Question of faith

Scottsdale father raises concerns as church group leaves en masse

The Tribune/July 10, 1999
By Lawn Griffiths and Justin Schmid

Jim Longmate believes a Scottsdale church undermined his 18-year marriage and that the influences of a pastor's wife are "spiritually abusive."

As the courts move forward in resolving divorce and custody issues, the father of four wonders whether his wife, Jamie, and children will follow part of the subdividing church to Oregon. Those members are led by a pastor who is relocating a core of his flock for a third time across the West since the late 1970s.

For two decades, Longmate has volunteered his time to The Church in Scottsdale and the church from which it was spawned, The Church in Seattle. The close-knit fellowship, founded by the Rev. Bill Freeman, has roots in the Anaheim, Calif.-based Christian group called The Local Church of Witness Lee.

Though Freeman, 61, split from the controversial group almost 15 years ago in Washington state, Longmate asserts that some of the practices Freeman and his wife, Patsy, learned in the 1960s with Witness Lee continued when the couple developed a new fellowship in Scottsdale in 1987. About 70 members, including the Longmates, followed the Freemans from Seattle 12 years ago.

The Freemans have had enough influence over the congregations to make members drop ties to jobs, family members and non-church friends, according to Longmate. At one point recently, about 20 houses surrounding the church were owned by members of The Church in Scottsdale, creating a kind of enclave.

Freeman, who will move to Oregon later this summer, called Longmate a disgruntled former member who has harassed those who are still members of the church at 12000 N. Scottsdale Road.

"Mr. Longmate has a vendetta out against the church, and has marshaled a number of very negative people that have been unhappy for reasons," Freeman said. "He is on a crusade."

Sixteen months ago, Jamie Longmate and their three daughters, now ages 9, 11 and 14, moved out of the family's house about a mile from the church. They went to live with longtime church members and friends. But that family recently sold their home a block from the church and are among members making the move to the Portland, Ore., suburb of Lake Oswego to start the new church.

Longmate said his wife wants to make the move once the divorce and child-custody issues are settled. Their 17-year old son currently is living with grandparents.

Though Jim Longmate has regular court-scheduled visitations with his daughter, he said he is forbidden to talk to them about the church or its influences.

"That is completely off-limits," said Longmate, who has methodically compiled extensive documents on the church, the Freemans and statements of grievances from past members.

An elder of The Church in Scottsdale said the departure of the Freemans and their most ardent followers has given the congregation a sense of renewal.

"Everyone feels a sigh of relief," said David McCarthy, one of the few remaining elders at the church. He also is one of five members of the church's board.

"The group that went up there (to Oregon) is probably 60 percent women," McCarthy said. "All the men involved are husbands of the women, so basically what you had is this group of women who had gotten really close to Patsy and just thought the world of her and felt she was the only one they trusted."

"In December, we became aware that there had been some problems in the church," McCarthy said. "We learned of a number of cases of offenses and meddling in the personal lives of some of the church members. It also became clear that the ones primarily responsible for this behavior had been among those who had left."

Such meddling is no longer present, said McCarthy, a civil engineer who first became associated with the Freemans 12 years ago in Seattle shortly before they moved to Arizona.

Life adjustments

Jim Longmate said, for him, the "meddling" goes back to when he and Jamie were single and attending the Seattle church.

"My marriage was arranged by Patsy Freeman in 1981 because I was useful to them," said Longmate, who served as the church's audio and video technician before breaking from the church last year. Patsy Freeman was a zealous matchmaker for more than 50 couples, Longmate said.

He contends Jamie Longmate is "completely under her mind control."

"Patsy is a person who lusts to control people," Longmate said.

He said she especially targets the church's young mothers, instructing them on how to discipline their children, a procedure Longmate and other said they found to be rather harsh. He said he heard it referred to as "breaking the child's will."

Tracy Tonsfeldt, who attended the church for 14 months with her husband and parents until March 1994, said she saw Patsy Freeman's strong will at work.

"There were times (during services) when my mother was made to move because she sat next to somebody that Patsy did not want her to sit next to, and that really ticked my mother off," Tonsfeldt said.

A leading practice in the church, Longmate said, is what is called "love bombing," where church members lavish excessive attention on prospective members.

"There is just an emotional and social rush because you are just the center of focus for this whole group," Longmate said.

"We had a lunch invitation every Sunday to a house, " said Hal Oshell of Scottsdale, father of Tonsfeldt. "We thought it was spontaneous, but after a while we found it really wasn't. It was Patsy telling them, 'You invite the Oshells'...We found out it was really programmed by her."

When his wife, Pat Oshell, wanted to invite two of her own friends to such a lunch, Patsy Freeman raised a fuss, Hal Oshell said.

McCarthy identified Patsy Freeman as "basically the problem."

"The thing with Patsy Freeman was that it wasn't real overt, mainly a one-on-one situation," he said. "She would get involved in people's lives. Women of the church would come to her for advice. She is older, she has had five children and she very much loves the Lord."

Bill Freeman sees the situation differently.

"My wife has been a big help to a lot of people for many years," he said.

The Church in Scottsdale had reached about 250 members before it began dividing earlier this year. Nearly 100 members are expected to follow the Freemans to Lake Oswego. So far, more than 60 have moved, according to Bill Freeman. They are led by Patsy Freeman, who had filed for legal separation from her husband in late December, according to documents filed in Maricopa County Court.

The couple has since reconciled their 43-year marriage, Bill Freeman said. Patsy Freeman could not be reached for comment.

The Longmates' own divorce and child-custody proceedings began in July 1998, four months after they separated. The next month, Jim Longmate and their son, Josh, took a two-week vacation to visit Longmate's parents in Washington.

"My son did not want to come back to Arizona," Longmate said. "The last thing he wanted was to come down here and run into any of the people that mistreated him or (be in) just the atmosphere around these people because they pray negative prayers."

"Now he lives with my folks so he is out of the situation completely," Longmate said. That arrangement was made with his wife's consent, he said.

History of movement

Bill Freeman, who has preferred to call himself an elder rather than the pastor at The Church in Scottsdale, has roots in Catholicism but served as a pastor in a Quaker church in Garden Grove, Calif., before being drawn to The Local Church of Witness Lee movement in the 1960s.

A graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Freeman has balanced a church ministry with extensive writing and publishing. He has devoted most of his 12 years in Scottsdale to his Ministry of the Word and Ministry Publications. His ministries' office is next to the church, and he is selling the building in preparation to permanently relocate the national ministry to Oregon.

And the faithful are not moving en masse merely because of his influence, Freeman insisted.

They simply prefer Oregon's temperate climate to Arizona's blistering summers, he explained.

"This is a relocation of church life, and this is a normal procedure of churches when they are spreading and growing and wanting to do something different," he said.

Freeman finds nothing unusual about devoted Christians following him to new places. From biblical times, he said, whole flocks have been willing to move at great sacrifice to spread the Gospel.

"What is the difference between us or the Vineyard group or Calvary Chapel or another denomination or people who have a burden for their church to spread the Great Commission? Freeman asked. "This is a practice among Christians that is acceptable.

"People get excited about people who are on fire for the Lord."

Though Freeman paints a dark, brooding picture of Jim Longmate, another local clergyman doesn't buy it. Michael Ledner, pastor of the charismatic fellowship Desert Streams Chapel in Scottsdale, has met with Longmate since he left The Church in Scottsdale.

He said he's "prayed with him, cried with him" as his family's future unfolds in Arizona's courts.

He's just a good guy. He's genuine," Ledner said.

"I sympathize with Jim Longmate," McCarthy said, "because Patsy has this tendency to cause this strife in marriages at times. The unfortunate thing is that the tack that Jim has taken has probably alienated his wife more."

The church's elders didn't know how strong Patsy Freeman's influence was until she left and Bill Freeman met with them, McCarty said.

"She was really good at keeping this under the surface and we didn't know the extent of the things that were going on," McCarthy said. "Bill put his foot down and said, 'We are not going to tolerate this and this is not going to happen anymore.'

"I have been so impressed how they (the remaining members) have handled themselves through this whole ordeal, because it has been an ordeal," McCarthy said. "They have passed through this, all this stuff coming to the surface and a lot of us didn't know this meddling was going on.

"Basically it is a church split. Those are always traumatic no matter what happens," he said.

"Bill Freeman's ministry was very good and was in many ways just the opposite of his wife's concept. So the problems tended to be restricted to those who became close to his wife."

It doesn't portend well for the new fellowship settling in Oregon, McCarthy suggested. There are no guarantees the same problems can be avoided under the same leadership, he said.

"In fact, I would be concerned about that group going there, to tell the truth."

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