Stevens refused to repudiate his earlier teachings about delegated authority. Quinlan is now studying at the Princeton Theological Seminary.
Ex-members, including Carl Stevens's son, Bruce, who now operates a coffee shop in North Windham, Maine, say the church has pressed people never to speak against Stevens or The Bible Speaks. In one such incident, church members were lined up before five tape recorders in the back of the chapel at the New Year's Day service in 1977. They were told to vow before God never to go against Stevens or his ministry.
Leonard, president of the Stevens School of the Bible, said the move was intended "to make people take a stand."
Bringing him back
Jack Daley, a former church member who lived next to Stevens in Lenox for two years and considered himself a close friend, said Stevens once sent him to Maine to bring back a pastor who had been in trouble there.
Daley was accompanied by Lee weightlifter Lou Callenbach. When the pastor, Kenneth LaRose, refused to return to see Stevens, Daley said, Callenbach told LaRose, "You can go to Lenox in one of two ways: conscious or unconscious." After further threats, Daley said, LaRose accompanied them to see Stevens. Callenbach, a resident of South Lee, does not have a phone listing and could not be reached by The Eagle.
Fear of retribution
One of the most powerful controlling techniques of The Bible Speaks, according to ex-members and the Christian Research Institute study, is the teaching that those who oppose Stevens or his church will suffer God’s wrath. Former members say it leads to the biggest problem: a sense of fear among church members who question the church’s teachings.
Daly told The Eagle that he believed God would punish him when he left The Bible Speaks to return to Maine.
"I had the fear," Daley said in an interview at his home in Waterboro, Maine.
After worrying continuously, he said, he pulled his car off the road one day and sought a sign of whether divine retribution was coming.
"Finally, I asked God to take me if he was going to. I really stood there waiting for God to get me. I thought God would strike me because I had heard Carl (Stevens) tell so many stories."
Historically, The Bible Speaks is not the first church to be accused of using fear of divine retribution as a mechanism of control.
Former members of The Bible Speaks say that in private conversations or rap sessions with Stevens they often heard about divine retribution directed at people who opposed Bible Speaks. They say Stevens would mention off-handedly that a former pastor who left the church had been divorced, injured or otherwise struck by tragedy.
Often repeated is a story of a man who spoke against The Bible Speaks in Maine. Soon afterward, his tractor fell on his son, killing him. Another story is of a man who criticized the church contracted cancer of the tongue. People who confirmed hearing stories of this type included Daley, Michael W. Tierney of Attleboro; Frank and Patricia Manchester of Johnson, Vt.; Ed Mosher of Keene, N.H.; Pastor Ron Kelly of Brunswick, Maine; Pastor Bill Fisher of Hampton, N.H., and Clifton "Kip" Yataw of Port Clyde, Maine.
But Sandra Ferrin of North Adams, who contacted The Eagle, denied having heard such stories. A five-year member of the church who left three years ago because she was moving out of the area, she said, "I was not frightened with going to hell or whatever" when she left The Bible Speaks.
Stevens School of the Bible students interviewed recently by The Eagle talked of divine retribution.
Discussing bow God has blessed the ministry, one student, Gary Hobson of Pittsfield, said the church's critics have been silenced "supernaturally," eliminating the need for The Bible Speaks to fight back. He said some of the critics had repented, but for the others, "their sins found them out." He said they had heart attacks, strokes and divorces and suffered family, drinking and legal problems. "That's unfortunate," be added.
Hobson said the punishment of people who spoke out would not stifle discussion because avenues of criticism are still available. He said a person can approach the pastor with the proper humble attitude. Asked what to do if that fails, he responded, "You pray for them and keep your mouth shut."
Critics say church members are also taught not to listen to "an evil report.
Like numerous other students, Hobson said the Christian Research report had been "completely exposed as invalid, unprofessional and unbiblical," and that "God dealt directly with them."
He said be had never read the report and "didn't want to for one second."
While students talked about some aspects of the ministry, they virtually refused to talk about Stevens. When asked about Stevens, students repeatedly told The Eagle, "We don't follow a man. We follow Jesus Christ."
Some hesitancy to speak with a reporter may have stemmed from a sermon by Stevens on Sunday, Sept. 15, two days after ministry officials were first interviewed by The Eagle.
Stevens cited the slaying of Amasa in the Second Book of Samuel in the Old Testament as the "capital punishment principle" for people who oppose the church. Interspersed with his discussion of the biblical story, he spoke of past assaults against his church and said another was brewing. He said the church’s enemies had gathered and added that reporters had joined them.
Tomorrow: After selling their homes and giving the money to The Bible Speaks, some members of the church had second thoughts.
Ex-pastor denies story of threat but Daley stands by his account
(Side-story I from The Berkshire Eagle next day about the Kenneth LaRose incident)
A former Bible Speaks pastor has denied that he was threatened by a representative of Bible Speaks President Carl H. Stevens Jr., as was alleged in an article in yesterday's Eagle.
Kenneth LaRose of Topsham, Maine, called The Eagle and said weightlifter Lou Callenbach of Lee had not intimidated him. LaRose acknowledged that Callenbach and Jack Daley of Waterboro, Maine, were sent by Stevens to bring LaRose to speak with him because of problems in LaRose's branch ministry in Goodwins Mills, Maine.
Yesterday's Eagle included a story related by Daley that Callenbach had threatened LaRose with physical force to coerce him to meet Stevens. The Eagle had been unable to locate LaRose before he called.
LaRose said he is no longer in the church, but remains a friend of Stevens.
Contacted yesterday by The Eagle, Daley maintained that his account is truth. He offered to take a polygraph test to prove the veracity of his statements.
(Here are three more side stories printed in The Berkshire Eagle the same day)
Tales of loss and separation
Side Story II
A Berkshire Eagle side-story article. There is a note at the bottom about this article.
LENOX - "Our biggest loss wasn't the thousands of dollars," the father said. "It was our daughter."
A former member of The Bible Speaks, the man asked not to be identified by name because be and his wife are trying to open lines of communication with their daughter.
The family, he said, had sold its home and given the money to the ministry after moving to Lenox. While the couple claim they had been unfairly pressured to give the money, their only regret now is the wall between them and their daughter, they said.
Twelve families contacted by The Eagle said they had children, parents, sisters or brothers with whom they have lost contact because they are members of The Bible Speaks. Numerous others said they have been cut off from dear friends. Many of the people declined to be identified in print, saying publication of their names would worsen already difficult communication with friends and relatives.
But all agreed that their relation with friends and family members in the ministry have suffered because The Bible Speaks teaches members not to listen to "an evil report." An evil report, said the former members, is anything that could lead members to reconsider their position in the ministry.
Pastor Jack E. Leonard, president of the Stevens School of the Bible, said it is unfair to suggest that The Bible Speaks causes breakups of families. In fact, the church encourages people to remain in contact with their families, he said.
An Eastern Massachusetts couple, Thomas and Mary Ford, which are not their real names, joined the Wilmington branch ministry of The Bible Speaks in the mid-1970s. They left in June 1983, Mary Ford said, because of what they view as fear and manipulation in the church.
Fords let their two daughters and son decide for themselves whether they would stay. Within a year, their son and older daughter had left The Bible Speaks, but the younger daughter remained.
The daughter, now age 20, returned home in December 1983, with her fiancé, seeking permission to be married. The Fords urged them to wait. But they beard through the grapevine a little while later that their daughter was engaged and a wedding date was set. They said she told them the marriage was approved by Pastor John Palmer of Wilmington and The Bible Speaks founder and President Carl H. Stevens Jr.,
'Authority over her soul'
On June 17, 1984, the Fords were talking with their daughter on the telephone when her fiancé took the receiver. Mary Ford said he told her: "I am taking authority over her soul," referring to their daughter. Mary Ford asked him what he said and he repeated it twice, she said. She said he also told them that their daughter was not visiting their home anymore, on his recommendation.
The daughter was married on Aug. 11, 1984, without the Fords' consent or attendance.
"We were robbed of being her parents," said Thomas Ford, a former elder in the church. He said they felt their daughter was rushed into the marriage to keep her in the church.
While the Fords communicate with their daughter, they maintain that The Bible Speaks is still a block between them.
Contacted at a branch ministry outside Massachusetts, the daughter and her husband declined comment, saying no printed article could do justice to the situation involving their marriage. While the parents were willing to be identified in print, their names were changed at the request of their daughter and son-in-law, who strenuously objected to being identified.
Michael Lyon of Cherry Valley, N.Y., a former member of The Bible Speaks, said his marriage was arranged. While at The Bible Speaks church in South Berwick, Maine, Lyon received a suggestion from Pastor Bruce Brown that he get together with JulieMay Thérrien.
Lyon turned down the suggestion, he said, because he was interested in another woman. Six months later, Brown suggested the pairing again. Meanwhile, the pastor's wife was suggesting it to Therrién. They were married six months after that.
Further note on "Fords"
On 5/5/86, the Fords received a letter from their daughter's husband stating that he had
taken over control of his wife and her parents were no longer allowed to have contact with he because they were evil. Both the husband and their daughter signed the letter.
Stevens and his Bible school lack real academic credentials
Side Story III
By Daniel T. Keating
LENOX - When The Bible Speaks first moved to Lenox in 1976, founder and President Carl H. Stevens Jr. was listed repeatedly in newspaper articles as having graduated from or studied at the prestigious Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Administrators of The Bible Speaks recently told The Eagle that Stevens took courses through the correspondence portion of the school from 1962 to 1965, and showed Moody Bible books that they said belonged to the pastor.
No record at Moody
But Barbara Ayvaz in the registrar's office of the correspondence portion of the college said there was no record of Stevens ever completing a course. He may have bought some books, she said, but he never sent in the work to earn credit for having taken a class.
Bible Speaks literature says Stevens holds a doctorate of divinity and a doctorate of laws and letters, both from the Clarksville (Tenn.) School of Theology. Stevens uses the title, "Dr." Both degrees were honorary, but the publications do not mention that.
The Clarksville School of Theology was never a licensed school in that state, and was shut down after a court battle, according to George M. Roberts, assistant to the director of licensure for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
John E. Leonard, president of the Stevens School of the Bible, said Stevens received the first honorary degree in 1976 and the second in 1977. Daniel E. Lewis, dean of foreign students and former dean of students at the Stevens School of the Bible, also received an honorary degree from the school in 1977.
Bible Speaks officials maintained that Stevens's degrees are legitimate honors. Leonard said the ministry would not stop using the degree credentials "because this is America, where everybody knows you can buy a degree from Florida or California today. Why should we let [people] tell us what we can do?"
Leonard said the church paid $160 apiece for the degrees. Leonard earned a bachelor's degree in 1970 from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and graduated from that college's prestigious two-year medical college in 1975.
Bible Speaks literature says Stevens's son-in-law, Bible Speaks public relations director Shaun J. Redgate, holds a doctorate of theology from the International Bible Institute & Seminary in Orlando, Fla. Allen Ezell, special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina, who specializes in tracking down degree mills and false accrediting agencies, said the requirement for a doctorate degree from that institution is writing three papers and paying about $400. Ezell added that students received a 10 percent discount for cash in advance.
Redgate no longer uses the title "Dr." or makes reference to his degree, he told The Eagle. It is not included in The Bible Speaks literature now being printed, he said. Redgate characterized getting the degree as an unwise thing that he did a few years ago.
The Stevens School of the Bible is accredited by an unrecognized entity. Under the leadership of former President H. Eugene Hollick, the college applied in 1981 for accreditation under the nationally recognized American Association of Bible Colleges. A site visit was performed by Executive Director John Moster in June 1981, and The Bible Speaks was turned down on Oct. 26, 1981. The American Association of Bible Colleges never heard from The Stevens School of the Bible again, according to staff member Cheryl Matson.
But the college received accreditation in December 1983 from the International Accrediting Commission for Schools, Colleges and Theological Seminaries, which was then based in Bellwood, Ill. The group, now based in Holden, Mo., is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the national Council on Post-Secondary Accreditation.
Doesn't fit patterns
Berkshire Christian College President Lloyd Richardson said that accrediting group is "not reputable" and added, "no institution with stature would recognize that body."
Leonard said he knew the accrediting body was not recognized. He said, however, that the college does not fit into typical accrediting patterns, so, "we went and found the best thing we could find."
"We have a lot of young students who come here and the parents say, `Are you accredited?' and they're not even sure what that means," Leonard said. "They've just heard a school should be accredited if you're going to send your daughter or son there."
He said the accreditation, which took place after a one-day review that he said was not very intensive, was an accommodation to people.
The Stevens School of the Bible, which has three-year, four-year and continuing education programs, does not have degree-granting authority.
That means students who graduate from the college, which has an enrollment of 626, receive a diploma, but not a degree.
The Bible Speaks applied to the state for degree-granting power but was turned down two years ago. Another site visit is scheduled for later this month.
Group forms to spread word against Bible Speaks
Side Story IV
Some of the former members of The Bible Speaks have merged to create a support group and to disseminate information about the church.
Called 12. Inc., the group first met on Aug. 4, 1984, after 1 1/2 years of advance work by its founder and first president, John Rees of Gloucester.
A member of The Bible Speaks from January 1979 to May 1983, Rees said his purpose is to research, document and bring to light what he considers the abuses in the church. 12 Inc.'s address is Box 1704 in Gloucester.
Rees's group has not met with universal support of former Bible Speaks members. Some former members called the members of 12 Inc. vindictive, saying they are still obsessed with Bible Speaks President Carl H. Stevens Jr.
Many of the former leaders of The Bible Speaks took a more benevolent attitude toward the ministry than 12 Inc. does. Some of them said they regretted some of the things they did in the church, but feel they outgrew it. They said they were now eager to put The Bible Speaks behind them and get on with their lives.
Converts sold their houses for The Bible Speaks
This is the last of a three part series.
By Daniel T. Keating
The Berkshire Eagle
November 6, 1985
LENOX - Big gifts have fueled the growth of The Bible Speaks. Many of them came from people selling their homes and handing over almost" everything to the church.
The Eagle in the course of a six month investigation has interviewed 12 families who did exactly that, giving from $15,000 to more than $40,000 each during the mid- to late 1970s. All but one of that group have since left The Bible Speaks, and some believe the financial dealings were improper.
One man, Clifton "Kip" Yataw of Port Clyde, Maine, sold his 40-acre farm in 1976 and after paying off the mortgage gave the remaining $15,000 to The Bible Speaks. Yataw moved with his wife and three children to the 86 acre campus on Kemble Street that became the ministry's headquarters in 1976.
Although he had neither sought nor received any guarantees that he would not have to pay rent in Lenox, he said he was surprised when, shortly after settling, he was asked to pay $120 per week for one crowded room.
"When you come in contact with someone Christian, you trust them; don't ask for contracts," said Yataw.
Frank and Pat Manchester of Johnson, Vt., sold their home and gave $20,000 to The Bible Speaks in 1977. They said they had heard a sermon by founder and President Carl H. Stevens Jr. on Thanksgiving 1975 in Framingham. On the basis of what they heard, the couple believed they would not have to pay rent to live on The Bible Speaks campus. The sermon, entitled "The Heavenly Vision God Has Given Us," said older people could live on campus for the rest of their lives after selling their homes, the Manchesters said.
Pat Manchester said Stevens offered her family an apartment while they were visiting the campus in June 1976. He later called them in Rhode Island, according to Frank Manchester. During that conversation, he inferred from Stevens that they would be able to live on campus without paying rent after they gave the money from the sale of their house. They did not ask for a contract.
They moved to the campus in 1977 and were asked to began paying rent 1 1/2 years later, they said. They left The Bible Speaks in 1980.
Those stories are typical of those presented to The Eagle. Sentiments ranged from complete acceptance saying the money was given for God so they do not regret it – to bitterness. Generally, people who have had financial trouble since leaving The Bible Speaks regret their gifts more.
Some who had given the proceeds from selling their homes in that period received part of their money back this year from The Bible Speaks.
A former fund-raiser for The Bible Speaks said the problems suffered by the Manchesters and other families were caused by poor planning on the church's part, not malicious intent.
When the church was preparing to move to Lenox in 1976, he said, it raised some $300,000 mainly through large gifts, to help buy the former Lenox School for Boys. It took out a mortgage loan of about $1 million.
People who gave large gifts were promised free room and board on campus for 10 years, he said. But the church had underestimated its expenses, he said, and the tremendous heating oil bills the first winter put the ministry in financial torouble. As a result, it was decided that free rent was out of the question, and it began charging.
Since The Bible Speaks had required donors to sign notes saying that the large payments were gifts, disenchantd donors could not enforce any agreement made or implied concerning room and board.
The former fund-raiser said subsequent promises were usually kept. But, he added, the church did sometimes try to move people out of apartments on campus if other people were interested in moving in and had money to donate. He said the people occupying the apartments - who had already given large sums - would be encouraged to join a missionary team or a branch ministry away from Lenox to make room for the new donors.
In response, The Bible Speaks stresses the willingness with which the money was given.
"It is all voluntary," said Pastor John E. Leonard, head of the Stevens School of The Bible at The Bible Speaks. "That's the hardest thing for the world to understand."
Leonard's comment came during a March interview with The Eagle about the college. Requests for an Interview with Stevens connection with this series of articles were not granted.
"People hear stories of people who've sold their homes and given the money to The Bible Speaks," Leonard said. "It's all totally voluntary, but they assume people wouldn't do that unless they were coerced or hypnotized. But they did it in the Bible, I don't know why they wouldn't do It now."
When interviewed recently about these donations, he said The Bible Speaks no longer accepts such gifts.
Not standard practice
That type of gift-giving is uncommon. In 13 years as an executive in Christian ministries, the Rev. Edward J. Hales of Portland, Maine, said he has never seen the practice of giving homes in other evangelical groups.
Hales is a board member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a 5-year-old group designed to promote fairness and openness in the financial dealings of tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. Based In Washington, D.C., it has more than 300 members across the country.
A member on the council's standards committee, he said the topic of people regularly selling their houses to contribute to a church has never come before the committee. Although he could not speak for the board, he said he personally does not believe it is economically or spiritually correct to accept a gift of essentially everything someone owns. It creates "room for exploitation," he said, "potential for abuse."
Two years ago, The Bible Speaks operated on a budget of $2.2 million. Its financial statement for the year ending July 31, 1984 - the only year for which such a statement is availabide - lists $594,834 in gifts to the ministry over and above the $350,497 received in church offerings. It also raises funds through tuition, room and board, and sales in the bookstore and cafeteria.
In addition, the ministry received some very large gifts this spring. In March, The Bible Speaks still owed about $500,000 on Its mortgage of just under $1 million. That mortgage was paid off and burned June 29.
Leonard recently said the ministry received a gift to cover that amount and other gifts to assist with . $650,000 building program now under way. He declined to reveal the source of the contributions.
Another sign that The Bible Speaks received a lot of funds this spring was the return of money to some of those who had sold their houses for the church. Most of them had been named in the Christian Research Institute's report as having been exploited for their money. The former members did not receive the full amount of their gift, but those interviewed said they were pleased to get anything back.
Other families that were not repaid, however, say they would like to see their money again.
Kenneth and Nonie Goodwin of Rialto, Calif., gave $38,000 toward the purchase of 36 acres In Lake Elsinore, Calif., where a branch ministry was founded hen 1978. The property was never purchased, and the down payment was forfeited by The Bible Speaks. Kenneth Goodwin said they met in March 1979 with Pastor Ed Mosher, who assured them that Stevens had said they would get their money back.
"It Stevens still wants to keep good on his word and pay us back the $38,000, we're not that hard to find," said Goodwin in a telephone interview.
A widow's gifts
Jeannie Monahan, a widow from Brockton, told The Eagle that she gave gifts of $10,000, $25,000 an $5,000, which included money from the sale of her home and property and the proceeds of her husband's life insurance policy. She said she gave additional money in regular offerings but could not estimate how much.
Monahan's daughter, however suggests her mother's contribution were even larger. She estimate that after her father's death, her mother had some $80,000. She moved to Lenox, where she said she was promised she would be take care of permanently. When she left The Bible Speaks and returned to Brockton four years later in 1998 she had no money.
"It ruined my mother's life," said the daughter, also named Jeannie Monahan, "and it greatly impacted my sister's and my life. I defy my mother to say it didn't."
The 56-year-old widow was less concerned about the financial dealings than her daughter. "The money isn't important to me. The people are important to me," she said.
Although she said she did not regret her gifts, Monahan said she felt pressured to give.
"I was a babe in the woods," she commented.
Monahan was one of the exmembers to get money back this spring She received $20,000, delivered by two of Stevens's sons, Paul and Carl, and his son-hen-law, Shaun J.Redgate.
The Bible Speaks called in Coopers & Lybrand, one of the nation’s eight largest accounting firms, to audit its books in 1981. But the firm left with the job incomplete because much of the ministry’s income was in cash, which is difficult to document, according to past and presetn Bible Speaks administrators.
Thomas Foley of Pinatore & Burkhart, the accounting firm that is now auditing the books., said the church has imporved its documentation of its cash transactions. The West Springfield firm did not validate the books for the year ending July 31, 1984, but Foley said the statement for the latest fiscal year should be verifiable.
Converts ‘at any cost’
Some exmembers interviewed for thse articles amintain that the zeal within the church and the lack of accountability lead to a belief, as one former fund-raiser put it, that “anything for the ministry is OK.” The man, who asked not to be indentified, saying he was harassed after bein quoted in a report critical of The Bible Speaks, said the idea was “to win people to Jesus Christ at any cost.”
The former fund-raiser said that, when they were raising money fo rthe move to Lenox, he picked up the first large donation of $10,000 from Jeannie Monahan. He said he was excited about collecting what he viewed as the first step toward moiving but was shocked when Stevens used the money as a down payment on an airplane.
“I mentally snapped,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t aboeve board, but it would allow Carl Stevens to go to more people. I would justify it with the reults. From then on, I justified it all.”