'Oprah' show features GF church

TV show probes whether 'Victorious Believers' is a cult

The Grand Forks Herald/June 1994
By Steve Schmidt

Dirty Linen of the Victorious Believers Church in Grand Forks was aired in front of a national TV audience Thursday as talk show host Oprah Winfrey posed the question, "Are you in a cult and don't know it?"

Former Victorious Believer Karlene Croy and her husband, Brad, said all the signs pointed to cult-like patterns at the local church.

The Croys and Rick Ross, a consultant who said he deprogrammed her, told Oprah the local church's pastors tried to make people feel small and powerless when they questioned their actions.

Ross said the leaders of Victorious Believers had even gone so far as to ride Karlene Croy for getting the wrong brand of orange juice on a church errand.

The Croys recently sued the Rev. Renee Julison and her husband, William, for alleged emotional injuries.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" carries tape recordings that cast Pastor Julison as one who would pick on a member of her flock for, literally, not pulling weeds to her satisfaction.

The Julisons, now of Florida, unsuccessfully had sought a federal court order to stop the show from playing the tapes, which she said were illegally made by Brad Croy.

Oprah set the tone for her show with one stretch of tape described as a phone conversation between Renee Julison and Karlene, who broke with the church last fall after 12 years.

Here's part of one conversation, just as it ran on the show.

Karlene: "I just got Wayne's schedule." (Wayne wasn't identified to the viewers)

Pastor: "Now it's Wayne's fault."

Karlene: "No, but what do I do when I ask people? I asked Wayne two weeks ago for his."

Pastor: "Don't start crying, don't start whining to me. I'm trying to do some business, I am trying to run a ministry, and I don't want any crying. OK?"

Karlene: "I'm not -"

Pastor: "I'm trying to get the ministry here greeting thing done with out your crying."

Karlene: "I'm not crying."

Pastor: "You were about to."

Karlene: "No."

Pastor: "You were whining and crying. I mean come on."

Oprah said, 'If God is anything he is empowering…The love of God is about making you feel special in the world, not that you are sinful and wicked and don't measure up."

She gave time on the show to a Victorious Believers couple who told a story much different from the Croys' to tell. [Mr. and Mrs. Z] of Grand Forks [Note: Mr. and Mrs. Z later left Victory Chapel and are no longer associated with the Julisons in any way, shape or form] are church elders who say they were comfortable with the inner workings and lifestyle of the VB leaders and felt the church had enhanced their marriage. "We have never seen any abuse from pastors," Chris said.

The couple said they and other members now and then volunteered such services as chauffeuring and yard work for the pastors, but they didn't feel they were sinners when they turned down a chore. "Certainly we never forced to do it," [Mrs. Z] said.

She said Karlene Croy sometimes acted as if she didn't want any help from other members. She suggested the Croys brought some of their own problems into the church setting.

Renee Julison couldn't be reached for comment.

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