Breaking The Silence: Alnor as Director of EMNR

Article ID: BTS2010-04 | By: Elliot Miller
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Breaking The Silence

Chapter Four:
Alnor as Director of EMNR
 

 Alnor put a lot of his energy into redeveloping his old ministry, Eastern Christian Outreach (EChO) and its publication, The Christian Sentinel. From that platform he continued to report on Set Free, TBN, and other topics. He was having books published, teaching journalism at Temple University (and later at Texas A&M University-Kingsville), and pursuing a master’s degree (and later a PhD), all of which served to bolster his résumé, but none of which counterbalanced the serious flaws in his methodology and work noted above, which, as we shall see, have persisted to the present. The simple fact is that just as I was taken in by Alnor’s aura of credibility, so others can be too. On the other hand, many people in the field of journalism today, including Christians, embrace values closer to Alnor’s than to CRI’s, practice journalism in a similar manner to Alnor, and would applaud his muckraking, agenda-driven crusades as “courageous investigative reporting.” In CRI’s view, this fact represents a serious malady in contemporary journalism because truth and fairness are often sacrificed on the altar of being the first to tell or sell a sensational story. Alnor is currently an assistant professor in the department of Communication at California State University East Bay in Hayward, California and is also working with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley.

In late 1993 the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), a network of countercult ministries on whose board I served for over a decade, was in danger of falling apart because everyone involved with it was too busy to devote sufficient time to it. An executive director who had the time and energy to move EMNR forward into fulfilling its vision was desperately needed, and Bill Alnor offered to be that person. I expressed to James Bjornstad, then the president of the board, my concerns about appointing Alnor to this position based on the problems he created for CRI, but since the alternative seemed to be the demise of EMNR, ultimately I went along with it.

“Assistant Secretary to the Holy Spirit”
 

It was not long before I regretted doing so. Despite the fact that the purpose of EMNR is to bring unity and cooperation among members of the countercult community, Alnor’s compulsion to thrust himself into the midst of controversies, and take sides in them, surfaced when former EMNR board member Ronald Enroth included EMNR member ministry Jesus People USA (JPUSA) among abusive churches in his book Recovering from Churches That Abuse. Alnor sought to play a mediatorial role in this dispute while at the same time siding with Enroth against JPUSA, and—speaking as EMNR’s director—he offered quotes critical of JPUSA to Christianity Today. This was despite the fact that many members of EMNR and roughly half of its board believed that Enroth’s research methodology was seriously flawed and his conclusions about JPUSA were unwarranted and harmful to a valid ministry.[1]

In March of 1994 CRI was experiencing a financial crisis and so implemented wide-ranging layoffs as a cost-saving measure. One of the employees laid off, Brad Sparks, who had a very short but troubled history at CRI, filed a lawsuit against the ministry the very next business day. His lawsuit contained numerous allegations against Hank and other officials at the ministry. Sparks also organized twenty-four people who either had formerly been employed by CRI or had some association with it (ranging from a spouse of a former employee, to a volunteer, to an attendee of Hank’s Bible study that was canceled) and together they sent a “Matthew 18” letter to Hank, demanding that he meet with them all at once to hear their grievances. The grievances of these people were not all the same but varied widely from individual to individual. Hank always expressed a willingness to meet with these people individually, and did meet with several of them who wished to do so. He was forbidden by his Christian attorney, however, to meet with a group organized by the person who was presently suing him and who could use the proceedings of the meeting in court; besides, the kind of meeting they were demanding was not following the procedure Jesus laid out in Matthew 18. Nonetheless, Hank’s refusal to submit to their demand for a meeting was widely portrayed as a refusal to submit to Matthew 18 and be accountable to the body of Christ. Thus, some of the people who signed the “Matthew 18” letter and some additional people formerly associated with CRI formed a “Group for CRI Accountability.” Just the very fact that there was a “Group for CRI Accountability” received wide attention from the press and the body of Christ and seemed to suggest that there was something amiss at CRI. The issues raised by Sparks’s lawsuit and the Group for CRI Accountability are thoroughly addressed and answered in the previously mentioned document, Setting the Record Straight (see appendix D).

It seems reasonable to infer that Alnor’s compulsion to insert himself into the middle of controversies, his sense of divine calling to expose what he believes are corrupt Christian leaders, and his lingering unhappiness over CRI first resisting him in the Set Free matter and then firing him, all made the troubles brewing at CRI too great a temptation for him to resist—despite the sensitivity of his position as EMNR’s executive director. Alnor began to make comments both to me and to the other EMNR board members that Sparks’s lawsuit suggested there were serious ethical problems at CRI, despite the fact that to me and others the lawsuit contained so many patently bogus complaints as to render the entire proceedings suspect. (This is all detailed in appendix D.)

Despite admonitions from the EMNR board, Alnor increasingly involved himself in the CRI controversy, discussing the matter with Sparks and members of the Group and initiating discussions about the controversy with Christian leaders both in the countercult community and the body of Christ at large, as well as sending them unsolicited materials he thought were damaging to Hank. Some of these Christian leaders began to look askance at Hank as a result of Alnor’s activity, while others saw that activity as reason to look askance at Alnor instead. For example, Dr. Norman Geisler asked, “Who does he think he is, assistant secretary to the Holy Spirit?” As Alnor’s relationship with CRI became increasingly antagonistic I revisited my previous soft-hearted (and headed!) decision to retain him as a contributing writer and I removed him from the list.

A Dubious Attempt at “Restoration”
 

 Alnor’s attempt at mediation culminated with an eleven-page February 6, 1995 (wrongly dated 1994) letter that he sent to Hank. The letter was presented as an attempt to bring restoration to Hank’s ministry and relationships with his critics, and it did not list anyone else as receiving copies. Alnor ultimately admitted, however, to sending the letter to the CRI board and twelve additional people, including Brad Sparks, Robert Bowman (who by this time was the chief spokesperson of the Group and appeared to be almost its only remaining active representative), Robert Morey (who had launched a fierce diatribe against CRI in his newsletter and announced his intention to supplant the Bible Answer Man with his own radio show, Truth Seekers), and Randy Frame, a reporter for Christianity Today who had been covering the Sparks lawsuit. Additional people said they were sent copies, including the president of Salem Broadcasting, the network that hosts The Bible Answer Man. Indeed, most or all of these people received the letter well before Hank, whose copy did not arrive in the mail until February 20.[2]

In the letter Alnor advised Hank on what he needed to do to make things right, including firing his attorneys, selling his home and cutting his salary, rescinding or greatly modifying in-house documents for employees (which were standard documents in use for “at will” employees), firing his executive vice-president outright, and having Bowman and Morey as guests on The Bible Answer Man. (Hank was apparently supposed to overlook the fact that they were both engaged in active campaigns to bring him down.) Alnor also advised Hank, “Do not merge Personal Witness Training with CRI.” (To understand what Personal Witness Training is, and why this advice was completely inappropriate and based on a one-sided inquiry into the facts, see chapter eight and also appendix D.)

In this letter supposedly written to bring restoration but sent to Hank’s fiercest adversaries as well as to the press, Alnor wrote, “I am on the verge of moving out of neutrality and to opposing you concerning your battle with Brad Sparks, Robert Bowman, and the others in the so-called Committee [sic] for CRI Accountability” (emphasis in original). Alnor accused Hank of moral and ethical lapses and of abusing his authority, but the examples he cited largely rehashed the allegations of Sparks and the Group, and none of them stood up to scrutiny.

For example, the accusation he put the most emphasis on was that Hank withdrew CRI from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) just in time to keep all the royalties from his book, Christianity in Crisis, rather than give those royalties to CRI, as, Alnor said, the ECFA rules required. In a March 6, 1995 letter to Alnor I responded to this section of his letter to Hank:

You state that Hank lied to you about giving his royalties from Christianity in Crisis to CRI. You further endorse Brad Sparks’s theory that CRI withdrew from ECFA so Hank wouldn’t have to follow their rule requiring that he give his royalties to the ministry. Again you demonstrate your lack of care in getting down to the facts. If you checked with ECFA you would have found that their regulation only applies to those copies of Hank’s book sold by CRI for fund-raising or promotional purposes. And, if you checked with CRI you would have found that Hank has always done this. Therefore, withdrawing from ECFA did not result in any increase in royalties for Hank. Furthermore, CRI exceeds ECFA’s regulation because we all forego the royalties for all of our books sold by CRI, not just those used for promotional and fund-raising purposes. By joining Sparks in publicly airing your judgments in this matter you have also joined him in the sin of publicly accusing a Christian leader of unsubstantiated wrongs. By the way, have you given the royalty money from all copies of your books sold through Eastern Christian Outreach—or even just those used for promotional and fund-raising purposes—back to the ministry? I suspect that, even proportionately, Hank’s giving has far exceeded yours (and Bowman’s) in the very area in which you accuse him.

A statement released by CRI explaining the reason for its withdrawal from ECFA was available to Alnor but he ignored it. It explained that in 1992 CRI withdrew from ECFA as a member in good standing because ECFA had violated its own policies by leaking confidential information to the press that it was uncovering in its review process of member ministries. It turned out that some of those ministries were ultimately exonerated of financial abuse, but ECFA’s breaching of due confidentiality in its review process hurt those ministries. In 1995, after ECFA had dealt with the internal problems that led to those violations of its own policies, CRI rejoined ECFA and has been a member ever since.

Alnor Reveals His Soul
 

 I found Alnor’s making his letter to Hank public so unacceptable for the executive director of EMNR that I called a special meeting of the board to deal with the problem and I pressed to have him removed from his position. Alnor countered by pressing to have me removed from the board. During that meeting I made reference to the fact that Alnor had created similar problems for CRI, which led to his being fired as news editor of the Journal. To my utter astonishment, Alnor looked me straight in the eye and declared that what I said was a lie—he had resigned as news editor in protest of Hank’s leadership and he had a copy of his resignation letter, and my From the Editor saying he was moving on to his own ministry, to prove it! I now began to realize that I had been set up. He deliberately sent that resignation letter and asked me to write the From the Editor so that he would have a paper trail backing up his version of what happened, and since I told him he was fired over the phone I had no comparable documentation.

I was flabbergasted that a Christian could engage in such calculated deception and then turn around and call the other party a liar, which brings the deception up to the full-blown level of bearing false witness against your neighbor, which is breaking the Ninth Commandment. Before this personal experience, Christian charity led me to attribute Alnor’s inappropriate behavior and erroneous claims to mistakes in judgment and not to deliberate distortion of truth. This experience left me no room for doubt that Alnor is a conscious deceiver.

In my understanding and experience of the Christian life, it is impossible to maintain fellowship with God or remain in a healthy relationship with Him if I am knowingly continuing in sin, and yet Alnor has never acknowledged or repented of this sin against me; instead he has continued to repeat it and did so publicly in an article on the now-defunct Web site On the Edge, as well as on his own Web site.[3] This and additional misrepresentations of truth documented in this volume that are arguably willful (such as those involved in his mail fraud allegations—see chapter six) raise disturbing questions about his very profession of Christianity. For example, if he is more concerned about how God views him than how man views him, how could he continue in such deliberate deception for so long?

In an April 13, 1995 memorandum from Bill Alnor to the EMNR board Alnor wrote,

Elliot Miller outright lied when he stated on page 2 that Bill Alnor was somehow removed as news editor of the Christian Research Journal. “I kept your name listed as a contributing editor,” Miller wrote, “Wanting you to save face, I never publicly disclosed why you were no longer news editor.”

The facts reveal that Bill Alnor resigned as news editor after a time of much prayer and grief. Elliot Miller never accused Alnor of sloppy fact-gathering or bad reporting for the last four years of his tenure as news editor. In fact, Miller is on record as declaring that Alnor was doing a “great job.” Alnor’s resignation letter is on file and it specifically states his reasons as (1) his inability to continue to work with Miller due to what Alnor believed was a breach of trust and (2) CRI’s treatment of its employees. …

As far as Alnor becoming a contributing writer, that occurred about a week following Alnor’s resignation when Elliot called Bill, apparently upset over his resignation, wanting to continue a relationship with Bill. Bill reluctantly agreed to come back as a contributing writer.…

In my September 5, 1995 reply to the EMNR board concerning Alnor’s memorandum, I wrote, “For me the most disturbing part of this entire memorandum is the section where Bill states that I ‘outright lied’ about how his tenure as news editor at the Journal came to an end. It is disturbing not so much in that he accuses me of lying as in that his recounting of what happened is a very bold rewriting of history that he has to know is an outright lie—unless he has a scary ability to convince himself of his own historic revisionism. This was discussed at the meeting and I hope it was evident to you who was telling the truth.…” I recounted for the board the events leading up to and culminating in Alnor’s termination as our news editor. I then added:

In light of these facts, it is absolutely preposterous for Bill to say that he resigned because of a loss of trust in my truthfulness, because of CRI’s treatment of its employees, and because of how CRI handled the Phil Aguilar story. He so wanted to continue as the Journal’s news editor that he stuck with it even after it had become extremely difficult for him to fit it into his schedule. He “resigned” strictly because he’d already been terminated.

It is a boldfaced lie for him to say that I never accused him of sloppy fact-gathering or bad reporting.

It is an astounding fabrication for him to claim that I called him a week after receiving his resignation letter, “apparently upset over his resignation, wanting to continue a relationship with Bill” as a contributing writer, and that he “reluctantly agreed” to do so.

His recounting of more recent events involving his termination as a contributing writer is also very misleading.…when we discussed his continuing as a contributing writer last September he expressed no reservations about continuing in the position as he claims, but rather he expressed concern that maybe he would not be allowed to continue. I would remind you that you all have copies of his February 19 letter to me stating that the Winter issue of the Journal “looks good,” inquiring why his name was not listed as a contributing writer, and stating his desire to stay on, as well as copies of his subsequent April 13 letter to me stating his resignation as a contributing writer and citing reasons having to do with CRI’s leadership crisis and my own lack of leadership as editor-in-chief. As one of you observed at the April 15 meeting, “there seems to be a pattern here” of Bill sending out resignation letters after the severance was effected by the other side.

The allegation of “outright lying” about Bill’s departure as our news editor is thus pointed right back at Bill. I should hope that you are as disturbed as I am at the thought that EMNR’s executive director is capable of such elaborate deception.

Not only was the entire Journal editorial board present at the meeting in 1992, one month prior to the date on his resignation letter, where it was unanimously determined that Alnor would be terminated, but the “resignation letter” itself inconsistently acknowledges that the severance was not effected by Alnor. Alnor wrote: “I strongly disagree with your attempt to replace me (apparently at Hank’s direction) as news editor….” I also have on file a February 24, 1992 hand-written fax from Russ Chandler in which he states that he has not yet reached a decision about the news editor position and then a February 29, 1992 fax in which he states his decision not to accept our offer. Alnor referenced speaking with Chandler over the prior weekend in his March 2 “resignation letter.”

As for Alnor’s claim that “Elliot Miller never accused Alnor of sloppy fact-gathering or bad reporting for the last four years of his tenure as news editor,” please refer to my previously quoted May 5, 1989 letter to Alnor in which I devoted four full pages to detailing the problems with his fact gathering and reporting that he would need to correct if he wished to retain his job. There was also a letter I wrote to him on February 17, 1989, in which I noted several problems with his reporting and told him his response would determine whether he still had a job. He replied in a March 6, 1989 letter: ““Please don’t elect to end my role at the Journal. I will try harder to be more clear in my reporting.” Given this background, when problems resurfaced with Alnor’s reporting in 1991 to the point where we needed to print several retractions there was every reason for him to believe that his position with CRI was once again tenuous.

Did Aguilar Bribe CRI? A Case Study in the Dynamics of Rumor
 

 At the conclusion of the special meeting that I called, the EMNR board decided to allow Alnor to continue as executive director as long as he followed the specific resolutions and guidelines governing his behavior that would be given to him by the board, which included writing a letter of apology to Hank for his previous February 6, 1995 letter. He sent Hank two letters, the first apologizing that other people received the February 6 letter before Hank did, and the second apologizing if the tone was too harsh. Nonetheless, despite Alnor’s apparently strong desire to retain his position with EMNR, he could not stay out of the controversy. He disseminated demonstrably false and injurious information about CRI in his EChO newsletter (e.g., Jan./Feb. 1996). He also clearly had some level of involvement (encouragement at the very least) with a rumor that was now raging through the discernment ministry community that Hank had taken a bribe from Phil Aguilar, and that, the rumor suggested, was why CRI refused to go along with Alnor in investigating and exposing Set Free.

I am going to include a lengthy excerpt from my September 5, 1995 memorandum to the EMNR board responding to Alnor’s motion to have me removed from the board mainly because it illustrates so well the flaws in Alnor’s approach to reporting and discernment ministry. Notice, among other things, his lack of hesitation to express to the press his unproven suspicion of unethical behavior by a Christian leader without regard for the damage that such published allegations would do to that leader’s reputation and the work of the ministry he leads. It also illustrates well how Alnor reaches his erroneous conclusions, and, generally, how stories about Hank and CRI continue to be embellished as they pass from one critic to another, until what ends up appearing on the Internet or in the press sounds scandalous indeed, whereas nothing scandalous actually occurred.

You recall that Bill [Alnor] denied at the meeting that he had accused Hank of taking a bribe from Phil Aguilar while admitting that he suspected that Hank had taken a bribe. He said that he had replied to questions from the press on this that all he could say was that it was known that money went into Hank’s office from Set Free (which, of course, strongly suggests impropriety). Now, Bill apparently bases this on John Jones’s [name changed to protect employee confidentiality] June 1, 1994 letter to the CRI board in which Jones states:

It has also been my experience that CRI leadership has covered up evidence against such groups as Set Free and had “under the table’ dealings with the said group. I personally witnessed over 500 pieces of mail by pass Accounts Receivable/Correspondence Processing and go directly to “Hank’s office” via Jane Huckaby. Some of the letters from Set Free slipped through and since I was a reader in Correspondence I read them. They were thanking CRI for backing up Set Free which I knew to be false. When I tried to log the letters in the back of CRI where all mail for up to 2 yrs is kept, the letters were nowhere to be found.

Notice that Jones says nothing about donations being received. The letters he opened merely thanked CRI for backing Set Free. The idea that donations were involved would be inferred by his reference to “under the table dealings,” the supposedly sinister fact that the letters were intercepted and not processed as normal mail, and his reference to Accounts Receivable/Correspondence (which are actually two departments that sometimes process the same mail if there is a donation enclosed; however it is misleading to lump them together as Jones did, because most letters that pass through Correspondence do not contain donations).

The unwarranted inference that donations were being brought to Hank’s office as bribes accepted from Set Free next appears in explicit form in the publication Christian Media, which interviewed Bill for its August-September 1994 story, and reported:

Another interesting aspect of the emerging scandal is the case of The Set Free Christian Fellowship….In Spring of 1991, the CRI Journal published a critical article concerning Set Free’s abusive tactics. Written by CRI contributing editor Bill Alnor, the article became the subject of several telephone conversations between Set Free’s Aguilar and Hank Hanegraaff. Shortly after these conversations, CRI began receiving “donations” in Set Free envelopes. One employee of CRI, John Jones, claims to have seen hundreds of unopened envelopes marked Set Free. When he inquired as to why CRI would accept funds from a cult group, he was told to turn over the checks he had opened rather than send them to the accounting department. Jones claims none of the Set Free funds were ever processed and the checks were routed directly to Hank Hanegraaff. Shortly afterwards, when he continued to inquire about the Set Free funds, Jones was fired and threatened with legal action if he discussed the matter.

In fact, Jones was terminated because of matters related to his job performance. The allegation that he was terminated because of inquiring about Set Free donations is not even supported by his own testimony, let alone the facts—it was maliciously fabricated either by Christian Media or its source.

The facts concerning the Set Free letters are as follows: knowing Bill Alnor’s connection with CRI through the Journal, Phil Aguilar called Hank Hanegraaff concerning a November 10, 1991 letter Bill sent out to over 300 pastors to warn them about Set Free. Aguilar claimed that the letter contained falsehoods. At this point CRI had looked into some allegations concerning Set Free but had not reached any conclusions and thus had not taken a position on the group. For this reason Hank had not been pleased with Bill’s “critical article concerning Set Free’s abusive tactics” because it did not merely report on the controversy surrounding Set Free; it was very one-sided and incriminating without offering any proof. Hank did some preliminary investigation into Aguilar’s claims and found that three statements made by Bill—the first two in his letter to the churches and the third in conversations with Hank and his secretary—did indeed appear to be misrepresentations: (1) that Aguilar lives extravagantly; (2) that Set Free bikers came to Oden Fong’s Bible studies at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in attempts to intimidate Fong; (3) that Aguilar had taped his phone conversation with Hank. In order to be responsible and fair in his dealings with Set Free (as is our general policy with all groups), Hank acknowledged to Aguilar that these statements appeared to be false. This pleased Aguilar. However, correspondence we have on file documents that the nature of their relationship all along was strained and mutually suspicious.

Hank had serious misgivings about Aguilar but he also believed that poor research methodology would only play into Aguilar’s hands. Hank wrote a letter to Bill dated December 6, 1991 (encl. 3) in which he responded to concerns that Bill raised to him in a letter of November 30 (which Bill also copied to individuals both inside and outside of CRI). [Here I quoted from Hank’s November 25, 1991 letter to Alnor previously quoted in the present book.] …

Since Hank clearly explained his position to Bill, I cannot understand how Bill could have come to suspect that Hank took a bribe from Aguilar. Was it because Aguilar got up before his congregation on November 10, 1991 and gave Hank some rather dubious praise (see encl. 4)? Bill was well aware that this is a typical Aguilar strategy for dealing with his perceived enemies that he also employed with Chuck Smith and Oden Fong. Was it because in that same message Aguilar quotes Hank as praising Set Free? Aguilar provided no proof that he was accurately representing what Hank said, and Bill was well aware that Aguilar previously took Oden Fong out of context to make it sound as though Fong were praising Set Free (see encl. 5). Was it because CRI received about 500 letters from Set Free members “encouraging” Hank (all basically saying the same thing)? Bill was well aware that Aguilar instructed them to do this in that November 10 message (encl. 3), telling them exactly what to say, making no reference to sending donations, and even having our address passed out to them when they left (see encl. 6). Bill was further well aware that Aguilar had used the same tactic with Chuck Smith, for he pointed this out to Hank in his November 30 letter. Was it because the letters were not processed through the CRI system as other letters are? What ever happened to believing the best about your brother? Could the reason not rather have been because we recognized the tactic that was being employed, did not want these names to be put on our mailing list, did not want our Correspondence Processing department to put time into responding to them, and did not want these letters to become separated so we could better track what Set Free was up to? The letters were all put in a box where they remain to this day down in our storage area.

Even if we accept Bill’s minimizing of his own role in this matter, he had no defensible basis for suspecting that Hank was taking a bribe from Phil Aguilar, nor for telling the press that donations from Set Free went into Hank’s office. I believe he again owes Hank an apology and retraction.

Again, this lengthy quotation was worth including in this book because it provides such a good example of how malicious stories about CRI often get started based on cynical interpretations of innocent activities that are later embellished by critics of CRI who are not concerned about fairness and factual accuracy, and then they begin to take on a life of their own on the Internet. This particular demonstrably false allegation that CRI changed its position on Set Free after receiving donations from them was referenced as recently as August 6, 2008 in a post on the apologetics list AR-Talk by Alnor’s close associate in opposition to CRI, Jay Howard.


[1] See our review in the Summer 1995 Christian Research Journal, http://www.equip.org/atf/cf/%7B9C4EE03A-F988-4091-84BD-F8E70A3B0215%7D/DS481.pdf

[2] In compliance with a directive of the EMNR board, Alnor sent a letter to Hank dated August 8, 1995 in which he apologized for the “harsh tone” of his February 5 letter, for distributing it “to a small number of other people before you had the opportunity to receive it and respond to it,” and for “making a comment to Bob and Gretchen Passantino that indicated that the board agreed with me on this matter ‘with the possible exception of one.’” He added, “I am copying this letter to each person to whom I sent the former letter, and by this letter I am requesting that they send this letter to each person that they distributed the last letter.” He added as a P.S., “I am enclosing the names and addresses of those people I sent the February letter to, and I am also sending Elliot Miller a copy of the list.” This is how I know the names of people to whom Alnor sent his February 5 letter to Hank without naming them as recipients on the letter.

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