Pastor Stevens: words of obedience, retribution
This is the second in a three-part series by Daniel T. Keating
The Berkshire Eagle
November 5, 1985
LENOX - "In the early 1960's 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, CA, 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 work 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' 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' 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 how 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," he 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.
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.
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 heard 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.
'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' 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' 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.