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Broock No Criticism

Stephen Mansfield, author of the best-selling The Faith of George W Bush, has written a spirited defence of neo-Pentecostal leader Rice Broocks (whom I’ve covered before) on his blog (Feb 21; no permalink – thanks to a reader for the link):

Recently, some friends showed me a web site on which critics were trying to make a connection between Maranatha, a ministry Rice was a part of in the 1980’s, and Every Nation Ministries which Rice now leads. I was shocked. I’m used to heresy hunters who do nothing but attack everything. They are the mental midgets we all have to put up with to do anything of consequence in this world. I was not prepared, though, for the nature of the attacks on my dear friend.

Mansfield is almost certainly referring to this FACTNET message board; as it happens, several of its contributors were recently featured in the North Carolina media in relation to the AIO fraternity story (they have also been in email contact with me). As with all message boards, quality is variable, and indeed many of the posters are concerned that Every Nation (formerly Morning Star International) is heretical. But the issue of orthodoxy (which is of little interest to me either way, aside from historical value) is only one concern: as I have noted before, the campus ministry Maranatha disbanded in 1989 after newspaper reports of authoritarian and abusive behaviour. Even today, feelings run high when Maranatha is mentioned: when sz at World O’Crap referenced my previous entry on the subject, a couple of readers added comments to her site about their experiences with the group, including someone (anonymous) who alleged that despite not even being a member, Maranatha adherents had harassed and assaulted her on her campus on the assumption that she was a lesbian. Broocks was a Maranatha leader, and the Every Nation grouping has a number of sub-ministries, including Victory Campus Ministries.

Mansfield addresses the Maranatha problem rather gingerly:

Rice graduated from college in 1979 and went into campus ministry with Maranatha. As both an historian and a minister, I can tell you that there were many wonderful things that happened in Maranatha. The critics seem interested only in the mistakes. It was common in those days for ministries to lack theological depth and to suffer from the absence of worldview and boundaries that a good grasp of history, particularly theological history, provides. Nevertheless, Rice helped guide Maranatha to an honorable end in 1989. Oddly, he has sometimes been accused since of “destroying Maranatha,” which is, of course, untrue.

Well, of course critics are going to focus on the “mistakes” (a nice way of describing “abuse”, as if it were some sort of accident) if they themselves have been hurt as a result, and no-one has had to take responsibility. But back to Mansfield:

To learn from the mistakes of the past and to build a ministry in a theologically responsible way, he enrolled in one of the most respected institutions in evangelical Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary, where he earned a Master’s degree in theology. This helped him wed biblical thinking to the spiritual power he already had and laid the foundation for the good things that were to come.

Ahh, a Charismatic embracing Reformed theology in order to get a bit more intellectual muscle. Now who does that remind me of? And I’m glad that being involved with those “mistakes” at Maranatha didn’t cause Broocks to lose confidence in his special “spiritual power”:

I don’t need to tell the whole story here, but Rice ended up teaming with Steve Murrell and Phil Bonasso to form Morning Star International, now known as Every Nation Ministries. I’ve never seen anything like it…I’ve been all through the various ministries and churches of Morningstar/Every Nation and have never seen anything like the discipleship extremes [that were found in the highly authoritarian Shepherding movement] in this movement. If such things should arise, I know that these leaders are committed to doing things the right way and are very much open to admitting shortcomings.

Well, maybe we don’t need the whole story, but Mansfield could have cleared up some oddities – like why Broocks and another Maranatha leader named Greg Ball founded a sub-ministry called Champions for Christ back in 1985, but after the end of Maranatha they told Charisma magazine that it dated back only to 1991 (thanks to a reader for pointing that out. CFC has itself also been a subject of controversy). [UPDATE: The 1985 date comes from this Charity Navigator Rating on Wayback; since I wrote this blog entry the profile was changed to reflect the 1991 date]

I’m sure that Mansfield is truthfully reporting what he has seen, and that there are many people associated with Every Nation and its various sub-ministries who are very happy to be where they are. Studying a religious group purely from the viewpoint of disaffected ex-members is methodologically unsound; but so is dismissing the concerns of ex-members just because you yourself are an insider – and Mansfield tells us that he himself is now under Broocks, who invited him to join Morning Star when Mansfield lost his pastorate following a divorce. What about the disturbing accounts from people like Darrell Lucus, who claims to have been subject to abuse by a campus ministry related to Every Nation? Mansfield completely ignores such stories in his defence of Broocks, preferring instead to rail against vague “heresy hunters” and “mental midgets”.

But despite what happened under Maranatha, Mansfield is unable to give us any details about mechanisms of accountability that might prevent such abuses happening in the new organisations formed by ex-Maranatha leaders; instead, all we have is a very vague assurance that the leaders are now “committed to doing things the right way”. Given the unhappy history of Maranatha, this is really not enough, and with the very strange tendency of Every Nation sub-ministries to downplay their links to their mother organisation, it is far from unreasonable to be suspicious of the whole movement.

Mansfield finally comes to a peculiar conclusion:

I don’t have many friends but I plan to be faithful to those few I do have. Rice Broocks is my friend. They’ll have to come through me to get to him.

Erm…that’s not actually how the internet works, Stephen…

UPDATE: Mansfield has written to me with further thoughts about EN. See my entry for today.