Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute and Gretchen Passantino, wife of the late Bob Passantino and Director of Answers in Action have filed a Friend of the Court brief on behalf of the Local Church.
Their comments make it clear that Hanegraaff and Passantino – and by extension the Christian Research Institute and Answers in Action – currently view The Local Church as theologically in agreement with the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith. As noted, that was not always the case.
That said, it is ironic to see that the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal – published by the Christian Research Institute – in the Spring of 1991 included an item by cult expert Ron Enroth, titled, “Friend of the Court or Friend of the Cult?”
In recent years there has been increased use of the legal practice of filing an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief by scholars, professional organizations, civil rights organizations, and religious organizations in connection with legal cases involving religious cults. Among the signatories to such briefs (amici) have been several evangelical bodies.
The rules of the court system do not permit an amicus brief to be filed for the purpose of “taking sides” in the case. Amici must demonstrate their own interest and view their participation as an aid to the court in resolving difficult questions of law that potentially affect them. The amicus briefs do not necessarily imply support for the views and practices of a party involved in the case, but nevertheless make legal arguments that are intended to benefit the court with a wider viewpoint. In short, amicus briefs are viewed legally as a means simply to (1) guide the court in the interpretation of the law, and (2) insure, if possible, that the legal outcome will not negatively impact the amicus.
Despite the assertion that amici do not take “sides” there is more than a little evidence that strong and often emotional feelings lurk just beneath the surface.
One of the few evangelicals to question in print evangelical participation in such cases (specifically, one involving Sun Myung Moon and the Internal Revenue Service) was Eternity columnist Joseph Bayly. In his October 1984 column, Bayly expressed concern regarding the involvement of evangelicals as friends of the court in support of Moon’s appeal of his conviction for criminal tax fraud. Bayly was criticized by both the NAE and the Christian Legal Society for his statements.
In his January 1985 column, Bayly once again raised his voice in opposition to evangelical support of Moon. He wrote: “To raise this false messiah’s fraudulent action to the level of a constitutional issue is folly.”
Arguing that we must not lose sight of the larger picture, Christian legal experts stress the need for such participation because of the principles involved. That may mean, they explain, that sometimes a cult might “win” in court, even if theologically we might want to see them lose.
It seems imprudent, however, for the Christian community to become associated with cults in their obvious attempts to achieve legitimation — solely because we perceive a threat to our religious freedom. Should we allow the narrow legal issues in these cases to obscure our obligation to expose the works of darkness wherever they may be found?
The position I am advocating does not lack concern for religious liberty. There clearly are serious challenges to religious freedom in North America which call for appropriate Christian responses. But more selective involvement in legal cases is in order.
Evangelicals are divided over what constitutes a serious threat to religious freedom. However, few would question the need to defend our right to proclaim the gospel. Should cults have the same First Amendment rights that we enjoy? Of course. But those rights do not shield illegal conduct or fraud. And this principle should also apply equally — to evangelicals as well as cultists.
Despite the good legal intentions of evangelical organizations in filing amicus briefs, the cults involved predictably manipulate these legal actions as an indicator of “support” for their particular cases. Is it appropriate for Christian organizations to expend valuable resources to invite that kind of distortion, especially in those situations where the threat to religious liberty appears to be minimal? Are we providing indirect “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the gospel?
These are complex issues about which good Christians may disagree. They raise important questions which transcend what sometimes appear to be narrow legal considerations. They remind us all that perhaps the greatest need in the church today is discernment.
– Source: Ron Enroth, Friend of the Court or Friend of the Cult?, from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991