Breaking the Silence: Setting the Record Straight

Article ID: BTS2010-13 | By: Elliot Miller
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Breaking the Silence

Appendix D:

Setting the Record Straight:
A Response to Recent [1] Attacks against the
Christian Research Institute

 

by Elliot Miller, CRI Editor-in-Chief

In its 35-year history the Christian Research Institute (CRI) has never been sued by any of the groups we have researched and exposed. However, the spiritual warfare (Satan-directed attacks) that we have faced over the years—including defamatory attacks on our integrity[2]—has often been brutal.

When CRI president Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis was published in April 1993 we braced ourselves for perhaps the strongest satanic onslaught in our history, as we were taking on some of the most powerful televangelists in the country. Well, that satanic onslaught has indeed come—but not through the means we expected.[3]

In March 1994 former CRI employee Brad Sparks brought a frivolous and malicious lawsuit against us and—with the aid of a few other disgruntled former employees—has broadly disseminated his false and defamatory allegations against CRI to the public. His goal has clearly been to smear the good name of CRI and its president.

Perhaps you have heard some of the allegations made by Sparks and his so-called “Group for CRI Accountability.” For a long time we were restricted by our corporate attorney, Sealy Yates, from issuing a public response to these allegations, while he looked into them for himself. But after a thorough examination by legal counsel as well as outside agencies, these accusations have not only been proven to be false but, as Yates put it, he would stake his personal reputation on the integrity of Hank Hanegraaff and the Christian Research Institute. Yates commented that the deeper he probed, the better the organization looked, and that the organization is as clean as any of the many well-known and reputable Christian ministries that he represents. We have therefore now been released to answer Sparks and the “Group,” and that is the purpose of this document.

I realize that the claim, “This is an attack by the Devil” has often been made by ministers who truly were guilty of the misdeeds charged. But the Christian must recognize that Satan can attack a work of God in this way. Thus I would ask you to reserve judgment as to whether this is a satanic attack until after you finish reading this document. But to best put the current attack on CRI in perspective, it will help to first understand the historical context of how this situation came about.

How Could This Happen?

How could a ministry such as CRI, which has always been so careful in its research as to avoid lawsuits by even the most litigious of groups, end up being sued by a former employee? Were compromise and corruption lurking underneath the surface of CRI all along, just waiting for a conscientious employee to expose them? Although CRI’s many theological detractors would love for you to think this were the case, the answer to this question is an unqualified no. As will be demonstrated below, the allegations against CRI now being gleefully circulated by our critics are entirely groundless and false.

The opposition CRI has been experiencing from certain former employees can largely be explained by the fact that less than six years ago the ministry went through a major, critical transition with the sudden and unexpected death of its founder, Dr. Walter Martin. Walter was a uniquely gifted man, a legend in his own time, who was widely regarded as the father of the Christian countercult movement. He was a man of extraordinary vision, and CRI was the major result of that vision. His gifts and personal charisma were the centrifugal force that held the ministry together for more than 29 years. Although some on the research staff seemed to believe that they were more informed and more scholarly than Walter himself,[4] they hesitated to stand up against the founder of the ministry.

Realizing that his health was precarious and that he lacked the organizational skills to bring his vision fully into reality, in 1988 Walter persuaded CRI board member and personal friend, Hank Hanegraaff, to accept hands-on leadership of the ministry as its chief executive officer. Having sought his counsel many times in the past, Walter recognized that Hank possessed exceptional wisdom in the areas of corporate and ministry leadership.

Furthermore, Hank had proven himself to be an able communicator of Christian apologetics to the lay person, a task that Walter saw as central to the mission of CRI. In fact, Walter frequently stated that the incorporation of Hank’s Memory Dynamics training program into CRI would greatly enhance its ministry.

Walter thus believed that Hank possessed the ministry, business, and personal/spiritual strengths necessary to carry CRI into the 21st century.[5] During the several months between Hank’s assumption of this responsibility and Walter’s death, Walter frequently expressed enthusiastic and unconditional support for Hank and the job that he was doing.

It needs to be appreciated that it was an incredible work of God’s sovereign grace that Hank Hanegraaff was in place as CRI’s chief executive officer when Walter Martin unexpectedly died. Organizations often do not survive the deaths of their founders, especially when the organization’s success had largely been based on the strength of the founder’s personality. Because of Hank’s vision, character, skill, and dynamic personality, CRI has not only survived Walter’s death but has extended its outreach and financial base to four to five times what it was when he died.

It is not surprising that Hank has experienced fierce internal opposition over the past several years. Organizations that do survive the death of their founders typically go through major crises. Once the founder is gone people who think they know best how the organization should be run (or that they would be the best person running it!) are emboldened to assert themselves against the surviving or succeeding leadership. This has especially been the case at CRI, where, due to the nature of the ministry (which demands immense knowledge and critical thinking), a “know it all” attitude is an occupational hazard (although many individuals on staff have avoided this snare). Although Hank would be the first to say that he is not perfect, I have found his diplomacy, humility, and grace under fire to be a model of Christian leadership.

The Uprising of 1990

In June of 1990, a year after Walter’s passing, a surprise, concerted effort was made to turn CRI’s board of directors against Hank. It became apparent that a key source of this uprising was CRI researcher Craig Hawkins, who had just resigned and, in a meeting with the board, impugned both Hank’s character and competence to lead CRI, stating that he would not return to CRI unless Hank was removed. Hawkins emphatically denies that these actions were part of an organized coups attempt. Whether it started out that way in his mind or not, a deliberate effort quickly followed on the part of a faction of employees and others involved with CRI to convince the board that Hank should be ousted and that his replacement should be Hawkins, who had been hosting the Bible Answer Man since Walter’s death and had participated regularly with Walter in the program in the months before Walter died. (However, Hawkins had no executive or leadership experience that would commend him for the CEO position.)

Although one board member, Stan Tonnesen, was swayed by these arguments, the board as a whole, including senior board member and close friend of Walter Martin, Everett Jacobson, rejected as false the claims of Hawkins and his faction, and expressed their unqualified support of Hank. So also did Walter’s widow, Darlene, who has since become a member of the board. Furthermore, the research staff, including current Sparks ally, Robert M. (“Rob”) Bowman, Jr., signed the following appeal to the CRI board:

The entire research department has been deeply concerned and disturbed by what appears to be a systematic, underhanded campaign on the part of Craig Hawkins and others to oust Hank Hanegraaff from his position as President of CRI. Evidence for this can be found (among other sources) in the firsthand testimony of Ken Samples, who was told blatant falsehoods about Hank, and who was falsely represented as being able to substantiate all of Craig’s charges. The result of Craig’s efforts has been the planting of many seeds of distrust and disinformation within the organization.

We also wish to go on record as stating that we would all submit our resignations to the Board if Craig Hawkins were restored to CRI, unless he thoroughly repents and gives a public confession to CRI personnel of his wrongdoing. Throughout this affair he has confused his own personal agenda with the good of the ministry, and has done much harm to the ministry in the process.

This statement is significant because Sparks and Bowman are now attempting to portray the 1990 uprising as a legitimate protest of abuses that have continued to the present time. In fact, about one-third of the individuals identified by Bowman as members of the current “Group” participated in the 1990 revolt and/or left CRI around that time. This includes former Bible Answer Man radio producer Craig Nelson, whom Bowman alleges is the founder of the Group.[6]

Sadly, the “seeds of distrust and disinformation” planted within the organization in 1990 would sprout again and again over the years that followed. They have reached full maturity in the present attack on Hank and CRI.

Memory Dynamics

One of these “seeds” pertained to Hank’s making his educational “Memory Dynamics” and “Personal Witness Training (PWT)” materials available to the Christian public through CRI (something that—as I’ve noted—Walter Martin wanted him to do). Memory Dynamics, Inc. is a for-profit business that Hank created years before coming to CRI. Memory Dynamics and Personal Witness Training are designed to equip committed Christians to internalize scripture and to communicate effectively what they believe, why they believe it, and where the cults deviate from the historic Christian faith in an “inherently memorable” fashion.

Participants in the 1990 revolt alleged that Hank was unethically co-mingling his own private business with CRI business and illegally using CRI’s nonprofit tax status as a cover for his own for-profit activities. On different occasions since 1990, employees would raise concerns about CRI’s involvement with Memory Dynamics/PWT afresh, and now Sparks has made it a major issue in his lawsuit. He claims that he was unlawfully fired because he told CRI management that Hanegraaff’s financial relationships with CRI amounted to “violations of state and federal tax laws” to the extent that it was a “violation of public policy” and jeopardized CRI’s tax-exempt status (see below).

The protests that Hank and his wife Kathy have been illegally or unethically using CRI for personal profit resulted from a misunderstanding of the facts and the law. The only “tax law” that Hank could have possibly violated is that portion of Internal Revenue Code Section 501 (c)(3) that prohibits “private inurement”; that is, when the net earnings of a nonprofit organization “inure” to the benefit of a private party. According to Yates, who after 24 years of practice in the field is an expert on charitable organization tax law, the “inurement” prohibition of Section 501 (c)(3)

is not absolute, but…that qualifying clause has been interpreted consistently over the years to require unreasonable or substantial inurement before it is wrong and will adversely affect an organization’s tax exempt status. The courts have consistently held that transactions between a tax-exempt organization and persons who control it are permissible, and will not jeopardize its tax exempt status, so long as the related persons deal with the organization at arm’s length and the organization’s interests are protected….

Although a tax-exempt organization must serve public rather than private interests, this does not mean that individuals involved in the organization cannot receive any funds from it, but rather that they may not receive inurement in excess of the fair market value of goods or services that they have furnished to the organization….

The private inurement test is in essence, a “big picture” test. Specific or individual financial transactions of the organization must be analyzed in terms of the overall activities of the organization and the intent of those in control of the organization (i.e., is the intent of the organization [those in control] to serve the specified tax exempt purposes of the organization, or is it the intent to serve the interests of an individual or individuals?), based on the reasonableness, and the substantiality of the transactions. Private inurement is virtually never found in cases involving isolated financial transactions (or even a series of such transactions) that may benefit an individual, but which do not involve a substantial portion of the net earnings and overall activities of the tax exempt organization….

In sum, it is evident that the private inurement prohibition of Section 501(c)(3) is directed at payments that are consistently made to individuals having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization for purposes other than as reasonable compensation for goods or services and at situations where the inurement has little or no connection with any benefit for the organization’s stated tax exempt purposes.[7]

How do Hank’s business interactions with CRI stand up in light of this clarification of the law? It first of all needs to be recognized that there was nothing incompatible about Hank’s adding materials that help Christians to better present and defend their faith to the overall product line of CRI. It was a unique contribution that the new president could bring to the ministry’s lay-equipping arsenal, and was certainly consistent with “the organization’s stated tax-exempt purposes.”

Second, in the “big picture,” these transactions represent but a minuscule part of the overall organizational activities and net earnings of CRI. The ministry as a whole clearly was fulfilling its stated non-profit purposes and was not a tax-exempt cover for a private party’s profit-making schemes (which has always been the case when organizations have lost their tax-exempt status, as with, e.g., cult leader Tony Alamo). In fact, the kind of business dealings that took place between Hank and CRI go on all the time in religious and educational organizations and are considered perfectly acceptable.

Third, Hank’s business interactions with CRI were definitely conducted “at arm’s length.” Here’s what really happened: in 1990 the board of directors requested that Hank make the Memory Dynamics materials available to CRI because these materials could be used strategically to further CRI’s purpose and benefit its ministry (it was not Hank who first suggested that the organization carry his materials). The minutes of the June 1990 meeting of the board record that Hank agreed to sell the materials to CRI, but at Memory Dynamics’ “cost to produce them, which would allow CRI to make 100% of the profit from the same materials.” At that time, however, the board (with Hank abstaining) determined that CRI would purchase these materials “at cost plus an overhead factor.” But even with this “overhead factor” added, the materials were still sold to CRI at a wholesale discount (much less than fair market value) and CRI then sold them at retail prices; thus the ministry received a substantial financial benefit from them. Any profit Hank and Kathy made was clearly a reasonable compensation for goods provided to the organization.

Every sale thereafter of Memory Dynamics materials to CRI was individually and specifically approved by the board (with Hank abstaining). However, beginning in January 1992 (months before Sparks was even employed at CRI), Hank and Kathy determined that they would no longer allow CRI to purchase any Memory Dynamics materials from them. Instead, since that date, the Hanegraaffs have been giving these materials to CRI at no charge. This means that since January 1992 CRI has been receiving 100% of the revenues from the Memory Dynamics materials it has sold while the Hanegraaffs have been paying 100% of the cost of creating and manufacturing those materials. In just the past year this has amounted to a contribution from the Hanegraaffs to CRI of over $40,000.

Not wanting to trumpet his giving before others (Matt. 6:1–4), Hank did not announce to the staff that he had been making this contribution. But even when he did explain this to certain staff members who raised questions, they seemed unwilling to believe that Hank was really not profiting from CRI’s distribution of Memory Dynamics materials.

The Truth about Brad Sparks

In addition to the questions that some raised about Memory Dynamics, from time to time over the years complaints would be voiced—by a distinct minority of employees—over Hank’s doctrinal positions on issues such as Roman Catholicism, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or the Faith movement, and over certain leadership decisions that he had made. But between the uprising of June 1990 and March of 1994 there was no concerted effort to oust Hank from his position as president of CRI. However, on Friday, March 4, 1994, Brad Sparks was laid off from CRI. The following Monday Sparks filed his lawsuit. That week Sparks began sending out copies of his legal complaint with its outrageous allegations to ministries, publications, and Christian leaders across the country. Within a few weeks he galvanized disgruntled former employees and a few former volunteers, who formed the so-called “Group for CRI Accountability.” On April 23 Sparks’s wife Valerie and some of this group picketed a CRI warehouse sale, holding signs and passing out literature that accused Hank of financial and employee abuse. Since then they have been pursuing a full-scale public relations war against Hank and CRI, and doing much harm to the ministry and cause they supposedly care about in the process (e.g., the enemies of what CRI stands for are predictably citing Sparks and the Group’s claims as “proof” that their unbiblical positions have been vindicated).

Clearly, Brad Sparks is the instigator of the current attack on CRI. And the unrighteousness of this attack becomes clearer once the historical relationship of Sparks to CRI is understood.

Sparks represented himself to Hank and CRI as having a strong research background in creation science and archaeology. He stated on his application form that he had received a B.A. in astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley. However, it has recently come out that he misrepresented his credentials to us. In a September 26, 1994 deposition for his lawsuit he admitted that although he majored in astrophysics at UC Berkeley, he never graduated and did not possess any B.A. degree

Sparks conducted an interview with Hank and then was formally hired in an interview with then Vice-President of Research Bob Lyle, beginning his employment at CRI on May 26, 1992. In his lawsuit Sparks claims that he was wrongfully terminated because he had an oral agreement with Hank that he would be a permanent employee. He also alleged that Hank promised him a beginning salary of $30,000, with merit raises thereafter. However, Hank denies that either of these agreements were made, and Lyle testifies that—as was his practice with all new employees—he explained to Sparks at the time of his interview that his employment with CRI would be on an “at-will” basis, meaning that either he or CRI could terminate his employment at any time without cause. Furthermore, Sparks never received a salary as high as $30,000 at CRI, and there is no record of his complaining that his oral “contract” with Hank was not being honored.

Sparks was to work with Erwin de Castro as a research assistant to the president. Hank told Sparks that he would be drawing on Sparks’s expertise in certain areas as needed, but it was clearly stated from the start that Sparks’s job would consist of “answering [some of Hank’s] personal correspondence and assisting in research projects,”[8] and that he would be working under Lyle and directly under de Castro. Yet Sparks persistently acted as though he was accountable to no one at CRI but Hank.

He further assumed that he had the right to spend substantial portions of his time at CRI pursuing his own book project on the Exodus—a project that he affirmed he had been working on prior to coming to CRI and that was never assigned to him as a CRI project. In all my 18 years at CRI I’ve never seen anything like it: Sparks would regularly be found for extended periods of time tying up either the upstairs (Research Department’s) or downstairs copying machine while he worked on his own personal projects. His assigned responsibility of answering correspondence for Hank persistently suffered as a result. Even during times when there was a pressing project Hank needed him to accomplish he would often be found engaged in his own personal projects. It was widely felt by CRI staff who observed Brad, including his supervisors, that he was giving much less than his expected 40 hours a week to CRI.

In addition to these abuses of his CRI position, Sparks habitually arrived at the office late (often extremely late), even after his schedule was adjusted so that he could come in an hour later (11:00 am—6:00 PM), and at other times he would leave early, take excessive lunch breaks, or not show up at all without notice. He engaged in frequent and lengthy personal telephone calls on CRI time. He excessively used the CRI fax machine for his personal business use. All of this behavior is documented in his personnel file, dating back to the first month of his employment at CRI. Furthermore, although Sparks has since denied it, many of these concerns were brought to his attention in conferences as early as June 15, June 24, and July 1 of 1992.

Not only did Sparks misuse CRI resources, but he also created public relations problems for Hank. This he did by the sometimes inflammatory and offensive manner in which he represented Hank to the public (e.g., in correspondence).

Still other concerns about Sparks’s behavior surfaced. In July of 1992 he got involved in a debate with a CRI researcher (since resigned) who, by his own admission, had a problem with his temper when sufficiently provoked. As the intensity of the argument became serious, Sparks could be heard[9] speaking in a provocative manner, refusing to back off as the other researcher heatedly demanded that he leave his office. Concerned that this fracas might escalate into a physical fight, researcher Ron Rhodes interposed himself between the two men and broke it up. In a report to Hank following the incident Sparks stated that the provoked researcher had physically accosted him and it was only Ron Rhodes who saved him from being thrust into a book shelf. However, Rhodes states that this version of the altercation was an outright lie: the researcher had not laid a hand on Sparks.

In another disturbing incident, Ron Rhodes reported that on Thursday, January 27, 1994, at about 2:50 PM (just before Sparks was about to participate in a Bible Answer Man program), Rhodes could clearly hear a telephone conversation Sparks was having just outside Rhodes’s open door. Rhodes wrote in his report: “During the phone call (I don’t know who he was talking to), he became angry and heated, raising his voice. I point this out to emphasize I could clearly hear what Brad was saying. At one point in the conversation, I clearly heard Brad say, with a raised and angry voice, ‘That’s a goddamned lie.’” The following day Rhodes reported the incident to Sparks’s immediate supervisor at the time, Paul Carden, and then the following week he reported it to Hank.

This was not the first instance in which Sparks used foul language while on the job at CRI. On September 22, 1992 he was upset that his computer was not operating properly and so was swearing in the presence of other employees. Lyle reprimanded him and recorded the incident in Sparks’s personnel file.

As an employee who was not directly involved with the situation, I was amazed that Sparks was tolerated for as long as he was (this, in fact, is the only true failing of CRI in its dealings with the man). However, in the spring of 1993 action was taken to bring Sparks under strict accountability. In a May 11 meeting with de Castro Sparks was told that (1) his daily office hours would be moved to 9:00–5:30 with two 10-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch. He would have to punch a time clock, and any tardiness on his time card would have to be signed by de Castro. Furthermore, cumulative tardiness in excess of 15 minutes per week would be deemed grounds for immediate termination; (2) all office-hours activities were to be confined strictly to items assigned and approved by de Castro or Hank, and the progress of such projects would be tracked. Personal research projects were to be handled outside CRI during non-CRI hours; (3) he was restricted from using CRI equipment to print, fax, photocopy, or bind personal items; (4) his use of CRI phones for personal calls was to be kept at a minimum and confined to break periods. He was also to pay for them; (5) he was to obtain prior approval from Hank or de Castro before issuing any public statement on behalf of CRI; and (6) all absences and personal time off were to be preapproved by de Castro.

Instead of appreciating the fact that, despite his poor record, he was being offered an opportunity to save his position at CRI, Sparks responded to these restrictions as an infringement of his constitutional and biblical rights. Without authorization, he printed a “newsletter” entitled “Your Rights as a CRI Employee” and, on May 20, 1993, placed it in the mail box of every employee.

Based on misapplications of both the U.S. Constitution and Scripture, Sparks announced to his fellow employees that CRI had no right to take disciplinary action towards them without offering them a “trial-type hearing before an impartial outside decision-maker.” He further advised them that they had “right to advance notice of the proposed disciplinary action and the reasons for it, right to confront or cross-examine all witnesses and charges against you…in which the burden of proof is on the accusers,” and so forth.

Sparks had a reputation around CRI for being a litigious individual—he often bragged about his legal prowess and his lawsuit against the university of California. He came across as the type of personality who would fight for his own “rights” at the drop of a hat. In fact, in June 1994 when Sealy Yates asked Sparks why he was suing CRI he replied, “They terminated me and they can’t do that!” In his May 20, 1993 “newsletter” he affirmed:

I am a fighter. That is how God made me. I will fight for what is right, fair, honest and merciful until the very end. If I make mistakes I will own up to them and ask for forgiveness. But I will not be a doormat ready to he victimized again and again. I spent 14 years fighting for God’s truth against the multibillion dollar University of California, losing every step of the way until at long last God brought total victory in the California Supreme Court on February 4 of this year. I am willing to fight again. (emphases added)

In this newsletter Sparks said he was “under attack” for conducting the creation and Exodus research Hank hired him to do, adding that he had the documentation to prove that he was hired to do such work. The documentation in question turns out to be his own notes of his interview and of his subsequent conversations with Hank (yet even these say nothing about his being allowed to work on his Exodus book or other personal projects on CRI time).

Sparks repeatedly referred to the “threats of immediate termination” made by de Castro as a “punitive” personnel action for the “most trivial of alleged infractions.” He compared it to the “shaming” and “social murder” of employees that led to the “recent postal tragedies.” In a larger document written to the managers (on which the “newsletter” was based), he went so far as to affirm that de Castro’s confronting him with his past job performance failures violated the scriptural principle that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). In actuality, Sparks had flagrantly abused the “honor system” that had prevailed in Hank’s department, making it necessary for de Castro to impose on him the structure and provisions he found so objectionable.

In the ‘newsletter” Sparks accused CRI management of conspiring against him while Hank was away on an Israel tour. It is relevant to note that never during this or any time prior to his March 1994 lawsuit is there evidence that Sparks made any allegations against Hank. Rather, Hank was spoken of in very positive terms and was considered his ally.[10] In fact, when Hank returned from Israel he found that Sparks had managed to get inside Hank’s gated community without Hank or Kathy’s permission and had left an envelope at the Hanegraaff home with the following message handwritten on it:

Hank,
It is extremely important that you review enclosures right away & call me at home [gives phone number].

They’re pulling another Craig Hawkins-like action—this time against me and indirectly against you & timed it while you were away.

Yours in Christ always,
Brad

It is noteworthy that in his lawsuit Sparks alleges that he was terminated as retaliation for “whistle-blowing” (i.e., reporting an alleged violation of a statute of public importance) about Hank’s alleged financial improprieties. But the only example of this “whistleblowing” he cites is the distribution of the “newsletter,” which, again, made no allegations against Hank, nor did it mention financial impropriety.

After Timothy Folkers and Scott Larson, two CRI vice-presidents (managers), became aware of Sparks’s unauthorized distribution of his “newsletter, “ they convened a meeting with Sparks that also included de Castro and Ron Rhodes. In a written report, Folkers recalled:

During the meeting, after many heated words, it was apparent that Brad Sparks was unwilling to operate within the confines of the corporate guidelines established at CRI, that he refused to recognize his immediate boss, Erwin and his authority. At that time, I stated to Brad that “he was fired, for insubordination effective immediately,” at which time he asked in what authority, to which I responded by the position that I had at CRI as appointed by Hank Hanegraaff. Brad objected, and when I asked for his keys to the building, he refused…after repeated requests for his keys by myself, Ron Rhodes advised Brad that he should comply, and that he would hold the keys for Brad in a sealed envelope (Brad did comply, and after writing that he was complying but not happy about it on the envelope, he gave the envelope to Ron).

At that time, because of Brad’s animate [sic] objections and his appeal to Hank, I told Brad that it would be best if he were not on site until after he met with Hank, and gave Brad 2 days off with pay.

To this account Larson added that “during the course of this meeting Brad Sparks was asked about the issues he was concerned about and quickly became defiant and insubordinate to both Timothy Folkers and myself. This defiance and insubordination came because Brad Sparks felt that neither Timothy Folkers or myself had any authority over him in the position he held. He felt that he only answered to Hank Hanegraaff—President.” Larson and Folkers explained to Sparks that, as vice-presidents of CRI, they did have the authority to act on Hank’s behalf in his absence. Nonetheless, they decided to leave the matter unresolved until it could be addressed with Hank on his return.

On May 24, after Hank returned, a conference to deal with these issues was held in his office that included Sparks, his wife, the vice-presidents, and de Castro. In that meeting Hank supported the authority and actions of de Castro and the vice-presidents while seeking a means to resolve the situation. Hank hoped to avoid a lawsuit from Sparks at a time when he was anticipating possible legal action from faith teachers due to the recent release of his book. Furthermore, he still believed that in the right working situation Sparks could be beneficial to CRI. Hank thus decided to reassign Sparks to a position as assistant to the international coordinator, Paul Carden, with the provision that Sparks would still receive assignments from Hank on an as-needed basis.

During the nine months he worked under Paul Carden, Sparks was more careful about his behavior on the job. He did accomplish some short-term assignments for Carden, especially in the first months. Past problems persisted, however, such as excessive use of the copiers and telephone for personal reasons, lack of completion of long-term assignments and initiation of unassigned projects, and a general resistance to accountability.

While recognizing the problems with Spark’s employment history at CRI, Hank nonetheless remained his strongest supporter within the organization, seeking his advice on different issues and even featuring him on The Bible Answer Man as recently as February 1, 1994. Again, this is an important point, because Sparks alleges in his suit that CRI’s representing his termination as a layoff for financial reasons was pretextual, and that Hank actually fired him in retaliation for raising concerns about Hank’s alleged illegal and unethical management of CRI. In actuality no such concerns had been raised, the two had had a positive relationship throughout Sparks’s tenure at CRI, and there is no evidence whatsoever that Hank decided to lay Sparks off in retaliation for anything.

The true circumstances leading to Sparks’s layoff are a matter of record, and thus easily demonstrable. Although CRI had grown financially in 1993, it had not grown at the same rate as in previous years, and thus in 1994 was facing a budgetary deficit of approximately $22,000 per month. CRI’s current executive vice-president, Paul Young, was initially retained by CRI as a management consultant and was charged with the task of eliminating this deficit. An organization-wide layoff—amounting to a monthly savings for CRI of $10,561—was included in the ultimate overhead reduction plan implemented by Young. Nonessential positions were eliminated as part of this layoff, including those of librarian, secretary to the vice-president of research, and interim assistant to the international coordinator (Sparks’s position).

Sparks’s Suit: How Can It Be Taken Seriously?

Brad Sparks was laid off on Friday, March 4, at 4:30 PM. On Monday morning, March 7, he was already filing his complaint against CRI, Hank Hanegraaff, Kathy Hanegraaff, Paul Young, CRI vice-presidents, and the CRI board (including Walter Martin’s widow, Darlene) in Orange County Superior Court. Investigations have indicated he had been preparing his case against CRI prior to the lay-off, on CRI time and using CRI resources. To date, the suit has actually been amended three times and thus filed in four forms. In his first two complaints Sparks acted as his own attorney. It appears that, emboldened by his previous success in his suit against the University of California, he now thinks he can take on the world in court and win.

The amazing thing about Sparks’s lawsuit is that so many people have taken it seriously. Even if one does not know the facts of the case, it should not take long to discern the frivolous nature of the complaint. This was especially obvious in its first two versions, before he got an attorney to give it the semblance of a legitimate lawsuit.

Included among the frivolous charges found in the first two versions of the complaint filed by Sparks are:

  • Federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations. Specifically, Sparks asserted that “defendants formed an ‘enterprise’…for the purpose of soliciting and misappropriating charitable contributions across state lines and then traveled across state lines to reach Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to meet with defendant YOUNG and to preliminarily establish a plan for protecting the enterprise from exposure, said plan including the use of harsh administrative actions to suppress complaints about misuse of charitable funds from CRI employees.” In actuality, this trip “across state lines” by Hank and Young was for the purpose of attending a CRI Canada board of directors meeting! Sparks would have you believe that not only Hank and Paul Young but also Darlene Martin, widow of Walter Martin, as well as other members of the board were racketeering across state lines.
  • Illegal seizure of fax wire communications. This supposedly occurred when CRI vice-president of operations Jane Huckaby, concerned that Sparks was receiving too many personal business transmissions on CRI’s fax machine, intercepted one such transmission with the intention of showing it to Paul Young before passing it on to Sparks. However, Sparks tracked it down and “seized” it himself before Young had an opportunity to look at it. According to Sparks, Huckaby’s action was in violation of the Communications Act of 1934 (as if employees have a legal right to receive communications wired to them on their employer’s equipment).
  • Occupational safety hazards. CRI’s air conditioning system violates state standards by recirculating stale air, Sparks claimed. As a result, he said that he had been almost continually sick with influenza and other viruses since November 1993. Furthermore, he alleged that complaining about the air conditioning had resulted in the May 1993 attempt to terminate him!
    It is a bit of a stretch for Sparks to blame his alleged perpetual ailments on germs being circulated by CRI’s air conditioning system. His inclusion of this in his first two complaints underscores the manufactured character of his grievances.

A further indication of the frivolous and vindictive nature of the suit is that one of Sparks’s demands in its first two versions was that he be “reinstated to his employment at CRI.” If Hank is so abusive of employees; if the organization persists in illegal and unethical activities, including the defrauding of its constituency; if the working conditions are so unhealthful; and if, as he alleges, it “has no business being called ‘Christian’” because it has “shamed the name of Christ,” why would he want to work at CRI again? Indeed, why did he not resign as a statement of conscience long before? In actuality, he seemed quite happy to be working at CRI all along. His charges of illegal and unethical activity were only made after his position at CRI was taken away (except those he made against others besides Hank after he came under discipline by de Castro in May 1993), and he made them in hopes of obtaining $1,000,000 in “punitive and exemplary damages” and receiving his job back.

No doubt one of the reasons some people have taken Sparks’s allegations seriously is that they assume they are based on inside knowledge of CRI activities. For example, when he alleged that he was almost fired for complaining about CRI’s air conditioning, one might infer that he had some objective basis for drawing that conclusion. In fact, however, Sparks had no documentary or oral basis for making such an allegation. It was based purely on his own subjective speculation as to motives. And it turns out that his entire lawsuit is strung together in this manner. It is woven entirely out of groundless conjecture— thus the entire suit unravels once its subjective fabric is put to the test.

It needs to be clarified that Brad Sparks did not occupy a high-level position at CRI. The statement in Texe Marrs’s newsletter that Sparks had been a “top official” drew laughter from the CRI staff. Yes, he did assist Hank with research projects and thus was privy to some confidential information. But he did not enjoy a position of special confidence with Hank, nor was he involved in any executive decision making. As a research assistant to the president working under de Castro, his position within CRI was below that of a full-fledged research consultant. It’s no accident that he never had an article published in the Christian Research Journal: the quality of his work was not considered good enough. Therefore, it is a mistaken assumption to think that Sparks was in a position to reveal much confidential information about CRI.

Sparks is not speaking from firsthand knowledge but purely from cynical speculation when he makes allegations such as the following:

  • The March 1994 layoff was not based on economic considerations.
  • CRI resigned from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in 1992 to enable Hank to evade the ECFA fund-raising standard on “Conflict of Interest on Royalties” (see below).
  • The “main impetus” for Sparks’s nearly being fired in May 1993 was his criticism of Hank’s “goofy-sounding” voice and nervous grin in a CRI promotional video.
  • His March 1994 termination was actually in retaliation for his having criticized Hank’s management decisions, such as his choice to employ the services of Sealy Yates.
  • Kathy Hanegraaff’s former position as Director of Marketing was actually a cover for conducting personal business.
  • CRI’s monthly chapel services are not conducted for the good of the ministry as supposed, but to deceive authorities into believing CRI is a church so that Hank can receive a “pastor’s housing allowance” (see below).
  • Many employees have been fired for complaining about Memory Dynamics or other “questionable” practices.

Concerning the allegations that being critical of Hank resulted in retaliation, Hank gave Sparks no reason to draw this conclusion. It is an injustice to portray Hank as one who can’t take criticism. (I should know; I’ve probably expressed more direct criticism to Hank than any other CRI employee, and I’ve always found him open, reasonable, and nonretaliatory in response.)

As to the allegation concerning employees being fired for raising ethical questions, in each case when the employee truly was terminated (most of the employees Sparks refers to resigned) there were entirely different, documentable reasons for letting them go. Although we could detail those reasons here, we will not do so out of respect for employer-employee confidentiality—even though some of the people whose reputations we wish to protect are now opposing us as part of the Group.

The first two versions of Sparks’s suit are the ones that have been circulated all over the country, and the allegations that CRI’s critics keep publishing are largely drawn from these two earlier complaints. Two relevant facts conveniently escape the notice of these critics: (1) allegations do not of themselves constitute guilt (anyone can sue anyone for anything, but legally and biblically [Deut. 19:15–20; 1 Tim. 5:19], one is presumed innocent until proven guilty); (2) most of these allegations are not even found in Sparks’s present complaint. Sparks himself threw them out of court, but that hasn’t stopped people such as Jim Spencer (author of Heresy Hunters) and James Lloyd (in his publication Christian Media) from printing the old allegations as though they are incriminating to CRI. Furthermore, although Texe Marrs devoted nearly three pages of his July 1994 newsletter to luridly describing the details of Sparks’s earlier complaints, he (predictably) never even noted in subsequent issues that most of those allegations had been dropped from Sparks’s suit. Thus, even though these charges should not be considered live issues, we are forced because of the way they are being irresponsibly circulated to address them here.

Frustratingly, Sparks’s first two complaints contain so many allegations that this document would become too voluminous if we attempted to answer them all. Thus we will have to limit ourselves to addressing the following allegations, which seem to be causing the greatest stir.

Allegation: “Hanegraaff withdrew CRI from ECFA in 1992 so that he could keep $500,000 in book royalties from Christianity in Crisis.“[11]

Response: CRI has issued a public statement that sets the record straight concerning its withdrawal from ECFA (available on request) that in part states:

In November 1992, the board of directors of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) voted to temporarily withdraw the organization’s membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) and did so as a member in good standing. The organization was not under investigation, nor was any review pending….

CRI was concerned about what we believe were serious violations of ECFA’s own policies and procedures in its dealings with certain member ministries. Of greatest concern to us were clear breaches of confidentiality relative to the review process. These breaches were known to us and to virtually everyone else because ECFA officials and representatives were quoted in numerous publications both Christian and secular commenting on various aspects of the review process involving another member organization.

This concerned us because many of the issues raised by ECFA representatives in the press were, at that time, merely allegations (it turns out that, in some cases, many or all of the charges against the ministries in question were proven false). Yet, we saw many in the Christian community drawing conclusions about fellow believers and ministries based on information that, by ECFA‘s own admission and policies, should never have been discussed publicly.

We realized that if ECFA would conduct an onsite review of a member ministry (something they have every right and responsibility to do) and publicly discuss confidential aspects of that review—fueling speculation about a particular ministry or ministry leader—that they easily could do the same with any other ECFA member or applicant. Consequently, we resigned our membership and immediately expressed these very reasons to ECFA in writing.

CRI was not and is not opposed to ECFA conducting on-site reviews of member organizations….What we did object to were clear and inexcusable violations of the confidentiality of the review process.

It is for these and other substantial reasons that CRI withdrew its membership from ECFA. However, we remain fully committed to meeting or exceeding ECFA’s seven standards of financial accountability, as we will gladly certify to anyone who asks….

As to Hank’s alleged motive for withdrawing from ECFA, he wrote the following to Christianity Today: “The allegations are far-fetched because while the sum of money cited in the story may have accrued to CRI’s benefit, it certainly did not accrue to mine! It is equally far-fetched to suggest that in 1992 I could have known what the royalties would be on a book to be published the following year. In any case, the figure cited in your article is preposterous.”

That Spark’s ECFA allegation is entirely without merit is evident from the fact that although CRI withdrew from ECFA, Hank still followed ECFA’s standard regarding book royalties. This, by the way, has resulted in a substantial profit to the ministry.

Sparks apparently misunderstood the ECFA standard to prohibit the leaders of member ministries from receiving any royalties from their books, if those books were used by the ministries for fundraising or promotional purposes. In actuality (as confirmed by ECFA spokespersons), the point of the standard is that the leaders should not receive royalties from those copies of their books that are sold by the member ministry itself for fund-raising or promotional purposes. This prevents leaders from crassly exploiting their positions by using direct mail campaigns for personal profit. And CRI not only meets this standard but exceeds it, since Hank and the board have resolved that all CRI authors (not just principals such as Hank) should turn over to the ministry the royalties from all copies of their books that are sold by CRI (not just those used in direct mail or on radio for promotions or fund raising).

Allegation: CRI employees typically earn poverty-level incomes of $13,000 a year.

Response: This is simply false. The lowest salary of a full-time CRI employee (let alone the average salary) is higher than $13,000. Although CRI staff make less than their counterparts in the secular business world, their income is close to the average of what is paid by parachurch organizations in Southern California. Furthermore, after Hank assumed the presidency of CRI he was responsible for the biggest across-the-board salary raises in CRI history, and these were followed by additional substantial raises as well.

Allegation: Hank receives excessive salary and benefits ( close to $200,000/yr.??”[12]). In fact, according to Texe Marrs’s reading of Sparks’s lawsuit, Hank receives “$50,000 per year for a pastor’s housing allowance in addition to an inflated six figure annual salary,” and benefits.[13]

Response: What is actually quite excessive here are these estimates of Hank’s salary. As an ordained minister Hank does receive a housing allowance. This is perfectly legal and legitimate. It does not depend, as Sparks alleges, on fraudulently portraying CRI as a “church.” Rather, it depends on Hank being assigned by his own church (Calvary Chapel) to the ministry of CRI—which he was. It results in a tax savings that benefits not only Hank but CRI. Furthermore, the dollar amount of Hank’s salary is exactly reduced by the dollar amount of his housing allowance—the housing allowance is not “in addition to” a full salary.

Hank’s total salary, plus housing allowance, plus “perks” come to a total of roughly $100,000. This is a matter of public record (CRI’s audited financial statements and Hank’s Forms 990 filed with the IRS), thus Sparks’s allegation that CRI failed to disclose this information, and that Hank’s salary constitutes a fraud on CRI’s contributors and the taxpaying public, is without merit.

Hank’s salary sounds very high when compared to the average CRI salary. But when compared to the salaries of other chief executives of religious organizations of comparable size and geographical location to CRI, it too is well within the standard range. It also is consistent with the guidelines of ECFA.

Unlike other CRI employees, Hank has the weight of the entire organization on his shoulders. The demands on his time and energy (and indirectly on his family) often know no bounds. Furthermore, CRI is dependent on him not only for its survival but for its growth and the fulfillment of its mission. As was stated earlier, after five years with Hank at the helm the organization’s income has dramatically increased. It is certainly appropriate, and not scandalous, for the C.E.O. of an organization that generates $5,000,000 per year, and greatly depends on that C.E.O. for that revenue, to receive a salary in the range of $100,000. It further should be noted that before the current controversy, CRI’s board—recognizing Hank’s value to the organization and the high cost of living for a family of nine in Southern California—sought to raise Hank’s salary above its present amount, but Hank refused to accept that raise.[14]

Allegation: Sparks was offered $2,230.76 in hush money to “forever conceal and cover up all knowledge and claims of violations of law and ethics by CRI and its officers and employees.”

Response: Once again, this account of events is warped beyond recognition by Sparks’s cynical view of things. His allegation that CRI offered him hush money to conceal its guilt presupposes that CRI had guilt it wished to conceal. Rather, CRI was attempting to protect itself from the very kind of malice that Sparks has shown toward CRI.

Here’s what really happened: all employees who leave CRI are directed through a formal exit procedure, which involves turning in one’s keys and receiving a check that covers salary up to the final day worked, unused vacation days, and severance pay. An “Exit Summary” form records this transaction and notes the nature of the exit (e.g., layoff) and the terms on which the employee left CRI (e.g., in good standing). In order to receive the severance pay, it is necessary to sign the form, which includes the following statement: “In return for [a certain amount of money, $2,230.76 in Sparks’s case] in severance pay, I agree not to make any claims against CRI and waive claims that I have arising out of my employment and its termination.” The form also includes a declaration that states: “I agree to leave on CRI premises all equipment, office materials, books, tapes, papers, and other information purchased by CRI or prepared on CRI time. I agree not to divulge any CRI confidential information to anyone, even after my dismissal.” Sparks refused to sign this form, labeling the standard severance pay “hush money.”

The clauses in the Exit Summary to which Sparks objected (agreeing not to make claims against CRI, not divulging confidential information) were included on the advice of an attorney. Their purpose is to protect CRI from litigious individuals (a serious concern for employers in today’s lawsuit-happy climate) and from disgruntled former employees who would take inside information about CRI out of context and publish it in such a manner as to imply guilt where no guilt exists. Are such protections really necessary in a Christian organization? Sadly, Sparks has proven that they are.

As previously noted, Sparks has discarded most of the above allegations from the present draft of his lawsuit. Does that mean that he has a stronger case now? No. His major claim is that he was fired for “whistle blowing” about a violation of public policy. (Federal law prohibits employers from taking such retaliatory action where violations of actual public policy statues are alleged.) However, as we’ve already seen, the specific “crime” that Sparks attributes to Hank and CRI—using a nonprofit organization as a cover for personal profit— violates no existing public policy statute; in fact, it is not even illegal, but only results in the loss of the organization’s tax-exempt status. Therefore, Sparks’s alleged efforts to blow the whistle about this would not qualify as whistle blowing under the law. But, as we’ve also seen, Hank and CRI were not truly guilty of tax fraud. Furthermore, Sparks was not terminated in retaliation for any perceived effort to blow the whistle. And, finally, there is no evidence that he ever attempted to blow the whistle about any perceived violation of public policy. And so, there is absolutely nothing to his public policy case! Furthermore, the lesser points in the present version of his lawsuit are likewise insupportable.

The “Group”: Can “35 People” All Be Wrong?

The above-referenced Christianity Today article stated that the Group for CRI Accountability has 35 members. One of the arguments that the Group has used in an attempt to justify its attack on CRI is: “How can 35 former CRI employees all be wrong?” In response we must first note that 35 people could be wrong. After all, there are many more than 35 current and former CRI employees who disagree with the Group’s assessment of Hank.[15] (In fact, no one else who was laid off at the time Brad Sparks was has joined the Group.) Obviously, one or the other of these “groups” is wrong.

This is not surprising: large groups of people are misled all the time, as the ministry of CRI is tirelessly dedicated to pointing out. Can eight million Mormons all be wrong? Yes! Biblically, in Numbers 14:2 all the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. But their perfect unanimity in rejecting their leaders only illustrated how infectious sinful attitudes can be among God’s people—it did not prove that Moses and Aaron were guilty of wrongdoing.

The question must therefore be, who in this case is being misled—the people who believe Hank or the people who believe Sparks? As even the Group would be forced to admit, we must look at the facts and not the number of followers to determine that. We believe this document demonstrates that the facts are on the side of Hank and CRI.

We must point out, however, that there is no evidence that the Group consists of 35 people. Only 25 names have ever been identified as Group members (including Sparks). Of those 25, only 19 were former employees of CRI (one is the spouse of a former employee; four were members of Hank’s Bible class whose main grievance was that Hank quit the class and they wanted him to keep teaching it!). Of the 19 that were CRI employees, eight responded to an inquiry we sent in the mail maintaining that they are not members of the Group for CRI Accountability and that they never authorized Sparks, Bowman, or anyone else to use their names as Group members. They stated that all they had ever signed or authorized was the so-called “Matthew 18” statement demanding a meeting with Hank (see below), which was issued before the Group was formed. Several said they had never heard anything from or about the Group. And of the remaining 11 so-called members of the Group, most do not appear to have continued as active members after writing letters of complaint about Hank to CRI’s board.

Is it really that amazing that 11 former employees from over a five-year period could be marshaled into a cause by someone like Brad Sparks? Sparks has the ability to sound very credible and authoritative—even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (as when he speaks about Hank’s violations of “public policy”). After the death of the founder of the ministry, after the 1990 uprising with all of its fallout (including the confusion about Memory Dynamics and “private inurement”), with several people unhappy that they were terminated from CRI (even if CRI had good reason for doing so), and with several former employees not agreeing with Hank’s theology or leadership decisions—of course there would be a certain number who would sign on to the demand letter for a meeting with Hank, and a lesser number who would write letters to the board (although only a few have been actively involved with the Group).

If one listens to their stories and examines their grievances, one finds that they are not all coming from the same perspective or voicing the same concerns. In fact, there is much variation among them. Thus the argument, “How can so many people all be wrong?” begs the question of whether they are all making the same claims, which is clearly not the case.

Now, after they all listened to Sparks and traded their stories they did develop certain themes (e.g., Hank fires people who ask questions about the ethics of his business dealings), but this was a very uncritical process. Because they were all unhappy with Hank to begin with (the only thing they really have in common), they were willing to believe a lot of claims without verification and then blended the most scandalous elements of their stories together into one large STORY that they passed off to the public as fact. But the public should realize that there are two sides to every story; not only their large story but their individual stories as well—just as we’ve seen in the case of Sparks.

Another stratagem the Group has used in its war on CRI is a false appeal to Matthew 18. In an anti-Hank tract that members of the Group passed out at the above-mentioned CRI warehouse sale, they affirmed: “24 former CRI employees and Bible-class members recently sent Hank Hanegraaff a Matthew 18 letter asking to meet with him personally. Hank refused to meet or follow Matthew 18.” Of course, if Hank refuses to follow Matthew 18 then this would justify the existence of a “Group for CRI Accountability,” for Hank would be disobeying Scripture and refusing to be accountable to the body of Christ. But this incident does not truly fall under Matthew 18.

In a letter sent to Wes and Marie Dayan, members of the Group and former members of Hank’s Bible class, Sealy Yates—who in addition to his legal career has had a ministry in the field of Christian conciliation—explained the following:

With respect to your concerns as to why Hank Hanegraaff would not attend the meeting that you, Brad Sparks, and several others demanded that he attend, and which was held on April 17, I can answer that for you. I told Hank Hanegraaff that he could not attend such a meeting. The meeting had nothing to do with Matthew 18. You gave Mr. Hanegraaff no information as to what the purpose of the meeting was. If you doubt that just take a new look at the demand notice. The meeting was called and demanded by twenty-one individuals with as many as twenty-one different stories and concerns. Matthew 18 does not require any Christian to show up at a lynch mob meeting of the sort put together by Mr. Sparks.…Matthew 18 makes it clear that the procedure to follow never includes any mob accusations or demands. That passage says that (1) you go to your brother alone and show him his fault, “just between the two of you”; (2) “if he will not listen to you” you are to take “one or two others along” (not twenty others); and (3) “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” You tell me how a demand that Hank Hanegraaff attend such a meeting (“or else”) with twenty-one mostly unrelated individuals fits anywhere within Matthew 18.

The Group’s appeal to Matthew 18 overlooks the fact that one member of the Group (its prime mover) had already initiated a lawsuit against Hank.

Consider what the CRI board of directors noted in a public statement on this matter:

On March 7, 1994, Mr. Sparks filed his lawsuit—seeking payment by CRI in excess of $1 million—without first attempting to resolve his complaints by meeting individually with Hank Hanegraaff or any of the others he has sued concerning his claims or demands, thus making scriptural mediation or arbitration impossible (1 Corinthians 6:1–8). On April 4, 1994, Mr. Sparks and others issued a written demand that Hank Hanegraaff appear at a “meeting” (the purpose of which was not disclosed), ostensibly under the guidelines of Matthew 18:15–47—even though the suit filed against Hank Hanegraaff the month before directly violated both the spirit and intent of Jesus’ instructions on reconciliation. While Mr. Sparks now seeks redress under Matthew 18, his own unbiblical actions have mandated that the truth of this matter be established in the courts of the State of California. It is inappropriate and unfair to expect CRI and its leadership to try this case in two forums at the same time.

Consider also what I wrote to the board in a June 12, 1994 memo:

It is simply bogus to say Hank violated Scripture by not meeting with them when their ringleader was simultaneously suing him and other CRI leaders in a court of law. How dare they appeal to Scripture in a situation like that? Sparks is the one who is in violation of Scripture. Appeals for biblical accountability and reconciliation ring hollow under such circumstances. How can Hank be expected to face the person who’s suing him on the issues he’s being sued over in a separate forum? Things he said in the nonlegal forum could be used against him in the legal. If they were really interested in biblical restoration they would not be going through the courts! And if the others are so concerned about integrity, why are they teaming up with Sparks? (All they have to do is read his lawsuit to see he’s not coming from a position of truth and righteousness.)

There is no call for a “Group for CRI Accountability” because Hank is accountable: to the CRI board of directors; to several Christian leaders, including those of his own church affiliation (Calvary Chapel) and to others who act as consultants to CRI; and to the staff of CRI.

From the time he first came to CRI Hank has conducted an open-door policy for staff members who were concerned about anything taking place within the ministry, and several of us have put this offer to the test and found it good. He is willing to meet individually with any member of the Group and has met with a few who agreed to do so.

Most of the Group, however, never even took step number one in the three-step Matthew 18 confrontation process before as a group they decided to aggressively take the final step of taking their accusations to the church. In fact, before Hank received the “Matthew 18” demand notice that contained Sparks’s signature Sparks was already “telling it to the church” by sending out his legal complaint across the country! Thus it is fair to ask, Who is holding the Group accountable for the damage they are doing to the apologetics mission of CRI?

In addition to these two major ploys to discredit CRI leadership, the Group has devised new allegations beyond those included in Sparks’s suit. It is perfectly clear that they went on “fishing expeditions” in hopes of catching Hank in some improper or even illegal act. Suspecting that they had indeed found evidence of illegal activity, in a June 2, 1994 letter they presented the first two allegations listed below to the CRI board, demanding that the board “lay to rest all of these questions” that they themselves had raised, and threatening that if the board did not respond to their demands for documentation they would notify the proper authorities and make their suspicions public.[16] And it would appear from the Christianity Today article that when they did go to the media with these matters they presented them not merely as “questions” but as allegations. Here are the major allegations from the Group with CRI’s response.

Allegation: As they wrote in the June 2 letter (which has been circulated all over the continent): “Hank has told people over the years that he is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God (AG). However, AG headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, has no record of his licensing or ordination with them. . . “ From this the Group raised questions about whether Hank is legally receiving a minister’s housing allowance.

Response: It is amazing that former CRI employees could raise this issue, since for the entire time Hank has been president of CRI he has had his ordination license framed on his office wall! Furthermore, Hank has never told anyone that he was ordained through the Assemblies of God—it is no coincidence that the Group can provide no specific examples of this.

Hank was originally ordained on January 31, 1986, when he became an associate pastor at the Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia. However, because he was not theologically comfortable (on minor doctrinal points) with having his ordination tied to that church’s denomination (the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee), the church recommended that he obtain his ordination through the International Ministry Fellowship, a credible ordination organization that has pastors and missionaries serving all over the world. Furthermore, after Hank moved to California and became affiliated with Calvary Chapel, he received a second ordination through them on January 1, 1992. Thus there is no legal problem with Hank receiving a minister’s housing allowance as part of his salary.

Allegation: “A 35-member ‘Group for CRI Accountability,’ which includes several terminated employees, allege Hanegraaff….secretly borrowed $100,000 from CRI as down payment for an expensive residence.. . .”[17]

Response: There was nothing secretive about this loan. First, it was properly authorized by CRI’s board of directors (Hank abstaining), who were more than happy to arrange for the loan, since Hank offered to pay CRI double the interest that the same funds were earning in the bank, and since he had the assets to pay off the loan within its three-year term.[18] Second, the loan was publicly disclosed in CRI’s audited financial statements in accordance with standard accounting procedure. Third, the Hanegraaffs properly disclosed to their lender the fact that $100,000 of their $182,750 down payment was a loan (assuming the opposite, the Group threatened to turn them in to the U.S. Attorney and F.B.I. for this), and this presented no problem to the lender since the Hanegraaffs had the assets to cover the loan and simply needed time to liquidate them.

Concerning the fact that the Hanegraaffs live in an expensive home, it first of all needs to be understood that Hank had long been a successful businessman and did not come to CRI as a pauper—Hank’s salary at CRI is not the sole means by which he is paying for his home. Second, the high cost of his home is more reflective of the land value of a 1.7-acre property in Southern California than of the house itself. I have been in the home and it is not ostentatious, nor a mansion; it is rather a functional home for a household of 10.[19] The reason Hank purchased a property with a little acreage (not that that should need to be justified) is that he hopes to accommodate his and Kathy’s parents in their old age.

Allegation: Hank engages in “hidden profiteering.” This charge is handwritten on a CRI financial statement included in the anti-CRI packet that the Group is sending all over the continent, with an arrow pointing to the following statement (i.e., this is the part of the statement that they allege proves hidden profiteering on Hank’s part):

Non-interest bearing unsecured obligation under deferred compensation contract payable to an individual in monthly installments of $1,667 per month, maturity date June 1999.
Less unamortized discount at imputed interest rate of 8%.
Obligation less unamortized discount.

Response: The “individual” the Group is accusing of “hidden profiteering” in this financial statement is not Hank Hanegraaff, but Walter Martin’s wife, Darlene. The “compensation” referred to, however, is a life insurance policy on Walter Martin, now being dispensed to Darlene, which Walter directed to be administered by CRI’s bank account so that CRI could receive the benefit of the interest over the years.

The irresponsibility and malice of the Group is clearly seen in their readiness to label as “hidden profiteering” something about which they have no knowledge, and then to send that material to every place they can think of where it might damage the reputation of Hank and CRI. Once again, truth and righteousness are not their driving concerns. Rather, their agenda is to portray Hank in the worst possible light, and that for their own political and vindictive reasons. It doesn’t seem to bother them that in their reckless pursuit of propaganda material they might malign the innocent widow of the man whose memory they claim to be serving.

Allegation: “A 35-member ‘Group for CRI Accountability,’ which includes several terminated employees, allege Hanegraaff….intimidated, manipulated, and fired workers without cause.”[20]

Response: As we’ve already partially seen, this is yet another of the Group’s “trumped up” charges. For example, the front page of the stapled handout that Group members distributed at the CRI warehouse sale reproduced the Christmas 1991 Christian Research Newsletter cover, which featured a picture of the CRI staff. On their handout the Group had the heads of several former employees in the picture circled, and connected those circles to captions such as “’Lay off’ firing,” “Fired,” “Forced to leave,” and “Quit.” The purpose of this, of course, was to convey the impression that there had been a high turnover at CRI, and to suggest that the reason for this was employee abuse.

There are several reasons, however, why this propaganda piece was maliciously misleading. (1) The Group has no proof that what they call ‘‘lay-off firings” were firings and not merely lay offs. In fact, they were not firings. For example, Joan Moore, one of the alleged “lay-off firings,” was very dedicated to the ministry and had a perfectly good work record—she was laid off along with Brad Sparks and others purely for economic reasons, because her position was nonessential.

(2) When they say that someone was “forced to leave” they are often speaking merely of the individual’s subjective perception of his or her departure from CRI. We are aware of some people who quit out of fear that their job performance was substandard and therefore they might be fired, even when no objective indication that they would be fired had been given.

(3) The number of people whose heads are circled, 14 out of 39 over a two-and-a-half-year period, is not high enough to be considered scandalous even on the face of it. Having worked at CRI for the past 18 years I can say unequivocally that the turnover rate was higher under Walter Martin than it has been under Hank. Does that mean Walter abused his employees? No, it means that Christian ministries typically don’t pay very much and so people in lower and middle-level positions usually don’t stay very long.

(4) The Group unethically misrepresented several individuals’ situations in hopes of making CRI look as bad as possible. For examples, they signified that Bob Lyle had “resigned” while he was in fact still working at CRI; they state that Ken Samples was “forced to quit” when I know from talking with both Ken and Hank that quitting was Ken’s decision and that Hank was surprised by it; they have the word “quit” over former customer service representatives Baron Harris and Carri Foote’s heads, as if to say, “Here are two more people who couldn’t take working for Hank Hanegraaff,” whereas Baron simply moved out of state to attend Bible school and still enthusiastically works at CRI every summer (something Brad Sparks observed in the summer of 1993), and Carri resigned on good terms to raise her first child, and wrote the following in a June 28, 1990 letter to the board concerning the claim (made during the 1990 uprising) that if one said anything displeasing to Hank it would be the end of one’s job:

I did not buy that lie for a minute! Hank has never portrayed a angry dictator, uncontrolled style of leadership. He has been firm when needed; in addressing sin and in particular gossip, which seemed to go unheeded by some. He exhorted us to practice Scripture by “going to your brother if you have ought against him. . . .” He took the bull by the horns in addressing issues of sin within CRI which causes me to respect him even more.

Hank is a warm, approachable, friendly person who always greets us in the morning with a smile and humble spirit. He takes time to be personable with not only employees but also with customers who are in the lobby. He praises and encourages us. He treats us as valuable members of one family.

….He has maintained an open door policy and I have never felt that he did not mean what he said. Nothing ever contradicted that.

In conclusion I feel very positive about the direction CRI is going and the man who is leading it. I have never seen anything that would cause me to think evil of Hank and his motives, nor has his behavior ever caused me to question him.

A substantial majority of current and former CRI employees would echo Carri Foote’s assessment of Hank. For example, Dr. Ron Rhodes, CRI researcher, editor, and Bible Answer Man participant, wrote in a June 10, 1994 memo to the CRI board concerning the Group’s allegations:

It has been alleged by some that Hank can’t take criticism. We are told Hank has temper tantrums, raises his voice, and the like. GIVE ME A BREAK!

I’ve never seen this in Hank. I criticize Hank at least every two months (I edit his Newsletter articles, marking red all over them). Hank has never raised his voice or gotten offended at my criticism. In point of fact, Hank often asks me for constructive criticism as the article is in progress.

And Marian Bodine, who began her ministry at CRI with her husband Jerry 21 years ago, wrote a personal letter of encouragement to Hank on June 8 that stated:

Over the time you have been at CRI, I have had the opportunity to observe you in various situations. I have noticed you were caring, helpful, insightful, encouraging and open. You have told the staff often that you had an “open door policy,” and that if they felt there was a problem to come and talk with you about it. For instance, about a year and a half ago, Ed Decker was here for a week on the BAM [Bible Answer Man] program….The next morning I listened to the tape of that show and heard one error you made and many that Ed made. I made a list of them, and Bob Lyle told me to take it to you, and go over some of the problems I heard.

When I entered your office, you were working at your computer. I remarked that on the BAM program the day before, you had said that Joseph Smith’s claim to the size of the “Golden Plates” was 6×8 feet, and that was not correct. It was inches not feet!…I showed you the photocopied information from Mormon sources….You were very appreciative for the correction and changed it in your notes….You then asked me to be on the BAM show with you and Ed that day. On the program, you skillfully corrected your error of the day before, and Ed also handled his errors with expertise.

Everyone makes mistakes at times. This is just part of our fallen nature. However, I have never seen you take offense when someone approached you to offer some helpful criticism. I just thank the Lord for your humility.

In light of the positive testimonies of such credible CRI veterans as those cited above, what are we to make of this group of former employees who claim that Hank intimidated and manipulated them? Some CRI staff no doubt have felt intimidated by Hank, simply because of who he is, the position he occupies, and his personality strength. But in six years of working closely with him I’ve seen no evidence that Hank deliberately intimidates and manipulates the people working under him. I am aware of situations where individuals interpreted him in this way, but I also am aware of what Hank actually said (I was present in some of these cases), and can see how the individuals misunderstood him.

The Source of This Attack

We have not used the claim, “This is an attack of the Devil” as a cop-out. We have faced the charges being leveled against us and answered them with facts. However, the facts being known, we believe that it is extremely important that our supporters have the proper perspective about what is happening to us. As CRI has become more visible and vital, Satan has launched an all-out effort to destroy its ministry.

When the current attack against CRI began to mount, Marian Bodine wrote the following words of encouragement in her June 8, 1994 letter to Hank:

The Lord led Jerry and I to Walter Martin and CRI in 1974, and over the years we have had the opportunity to see many changes and growth. We knew the dreams Dr. Martin had for CRI. Some of them took place in his lifetime, but the rapid growth and expansion of this ministry has taken place under your leadership.

In my opinion, I unequivocally believe that you are God’s man for this ministry. Under your leadership. the position of president of CRI is now filled by a caring, God-honoring man who is not afraid to take risks for righteousness’ sake. Before you came, excepting Walter Martin, the leadership of CRI was held by people who proved to be unqualified spiritually for the task. Spiritual warfare in a ministry like this leaves people shell shocked if they are not walking close with the Lord, having all the armor in place.

. . . .Down through the years I have seen more than a few at CRI who should never have been connected with this ministry. I have seen them do much to ruin other people around them and CRI in general. Somehow it was allowed to continue and firm action was not taken to remedy the situation. Since you have been here, gossip and backbiting are not allowed. Because you have taken affirmative action based on what you know should not be tolerated in a Christian ministry, you have come under vicious attacks from some whose jobs were terminated because of continued unchristian behavior.

Since the ministry of CRI puts us behind the enemy’s front lines in spiritual warfare, those who are here must expect to be attacked by the enemy. Satan plays by no rules, and loves to use a Christian to destroy another Christian. He wants to destroy CRI, especially under your administration, because your leadership has been so effective.

You and Kathy have served CRI sacrificially from the beginning of your presence here. Because of that you have suffered incredible attacks without cause. I am thanking and praising the Lord for your endurance and tenacity. If you were not God’s man for this place, you would not have suffered so at the hands of the enemy. Keep the whole armor of God in place for the fiery darts cannot destroy you. Be of good courage for “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”

Under the leadership of Hank Hanegraaff CRI has grown from being a ministry that spoke to a specialized interest group (the cult apologetics crowd) to a voice that is recognized and heeded by the evangelical community at large. At a time when many voices over the Christian airwaves are promoting false doctrine, sensationalism, and self- and experience-driven theology, CRI stands for biblical fidelity and reason. It has promoted the study of Scripture, concern for sound doctrine, interest in apologetics, and a desire to reach out to people of other faiths with the gospel. Furthermore, it has made a significant dent in the empire of the faith movement, pointing charismatics back to the Bible as the source and standard of their theology.

Through all of these efforts, CRI has stood in stark opposition to the forces of darkness and their malignant plans for our generation. They were not about to take this lying down. Through the current attack on CRI, Satan is attempting to destroy our reputation and drain us financially.[21] And we have definitely taken some heavy hits.

If you believe in the ministry of CRI , and if you believe that the current attack against us is unjust, we would certainly appreciate your support. If there has ever been a time when we needed you to stand with us prayerfully and financially, this is it!

We are not quaking in our boots. We are confident that truth, and the God of truth, are on our side. Therefore we must prevail. Even as this document is being completed the ministry of CRI is moving forward. But that ministry cannot continue to move forward without you. You are our partners in ministry, and in this battle. Together we will continue to drive back the powers of darkness with the light of God’s word, which is truth (John 17:17).


[1] This document was written in 1995 but never published until its appearance here.

[2] See, e.g., Robert L. and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive: “A Study of Anti-Mormon Deception,” vol. 3 (Mesa, AZ: Brownsworth Publishing, 1986).

[3] However, we have reason to believe that certain televangelists have been aiding and abetting this assault.

[4] I say this based on my experience as an insider in close contact with all the researchers throughout the period.

[5] For example, in 1988 Dr. Martin issued the following statement: “Hank Hanegraaff personifies the next phase of development for CRI and is uniquely equipped through his dynamic leadership abilities, knowledge of God’s Word, and teaching ability to make sound, biblical apologetics a simple yet effective tool in the hands of the laity. His success as a businessman, strategic planner, author, and speaker have equipped him to lead the ministry of the Christian Research Institute aggressively into the future and to build on the work that I by God’s grace began.” (Christian Research Newsletter, vol.. 2, no. 5, 6.)

[6] Although Nelson has definitely played a significant role in the Group, all evidence indicates that Bowman and Sparks are the driving forces behind it.

[7] Attorney Sealy Yates and associate, Lawrence D. Frenzel, in a September 12, 1994 letter to Sparks’s attorney, William Crosby.

[8] “Welcome Brad Sparks!” a memo from Bob Lyle to CRI staff dated May 28, 1992.

[9] The conversation was so loud that, even with my office door shut, I could clearly hear everything that was said.

[10] For example, in the “newsletter” he complained that after being physically assaulted by a CRI employee (again misrepresenting what happened in the above-mentioned confrontation), “I was isolated almost as a pariah, no one (except Hank when he came back from CBA), coming to offer me any assistance or even a word of encouragement….” However, when Sparks submitted his “newsletter” as a court document in his suit against Hank, this positive reference to Hank was missing—a move that opens Sparks up to the charge of perjury!

[11] As reported in John Kennedy, “Mixing Politics and Piety,” Christianity Today, 15 August 1994, 46.

[12] This guess at Hank’s income was printed in a CRI Group for Accountability paper, “Were There Dissenters to the CRI ‘Board’ Letter of April 26, 1994?—A Rebuttal to the ‘Board,’” apparently written or co-written by Sparks.

[13] “CRI’s Hank Hanegraaff Accused of Financial Fraud and Other Criminal Activities,” Flashpoint, July 1994, 1.

[14] 2008 update: Thirteen years later Hank’s salary is now just under $200,000. This raise needs to be viewed in light not only of roughly thirty-five percent inflation over the period but, more importantly, the fact that CRI’s annual income has nearly doubled. Hank has actually refused raises that the CRI board wanted to give him several times and has not had a raise since 1999. Alnor regularly cites Hank’s salary as being $251,886. This, apparently, is based on a Christianity Today (CT) article about the ECFA probe, which stated: “Employees were also concerned about Hanegraaff’s salary. According to publicly available financial disclosure forms, CRI paid Hank Hanegraaff $251,886 in 2001 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). This represents an increase of $52,886 (26.5%) over the previous year.” (Marshall Allen, “Christian Research Institute Accused of ‘Naïve’ Bookkeeping,” Christianity Today, August 2003, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/august/6.19.html.) What CT and the employees did not understand, however, was that the $52,886 in question was actually a one-time pay out for unused vacation time accumulated over Hank’s previous thirteen-year tenure at CRI (a standard CRI practice for any employee who does not use his vacation time), not a raise.

[15] Just to name 35: Rich Abanes, Janette Aragon, Howard Benson, Lynette Benson, Laura Blackwelder, Marian Bodine, Terryl Bryan, Dwayne Cogdill, Melanie Cogdill, Erwin de Castro, Kathy Delph, Karen Encinas, Carri Foote, Oona Fritz, Baron Harris, Jane Huckaby, Deb Hurdle, Lynn Hylton, Scott Larson, Melissa McGowan, Elliot Miller, Joan Moore, B. J. Oropeza, Andy Phillips, Rich Poll, Ron Rhodes, David Rimoldi, Stephen Ross, Diane Schnizer, Andrew Simpson, Thom Snyder, Virginia Straughn, Sandy Torres, KristenWarren, AmyWilson.

[16] In several letters to the board during June and July the Group would back up their demands for
Hank and the board to meet with them or for the board to supply them with confidential information by threats that they would make all of their allegations public. In fact, however, they had already sent Brad Sparks’s lawsuit and their own packet of information to numerous Christian leaders, countercult ministries, and publications across the country, personally contacted many of the same people, put the lawsuit on various computer bulletin board systems, and picketed and passed out defamatory literature at the CRI warehouse sale. Texe Marrs had already mailed out his widely circulated July newsletter devoted to describing (and embellishing!) Sparks’s defamatory allegations when Rob Bowman disingenuously wrote Sealy Yates in a July 11 letter: “It is precisely such a spectacle [‘public embarrassment to your clients’] that we have been avoiding, seeking instead to resolve our differences with your clients with a minimum of public exposure, both for their sakes and for the sake of CRI’s future.” After Marrs’s July newsletter it would only be a matter of time before the story would be picked up by the major Christian media, as well as the heretical and cultic opponents of CRI, as indeed it was.

[17] Kennedy, 46.

[18] Furthermore, the board arranged for the loan because the Hanegraaffs had sold their home in Marietta, Georgia to come to CRI only to find the cost of real estate in Southern California staggeringly high, and thus had been forced to rent for a few years. Desiring them to have the kind of security and stability they had before accepting the call to CRI, and a better investment of their money, the board was happy to help them with their down payment—something that is done all the time when principals of organizations are required to move from one area to another, particularly to Southern California.

[19] The Hanegraaffs have seven children and also have opened their home to others in need, currently one individual.

[20] Kennedy, 46.

[21] That Satan would use doctrinally sound Christians rather than the doctrinal opponents of CRI to do his greatest damage to this ministry may be surprising, but it is not unprecedented. As Charles Spurgeon observed, “The craftiness of the Devil is discovered in another thing—in the agents the Devil employs…You remember how David lamented of this evil: ‘For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me….But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance…(Ps. 55:12–14). ‘Ah!’ says the Devil, ‘you did not think I was going to send an enemy to speak evil of you, did you?Why, that would not hurt you. I shall choose a friend or an acquaintance; he will come close to you and then stab you in the back.’” (Spiritual Warfare in a Believer’s Life, comp. and ed. Robert Hall [Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 1993], 33–34.).

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