What if Sozo is a Trojan Horse strategically positioned in churches to aid in the indictment and conviction of pastors over false claims of sexual abuse based upon repressed memories?
Obviously, Sozo proponents will consider the question I just proposed to be completely preposterous. It may even raise the eyebrows of some people who are opposed to Sozo. Despite how irrational my question seems to be, let me challenge anyone to keep reading and to honestly consider the case I am about to make.
You may say to yourself,
I have never engaged in any kind of sexual abuse, why should I bother reading something like this?
That is probably something I would have thought years ago. Then I was falsely accused of sexual abuse. If you are a pastor, elder, or deacon and you have allowed any of the following programs in your church then you very well may have denied yourself a future legal defense against false claims of sexual abuse:
Restoring The Foundations
All three of these programs have something in common. They all promote and practice regressive memory therapy (RMT). Regressive memory therapy, also known as recovered memory therapy, is the practice of attempting to recall memories allegedly buried in one’s subconscious. The belief is that some memories are so painful that we may regulate them to our subconscious because we are unable to cope with them at a conscious level. It sounds feasible but proven not to be true and has been thoroughly debunked. The practice often produced false recovered memories, which led to horrible false accusations of abuse. It was widely practiced in the 1980s and 1990s but after an avalanche of lawsuits it all but ceased and is now considered to be the most embarrassing episode in the history of the mental health field. For more information about this check out the False Memory Syndrome Foundation website. There are case examples of devastating accusations based upon false recovered memories.
These programs have something else in common, they claim their methods have come by revelation directly from the Holy Spirit. We need to spend a moment or two thinking about this; it is no small thing to claim a new deliverance ministry has been given and endorsed by the Creator. It is imperative that any such program be thoroughly examined in light of the Scripture.
I have studied Sozo and Restoring the Foundations carefully, and I have more than a casual understanding of Theophostic Ministry, yet I have not found a reasonable Biblical argument presented by any of these that supports the idea of repressed memories or of a method to recover them—simply the dubious claims that the Holy Spirit has instructed them in these matters. These all insist we must go back in our memories to find the “inner lies” that are preventing us from living a victorious Christian life. Perhaps one question to ask is why did the Holy Spirit wait until the last 25 years to help the Church with its painful memories? What about the previous 2000 years? Was there no way of being more than a conqueror in Christ until the very recent formation of these deliverance ministries? I suggest that these are serious questions to consider, and certainly before instituting such a program in your local church.
I recently heard a very disturbing radio advertisement that sent alarm bells through my spirit. A law firm was seeking to represent clients that have been sexually abused by clergy. This was the same kind of advertisement that we have become accustomed to regarding asbestos, certain prescription drugs, herbicides, etc. That in and of itself was alarming. Along with hotlines to law firms for those suffering from asbestoses, now we have them for people suffering from:
What really got my attention is that the advertisement was non-sectarian in that it did not specifically reference the Catholic Church which has dominated the media coverage of the clergy abuse scandal. This is a paradigm shift.
I am going to lay out some puzzle pieces that when viewed together will reveal a picture supporting the scenario I suggested in the title of this article.
Before proceeding, let me make clear my position on sexual abuse: Anyone that has sexually abused any person does not have any sympathy from me. Anyone that has sexually abused a child has even less sympathy from me. Any spiritual leader that has sexually abused anyone—especially a child—even less. All such abusers should be prosecuted to the absolute fullest extent of the law for committing horrible evil. Moreover, any religious organization that seeks to protect themselves by hiding abusers within their ranks shares their guilt and should be held equally responsible. Hopefully I have made myself clear.
Ten years ago, upon learning that my daughter had accused me of sexual abuse based on “recovered memories” that she acquired during a Sozo session at Bethel Church in Redding California, I began researching deliverance/prayer ministries that incorporate regressive memory therapy in their programs. My story can be found here:
Sexual abuse of a child is one of the vilest evils of mankind. However, there are lessor evils that are also very horrible, and one of them is being falsely accused of sexually abusing a child—take my word for it. If my suspicions are correct, there is a whole new batch of clergy about to
experience what I have—and for some of them it is going to be their own fault. With great carelessness, many church leaders have allowed Sozo or other so-called deliverance ministries into their flock without vetting their memory “recovery” methods against mental health standard practices or Biblical precedent and are woefully ignorant of the history of the repressed memory movement. Most secular mental health professionals have ceased the practice of repressed memory therapy. Notice I used the word “professionals.” Professionals with four to eight years of higher education specifically in the mental health field. Sozo practitioners are unlicensed lay people who do not possess the education or background to understand the dangers of RMT.
Satan always has a plan. When he introduces any kind of error into a body of believers it is with purpose and forethought. Because of the horror that Sozo has caused in my life, I am sure my overall outlook of it has been rather myopic and self-centered. Until now, I don’t think I was able to grasp the breadth of its potential danger to the Body of Christ. While researching these ministries for the last decade, I have spent substantial time wondering and thinking about why satan would be so invested in introducing these counseling ministries and associated heresies into the Church. The most likely reason, I have pondered, is all these ministries are inward versus outward focused, therefore while the saints are contemplating their memories, their ancestor’s sins, and the demons associated with their pain; they are not evangelizing the lost currently condemned to eternity in hell. I am convinced this is enough reason to merit satan’s push, but after hearing that radio advertisement a startling thought came to mind. What if these deliverance/prayer ministries have been slowly setting the stage to nullify the scientific defense against false recovered memories of clergy sexual abuse, and in doing so causes the public to lose trust in the Protestant Church as it has in the Catholic Church?
Puzzle Piece 1 – The Scandal
Obviously there have been abuses in the Catholic Church, and this article in no way, shape or form, is attempting to minimize those abuses and their horrible effects to the victims. However, the issue is much more complex and nuanced than has been portrayed in the media. Almost half of the thousands of priests accused of sexual abuse were investigated and found to be subject to unsubstantiated allegations, and many of those were based on claims of recovered memories. Mixed in with real abuse and accusations were a host of false accusations.
David F. Pierre, Jr. has chronicled many of those accusations accompanied with meticulous supporting documentation in his book, “Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories.” Here are links to his excellent book and website:
Let’s look at a few excerpts from his book:
(All excerpts are from Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories. CreateSpace. Kindle Edition. Used with permission.)
“We must continue to demand justice and compassion for victims of Catholic clergy abuse. This is not optional. Time and time again in recent years, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been horrified by the hideous stories of wretched abuse and betrayal committed by men who solemnly vowed to model their lives after Jesus Christ. Disguised as servants of God, these criminal priests devastated countless lives. They pulverized the faith of legions with their revolting and sinful acts. Throngs of clergy abuse victims have relayed harrowing stories of profound torment. These voices must never be forgotten.”
Mr. Pierre is not denying actual abuses within the Catholic Church, but he is providing a more accurate and complete account of the facts that is distinct from the media frenzy and apart from the emotional hysteria. Let’s look at some of his documented case examples.
“Many priests are terrified at just the thought of being falsely accused. The fear of one petrified priest was so overwhelming that a drug addict with a long criminal history successfully extorted $90,000 from the cleric over several months just with the continual threat of filing an abuse accusation against him. (After the innocent priest emptied his personal savings, maxed out his credit cards, and borrowed from friends, he called the police. The fraudster pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.)”
“A 59-year-old man came forward to claim that Fr. Al Gondek, from the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, molested him 47 years earlier while swimming as a 12-year-old at a summer camp in Maryland. It turns out the summer camp did not even exist at the time the man said the abuse occurred. In addition, while administered a polygraph, the innocent Fr. Gondek truthfully stated that he had never even learned how to swim.”
“Fr. Thomas White of St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church in Wheaton, Illinois, was abruptly removed from ministry after a man filed a lawsuit claiming the priest had sexually abused him 25 years earlier. Yet the accuser’s claim “began to fall apart when diocese officials learned of [the man’s] criminal background,” including multiple guilty pleas for fraud. At first, the accuser claimed that the abuse was a “repressed memory.” (More on “repressed memory” in Chapter 9.) But as the walls closed in on his dubious claim, the accuser recanted.”
More from Mr. Pierre’s informative book later. Because of this scandal, people all over the world have lost trust in Catholic Priests. Comedians routinely incorporate jokes about priests and young boys into their acts.
Vigorous, science-based arguments against repressed memories were conducted by experts in many of these cases based on so-called recovered memories. Some of these arguments
successfully exonerated the accused and some did not. Currently, there are imprisoned Catholic Priests that are probably innocent.
I believe we are about to see a wave of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits against the Protestant Church. Any church that has adopted Sozo, Restoring the Foundations, or Theophostic Therapy will not be able to launch a defense against accusations of abuse based on recovered memories because they have adopted RMT as doctrine; the idea of repressed memories has become inculcated in these churches.
Puzzle Piece 2 – Follow The Money
The Catholic abuse scandal has become a cash cow for anyone willing to jump on the band wagon. Clearly there has been horrible abuse, but it also appears that opportunistic lawyers are using false victims to obtain financial settlements and are now trolling outside of those sectarian boundaries to obtain new clients—the rainmakers are afoot. We cannot ignore that in many of these abuse cases, one single accusation of a given priest would suddenly be accompanied by dozens of other accusations and many of these based on recovered memories. According to a recent report by Fox News, the Catholic Church has paid out over $3 billion in settlements because of this scandal.
Do I think that anyone sexually abused by a Catholic Priest should get a cash settlement? Yes.
Do I think some people experienced actual “false recovered memories” of abuse? Yes.
Do I think some people falsely claimed to have recovered memories of abuse to gain access to the cash cow? There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind—the facts don’t lie.
There are law firms that have made fortunes suing the Catholic Church—sometimes it was the right thing to do, sometimes it was not. Regardless, their business model is now in full swing, the structure is in place, these law firms are battle hardened and are marching forward into new territories. All that is required now is a fresh batch of victims.
Puzzle Piece 3 – The Holy Spirit Connection
Sozo originated out of Bethel Church in Redding California and in the last two decades has spread worldwide. Imagine a scenario in which someone falsely accuses a clergyman within Bethel Church based upon so-called recovered memories. The first thing an attorney would realize is a defense based on the science against repressed memories is off the table. The Head Pastor of Bethel, Bill Johnson, has endorsed several books about Sozo and heartily recommends Restoring The Foundations. The first thing a prosecuting attorney, or an attorney representing a plaintiff in a civil suit, would do is present the Sozo books with Bill Johnson’s endorsement as Exhibit A. Sozo, and therefore repressed memories, are now part of Bethel’s belief system. Bethel has morphed into a religious organization that teaches the Holy Spirit endorses the concept of repressed memories. If any of its leadership is ever accused of abuse based on recovered memories, they will find themselves in the awkward position of denying their own newly adopted doctrine in
order to mount a defense. I would not want to be in their shoes should this ever occur—I am afraid the assumption of guilt would be a forgone conclusion.
Any pastor that allows Sozo, Restoring The Foundations, or Theophostic Ministry into their church is potentially setting themselves up for a wrongful conviction and/or wrongful civil lawsuit. All these have, wisely, changed their names from “counseling or therapy” to “ministry” to avoid liability. Now, these organizations are strictly religious. When a church adopts one of these programs it is incorporating its belief system with the churches to form one doctrinal structure.
I have attended churches that will not allow members to participate in any form of leadership unless they go through a Sozo or Restoring The Foundations program. If you are in leadership in any such church, you must affirm that repressed memories are real.
One can imagine a pastor trying to defend themselves from accusations of abuse. Consider the following possible scenario:
“But these accusations are not true! They are based on recovered memories which have been scientifically proven to be unreliable.”
“Isn’t it true that you require anyone involved in leadership in your church to complete a Sozo program?”
“Well yes that is true but…”
“The very literature you require your leaders to study states definitively that the Holy Spirit created Sozo, therefore it follows that you require your leaders to believe in repressed memories and Sozo’s ability to recover them. Are you now trying to suggest we should not give credence to your accuser’s claims because they are based on recovered repressed memories? Are you now opposing a program you previously affirmed was given by the Holy Spirit?”
There is not a defense attorney in the country that is going to let this playout in a courtroom—if it is a civil suit it will be settled out of court; if it is criminal there will be a plea deal. In other words: Payday is coming around the bend. Perhaps insurance carriers that provide liability policies to churches should investigate whether this is a risk that is worthy of some careful analysis. It appears to be a slam-dunk to me.
What to do?
Eli should have been more attentive to his sons’ sin, and he was judged along with them for not doing so. I believe many pastors, elders, and deacons are fully aware that these deliverance ministries have doctrinal problems but tolerate them because they believe they may help a few—or they don’t want to go against the flow. Some people who feel called to leadership within these churches also know these programs are laden with error but submit to the pastor’s wishes and go through them because they do not want to be perceived as rebellious. This is a colossal mistake. Perhaps it is time for church leadership to take a closer look at what programs they are letting in. Could a fresh study of I Samuel chapters 3 and 4 be in order? Could that revive a holy fear of the Lord in our church leadership? I would suggest that it is time to start paying attention to Scripture instead of the new sons of Eli—the Sozo proponents.
Any church that has adopted any of these programs should slow down and take the time to contact the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and request they audit their program’s materials. What is this going to hurt? What is wrong with getting a second opinion? If they give any program a clean bill of health, then great. If not, perhaps those programs should be removed from the church.
One last quotation from ‘Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories.’
“In November of 2010, veteran attorney Donald H. Steier submitted what can only be described as a truly stunning declaration to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. With experience with over one hundred investigations into Catholic clergy abuse, the former deputy district attorney of Los Angeles stated that his investigations into claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have uncovered vast fraud. His probes, he asserted, have revealed that many accusations being made against Catholic priests are completely false. In his ten-page missive Mr. Steier relayed, “One retired F.B.I. agent who worked with me to investigate many claims in the Clergy Cases told me, in his opinion, about ONE-HALF of the claims made in the Clergy Cases were either entirely false or so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse” (capital letters are from Mr. Steier).”
Perhaps the likelihood of this occurring in mainline or independent protestant churches seems a little farfetched. Most protestant churches don’t have the deep pockets that the Catholic Church has so there would be less motivation for con jobs. Fair enough. Understandable. However, what if we take the financial motivation off the table? Instead, Let’s weigh what I have proposed against an incredibly unlikely mass hysteria to test the feasibility of what I have proposed. Let’s imagine an entire country gripped by the fear of a vast secret satanic organization so cunning that they have managed to infiltrate all of society for generations without detection. Their operatives are positioned within the FBI, state police, local police, churches, and even daycare centers. They have managed to remain undetected for generations until men, women and children begin experiencing flashbacks of memories where they witnessed and were part of satanic ritual abuse; including human sacrifice of babies. Upon questioning, many children
recount stories of being forced to watch animal sacrifice by their daycare workers. So prevalent are these stories that no one upon hearing of them could doubt their veracity. Special law enforcement task forces are deployed all over the country to put an end to the atrocities and to protect the children. Daycare owners and workers are accused, arrested and find themselves in trials stretching out over half a decade…
Okay, admittedly this is a ridiculously far fetched scenario. It could never happen. Oh, but wait…it did happen. The following link is to an FBI report completed in 1992 after years of investigation of this mass hysteria:
There are still daycare workers in prison that were caught up in this frensy, yet the FBI report concluded there was zero evidence of a single verified case of satanic ritual abuse—it existed only in the collective mind of this entire country. The report readily admits they cannot account for thousands of people all having the same type of recovered memories, however there is no evidence to corroborate their stories.
False accusations of clergy abuse do not have to be based upon greed. If any pastor, denominational leader, elder, deacon—or insurance carrier—wants to hang their hat on the infeasibility of a new mass hysteria targeting the Protestant Church; and therefore, they don’t need to evaluate these “deliverance” programs; they are ignoring history.
There is a storm coming and it is not going to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent. When it hits, we may see churches abandoning these so-called ministries like rats escaping a sinking ship. The therapeutic church has been dallying around with these programs accepting the claims they were given by the Holy Spirit without subjecting them to rigorous testing of the spirits by comparing the teachings with the Word of God. Each of these programs I have mentioned require clients to sign a release of liability statement prior to having a session. This alone should have raised red flags to anyone with a nickel’s worth of discernment. Regardless, while these statements are designed to protect those churches from counseling malpractice suits, they will mean nothing in a sexual abuse case. The very fact that these churches feel compelled to have clients sign these indicates they have enough knowledge to know there is danger. Eli made a half-hearted attempt to rein in his ungodly sons and it cost him in the end—he should have taken charge of the situation and made corrective changes.
By Memory Victim