Church squabble will air on Oprah

Victory Church pastor Renee Julison sues to halt show from

Grand Forks Herald/June 1994
By Stephen J. Lee

Oprah may be Renee Julison's worst nightmare.

So says one player in an escalating war over the Victory Church and World Outreach Center in Grand Forks.

In the latest battle, Julison has sued the famed Chicago television talk show giant over telephone tapes of Julison to be aired this summer on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

Julison, who with her husband, Ed, 13 years ago, founded and still pastors the Grand Forks ministry, is the main focus by ex-members who have denounced it as an abusive group with questionable financial practices.

Renee has made no public comment since the controversy went public in March, staying in Daytona Beach, Fla., where she and Ed Julison moved in January to begin a new ministry. Her husband and other church leaders and members have denounced the critics as being intent on destroying a good church and have denied all accusations of financial and emotional abuse.

Now the conflict will be played out on a national stage. Winfrey's.

On May 20, Winfrey taped a show with ex-cult members Karlene and Brad Croy of Grand Forks and church leaders and supporters Mr. and Mrs. Z, [Note: the Z. family later left Victory Chapel and are no longer associated with the Julisons in any way, shape or form] also of Grand Forks. Also on the show was cult expert Rick Ross of Phoenix, who deprogrammed Karlene last fall. Included in the Winfrey taping were tape recordings of Renee talking to Karlene on the phone. The show will be aired late this summer, Winfrey's publicists says; it's not scheduled before June 13 on KTHI-TV, Channel 11, the Fargo station which broadcasts the show.

The Croys and their attorney, Ward Johnson, won't say much about the specifics of the tape's content because of the litigation. But Brad Croy said that in other such taped telephone conversations Renee demeaned his wife, spoke and acted bizarrely and called his relatives "heathens" and "trash."

The tapes include Renee berating Karlene for not properly weeding the Julisons' flower garden, said Ross, who has heard some of them. "What I recall is an authoritative woman that is Renee Julison, basically using Karlene as an emotional punching bag to vent her own anger and unhappiness on."

Suit a Smokescreen

Ross said the Julisons are typical of religious leaders who practice mind and information control over their flock.

The lawsuit is "nothing more than a smokescreen by the Julisons to keep the public from finding out how they have abused the members of their congregation," Ross said. "Oprah Winfrey is their worst nightmare because they can't control the airways and they are afraid their members will tune in and find out what kind of pastors they really have."

Not at all, say the Z. family, who are longtime elders of the church and now run it in the absence of the Julisons.

"We were able to tell how my wife and I have had nothing but good experiences at Victory Church," Mr. Z said. They have not been controlled or abused by the Julisons and don't think Karlene Croy or anyone else was either.

"Our perception was that the general trend of Oprah and the audience were more like looking down on us being part of some sinister plot, and I didn't think it was really fair," Mr. Z said. "Who's to know who is telling the truth here? To make tapes of someone is one thing, but to use the tapes to slander and destroy somebody's character is another thing."

Whichever, Renee doesn't want Winfrey to tell the world.

Julison sued for civil damages of more than $100,000 in U.S. District Court in Bismarck May 26 against the Croys, Ross, Winfrey and NBC alleging the conversations were illegally taped by Brad Croy and involved confidential talk between pastor and patient protected by state law.

No Restraining Order

In a separate but related move, U.S. Judge Patrick Conmy denied Julison's request for a temporary restraining order to stop the show from airing.

North Dakota law states that only one party in a telephone call must consent beforehand to tape record the call to make it legal.

Karlene Croy still was an active leader in Victory Church at the time and did not give prior consent to the taping of the telephone talks, says Julison's attorney, Brian Nelson of Fargo.

But the Croys say Brad was in the process of wooing his wife away from the church and got her consent to tape the calls to prove to her that Renee was abusing her.

Whatever, says Nelson, the conversations are protected under laws concerning clergy-penitent conversation.

"We're not dealing with religious things at all. That's malarkey," Brad Croy says. "We're talking about Renee Julison's behavior to my wife."

They got no payment for appearing on Winfrey's show, except expenses, Brad Croy said.

That isn't the first - and likely not the last - lawsuit filed over the Victory Church controversy.

In April, the Croys and several other ex-members sued the Julisons for damages for emotional abuse, harassment and financial irregularities.

Meanwhile, a married couple, Sandra and Anthony Chu, have separated over Victory Church. Anthony Chu has filed for divorce, and each has filed suit against the other seeking relief for, among other things, alleged harassment.

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