Who’s Watching The Heresy Hunters?

Witch Hunt, by Bob and Gretchen Passantino (Nelson, 254 pp.; $9.95, paper). Reviewed by Bruce Barron, author of The Health and Wealth Gospel (IVP).

This book moves at a snail’s pace—out of necessity. The Passantinos, veterans of 17 years of Christian apologetics and cult research, have taken on the unenviable task of distinguishing proper from improper methods of exposing heretics. Such an effort is bound to arouse their colleagues in the field, especially those whom they cite as bad examples, to counter: “Who appointed you as a judge over us?”

To parry such criticisms in advance, the Passantinos write ponderously, setting forth with exquisite care their motivations for writing and their standards for good research. The result may not be exciting reading, but it is valuable reading.

The Passantinos discuss common errors—such as guilt by association, inconsistent logic, and inadequate understanding of permissible diversity within the body of Christ—that plague less rigorous researchers. They argue that these poorly formulated attacks do harm in several ways: by slandering reliable ministries, by making it easier for the real heretics to defend themselves and appear innocent, and by leaving the average Christian confused as to whom to believe. And they do not hesitate to provide examples of such “witch hunting.”

The Passantinos might not have decided to write a whole book on this topic had not Constance Cumbey, the renegade writer who accused all sorts of ministries of complicity in a giant New Age conspiracy, provided so many glaring and high-profile illustrations of the problem. In fact, Cumbey turns out to be the sole offender cited—repeatedly—in a chapter on “Counter-Cult Ministries They’re Attacking.” But other chapters draw examples of shoddy research from numerous Christian sources. And anyone who has sampled the vitriolic broadsides promulgated by dozens of smaller-scale, self-appointed “defenders of the truth” across the country knows the magnitude of the problem.

In most of the cases, like a defense lawyer whose client is guilty only of a misdemeanor, the Passantinos plead that the punishment must not exceed the crime. That is, they deplore the frequent tendency among less-careful researchers to condemn as “blasphemous” or “heretical” alternative views on issues not essential to orthodoxy.

The Passantinos’ call for cooler rhetoric might have been more persuasive had they not chosen to describe these bad research techniques with the rather inflammatory label “witch hunt”—a term doubly unfortunate since the writer they criticize most frequently, other than Cumbey, happens to be named Hunt. More seriously, at times their ministerial sensitivity lags slightly behind their concern for logical accuracy, such as when they defend their right to call salvation a “metaphysical experience with Jesus” rather than drop the terminology to avoid confusion.

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In seeking to protect the victims of unfair criticism, the Passantinos also overlook the positive value of researchers who sound early warnings at the first sign of potential problems, even if these writers sometimes jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Cult watchers certainly should not scream “heresy” unless the documentation is overwhelming, but by sounding tentative alarms at earlier points they can help restrain a Christian group from moving further toward an imbalance its own members might not have spotted as quickly. The Passantinos are so concerned about the danger of speaking out too soon that they neglect the danger of speaking out too late.

Nonetheless, the imperfection of some of their specific illustrations does not detract from the Passantinos’ main point—that, for the gospel’s sake, the poorly researched witch hunts must end. Anyone who works through the tortuous but rigorously logical argumentation of this book will emerge with a renewed resolve to choose one’s words more carefully, especially when dealing with such weighty matters as orthodoxy and heresy.

A Litigious Bully

Trial and Error: The American Civil Liberties Union and Its Impact on Your Family, by George Grant (Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 187 pp.; $8.95, paper). Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, author of Revealing the New Age Jesus (IVP).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) champions itself as a defender of civil rights and claims its credo to be nothing less than the Bill of Rights. It declares its opposition to repression and bigotry in all forms, and it is often seen as taking the high moral road as part of the legal vanguard.

At the same time, most Christians don’t like the ACLU. The general impression is that despite its public image, the ACLU is ultraliberal, anti-Christian, and antifamily, rallying to the cause of banning the Bible from public schools and ridding the public sphere of any religious symbolism.

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The impression is generally correct, as far as it goes. But there is more. George Grant argues that the ACLU, a dominating force on the legal scene, aims for a revolution of historic American principles. Seeing the ACLU as “a very respectable heresy,” Grant describes it as simultaneously a cause, a movement, and a faith. It supports the legalization of child pornography, drugs, prostitution, and polygamy, and it opposes voluntary school prayer, tax exemption for churches, educational vouchers, home schooling, and teaching “monogamous, heterosexual intercourse within marriage” in the public schools.

Through its ingenious combination of organizational unity and decentralized grassroots activism, the ACLU is a force to be respected or feared, but not ignored. Grant comments: “With only 250,000 contributing members, seventy staff lawyers, and a budget of approximately fourteen million dollars, it has established more standing court precedents than any other entity outside of the Justice Department, and has appeared before the Supreme Court more often than anybody else except the government itself.”

Grant begins the book with vignettes of the ACLU in action—stopping a public school’s Christmas play minutes before its performance by threatening a lawsuit, threatening to sue a grocery-store proprietor who refused to carry pornography, trying to remove a church’s tax-exempt status because of its public ministry, and opposing parental-consent laws that would have stopped a young girl from aborting her baby. The ACLU may strike close to home.

But what about its claim to support the liberty of all? Although the ACLU claims to have only one client, the Bill of Rights, Grant argues that it is contradictory in its litigation for “civil liberties.” It defends antinuclear and antiwar protestors and prosecutes antiabortion protestors. It supports tax exemption for Satanists and opposes exemptions for churches.

Most glaring is the contradiction between the ACLU’s supposed respect for human life and its consistently proabortion legal activism, which includes banning all “informed consent” requirements that inform women as to the medical realities of abortion; deregulating abortion procedures, “making abortion the only completely unregulated surgical procedure in all of medicine”; and requiring state and local funding for abortion services for all citizens. In a similar vein, the ACLU also supports legalized infanticide and euthanasia.

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Grant highlights the organization’s effectiveness by observing that because it has “been so diligent in [its] assault on the unborn, the aged, and the infirm, the rule of law in our land is now in real jeopardy. No one is absolutely secure, because absoluteness has been thrown out of our constitutional vocabulary.” As Robert Bork has noted in The Tempting of America, elites have used the judiciary as a tool of revolution—thus bypassing legislative means—and have seen the Constitution as a wax nose to be twisted through legal muscle. The ACLU is a leading muscle man for this revisionist strategy.

Grant puts the ACLU in its historical setting by exposing and documenting the anarchist and Marxist roots of its ideology. Despite Grant’s unrelenting criticism of the ACLU, the book is more than a critical diatribe. It gives constructive counsel. His last section explains how a Christian world view opposes the perspectives of the ACLU and also develops the biblical principles of justice, mercy, and humility in relation to social action.

While Trial and Error is not a neutral investigation of the ACLU, its criticisms are fairly stated and well researched. At times the reader is left wanting a fuller explanation of some points—such as how it is that the ACLU sometimes defends Christians if it will further its own ends. If Grant’s previous expose on Planned Parenthood, Grand Illusions, was a bit too thick in detail, Trial and Error is a little thin at points.

Some may finish the book with a sense of outrage bereft of concrete application. Grant’s counsel for defending Christian principles in law is sound but rather general. Several pages on the remarkable efforts of John Whitehead’s Rutherford Institute—a kind of Christian version of the ACLU—would have demonstrated these principles in action.

Given the ramifications of the ACLU’s triumphs, Grant concludes with a needed challenge: “One way or another, we must take action. It appears that it is now or never.”

Good Christian Misogynists?

Christian Men Who Hate Women, by Margaret J. Rinck (Zondervan, 158 pp.; $9.95, paper). Reviewed by James and Phyllis Alsdurf, coauthors of Battered into Submission (IVP).

The title of this book alone will be enough to offend the sensibilities of many, and from the onset the author acknowledges that the problem of men who hate women is one that is not easily discussed in Christian circles. Margaret Rinck, a clinical psychologist and author of Can Christians Love Too Much?, contends that although we usually think of rapists and mass murderers as men who hate women, “yet there are men who, while not fitting this dramatic category, also have deep within them a hatred for women.”

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And Christian misogynists, she claims, are “in some ways even more dangerous and destructive in their relationships than their non-Christian counterparts” because of “the arsenal of church doctrines, God-talk, and the ‘sanctioning’ of male authority, which comes in a Christian marriage.”

Rinck offers numerous examples of misogynist men and their codependent wives drawn from her therapeutic practice. In one such case, a wife reports to the pastor that her husband is abusive and is disbelieved. When the church elders do place disciplinary restrictions on the couple, the bulk of the restraints focus on the woman: admonishing her never to challenge her husband in front of the children, limiting her outside activities, defining how she is to handle household responsibilities.

Rinck calls for the church to admit that its “Father Knows Best” stereotypes about the Christian home are dishonest and perpetrate a myth that ill prepares young men and women for married life. Her challenge for Christians to see woman’s value apart from that of serving man is long overdue.

Rinck argues that the root problems behind misogyny in the Christian home lie with the church’s denial of the problem, its sexism in maintaining prejudice against women, and its out-of-balance theology of submission. Added to those factors is the “salvation syndrome” of many women who delude themselves into seeing suffering within marriage as a means of salvation for the man. Such women passively pray for miracles, refusing to face the truth about their husbands.

Men On Trial

While Rinck includes a wealth of interesting anecdotes, their significance is unclear because the data base from which her conclusions are drawn is never precisely defined. How many misogynist men are there within the church or society at large? What are the demographics on misogynists and what are the causes for their hatred of women? Could it be that Rinck has seen such a high number of misogynistic men in her practice because she has defined the term so broadly?

Using her “Rinck Misogyny Continuum,” the author ranks misogyny from mild to extreme. On the mild end, the misogynist “uses indirect criticism … may use flattery to keep woman at his side. Uses logic to control situations. Outargues spouse, totally discounts woman’s feelings and thoughts.” By such general standards almost any interaction between a man and woman involving conflict could warrant “diagnosing” a man as misogynist.

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Similarly, all physically abusive men could fit within Rinck’s definition of misogyny, when in reality factors such as unresolved anger and fear—rather than a primal hatred of women—motivate the abusiveness of many batterers.

The last half of the book is addressed to therapists and pastors and concretely outlines Rinck’s treatment approach. Her cognitively oriented therapeutic style follows a modified 12-step program and is heavily influenced by the codependency perspective. If the healing process is to be successful, she claims, the church must create an atmosphere in which people feel safe enough to confess their sins without fear of rejection.

Admitting that the prognosis for misogynistic marriages “is not very good,” Rinck often recommends “covenant separation” for these couples. “The goal is not separation leading to divorce, but covenanting to separate so as to unite,” she says.

The book is thought provoking merely because it juxtaposes two seemingly incompatible categories: misogyny and Christianity. But it is flawed by a central weakness: Rinck’s failure to offer a clear diagnostic tool for assessing misogyny. To label someone a misogynist is a serious charge. The net result of Rinck’s sweeping application of this language is the over-pathologizing of men, which could lead to a reverse sexism.

While the author often paints with too broad a brush, the book raises important questions about the kinds of fruit traditional Christian teaching about male-female relationships may be yielding. As such, Christian Men Who Hate Women joins a growing body of literature that addresses psychopathology within the Christian home and challenges the church to get its house in order.

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