The Julisons face lawsuit

Six former members allege 'distress and battery'

Grand Forks Herald/April 14, 1994
By Stephen J. Lee

Walking into his sanctuary Wednesday night to introduce a cult expert to his congregation, Pastor Ed Julison was slapped with legal papers.

The summons and notice of a lawsuit was the latest round in an ongoing controversy over Victory Church and World Outreach Center.

Six ex-members filed suit earlier Wednesday in Grand Forks County District Court alleging that Julison, his wife, Pastor Renee Julison and the church inflicted "intentional and negligent emotional distress and battery," according to their attorney, Ward Johnson. Damages in excess of $50,000 will be sought, Johnson says. Julison has 20 days to respond to the suit.

Also filed was a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Julison or any church member from harassing the six plaintiffs, Johnson said. That request will be heard by a judge April 21.

The six ex-members are Brad and Karlene Croy, David and Teresa Leonardi and Frank and Angie Ellis. Karlene Croy for several years was an elder in the church, perhaps the closest person to Renee Julison. She left the church last fall after her husband convinced her to talk with Rick Ross, a Phoenix, Ariz., cult expert and deprogrammer.

Ross' seminar in Grand Forks three weeks ago, sponsored by the lawsuit plaintiffs, sparked public debate.

That debate took a sharper tone Wednesday as Keith Edward Tolbert, Detroit, defended Pentecostal Christian churches such as Victory Church and criticized "secular anti-cult" experts such as Ross. Tolbert was brought in by the Julisons to answer public criticism of the church.

"I believe everyone should have the right to practice their religion as they see fit," Tolbert told an audience of about 100.

Most of them were members of Victory Church who often punctuated Tolbert's points with "Amens."

Several ex-members, including Brad Croy and David Leonardi, also attended. No questions about Victory Church itself were allowed at Wednesday's meeting, Julison and Tolbert said.

An expert's perspective

Tolbert is an expert on cults and cult research organizations. He compiles an annual directory of groups that watch cults. A member of the Assemblies of God, he brought a Christian perspective, one more sympathetic, he said, to the doctrines and practices of a church as Victory. He lumped Ross in with other "secular anti-cult" deprogrammers as "self-appointed, vigilante professional faith-breakers."

Ross is active in the Reform Movement of Judaism; he has participated in "involuntary" deprogramming of members of such cults as the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. He preaches the dangers of "destructive Bible-based groups," that perhaps are not cults, but harm people through mind control. He distinguishes such groups from the mainstream of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. Victory Church is about control of peoples' lives and money, Ross said in earlier interviews.

"People can believe anything they want to," Ross said. "They can't do anything they want."

Tolbert, who met with Ross for an hour Wednesday, said the whole idea of brainwashing is "mythology." Rather, he said, people simply can be persuaded, using peer pressure and can then experience conversion and people such as Ross don't like that.

Tolbert did address the issue of "shepherding," a controversial practice in evangelical Christianity that involves a strong pastor relationship over the lives of members. Victory Church has been accused by Ross of practicing it. Tolbert condemned the practice, but didn't comment on whether it occurred at Victory.

Questions raised previously by ex-members about the church's finances will be addressed by Tolbert and Julison today at a 3 p.m. press conference, they said.

Former members say Julison finally told them last week and annual income of the church and the K-12 school there last year was about $420,000 and that he and his wife receive a combined salary of $30,000 and a $15,000 housing allowance. But other questions about the church's books still have not been made available to members, they said. Several people say they have left the church because of that lack of accountability.

Tolbert will speak tonight at Victory Church, 3002 Highway 81 North, at 7 p.m. on witchcraft and at 7 p.m. on Satanism.

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