Tales from the Cult is a website dedicated to preserving important artifacts from a church in Eau Claire where horrific spiritual abuse took place over several years. If you haven’t read the About This Site page, please do so before reading any article here.
Additional Note for this Article:
Most content on this website is written by me (Matthew), or it is reclaimed information that the prior administration of Valleybrook tried to delete from public access. This is neither. This is an individual from the community (who wishes to remain anonymous) who has additional information on what has been going on recently within the church in the wake of the financial report and subsequent Leader Telegram article, during which it was stated that no legal action would be taken against Doug Lebsack or Mary Clark for illegal use of funds. All statements made here by the anonymous writer have been vetted by myself for accuracy. In some locations, emphasis has been added by the writer that does not alter the meaning of the text, but attempts to highlight a particular quote or statistic to the reader.
Valleybrook’s Transitional Leadership Team’s recent letter of communication dated 2/1/16 contained examples of proof-texting and demonstrated that they are not being as transparent as they have promised the church body many times both verbally and in writing.
How open has Valleybrook been regarding past finances?
“So while we have been aware as a TLT that there are people inside and outside the fellowship of Valleybrook who have charged the TLT with hiding things related to the process, and while we are sad about that perception, we remained resolved to be accountable to process. We have not sought to hide anything.” – Pastor Tim Haugen, on behalf of the Valleybrook TLT (Transitional Leadership Team), September 2, 2015.
The TLT claims complete transparency regarding the past finances, but their actions have not been transparent. At Valleybrook’s presentation of the forensic audit’s findings on October 28, 2015, the TLT noted multiple times that they would not say whether or not misappropriations, fraud, or embezzlement had occurred. The TLT had a clear picture of what happened but did not present a clear picture. Anyone in attendance was left to draw their own conclusions and interpret data shared with incomplete information and knowledge. Valleybrook leadership can be completely open and forthcoming and accept any resulting consequences, or else they can protect themselves by withholding, limiting, and controlling information. However, they cannot do the former and call themselves transparent.
Valleybrook leadership obviously made the decision that they “were not going to pursue legal action” regarding the findings long before that decision was disclosed. In their letter, Tim noted that they had come to that conclusion while “retaining an attorney for protection.” The exact timeline is unclear but the decision had been made before December 6 and not announced by TLT until February 1, after the congregation was asked to vote on the new constitution. Transparency?
We first learned that legal action wouldn’t be pursued because Tim Haugen was “irresponsible and careless” with his remarks to the Leader-Telegram1. But only Tim and the TLT can answer when, if ever, they planned on notifying the church fellowship regarding this decision officially.
What really happened at Valleybrook with regard to finances?
With the lack of transparency of Valleybrook’s past finances, it is impossible for those of us outside of the TLT to say with 100% accuracy what really happened. Did something criminal occur? Unfortunately, Valleybrook hasn’t given our governing authorities the opportunity to answer that question. The following information can help us draw a reasonable conclusion.
Black’s Law Dictionary notes that forensic audits “[use] accounting methods to get evidence that can be used in a court based on science.” Forensic audits are often used when an organization’s finances present a legal concern due to suspicion of illegal activities including, but not limited to, embezzlement, tax fraud, and allegations of bribery. The facts shared during the October 28, 2015 meeting pointed to likely misappropriation of funds and embezzlement without stating a conclusion. Multiple individuals have heard Tim Haugen disclose his concerns of the IRS finding out what happened at Valleybrook. A reasonable assumption based on this information is that the occurrence of criminal or illegal activity is highly likely; this is not addressing legal burden of proof.
A 1982 article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology2 lists reasons that religious leaders decide to cover up scandals after “removing the wrongdoer who has diverted church funds to personal use without taking any further action.” The article discusses churches choosing “to absorb the impact of the scandal after it has become public and thereafter conduct religious services as usual without suing the offending party so that a civil action does not protract the scandal.” While there may be religious considerations for adopting this course of action (discussed below), there are usually practical reasons as well3. Churches can be afraid of losing dissatisfied members either individually or as a group. If restitution is not sought, harsh consequences of IRS imposed sanctions and retroactive removal of tax exempt status can occur when financial indiscretions come to light.
The actions of Valleybrook’s leadership suggest they wish to discard the past, minimize the perception of any illegal dealings, and move forward as soon as possible. We see “casting hope for the future,4” not indicating whether the forensic audit found criminal behavior, and offering Biblical references to support their decisions. Tim refers to “evidence of financial management that was costly to Valleybrook Church.5” This language carefully skirts the issue of whether the findings were criminal or not; it also notes that Valleybrook lost money as a result without quantifying the damage. It is much easier to dismiss the gravity of a situation when disclosure of both true cost and crime are concealed. It seems that Valleybrook is neither on the side of transparency nor legality in their past financial dealings.
Valleybrook’s current TLT members have conflicts of interest in regards to past financial indiscretions.
The current makeup of the TLT also makes it difficult for them to render non-biased decisions regarding past financial abuse. The TLT is composed of Tim Haugen (Converge interim pastor), Pastor John Anderson (Converge pastor), Dr. Steve Patrick (Converge Associate District Executive Minister), Dan Gluch (overseer during the former administration), Greg Smith (former member of the TLT, overseer during the former administration), and Nancy Robinson and Chris Solberg (VB members). It has been overseen at times by Dr. Perry (Converge District Executive Minister for Converge Great Lakes). There are personal testimonies of individuals who went to Converge and Dr. Perry and shared their concerns about Doug Lebsack and Valleybrook years ago only to be ignored and have Doug/Valleybrook defended. Similarly, Dan Gluch, along with other past overseers, defended the abusive regime at Valleybrook6. In a letter to the congregation on December 21, 2014, Dan Gluch, Greg Smith, and the rest of the overseers noted “We can also promise you that our staff has been faithful and responsible with the funds you have provided. To date, our giving is $18,000 under what we projected. Our staff went through a significant belt tightening process in our last fiscal year and if giving continues to fall short of budget they will again be ready to make the necessary decisions in order to allow us to continue funding the ministries where God has called us.”
By ignoring the concerns of congregants in the past, what kind of fiduciary responsibility and legal culpability do Converge and Dan Gluch have7? Are they hoping to conceal as much as possible to protect Converge, Valleybrook, and former overseers from being sued for lack of oversight? Are they trying to protect Converge from facing similar suits as well as tax or financial consequences? It is therefore doubtful that a team with such conflicts of interest could be free from bias and self-protection when deciding whether or not Valleybrook should involve the authorities.
Valleybrook’s leadership is continuing to use scripture out of context to support their endeavors.
“While retaining an attorney for protection, we had decided that we were not going to bring suit against former leaders because of the directive of I Corinthians 6:1-8. We were particularly struck by verse 7 of this passage.”
“We could not as a matter of conscience defy this directive from God. While we saw much in the review that was irresponsible and even unethical, and while we were sobered by what it cost Valleybrook, we resolved that we could not bring suit. Beyond biblical directives and counsel, we were aware of some practical kinds of considerations that only further con rmed for us the biblical directive to NOT bring suit.8”
In the above letter, Tim Haugen makes it clear that 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 is a “directive” from God not to bring suit. Much study of this passage shows it is questionable whether the original text provides such definitive guidance on this specific issue. 1 Corinthians 6 gives directives for handling civil suits between believers; civil suits involve a plaintiff and a defendant, in which the defendant is asked to fulfill his/her promise and/or make compensation for damages done. This passage also refers to two believers that appear to both have fellowship within a local church. This is not the situation that Valleybrook currently find themselves in.
As described earlier, Valleybrook finds themselves with facts that more likely suggest that two former pastors stole money from the church. Both former pastors have ignored any requests for reconciliation with the Valleybrook, other than on their own terms. Some would question whether these individuals are the brothers/Christians at all that 1 Corinthians 6 references.
In this passage, Paul does not discuss criminal cases. In a criminal case, the government prosecutes the accused on behalf of victims and/or the public’s welfare. In Romans 13, Paul teaches that criminal suits are to be handled by the state. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established… For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.9” Keith Krell explains this quite well in his series Saints Gone Wild: 1 Corinthians:
“One important clarification: Paul does not specify any criminal cases because he teaches elsewhere that these must be handled by the state (Rom 13:3-4). We must always distinguish between sins and crimes. Sins are handled by the church while crimes are handled by the state. Both are God’s governing authorities. Furthermore, when a crime has been committed, a Christian may at times be obligated to turn a fellow-Christian in and even to testify against him in court. The church does not have jurisdiction over criminal justice—that belongs to the state, according to Romans 13.”
Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 6 bear on an extremely limited context. The moment we press this passage beyond this context, we run into serious difficulties. For one thing, he is dealing with financial disputes, not with issues like violent crimes. Should we say that Christians may never prosecute other Christians for child-abuse, or domestic violence? That we should not contest child-custody if the other Christian parent is guilty of sexual abuse?
In my opinion, we should not even use this passage as a prohibition against ever suing another Christian over financial matters. There are always unique cases in our day and age: Flagrant, chronic default of child-support by a Christian parent. A swindler who takes a Christian small businessman for thousands (unable to pay employees) and then says, “You can’t sue me because I am a Christian.” A Christian who engages in dishonest business practices and refuses to comply with the decision of other Christians to make restitution needs to be judged by the church and possibly by those outside the church. These types of cases seem to fall into a 1 Tim 5:8 domain, where a believer is capable of behaving worse than an unbeliever. Consequently, judgment must fall! This actually serves to uphold Christ’s reputation and the testimony of the church.
In The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Johnson and Vanvonderen note 1 Corinthians 6 is often twisted by church leaders to support the unsubstantiated claim that Christians should never appeal to secular authorities. Congregants who wish to file charges are told it’s judgmental and unchristian to press charges and are silenced as a result of abuse of this Scripture. If this is a “directive from God” for Valleybrook to not bring suit against a church leader or congregant involved in a crime, what other criminal acts might Tim Haugen and the TLT not pursue or report? Reporting crime does not go against 1 Corinthians 6. As Christians, we are called to walk in the light exposing the truth, not hiding in the dark and covering things up.
James 2:13 stretched beyond context
In the same letter, Tim and the TLT point to half a verse (James 2:13) to support Valleybrook having a “passion for both justice and mercy.” After Paul condemns acts of favoritism to the wealthy in this passage, he reminds us that we all need God’s mercy shown through Jesus’ death; this view of God’s mercy should cause us to sacrifice for one another and not withhold forgiveness from others after receiving it ourselves. So this verse can help the church move forward in forgiveness by forgiving the sins of former leaders. God is 100% just and 100% merciful. It was for this reason that God allowed Jesus to die for our sins: justice said that the wages of our sins was death10, but in his mercy Jesus became sin and died in our place. On the cross, we see God’s 100% justice and 100% mercy.
Unfortunately, the TLT muddies the water by stretching this verse that discusses judgment without mercy, to instead discuss justice and “merciless justice,” James does not say that seeking justice is “vengeful” or “vindictive.” Justice is an attribute of God, “Righteousness and Justice are the foundations of his throne.11” Therefore, justice can be carried out in a righteous way. In some cases, justice can actually be merciful. An alcoholic might continue to abuse alcohol despite serious consequences in multiple areas of his or her life. For an alcoholic who drives under the influence and gets arrested, justice might in fact be merciful. Merciful if it allows the individual to reevaluate their life and make changes. Merciful to the individual’s family if it helps restores relationship. Merciful to otherwise future victims of their drunken driving.
Please don’t talk about the past, We’re moving forward?
If Valleybrook can’t pursue justice without having a “vengeful” or “vindictive” attitude then perhaps they need to look at whether they truly have moved beyond the past. It therefore seems ironic that they chose to flank the paragraph containing the James citation with the idea of not pursuing justice to move forward. If the TLT12 wishes not to pursue further legal action because they believe Valleybrook’s resources of time and money would be funneled away from loving God and others, promoting healing, etc., then they should make that statement when talking about “moving forward.” 1 Corinthians 6 and James 2:13 should not be proof-texted13 to say that their decision to not pursue justice is a biblical directive or would be vengeful or vindictive.
Even if the TLT doesn’t think that Valleybrook can pursue justice without mercy, it doesn’t mean that they should keep what was found in the forensic audit hidden from the public and from the local, state, and federal governments. While it is the church’s responsibility to deal with sin, it is the government’s responsibility to handle crime and seek justice. It is up to the authorities to decide whether a crime has been committed. Valleybrook should then be fully transparent (something the TLT14 and Valleybrook leadership has claimed all along) with what really happened. If taxes were not paid then taxes need to be repaid – keep in mind this is in the Bible as well – Romans 13:7. If individuals misappropriated money to themselves or took church property then they should have to pay taxes on what they received. Jesus did not ask us to be honest and tell the truth only when it is beneficial for us to do so. Perhaps the TLT should read further in James 2 about our actions confirming our faith. Perhaps it’s time for Valleybrook to tell the whole truth to everyone.
Where does this kind of “moving forward” take the church?
Hiding the results of the audit from the government allows possible crimes that were committed in the church to be concealed. The Bible asks us, individually and corporately, to be good stewards of God’s gospel, people, and money. In the first half of 2014, $39 billion of church-related financial fraud took place world-wide15. During that same time churches spent $35 billion on worldwide mission work. It is believed that only 20% of all fraud in the church goes reported. That leaves an awful lot of unlabeled wolves to continue to steal more money than goes to orphans and widows16. This may be why fraud in the church is projected to be $60 billion/year by the year 2025. Perhaps the TLT should reread James 2: 1-12 where the poor are dishonored and the rich exploit both the church and the poor. Perhaps it’s time for Valleybrook to care for the universal Church and poor outside their building more than the structure located at 412 S. Barstow St. Perhaps it’s time for Valleybrook to allow justice to be pursued.
Tales from the Cult is a free effort to bring stories of abuse into the light so they may be prevented from happening again. There is not now, and will never be, a fee to access this site. Thank you for reading, and please remember to share posts you find interesting to increase our web presence.
- TLT letter 2/1/16 ↩
- “Diversion of Church Funds to Personal Use: State, Federal and Private Sanctions,” Barry W. Taylor. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology; Volume 73, Issue 3, Fall 1982. ↩
- This seems to be part of the TLT’s modus operandi – “Beyond biblical directives and counsel, we were aware of some practical kinds of considerations that only further confirmed for us the biblical directive to NOT bring suit.” – February 1, 2016 TLT letter ↩
- Tim Haugen and the TLT have used many permutations of this idea. This idea has been repeated in private meetings, from the pulpit, and in the press release to the Leader-Telegram April 19, 2015 – “Yet newly installed interim lead pastor Tim Haugen described an attitude of hopeful anticipation as the congregation seeks to move past the scandal…” The main idea is for leadership to cast hope and forget what is behind. ↩
- February 1, 2016 TLT letter ↩
- This was also supported in the Converge Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) report ↩
- I am not absolving other past overseers here. I highlight Converge and Dan Gluch because they are currently in Valleybrook leadership and are making decisions on issues they have vested interest in. ↩
- February 1, 2016 TLT letter ↩
- Romans 13:1,4 ↩
- Romans 6:23 ↩
- Psalms 89:14 and 97:2 ↩
- Note that TLT and not Valleybrook is used here. Valleybrook has had no input in this decision. They are only allowed to question why the TLT has already decided that, and only question privately, not as a congregation. ↩
- “Proof-texting occurs when someone has a point he wants to prove. So he finds a verse to do so, even if it means stretching or ignoring the original issue about which the verse was written or the context in which the verse is found.” – The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse ↩
- Transparency has been postured both on stage as well as through written communication. “We wanted to be fully transparent.” – Chris Solberg in the Leader-Telegram December 6, 2015 ↩
- According to the Status of Global Mission report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. ↩
- James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” ↩