Rutherford Comes to Defense of Christian Publishers in Defamation Case

Agape Press/October 17, 2005
By Jim Brown

A civil liberties group is asking a court to toss out a defamation lawsuit brought against a group of Christian publishers and ministries.

The Rutherford Institute has filed a "friend of the court" brief with the Texas Court of Appeals on behalf of Moody Publishers, Gospel Light Books, and the Christian Film and Television Commission. A religious movement known as "The Local Church" has filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvest House Publishers for referencing the movement in a 700-page book called Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, authored by John Ankerberg and John Weldon.

Doug McKusick, an attorney for The Rutherford Institute, fears the lawsuit could potentially chill the free-speech rights of Christian publishers.

"We were concerned about the fact that they could be held liable for defamation based on some statements that were made in the book but which didn't seem to really apply to the plaintiff in the action [The Local Church]," the lawyer states. He adds that, in his opinion, no defamation occurred "because the book did not specifically identify The Local Church as having engaged in this, in either illegal or immoral conduct."

For that reason, McKusick believes the suit needs to be dismissed.

In their introduction, authors Ankerberg and Weldon define the term "cult" as "a separate religious group generally claiming compatibility with Christianity but that adheres to select teachings that are theologically incompatible with teachings of the Bible." Along with that they include a list of characteristics they say make up the "perfect cult."

The Local Church -- while mentioned in the book, but not singled out as promoting or engaging in behavior attributable to some sects or cults -- charges that the list of characteristics defames their movement.

According to the Apologetics Index, The Local Church movement was imported from the Orient to the United States in the early 1960s by "Witness Lee," a disciple and co-worker of evangelist Watchman Nee. The movement claims to be "the one true church" and "the sole move of God on Earth," reports Apologetics Index.

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