Pursuing Justice

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:

About a year ago, this website published A Look at Current Valleybrook Leadership which was written by a former member of the Valleybrook community. This article is written by another former member of the Valleybrook community who helped spearhead the process of bringing legal action against Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark. As always, all claims have been vetted and verified by myself and some other former members of the Valleybrook community who are familiar with this particular topic.

Criminal Possibilities:
After learning of Valleybrook’s decision not to pursue any legal action against former pastors for possible financial crimes, a group of several previous members explored options for justice. The reasons were:

  1. To protect future victimization of others by creating a legal trail that would minimize the ability of the allegedly abusive pastors to harm others. If a conviction resulted, it would show up on background checks that are commonly used in churches and other agencies, as well as in general information searches.

  2. To deter others from trying to attempt financially fraudulent activities in churches by demonstrating that there are consequences; the result being that resources donated in good faith are used for legitimate ministry purposes.

  3. To bring about justice for the many people who were abused spiritually, financially, psychologically, and emotionally at Valleybrook by offering an additional layer to their healing. We do not believe that financial abuse is the most devastating type, but it is one of the only areas for any legal recourse. It is also the easiest to prove because numbers are objective.

  4. To show that while forgiveness is one of the most important facets of Christianity, it doesn’t mean that we excuse criminal acts and shield offenders from accountability and consequences.

  5. To provide past donors access to the information that Valleybrook, while claiming to be transparent, withheld.

The first approach was to bring a summary of financial information, compiled from the notes taken by many in attendance at Valleybrook’s financial meeting, to the Eau Claire Police Department. A former member who now lives out of state called the police department to make sure that a complaint could be filed anonymously, due to the collective experiences of abuse and harassment experienced by group members. While all parties were willing to be identified at some point, they preferred to proceed unnamed if possible due to fear of retribution by both the former pastors and their followers, as well as the current leaders of Valleybrook Church, including members of the Transitional Leadership Team (TLT). The TLT had actually participated in some harassment toward people who disagreed with their decision.

After the initial call, a local party delivered a binder of information to the Eau Claire Police Department. The detective who received the information approached the Eau Claire District Attorney office and was given permission to investigate. To clarify, both the ECPD and the ECDA thought this was a case worthy of a criminal investigation. They were willing to dedicate law enforcement and court resources to this situation. The detective opened a case.1

One of the reporting parties spoke with the detective, who explained what would happen. He said that, while he was sympathetic to the many people who were involved in bringing this complaint to the ECPD, as individuals we were not the legal victim. We had given money to Valleybrook, and it was allegedly stolen from Valleybrook. It went from our pocket to theirs, and if it was stolen it was out of their pocket, not ours. He understood our position, but explained that legally we had no recourse. Only Valleybrook had the position of being the legal victim and only they could proceed with a criminal investigation against the former pastors. He said he would contact them to let them know it was an option and the ECPD was ready to proceed.

The individual representing the group of former Valleybrook members also discussed the investigative process with the detective. The police investigation could uncover information that Valleybrook’s internal investigation could not, because the PD would have access to subpoenas. Their computer experts could attempt to recover information that Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark had both admitted to deleting; Doug claiming it was inadvertent, and Mary claiming it was out of anger.2 They would be able to do a much more thorough investigation. The reporting party specifically asked if Valleybrook would have any financial obligation for this investigation and the answer was NO. Other than manpower required for cooperating with the detective, there would be no financial cost to Valleybrook. If the District Attorney decided the detective built a compelling case with the information available, it would become a criminal matter prosecuted by the State of Wisconsin.

The detective said he could arrest someone for probable cause, but the court process would determine guilt and consequence. Obviously, it would be more complicated if one of the defendants was out of state, but even then there were options.

The detective contacted Bryan Symes, Valleybrook’s legal representation from Ruder Ware in early February, 2016. Mr. Symes said he would call the detective back to schedule an appointment. According to the detective, he also mentioned that Valleybrook didn’t want to press civil charges because of the cost.

This comment was interesting since Valleybrook had just distributed a letter claiming their decision not to pursue legal action was a “directive from God.” The Transitional Leadership Team wrote 4 paragraphs about how “moving forward” was the clear biblical response. They did write one phrase that indicated there were other, possibly non-spiritual reasons “…we were aware of some practical kinds of considerations that only further confirmed for us the biblical directive to NOT bring suit.” Expense was never mentioned. Lack of evidence was never mentioned either, although it was talked about months later. Another additional “consideration” might have been related to a rumor about possible litigation from the accused pastors. Which would have been an interesting deterrent since Valleybrook leadership claimed on stage their faith in, dependence on, and trust in God. But perhaps a possible lawsuit loomed larger…

Bryan Symes did not schedule an appointment. The detective followed up with him 2 months later and at the beginning of April they chose April 20th, 2016 as an appointment date. Bryan Symes and two members of the TLT from Valleybrook were scheduled to meet with the detective. In an e-mail exchange to establish the meeting time, Bryan Symes wrote: “Valleybrook does desire to put this behind them to the extent possible.” When the detective asked for the information below, and explained that it was Valleybrook’s choice to participate, Valleybrook leadership cancelled the meeting. The case was closed on April 18, 2016.

This is what the detective initially requested from Valleybrook:

  1. A list of potential witnesses to interview, specifically those with first-hand knowledge of the alleged theft.

  2. A designated liaison for me, which would be someone who could answer financial questions and confirm whether any specific transaction would be authorized or not.

  3. Specific allegations of theft….when, how, how much, where, who benefited, etc.

  4. How far back should the investigation go? It is not uncommon that embezzlement starts far earlier than an initial examination shows.

  5. A documented complaint, whether written or typed, outlining the chronology of events.

Next Steps—Civil Options for Justice

The idea of Christians bringing forth a lawsuit is controversial, especially since Valleybrook claimed it would go against a “directive from God” in 1 Corinthians 6. Anyone who cares to do a more in-depth study on that passage will see there are many caveats and that a “dispute” between brothers is not necessarily the same as embezzlement by a pastor—financial fraud is criminal behavior. And since the former pastors refused to engage with Valleybrook, it is a stretch to call them a brother or sister and expect the issue to be resolved satisfactorily within the church. The issue was carefully studied and considered, and this group felt that allowing injustice to prevail is not consistent with important themes of the bible, and that 1 Corinthians 6 does not prohibit action in this situation.

Because Valleybrook seemed ambivalent about cooperating with a police investigation (based on the fact that their attorney did not initiate an appointment with the detective) the group of former Valleybrook members began to explore the possibility of pursuing civil litigation even before the criminal case was closed. The goals listed at the beginning of this summary were the same. Members of the group planned to donate any monies recovered.

Researching which area of law addresses lawsuits against a church or former pastors was an interesting journey! We contacted the law firm that is representing victims of the Catholic Church sexual abuse cover-up. We asked for referrals from attorneys with whom we had relationships. We ended up scheduling an appointment with a local attorney who has experience with church-related issues. This attorney normally charges $450/hr, but he met with the representatives of the group for 1.5 hours at no cost because he “shares their concerns, grief, and pain.” We had sent in the same summary that was presented to the Eau Claire Police Department and he and a legal aide reviewed it before our meeting on April 14, 2016.

Unfortunately the attorney delivered the same information as the detective: We as former donors to Valleybrook are not the legal victim. Once again, Valleybrook is the only one to be considered as the potentially defrauded party.

All possibilities were discussed—suing the overseers for their lack of any sort of control of the finances. This group did not have the legal standing to do that (same reason as above), and it is likely that the overseers would have statutory immunity anyway. What about the possibility of a lawsuit against Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark? Financially, same story—we are not the correct party to do so. And in either case, the attorney said it is unethical for him to charge money to pursue litigation if there is not a high likelihood of collectability on the other end. Many scenarios were asked about, and the same legal counsel was given that any case brought forth by this group would likely be dismissed. Not because Doug and Mary were innocent, but because Valleybrook was the only one who had the legal standing to bring suit.

As a side note, while group members were researching litigation options, slander would have been a possible litigable offense. Not every group member experienced this, but we mention for the benefit of those that did. Some states have “pastoral malpractice” laws, but Wisconsin does not.3 New Jersey is considering laws about “predatory alienation,” which would cover what the Hagedorns have experienced with their son Nate. Otherwise there are very few legal protections against spiritual abuse or psychological abuse by a member of the clergy. The attorney explained that because of the “separation of church and state” (not an actual phrase in the constitution, but a legal term), “internal governance of churches is left to churches.”

We, as former members of Valleybrook who sought justice, are sharing our story because we feel it contains information that others should have the ability to know. Valleybrook never publicly discussed the possibility of criminal charges, only “legal action.” Many people assumed that there was nothing Valleybrook could do because they must not have had enough evidence. Others took it as proof that Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark were merely irresponsible, and not fraudulent. Still others said “Well, there weren’t financial guidelines in place, so it’s not really fair to hold Doug and Mary accountable.” The hitch is that Doug Lebsack dismantled the financial accountability that was in place at Valleybrook on his arrival by firing and not replacing the bookkeeper on staff. Internal guidelines aside, there are LAWS and IRS regulations that provide the minimal standards for any non-profit, especially a church, and these appear to have been violated. But it was convenient for Valleybrook to leave people with vague opinions and misconceptions.

We continue to see the ripple effects of the devastation that happened there and want it to be known that while Valleybrook could have pursued criminal charges, they chose not to. They could have pursued justice for all of those harmed. They could have protected others from possible future victimization. They could have allowed the facts to be known rather than allow this prevailing idea of “we’ll never really know what happened.” They could have sent a clear message of responsibility for stewardship so church donors would know the standards of accountability.

And not only did they choose not to, they did everything they could to hide the issue of criminality. As recently as this past month, a former member of the TLT stated that Valleybrook had arranged for and completed an investigation. When asked “by whom?” because an internal investigation is NOT the same as a criminal investigation, he declined to answer and removed his comment. He was being dishonest.

Given the information revealed by Valleybrook, there appears to be a high likelihood of fraud, embezzlement, and/or theft committed by Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark. And Valleybrook did not do everything they could to make it right, they chose instead to “put this behind them to the extent possible.” And that is that.

So indeed, that is that. In all honesty, the way Valleybrook has handled the process of justice after Doug fled the area has made me extremely angry. Some readers may remember when I posted An Update Before the Financial Article I said that I had taken an audio recording of the meeting (not having heard them ask that no recordings be made, as I arrived to the meeting about 15 minutes late) and that a member of the Transitional Leadership Team at Valleybrook contacted me and requested I not post it. That individual’s justification to me was, and I quote from the message I received from them, “There are specific legal reasons we asked for the meeting to not be recorded. If you are insistent on helping those you say you are against, I can’t change that. But, know that is what you are doing.” And so that individual, plus another member of the TLT, and I met a few blocks down from Valleybrook and we talked about the financial article that I was going to post. They made it clear that if I were to post that audio, it would hurt their legal options as they pursued legal action.

Well as you can see, that was just a bald-faced lie to protect Valleybrook’s image. I deleted the audio in good faith that they would be pursuing legal action, and they lied right to my face. Whether the audio would have actually hurt their case is pretty immaterial. When an already-open legal case with all of the information they’d need to proceed was dropped into their lap with a bow on it, they rejected it.

The author of this article also sent me a PDF of various budgets and memos that they had collected and saved during their time as members of Valleybrook. I received these too when I was a member. I think there are two main takeaways from these pages:

  1. Just the sheer scope of how much money we’re talking about. Millions of dollars.

  2. A quote from the very last page, which is a letter from the Overseers to the members of Valleybrook Church, dated December 17th, 2014 – mere weeks before Doug’s empire would come crashing down:

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.4

What a scam. Clearly, they weren’t faithful or responsible even a little bit. Did you catch that bit in the Case Summary, or in a previous post on this site, where a bag full of cash was found in Mary’s office that had been collected for a Kid’s Offering? When that letter was sent to the congregation in December of 2014, during that same period they spent over $7,500 in late fees, penalties, and interest. They may as well have lit a stack of cash on fire.

This PDF, as well as the Case Summary that was linked earlier in this post, is also available on the Media page for quick access.

I’ve been asked now and again why I don’t meet with Valleybrook to talk about these issues. Some of our former-member community discussed with me that perhaps we should all meet with Valleybrook to give them another chance to pursue legal action. We all landed on, “what’s the point?” They know what they haven’t done. They know what they’re trying to cover up.

I’m all for Valleybrook moving on from this nonsense, but to be responsible in moving on, they need to stop ignoring all of the people they hurt by enabling Doug’s behavior and enabling the church to not take action. If you’re currently attending Valleybrook, I strongly suggest considering the fact that they are still not being fully transparent about what happened, and they are still trying to cover it up by remaining silent. Personally, I would have a lot of questions to ask before I gave them another dime in the offering plate, considering their lack of any desire to pursue justice after being, quite frankly in my opinion, robbed.

Finally, I want to end with yet another update on where I’m taking this website. The Chosen Audio is coming next, followed later by the comparison between Valleybrook and Scientology. I’ve added one additional article after the Scientology comparison, though. I realized I have given a lot of information on some particular incidents, but I’ve never painted a bigger picture for you, the readers. So I intend to remedy that by creating a timeline, from the beginning of Doug coming to Valleybrook to the time he fled the state, complete with accounts from former members who were there and experienced it first hand. I hope to give you all of the necessary context of this whole debacle so that you can truly understand what a nightmare this was to be a part of.

As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing!

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.

  1. Ordinarily, I would post the PDF of the Police Report that was filed, but given the official and legal nature of the document, and potentially private information, it’s better that I don’t. What I can say, though, is that there is a Police Report filed with the Eau Claire Police Department, and if you’re interested in viewing it, you can try contacting them to request they send you a copy. 
  2. I think that’s really telling of Mary’s ethics and morals. She was angry, so she was willing to commit (potentially) a crime by deleting company/business information. There are, to my understanding, some additional implications since the business was tax-exempt non-profit. 
  3. With the exception of sexual assault. 
  4. Like the over $6,000 that they spent on parking tickets between 2008 and 2014…half of which were from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, where Mary was taking classes. Draw your own conclusions. 

A Look at Current Valleybrook Leadership

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.

  1. TLT letter 2/1/16 
  2. “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. 
  3. 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 
  4. 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. 
  5. February 1, 2016 TLT letter 
  6. This was also supported in the Converge Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) report 
  7. 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. 
  8. February 1, 2016 TLT letter 
  9. Romans 13:1,4 
  10. Romans 6:23 
  11. Psalms 89:14 and 97:2 
  12. 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. 
  13. “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 
  14. 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 
  15. According to the Status of Global Mission report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. 
  16. 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.”