1. "I feel that the Ministry of Victory Outreach in many ways is manipulative, controlling, and abusive in its authoritarian leadership style..."
The specific accusations of the former VO minister (henceforth, "Mr. B" for Peter Belaustegui) will be addressed at proper intervals. The only point that needs to be made at this time is this: the reader will notice that Mr. B often uses words such as "I feel" or "I believe" in reference to his alleged accusations. The reader should note that if such statements are not based on any case studies or specific examples, they should not be regarded as matters of fact. The statements that Mr. B makes that are not substantiated by examples or proper argumentation should be regarded only as his personal opinions. The Letter of Resignation, for instance, claims that there are certain men in the Outreach who are "ego driven," "oppressive," "devouring their flocks," and those who oppose them are often "labeled." Mr. B, however, claims that he believes this is the case. His specific examples, however, will be taken into consideration. In this rebuttal, I will attempt to answer his most serious charges.
I would like to make two more adjustments before I begin by rebuttal. First, my objective is primarily focused on defending the center of Victory Outreach's values and beliefs. Namely, I will be addressing issues that are related to Victory Outreach as a whole, or as these issues relate to the headquarters (La Puente/San Dimas) and founder (Sonny Arguinzoni). Second, I would like to note that Victory Outreach International is not associated with other ministries who use the name "Victory" or "Outreach" or even "Victory Outreach" in their name, if they are not accountable to the La Puente-based church and San Dimas corporate office, which together are the headquarters of Victory Outreach International (henceforth, VO). If there have been problems with any of VO's satellite churches in the past, I am not attempting to excuse or justify those problems. My focus, however, concerns the VO headquarters.
2. The writer claims that the churches and rehabilitation homes of VO have "an excessively high turnover rate because of these abuses, which could be easily monitored and tracked." Yet he gives no evidence. Similarly, he alleges that because of VO's abusive nature and because "many of the Pastors have not really been called by God," many of the VO churches "remain small and struggle financially."
Admittedly, there are a lot of "backslidden" people who have attended VO churches at one time or another. This could be expected given that VO is an evangelistic church that traditionally reaches non-churched people from the inner-city, such as drug addicts, gang members, prostitutes, ex-cons, and so forth. In order for Mr. B's claim to be valid, he would need to give evidence that spiritual abuse is a primary factor involved in these people leaving the Outreach. Moreover, if he is to claim that VO's turnover rate is exceedingly high, he should affirm why this is something that should not be expected by an inner-city rehabilitation ministry. Do other evangelical rehabilitation ministries which cater to the inner city have demonstrably lower turnover rates? And even if they did, how does this confirm that VO is "abusive"? (cf. Document #2.8.11)
3. "The kind of spiritually abusive men that I am describing are bringing reproach to the name of Christ and to Victory Outreach..."
This statement demonstrates that Mr. B is aware that the negative things he claims to have experienced, and the particular VO ministers which he accuses, are in fact a reproach to VO as a whole. He is thus making a distinction between VO as a ministry and certain VO ministers (who were apparently running satellite congregations) who damage that name.
This distinction is crucial. In Document #1 Mr. B's accusations seem related to problems with VO pastors in his particular region (Gold Coast Region). He letter is directed to Pastor Sonny. In Document #2, however, his letter is directed to a third party (or parties), and he accuses Pastor Sonny and VO as an organization (La Puente/San Dimas, Southern California).
When we combine both documents, we may be able to reconstruct what probably took place: Mr. B originally had some problems with a VO pastor or pastors in his region. This led to accusations of abuse, and eventually, Mr. B decided to leave VO with whoever would follow him in his particular congregation (Document #1, Jan. 1996). Afterward, Mr. B was unsuccessful in keeping his new congregation. (He no longer leads them and has apparently moved out of that region.) Some time during this period, he decided to launch a full-scale attack to discredit Pastor Sonny and the ministry of VO as a whole (Document #2, no date). It should be noted that Mr. B never regularly attended the VO headquarters in La Puente and never knew Pastor Sonny on a daily or weekly capacity. Mr. B became a Christian through VO in Oxnard, was trained there, and was sent from there to lead a congregation in the Gold Coast Region. It was in this region that Mr. B decided to leave VO. Yet Pastor Sonny is the focus of Mr. B's accusation in Document 2.
4. Regarding Mr. B's 1995 financial budget as out of balance, Mr. B brings out 8 financial areas in which he claims that it was "mandatory" for him to give money to the headquarters.
Of these financial areas, only one is absolutely mandatory: the minister's license fee. I believe this is true of any denomination. The policy of VO states that ministers who are licensed through the Outreach pay a monthly fee. But even here, there are certain exemptions for part-time or inactive ministers and so forth (Victory Outreach Policies, Procedures and Administration Manual, 2.6-7,11:1997). In the policies manual, there are two areas in which the V.O. churches are expected to contribute. One of these goes to the rehabilitation homes. Hence, apart from the license fee, there is actually only one contribution that is directly given to the corporate office/headquarters. It has been a common policy that the VO churches give ten percent of their income to the headquarters (cf. VOPPAM sec. 2, 8:1997); that is, a tithe from the total amount of donations received by a particular VO church is expected to be given to the headquarters once that congregation is in full operation. However, according to a talk I had with Pastor Sonny, this policy is not always mandated. And in all the other areas, such as conferences and so on, the contributions are voluntary.
5. "I realize that there is good that Victory Outreach is doing though, and I hope that you will re-evaluate and make the necessary changes to insure the future success of your ministry."
I have no problems with this statement. Mr. B here admits the good works that VO is doing. In Document #2, however, he is not so kind.
I admit that VO is not perfect. In various locations some problems have surfaced from time to time. Although no official census has been taken thus far, I think I am safe in saying that in 30 years VO has grown from one church to a denomination that has around 50,000 or more members worldwide. At this rate of growth, problems may occur from time to time within some of the satellite branches. I think that similar problems have been experienced by many ministries, such as the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel. As the ministry gradually matures and improves its administrative quality and checks and balance system, I hope that these problems will be alleviated. VO continues to evaluate itself and is always eager to make positive changes. VO accepts the criticisms of those who honestly desire the ultimate success of this ministry. However, Mr. B's second document appears to be much less concerned about constructive criticism and far more concerned about damaging VO's reputation, a reputation that Mr. B has himself implied in this letter (cf. #3 above).
"I was with this group for approximately 11 years."
The amount of time spent with an organization is not necessarily an indication that a person can speak authoritatively about that ministry. If this were the case, I guess I could speak more authoritatively than Mr B: I have been involved with the Outreach for 18 years. Moreover, I have sat under the ministry of the La Puente church for a number of years and know Pastor Sonny Arguinzoni personally. Although Mr. B has been part of VO, he has never been part of the La Puente church. (I am also a recognized counter-cult specialist who is familiar with the details of cultic and doctrinal abuse.) This is why I believe that I am in a position to affirm that Mr. B has misrepresented Pastor Sonny.
"...you know how the story goes. I became a rebel and disloyal etc., in their eyes...we pulled our church out of the organization and found out their even deeper abusive character. I was undermined and discredited by them to the point that I knew that I could no longer continue to minister..."
No, actually we don't know how the story goes. I hope that this rebuttal will set the record straight. Here Mr. B is attempting to blame VO for his own inability to keep the congregation members who pulled out of VO with him. That he was "undermined" and "discredited" begs the question. If he has in fact spoken misleadingly about VO, then he was not "discredited" but exposed as wrongfully discrediting VO.
"He [Pastor Sonny] is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. Victory Outreach is a ministry that exclusively reaches out to drug addicts and gang members."
VO does not exclusively reach out to addicts and gang members. VO reaches out to everybody and anybody who desires the Gospel. Although our target group has traditionally been these people, VO has also focused on (and has been very successful at ) reaching entire families and general youth culture.
"Of all the street type ministries I would say that Victory Outreach appears to be the most legitimate on the outside, which I believe makes them the most dangerous."
Actually Teen Challenge has been around longer than we have, but the ministries are related. VO was founded in 1967 by Sonny Arguinzoni, a former heroin addict who was saved through Teen Challenge in New York (Dave Wilkerson/ Nicky Cruz). In its rehabilitation homes, VO essentially uses the same drug rehabilitation methods as does Teen Challenge. Perhaps the main distinction between the two ministries is that VO is a church denomination while Teen Challenge has long been considered a parachurch ministry. Pastor Sonny is an ordained minister through the Assemblies of God and still associates with Wilkerson and Cruz. VO remains affiliated with the Assemblies of God; in fact, as of this writing, one of the district superintendents of the A.G. attends the La Puente church. Sonny graduated from the A.G.'s Latin American Bible Institute/College in La Puente. He also has an honorary doctorate for his many years of outstanding ministry to the inner cities. VO is its own denomination and is orthodox in its theology (according to conservative American Protestant/Evangelical standards), and like Teen Challenge, it is Pentecostal/Charismatic in nuance. It has an independently reviewed financial statement, and AATV is a member of the NRB. VO has its own administrative manuals that detail its policies, by-laws, statement of faith, denominational structure, special services, and minute book procedures. These manuals recommend The Zondervan Church and Non-Profit Organization Tax and Financial Guide (Zondervan), Church Law & Tax Report (Christian Ministry Resources), Income Tax Guide for Ministries and Religious Workers (B.J. Worth), Business by the Book (Larry Burkett), and The Church Organization Manual (Robert H. Welch) because these works were used as guidelines in producing these manuals.
Moreover, VO has had a good reputation with many of the local communities. There are ministers in VO who have been consulted as specialists in urban development for city, county, or community meetings. VO have been endorsed by presidents, mayors, and other government and city officials. But I think the ultimate proof of VO's good reputation in the community is that the court systems and parole officers, over the years, have entrusted (and continue to entrust) numerous offenders to the care of VO's rehabilitation homes.
In addition, the School of Ministry is affiliated with the C. P. Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University. Professors from Azusa (including the Dean - Dr. Jesse Miranda) teach from time to time at the church. VO's methods of teaching and discipleship (Ministers/Instructors Training Course) have been derived from Fuller Theological Seminary and other evangelical seminaries. VO also has Regional Leadership Training modules in which I and others teach advanced courses in apologetics, systematic theology, biblical interpretation and theology, and so forth. All the upcoming leaders and missionaries of VO take these courses. As well, Pastor Sonny's successor, Sonny Arguinzoni Jr., is in the process of pursuing a higher degree at Fuller. [I too am a graduate of Fuller (M.A.Theology) as well as Simon Greenleaf School of Law (M.A. Apologetics). Beyond this, I have also earned a Ph.D. (New Testament Theology) at Durham University, England. Not to mention, I am a Christian author and worked as a Research Associate for the Christian Research Institute (1990-95), the largest counter-cult ministry in the U.S. and possibly the entire world (at least we had that reputation when I was there)].
1.1: "The very foundation of Victory Outreach is not Jesus Christ but Sonny Arguinzoni and his vision..."
Pastor Sonny has always centered this ministry on Jesus Christ. In the Five E's of Victory Outreach's purposes (cf., e. g., History and Values of Victory Outreach, RLT), and which is taught by Pastor Sonny over the pulpit, the very first "E" is to "Exalt Christ." I know Sonny personally, and I know that he gets upset when misguided individuals focus on him rather than Christ.
I think that it also needs to be clarified that when Pastor Sonny speaks about "vision" in reference to VO, he is not talking about some mystical experience; he normally uses the word "vision" as synonymous for the concepts, goal, and purpose of this ministry (and the "vision," by the way, is that VO has a goal to reach lost and hurting people in the major inner-cities of the world with the Gospel of Christ).
1.2. Pastor Sonny believes that Isaiah 45:2-3 records a promise the Lord gave him: "I will give you the treasures out of darkness." "This is a blatant misquote and misuse of scripture."
Actually, Pastor Sonny does preach that "the treasures out of darkness" relates to the outcasts of society in our age. In hermeneutics this is known as a biblical application of a text. After the student asks the questions, 1) "What does the text say"; and 2) "What did the text mean to the original readers?" the student may apply the text to his or her cultural setting: 3) "What does the text mean to me and my world?" Of course, #3 cannot replace #2, but this is not what Pastor Sonny is doing. We recognize that the original context relates to Cyrus and the return of Jewish exiles.
1.3. "The gospel is rarely actually preached in Victory Outreach - but scripture is used to promote Sonny Arguinzoni's vision"
Since the "vision" of Sonny is to present the Gospel of Christ to the major inner-cities of the world, Mr B's statement appears to be self-defeating.
1.4. "This organization wins people to Sonny Argunizoni and his Victory Outreach organization - teaches them unquestioned obedience and loyalty not to Jesus but to men."
What Mr. B is saying here is absolutely false. Pastor Sonny has preached that the people in VO need to be careful not to take their sense of loyalty to extremes. They are to be loyal to their leaders only as long as those leaders are walking in the ways of Scripture. He would not want anybody to follow him if he's not following the Lord. "You hear me? We follow as long as that man of God is following God. And once he's not following God, that's the time you've got to say, 'I'm going to bail out of thing'..." (Sonny Arguinzoni, Rehab. Conference message, 3/4/98, morning session)
1.5. "Most of the ministers have little secular or biblical education and have little understanding of historic orthodox teachings of Christianity. Most of them came form a drug addict and/or gang member background and often have brought this mentality into their ministries."
If there is some truth to what Mr. B is saying here, the reason why sentence 1 may be the case is primarily because of sentence 2. In other words, a number of the leaders came from drug addict and gang member backgrounds. (I am not sure what Mr. B is attempting to imply by claiming that they bring this "mentality into their ministries.") Many of them dropped out of high school. They have often felt intimidated (or simply do not qualify) to go to college due to their lack of proper educative training. In an effort to counter this tendency, VO has established two levels of courses known as Foundations of Faith, which introduces all members of VO to basic Christian doctrines. The School of Ministry is also available for our members, and RLT courses offer advanced training in orthodox theology (I often teach the course). The latter is required for all upcoming leaders in VO. In addition, a growing number of VO people are taking courses in adult education schools or in secular and !
2. Mr. B seems to imply that Pastor Sonny believes VO is God's exclusive "end time army." He also mentions the Outreach's goal to have 1,000 churches by the year 2000: "The way they came up with this vision was by sitting around talking about vision and getting high and loaded on the Holy Ghost."
Since Mr. B in this paragraph begins with "I believe..." it is hard to decipher what he is claiming as fact from what are his opinions. The essence of this paragraph focuses once again on the vision of VO, which I have already responded to in 1.a. & 1.c. above. Pastor Sonny does not claim any sense of exclusivity or superiority for the Outreach above other ministries. He does, however, affirm that VO is a unique ministry and that it is specially equipped to reach inner-cities. I concur.
I am not sure what Mr. B is implying by VO and the elders "getting high and loaded on the Holy Ghost." I have never heard Pastor Sonny promote this or even say it. I have heard others in VO say things like this, and I am confident that they meant it to be taken in a "tongue in cheek" manner, or perhaps they were expressing that the joy they now have as a Christian far exceeds the effects of any drug they experimented with in the world. VO is not involved in any "drunkenness in the spirit" phenomenon associated with the Toronto Blessing.
3. "People are being used and not served in this organization...One of his schemes is to get everyone (and he means everyone) in the Victory Outreach organization to commit themselves to the giving of a dollar a day... He calls it 'UNITED WE CAN' and if you're not part of it then you don't have the vision and you are uncommitted, etc."
There is a withholding of proper information here. United We Can is VO's fund for overseas missionaries. VO gives finances directly to these missionaries. My wife and I were thus assisted by VO when my wife got breast cancer and could not work in England. The United We Can members voluntarily give $30 dollars a month to this worthy cause (i.e., a dollar a day or $7.00 a week). I have never heard Sonny accuse people of being "uncommitted" if they do not give to this fund. (Actually, Sonny's wife, Julie, is the one who is in charge of United We Can.) If Mr. B is directly quoting Sonny, knowing Sonny, I would assume that Mr. B is either taking Sonny's words out of context or that Sonny is making a "tongue in cheek" statement.
4. "The financial pressure that the Pastor's of Victory Outreach are put under is unbearable....Mandatory required giving that I believe is wrong!"
A lot of what Mr. B cites as "mandatory required giving" is in fact, not mandatory. On this point, he quotes from his Letter of Resignation. The reader can refer there for my response (Document #1.4 above).
5.1 "The live-in rehabilitation homes of Victory Outreach are nothing more than indoctrination centers and are unbiblical.
Mr. B does not specify what he means by loaded terms such as "indoctrination" and "unbiblical." The only "indoctrination" that takes place is that the residents learn about Jesus and the apostles through Bible readings and studies everyday!
5.2 "The residents are required to give up their total freedom for a one year period where they are not allowed to leave, use the phone, do any of the normal thing in life that are done, without strict and tightly regulated permission of the leadership."
If Mr. B has been around 11 years in VO, he knows full well why the rehabilitation homes run the way they do. He is here presenting some half-truths without giving the full picture. First, the residents are free to leave the program any time they wish. Second, there is no set time for a person finishing his/her rehabilitation, or in other words, graduating from the home. On an average, graduates have spent about a year inside the home. Third, as Mr. B clearly knows if he lived in such a home (and according to the Oxnard church, he has) the reason why the directors and staff have strict regulations is because the people in the home are kicking addictive drug and alcohol habits. It would be counterproductive to permit them to leave by themselves, make phone calls, etc. without permission and/or supervision, especially in the early stages of rehabilitation. The reason for this is obvious: the residents could easily find themselves back on drugs or smuggle them into the home. Stricter regulations and supervision are gradually alleviated as the residents continue to make positive progress.
5.3 Mr. B describes the Directors of these homes as "total dictator's not servants" who demand "unquestioned obedience."
This is simply not true. Even if this were Mr. B's experience with the directors in his particular region, he is committing the fallacy of hasty generalization by making this statement reflect the entire Outreach.
5.4 "The rehabilitation homes are exploiting the residents by their constant fund raising efforts of car wash projects, lawn care... selling pancake breakfast tickets and rally tickets in shopping centers and parking lots."
Some of the income that the homes use for food and so forth has come from car washes or other fund raising projects. However, they are not permitted to sell tickets of any kind except within the premises of VO church (cf. VOPPAM, 2.13). If a home director has his residents on quotas or selling tickets in malls and so forth, he is doing this in violation of VO policies and Pastor Sonny.
6.1 "The introduction of the first time of the word of faith teachers at the 1995 world conference..."
In case the reader gets the wrong impression about the Outreach, VO has had respected names such as Tommy Barnett, Jack Hayford, John Dawson, Dave Wilkerson, Don Sumers, and others who have spoken at its conferences as well. Be that as it may, VO is not a Word-Faith ministry, and Pastor Sonny does not intend to make VO a Word-Faith ministry. He has clearly affirmed this through various messages and in VO's Vision magazine. Teachers like myself in the School of Ministry and RLT teach against Word-Faith doctrines. Mr. B is committing the fallacy of guilt by association. Simply because so-and-so preached at so-and-so's convention does not mean that both parties believe the same doctrines. Hickey is a "regular" at Assemblies of God conventions, but it would be misleading to claim that the A.G. is Word-Faith. The same holds true for VO. In fact, I personally had a long talk with Pastor Sonny about this issue a few years back. Sometimes he is not aware that a certain minister teaches Word-Faith doctrines; other times, he is not convinced that (or it can be debated whether or not) the speaker should be classified as Word Faith. Pastor Sonny has actually told certain people of this sort that, if they want to preach at his church, they cannot teach anything related to Word-Faith. Admittedly, some may not think that this is the best method to use; in any case, it is simply misleading to claim that VO is either teaching Word Faith or is closely affiliated with the movement. Pastor Sonny has never allowed someone he would consider an undisputed Word Faith teacher (such as Copeland or Hagin) preach at VO. Word Faith simply does not describe what the doctrine and ministry of VO is all about.
6.2 Sonny uses the big name preachers at the evening sessions of his conferences to legitimize his ministry, while at the morning sessions of these conferences he uses his own men who put these preachers down and indoctrinate Victory Outreach members."
(This is a rather interesting conclusion-is Mr. B admitting here that some VO preachers may be speaking against Word Faith ministers?) First, Pastor Sonny does not need to "legitimize" VO, it is already a reputable ministry. Second, Pastor Sonny does not "use" his own men to preach messages against other ministers or "indoctrinate" members. The VO preachers preach their own messages.
7.1 "The Pastors of Victory Outreach have total control of their local churches and the Corporate Leadership has total control of the Pastors."
This statement is totally false and inconsistent. As a relatively new ministry, VO faces the same problems every other growing church ministry faces - how much autonomy should the headquarters grant its satellite churches? Mr. B accuses the corporate office of having total "control" over the autonomy of the pastor of the satellite congregations. Yet, ironically, he portrays satellite VO pastors as exercising too much control. Now here's the Catch 22: how does he expect VO headquarters to screen out or tone down these autonomous "dictators" without exerting some form of accountability to the doctrines, policies, and values of the Outreach as a whole?
7.2 "Some say that it seems that 'THE PASTORS OF VICTORY OUTREACH ARE TOTAL DICTATORS'" In another version of this statement, which has been promulgated over the internet through AR-talk and CMR web-site, Ken Blue, the author of Healing Spiritual Abuse, is quoted as having said this to Mr. B, who was seeking "godly advise" from people outside VO about his situation.
I personally had a conversation with Ken Blue by phone on July 24, 1998. He claims that he never said anything remotely like this in reference to Victory Outreach; he said that, prior to his conversation with me, he knew virtually nothing about Victory Outreach, and so he would have never made such a comment. He suspects that what happened was that, since he receives numerous calls and letters, someone could have painted a distorted picture about a pastor or ministry. Rev. Blue may have commented that if such a scenario were true, then that pastor or ministry would sound abusive. But he has never said anything of this sort in direct reference to Victory Outreach. (At this writing, those who wish to confirm Blue's position on VO may contact him in Escondido, California. He ministers at Foothills Church.)
7.3 "At the Corporate level there is a board of directors as required by law. Otherwise, I seriously doubt that they would have one."
Once again, Mr. B is expressing opinion rather than fact. And since I have worked at the corporate office and he hasn't, I can affirm that his opinion is false.
8.1 "It is not clear and is deceptive how the corporate structure of VO and its local churches fit into that structure."
Mr. B once again gives no evidence to support his claim.
8.2 "The Victory Outreach Corporation had never at any time invested even one cent into the church that I pastored..."
It is not supposed to. New VO churches in the U.S. are normally supported by the church of the pastor or regional pastor that sends out the satellite branch until the new church is stable enough to support itself. The Oxnard VO sent Mr. B to start a church, not the VO corporate headquarters in La Puente/San Dimas.
8.3 "While with Victory Outreach I was never given a copy of the Corporate bylaws nor did I ever hear it even discussed at any time....The Victory Outreach Leadership and Corporate Structure is abusive and knows how to take advantage of people in situations such as mine. They know very well how to play the game - but you don't. "
Quite frankly, I don't know how this happened, or if what Mr. B is saying is even true. Pastors are normally given such policies. It is possible that Mr. B ignored, forgot, and misplaced the original information that was given him. In any case, he seems to be aware that the policies and bylaws counter some of his accusations. Moreover, he seems to contradict himself by saying that the Corporate Structure is "abusive" when earlier he claimed that the structure was "not clear." If it is not clear, how does he know that it is abusive?
8.4 After Mr. B talked with Rev. Saul Garcia that the pastors should be informed about Corporate Bylaws. He claims that this "was not well-received and Mr. Garcia's only defense was - that he had never read all the Corporate Bylaws himself. He then tried to convince me that because I was hurt I was imagining things and that I couldn't see things in proper perspective. He then proceeded to vent his full anger on me."
I had a conversation with Saul Garcia on this point (7/28/98). He responded that this information is simply false. He says that, although he cannot quote policies and sections, he has read and referred to the Bylaws a number of times. He also told me that Mr. B's claim that Saul "vent his full anger on me" is absolutely false. Such a phrase implies being uncontrolled or perhaps violent. Saul is neither of these. Anyone who knows him personally (like I do) knows that Mr. B's statement is completely out of character with the real Saul Garcia.
8.5 "However, if you do leave the Victory Outreach organization, they will, without your knowledge, lay claim to all properties, assets, and equipment that you have acquired."
These type of possessions do not belong to the pastor; they belong to his congregation. The pastor is simply entrusted with his church's possessions. If the majority of congregation members in a particular city decide to remain with VO, possessions are to stay with them. The policy in VO is that if at least 2/3 of the people in a congregation decide to break away from VO, then they are permitted to keep these possessions; otherwise, the property remains with the VO members. According to Rev. Mike Coleman - the minister who replaced Mr. B as the pastor of the members who chose to remain with VO - Mr. B and his followers took virtually everything.
8.6 "I never did anything while associated with the Victory Outreach Ministries that warranted pulling my ministerial credentials and I resigned. I was never in any official trouble with the organization...My problems with them began because I started to challenge some abusive things that had happened to me through the man that was supposed to be my Pastor - and also because of things that I saw in the organization itself."
I am not clear what Mr. B's point is here or whether he is accusing Pastor Sonny or his own regional pastor or some other pastor on this point. As I have stated before, Pastor Sonny was never the direct pastor over Mr. B.
8.7 "I sought godly advice and council from several well-known Christian leaders and experts in the are[a] of spiritual abuse."
The reader can refer to 7.2 above for an example of this.
8.8 "I am not just some disgruntled Saint with an axe to grind."
If this were true, why has Mr. B repetitively misrepresented VO and Pastor Sonny in this document? Why all the half-truths?
8.9 "I believe that many people are being fooled, deceived and destroyed by this ministry. It may be a great shock to many people to find out about the real inner workings of this ministry. I'm sure that many people will simply choose not to believe it."
Unfortunately, some apparently do believe it, and that is why I have had to write this long rebuttal. Sadly, I am beginning to suspect that some people are determined to believe Mr. B no matter how I respond and no matter what I say to counter his claims. I hope that my response will at least satisfy those who are objective are not predisposed against VO.
8.10 "But the sad truth is that many denominations, organizations, and movements may seem genuine and have all the appearance of success outwardly (as the Pharisees did), but on the inside they are filled with greed and corruption."
Does this mean that Mr. B believes that the vast majority of Christian ministries are corrupt? If so, Mr. B would likely place the reader's own ministry in this category.
8.l1 In reference to VO, Mr. B claims, "I believe that there is often an over emphasis on outward material things as the evidence of 'success' - proof of God's supposed blessing on many of the ministries that are abusing people today."
It is true that a ministry's success does not indicate whether or not it is abusive. However, earlier, Mr. B claimed that it was because of the abuse in VO that there is a high turnover rate and many of the churches remain small and struggle financially (cf. Document #1.2 above). This seems to indicate that he believes VO is unsuccessful. So which one is it?
In this rebuttal, I have presented arguments which show that Mr. B's information is misleading in reference to Pastor Sonny and the VO headquarters. Of course, Mr. B might retort that I am "labeling" him, but I think I have demonstrated my point here. It may be the case that he had some legitimate complaints and did experience some genuine hurts in his particular region. The readers should not take Mr. B's word for it, however, until they have spoken to the other minister(s) whom he accuses in that region. This way they could hear both sides of the story. In any case, whatever transpired in that region gives no justification for Mr. B's misleading information about Pastor Sonny and VO as an organization. I am not denying that other things have been written or said about VO in reference to some of its satellite churches, but I am not aware of any other source of information that directly attempts to discredit VO in reference to Pastor Sonny Arguinzoni and the headquarters.
It is amazing how easily people could overlook all the good work VO has done over the years, and zero in on one person's report, and would rather believe that one person than take the time to contact the people or organization he is discrediting. One of the best things I learned when involved in discernment ministry is to hear both sides of an issue fairly. We should always keep in mind that, not only does God hate abuse and false doctrine, but He also hates false accusations, slander, and misleading information (cf. Matt. 12:36-37).
B.J. Oropeza, B.A., M.A., M.A.Th., Ph.D.
Adjunct lecturer for the Victory Outreach School of Ministry/Regional
Former Research Associate for the Christian Research Institute