Article ID: BTS2010-00A | By: Elliot Miller
Introduction: Why This Book?
Over the past thirteen years the integrity of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and its president, Hank Hanegraaff, have been subjected to sustained Internet, media, and word-of-mouth attacks that have largely become the mission of one man: William M. “Bill” Alnor. While Alnor has not been successful at utterly destroying CRI, he has been successful at keeping the perception of controversy alive, and through this he has also been successful at eroding our influence in the body of Christ and our financial support.
Some time ago it reached a point where there were so many allegations that we could not possibly answer all of them, but we do want to provide concerned and conscientious individuals with enough information to see that the allegations can be satisfactorily answered. Although responding to Bill Alnor is the immediate purpose of this book, it also provides a highly instructive case study in errors to avoid when pursuing both discernment ministry and Christian journalism.
Chapter One: The Vision of CRI
The Christian Research Institute was founded by Dr. Walter Martin in New Jersey in 1960. Walter’s vision was to take the research of “top apologetics” and make it accessible to lay people as “pop apologetics” (as opposed to “slop apologetics”) so that they would become confident in their faith, discerning of doctrinal error, and able to make a compelling defense of the hope that lies within them to cultists, occultists, atheists, and unbelievers of all kinds. In the late 1980s Walter came to understand that it was time for him to pass the leadership of CRI to the next generation. In late 1988 he announced that, while he would remain the public face of CRI, CRI board member Hank Hanegraaff would take over its day-to-day direction. Just one-half year later, in June 1989, Walter Martin died.
In the years that followed Hank did a phenomenal job of moving Walter’s vision toward fulfillment by transforming CRI from a niche ministry mainly reaching the Christian countercult community to a major, high-profile ministry reaching the body of Christ at large. Since 1995 the ministry has had to weather the repeated onslaughts of Alnor and his associates, but it has stayed on course with its original cause concept and continues to bear abundant fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Chapter Two: The Fruit of CRI
CRI is playing a vital role in bringing apologetics and doctrinal discernment to the masses. For example, Bible Answer Man (BAM) listener Susan Mudd tells us, “I started listening to the Bible Answer Man in 2003 because a co-worker told me about some things she had learned from the program and I…wanted to counter what she was telling me. The total opposite happened.…I have been saved.” Alan Mulkey says that finding BAM was like coming “across a lighthouse in a stormy sea. I finally found someone who not only could explain what was wrong with this Word of Faith Theology, but also had the conviction to stand up and refute error when it is evident.…Your show was a life raft for me.”
Pastor Ed Young of Second Baptist Church in Houston speaks for many Christian leaders when he says to Hank, “You have kept the church…straight in orthodoxy, in understanding basic doctrinal truths.…I think you are God’s man for your calling for just such a time as this.” It is this undeniable and critically important equipping work of God’s people in sound theology, apologetics, critical thinking, and interfaith evangelism that Bill Alnor has been assaulting and working overtime to destroy.
Chapter Three: Alnor as News Editor
As editor-in-chief of the Christian Research Journal I began accepting news stories from Bill Alnor in the Summer 1987 issue and one year later I appointed him to be our news editor. He brought to the task an acute nose for news but it was not long before a pattern of factual inaccuracy and tabloid tactics surfaced in his stories. A disturbing tendency toward crusader journalism, in which he claimed a divine mandate to go after allegedly corrupt Christian leaders, also emerged.
Walter Martin expressed his preference that Alnor be fired. Instead, in May 1989 I stipulated to Alnor that if he wished to maintain his position he would need, among other things, to make every effort to interview all parties in a story, avoid hearsay, and steer clear of anonymous sources. Alnor agreed to these terms and also said he would abandon his crusade against a leading Christian apologist. For two years thereafter there were no notable problems with Alnor’s work but then, over the following two years, the same problems resurfaced in five additional articles. One of those problematic articles concerned a controversial Christian group called Set Free Christian Fellowship. The article deeply troubled Hank, who by this time had succeeded Walter, because it made no serious effort to balance serious allegations against Set Free with the other side of the story. Alnor also launched a vigorous crusade against Set Free’s leader Phil Aguilar that was independent of CRI but confused the public as to CRI’s position on the group because of Alnor’s association with the Journal.
It was clear that Alnor’s approach to countercult ministry irreconcilably differed from CRI’s and his reckless journalistic practices had returned with a vengeance. In February 1992 my six-member editorial board unanimously advised me it was time to fire Alnor. Alnor found out about this decision before I was able to break it to him, called me about it, and arranged to leave a paper trail to make it appear that he resigned. However, sufficient written documentation and witnesses exist to corroborate that Alnor’s exit from the News Watch department was initiated by CRI and not by Alnor.
Chapter Four: Alnor as Director of EMNR
Alnor proceeded to revive his old ministry, Eastern Christian Outreach (EChO). In late 1993 the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), on whose board I sat, accepted Alnor’s offer to serve as its executive director, despite my misgivings. EMNR was created to bring unity and cooperation among countercult ministries, but Alnor was driven to take sides in conflicts that erupted in the countercult community. This he did when he expressed to Christianity Today his support of a former EMNR board member’s controversial inclusion of an EMNR member ministry in his book on “Churches That Abuse.”
In March of 1994 CRI experienced its own controversy as Brad Sparks, a former CRI employee, sued the ministry for laying him off and included numerous outrageous allegations of illegal activity in his complaint. Sparks organized a group of disgruntled former employees and they broadly disseminated their anti-CRI materials. Once again, Alnor could not refrain from getting involved and sent Hank a February 6, 1995 letter ostensibly to promote “restoration.” Contrary to that purpose, Alnor repeated numerous unproven allegations as if they were facts and blind copied the letter both to Hank’s fiercest adversaries and to the press, who all received the letter well ahead of Hank. He said, “I am on the verge of moving out of neutrality and opposing you….”
I found Alnor’s conduct so inappropriate for the director of EMNR that I called an EMNR board meeting to deal with it. I mentioned to the board similar problems that Alnor created for CRI that led to his being fired. Alnor replied that I was lying and claimed that he resigned. The EMNR board told Alnor that he could continue as director only if he backed off from CRI. Despite Alnor’s apparently strong desire to retain his position, he proceeded to disseminate demonstrably false and injurious information about CRI in his newsletter and clearly had some level of involvement with a rumor that Hank had taken a bribe from Phil Aguilar. In fact, this demonstrably slanderous story provides an excellent example of how anti-CRI rumors are conceived, take on a life of their own, and refuse to die.
Chapter Five: Alnor as Relentless Opponent of CRI
By early 1996 Alnor’s continued inability to refrain from divisive activity and his abuse of EMNR funds cost him the executive director position. No longer constrained by the EMNR board, he was free to join forces fully with those who were opposing CRI, and he quickly moved to the forefront of such activity. He and his associates would obtain Hank’s speaking itinerary and send defamatory materials to the churches and other venues to which Hank would be arriving. He worked to develop “moles” within CRI who would keep him aware of CRI’s activities. Through this information he was able to contact new personnel to give them a “friendly heads up” about the troubles at CRI, thus enlisting new moles and perpetuating the very troubles about which he contacted them.
In 2001 Alnor announced on his Christian Sentinel Web site a “shift of focus” that would be “real and permanent” to an even greater emphasis on “exposing hypocrisy and corruption in religion.” He stated that this shift would involve “tracking and cataloguing the scandals within the church as a part of an important worldwide service.…” He acknowledged that some would call this work “gossiping” and “muckraking” but clarified that “we don’t mean anything personally by it.” He also pointed out that “the famous ‘muckrakers’ of the early part of the 20th Century…did their reforming work because they believe God wanted them to.”
Chapter Six: Mail Fraud?
On January 19, 2005 Bill Alnor posted an article on his Christian Sentinel online magazine that reported that Hank Hanegraaff was soliciting funds to make up for donations that apparently had been lost in the mail by the Rancho Santa Margarita, California post office over a period of up to three months. Alnor said he contacted the same post office and no one was aware of a problem with CRI’s mail. Alnor then filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service alleging that CRI was perpetrating mail fraud.
Alnor’s Christian Sentinel article opened with, ““Christian Research Institute (CRI) President Hank Hanegraaff has become the focus of a federal criminal mail fraud investigation sparked last week by an unusual ‘urgent memo’ fundraising appeal letter he released on Friday on CRI’s website.” CRI had become used to Alnor making allegations of unethical activity against the ministry, but to claim that CRI was under a federal criminal mail fraud investigation went over the line. CRI’s board of directors observed that this false claim was getting traction in the press and disturbing CRI’s donors, and so they decided that the facts needed to be established in a court of law.
Alnor’s legal team of the ACLU and the law firm of Ross, Dixon, & Bell moved to have the case stricken from the court on the basis that it violated free speech protections enshrined in California law. The trial court judge rejected their motion but Alnor appealed and in 2007 he obtained a two-to-one decision from the Court of Appeal to have the lawsuit overturned. In his August 7, 2007 update on his Web site Alnor proclaimed, “Victory! CRI/Hank Hanegraaff loses merit less [sic] defamation law suit against Bill Alnor!”
A public statement released by CRI after the appellate court’s ruling summarizes CRI’s position on both Alnor’s mail fraud allegation and the lawsuit:
On February 28, 2007, the three-judge Court of Appeal in California unanimously agreed with the trial judge that a preponderance of evidence showed that journalist William Alnor made false and negligent statements regarding the Christian Research Institute and its president Hank Hanegraaff. The panel was split, however, on whether to impose liability on Alnor for his false statements. The issue on which they could not agree was whether Alnor made the statements with actual malice, beyond negligence, knowing them to be false allegations, which constitutes the extremely high threshold public-figure plaintiffs must meet in order to impose liability for false statements.
CRI’s purposes for bringing this matter to court were (1) that the ministry be vindicated of Alnor’s outrageous charges and (2) to expose his unprofessional and harmful journalistic practices. We are satisfied that the judgments rendered in the Court of Appeal’s decision accomplishes both of those purposes; that is, CRI is vindicated of Alnor’s charge of mail fraud and Alnor’s credibility as a journalist is seriously damaged. We believe an objective reading of the Court of Appeals’ decision can yield no other conclusion. Furthermore, CRI’s decision to file suit is supported by the fact that both the trial court judge and the presiding judge of the court of appeal determined that clear and convincing evidence of actual malice was presented by CRI.
Chapter Seven: Abuse of Funds?
On his Web site Bill Alnor urges Christians “NOT to contribute financially to CRI” and comments that Hank “has pretty much ruined [CRI] by making it a money machine.” In the July 2003 issue of The Christian Sentinel E-Update Alnor reported that CRI was undergoing a compliance review by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) that had uncovered problems with the CRI board and also with expenditures.
Alnor’s report contains both false and misleading statements, partly due to a premature and inappropriate public statement ECFA made that they later corrected. In the end, ECFA issued a public statement that should be reassuring to CRI’s donors. It affirmed that ECFA had closely monitored CRI’s response to their requirements and they were satisfied CRI was now in full compliance with their standards. They also clarified that “the deficiencies in compliance with ECFA Standards found at CRI were not willful on the part of the ministry, nor was the ministry’s accomplishment of mission objectives, consistent with donor expectations, negatively impacted.”
There are two major reasons why many Christian organizations decide not to apply for membership in ECFA. First, ECFA sets limits to the salaries that can be paid to members of an organization so that they are reasonably proportionate to the income generated by that organization. Second, ECFA prohibits principals of the organization from receiving the profits of any books or other materials they have written that are sold by the organization for promotional purposes. ECFA was established to address abuses in these areas, and supporters of a ministry can be reasonably assured that if that ministry is a member in good standing with ECFA its salaries and fund-raising practices are consistent with its nonprofit purposes. The truth is that CRI not only meets but exceeds ECFA standards because whenever CRI sells a book by Hank or any other CRI author, all of the profits go back to the ministry regardless of whether the book was used for promotional purposes.
One would think Alnor must be the standard-bearer of financial integrity in light of the way he so self-righteously goes after other Christians. He neglects to mention that EChO/Christian Sentinel is not and never has been a member of ECFA, even though they do sell their products online on their “Christian Sentinel Store” page. Furthermore, he has given no indication whatsoever that he operates by ECFA (or any other) financial ethics standards. Considering that he has on many occasions concluded that Hank and CRI are guilty of misdeeds on the basis of mere hearsay, Alnor cannot survive scrutiny by his own standard. As far back as 1996 EMNR and CRI were contacted by former staff people of Alnor’s EChO, alleging that they had witnessed Alnor abuse EChO and EMNR funds and lie to staff, supporters, and leaders of his church on several occasions.
Chapter Eight: Plagiarism?
In an August 2004 editorial in the Christian Sentinel, Bill Alnor wrote: “The evidence is overwhelming: Christian Research Institute (CRI) President Hank Hanegraaff has engaged in serious instances of repeat plagiarism.… My investigation that was part of my study of plagiarism in the religious media also underscores what action Christians should take concerning Hanegraaff and CRI: A complete boycott.” In the chapter in his doctoral dissertation on plagiarism devoted to Hank, Alnor writes, “Most of the plagiarism allegations lodged against Hanegraaff stem from three of his books that he wrote prior to his takeover of CRI. They were Memory Dynamics, Memory: Your Key to a Rewarding Education and Personal Witness Training….”
Alnor provides a table with parallel columns demonstrating similarities between Hank’s Memory: Your Key to a Rewarding Education and Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas’s The Memory Book that he believes prove Hank plagiarized Lorayne and Lucas (L&L). They include the fact that both L&L and Hank use the shape of Italy like a boot, the acronym HOMES for the Great Lakes, and the acrostic “Every Good Boy Does Fine” to remember the treble clef as examples of how association can help with memorization. He documents that both L&L and Hank use the sounds of the same letters to represent different numbers, such as the number two being represented by the letter n. Finally, Alnor points out similarities between “peg words” Hank and L&L use to help their readers remember numbers, such as the number one being represented by a tie.
Alnor demonstrates no understanding whatsoever of the field of mnemonics (memory assistance) in which both Hank and L&L were writing. For instance, none of the examples he cites to prove Hank plagiarized L&L in the first seven of the nine rows in his table were created by L&L but are part of the public domain and are commonly used by teachers of mnemonics.
As to the examples in the remaining two rows, these do not constitute plagiarism either. Every allegation of plagiarism against Hank is based on faulty assumptions and in this case one such assumption is that the memory-triggering devices used in mnemonics are proprietary to whoever created them. Mnemonics is in some respects a science and as such it is developed collectively and progressively by innovators in the field. Each new author in the field is not expected to start from scratch and reinvent the basic constituents, symbols, or language of the field (e.g., peg words or associations) simply for the purpose of not repeating what has already been developed before. Hank did not plagiarize L&L any more than they plagiarized earlier mnemonics writer David Roth or Roth plagiarized Felix Berol, who published his book on mnemonics just four years prior to Roth’s. Each of these authors, including Hank, used peg words and other memory devices that previous authors employed while also adding new peg words and other distinctive innovations that justified the addition of a new book to the literature. None of them claimed that that all the ideas they were presenting were their own, and Hank, more than any of the others, acknowledged his indebtedness not only to ancient but also to contemporary sources.
As if all this were not bad enough, Alnor, who has set himself up as an authority on plagiarism, is guilty of plagiarism in the very creation of his plagiarism chart! Alnor thinks he escapes this by stating immediately above his table, “Some of this original chart created by the author is based upon examples originally given in an article that first appeared in the Internet in 1995,” but careful analysis reveals that all of the examples first appeared in that article. Contrary to the clear implication of the word “some,” Alnor contributed no new examples—only the chart format is new. Alnor’s replication throughout his chart of the 1995 article’s distinctive typos proves that he only drew his quotes from that article and strongly suggests that he never interacted with the primary sources at all in this research on Hank that helped earn his doctorate.
Alnor proceeds to write: “Some scholars have also looked at Hanegraaff’s borrowings from [D. James] Kennedy[‘s Evangelism Explosion (E.E.)].… So far the most thorough study of the alleged plagiarism was written by Robert M. Bowman, Jr., who produced a 26-page scathing report on the plagiarism…. The scholarly study includes 15 pages of tables showing similarities between Hanegraaff’s work and Kennedy’s that highlights 89 sections (many entire paragraphs) of his book in which Hanegraaff lifts from Kennedy.”
Bowman too created a chart with parallel columns to display similarities between Hank’s Personal Witness Training (PWT) and Kennedy’s E.E. For example, in a simulated evangelistic visit to a home, Kennedy has the E.E. practitioner asking, “How did you happen to attend our church?” while Hank has a PWT practitioner asking, “Earl, how did you happen to visit our church?”
Just as the charge that Hank committed plagiarism of L&L was based on faulty assumptions, so too the charge that he plagiarized Kennedy. One such unwarranted assumption is that Hank is taking Kennedy’s material and “passing it off as his own.” Not only does Hank acknowledge his indebtedness to Kennedy in PWT but the manner in which he acknowledges him implicitly but clearly acknowledges E.E. Contrary to what some believe, Hank’s incorporation of E.E. material into PWT wasn’t news to Kennedy. Kennedy was the one who first asked Hank to create an inherently memorable version of E.E. (which, at its heart, is what PWT is) before deciding against it because E.E. was too well established in different translations internationally to be changed. Hank also sent Kennedy prototypes of PWT as he was developing it. In the mid 1980s Kennedy even had Hank teach an early version of PWT to his congregants at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
The faulty conclusion of plagiarism could have been avoided if the right questions were asked:
- What kind of publication is PWT? PWT is a training manual to help believers win souls that was never professionally published. A training manual is not the place to unfold new ideas but rather to lay out step-by-step proven methods for doing something effectively. While E.E. is almost entirely written in standard paragraph form with fully developed prose, PWT is largely written in outline form with blanks for the student to fill in at every point. It is properly a workbook. E.E. is more properly a study book.
- Why was PWT written? PWT was written to make the E.E. gospel presentation more user friendly by packaging it in an inherently memorable format. This format was Hank’s creation and provided a strong justification for publication. Furthermore, Hank added many additional innovations to the gospel presentation that go beyond what is found in E.E.
- Who was PWT written for? PWT was created when people to whom Hank was teaching E.E. one night a week and Bible memorization another night asked him to make E.E. inherently memorable in a manner similar to what he had done with the Bible. Does Alnor really expect us to believe that these people thought Hank created the E.E. material he was now teaching in a memorable format? Does he expect us to believe that Hank was trying to make them think that?
The plagiarism allegations need to be put in context. At the time they were originally made some people held the opinion that Hank was unqualified to take the place of Walter Martin. When Hank began to write material such as Christianity in Crisis that would seem to contradict that view, some alleged that Hank’s materials were ghostwritten. The plagiarism charge was another attempt to discredit Hank’s claim to the leadership of CRI: “Even when he writes he’s incapable of producing anything original.”
The people who cling to this ghostwriter/plagiarist characterization of Hank are chasing after the distant echo of a rumor that was long ago discredited. There is absolutely no evidence that Hank uses a ghostwriter and the allegation is laughable to anyone who works closely with Hank. Furthermore, none of the professionally published books that Hank has produced since he came into his own at CRI remotely approach even the broadest definitions of plagiarism. After fifteen years of Hank’s daily hosting the Bible Answer Man and his creation of a truly impressive body of work it is astounding that we still need to have this discussion about his qualifications to lead CRI.
Conclusion: Consider the Source
These allegations will not end. Bill Alnor behaves as though his reason for living is to bring down Hank Hanegraaff and with him CRI. We are called to the defense of the gospel, not of ourselves, and we cannot justify diverting any more of our precious time from our ministry objectives than we are using here to answer Alnor and company’s never-ending allegations. We trust that the information in this book is sufficient to assure you that we do have answers to Alnor’s allegations. We request that in the future, when Alnor would have you believe that he is doing God a service by attacking a fruit-bearing ministry, you will consider the source of the attack.