Author: Jon Trott
Source: Cornerstone, vol. 18, issue 91, p. 16
In response to The True Lauren Stratford Story, authored by myself and Bob and Gretchen Passantino, mail has poured in, as this issue's letters section shows. It ran roughly three to one in favor of us doing the article on Lauren's book, Satan's Underground. And the phone's been buzzing. Print and electronic media throughout the country have covered our investigation.
Harvest House Publishers, on January 26, responded to the CORNERSTONE article by stopping publication of both Satan's Underground and Lauren Stratford's second book, I Know You're Hurting. They further noted that "returns of both books may be made without prior written notice to the publisher."
According to Johanna Michaelsen on the January 30 "Live in L.A. with John Stewart" radio program (KKLA), returned and unsold books will be picked up by Hal Lindsey Ministries for distribution. For the record, Satan's Underground had sold 133,409 copies to bookstores through January.
Since the article's publication, we have heard from more women who believe themselves "victims" of Laurel Willson/Lauren Stratford. They have provided us with further corroborative evidence, including tapes and letters created by Lauren that underscore her pattern of manipulation.
The article provoked many questions. People asked, "Why did you do the investigation? Were you out to 'get' someone?" That is a story in itself.
Eric Pement, CORNERSTONE magazine's "cult" researcher and (as of last year) the Executive Director of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR), was wearing his EMNR hat and organizing (ready for some irony?) "The Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism." Through a long-winded circumstance, he obtained Lauren Stratford as a speaker at the conference. On hearing of Lauren's inclusion, a fellow researcher called. "I have reservations about Lauren's story." At this time we were given the name of Lauren's mother.
After speaking with Mrs. Willson, Eric was able to contact Lauren's sister, Willow, who was working on the mission field. Willow offered us details which bluntly contradicted Satan's Underground. Eric then reached Lauren by phone and spoke with her for an hour and twenty minutes. He came away with no information, though Lauren insisted she had "hard evidence" to back her story. The Rockford Conference decided not to have her speak at the same time Lauren decided to withdraw.
At this point, the mantle passed to the Passantinos and me to continue the research. Why? We felt that if Lauren's book was untrue, it ought not to be marketed as truth. Our growing body of evidence showed that her whole life had been made up of conflicting stories told over a period of thirty-plus years, and that most of those she deceived were WITHIN the Church. Proverbs 14:5 points out the biblical principle, "A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies."
We feel that American Christianity has, like Cain, echoed the refrain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" When our brother stumbles, we often turn a blind eye instead of attempting to restore him according to the biblical principles of truth and responsibility. This also makes us responsible for his or her sin.
Throughout the time we researched Satan's Underground, we attempted dialogue with Lauren, Harvest House, and those with pastoral concern for her. Lauren herself would not speak with us, and as the scope of our research became apparent, her publisher refused to answer our questions. We had hoped that the falsity of the SATAN'S UNDERGROUND story would have been resolved, that Lauren and/or Harvest House would have taken some sort of responsibility. Since that option was closed to us, we found ourselves compelled by biblical truth to make the matter as public as her testimony had become.
Initially, Lauren, her publisher, and her supporters claimed to have hard evidence to support Satan's Underground. But as our findings mounted, and our questions became more specific, the nature of their evidence changed from "times, dates, and places" to "testimony consistent with other victims." We were told that hard evidence didn't matter; a higher form of evidence, namely, that Lauren's therapists believe her on her word alone, invalidated all the eyewitnesses and documentation we had discovered.
The idea that therapeutic technique is the ultimate test of truth sets a dangerous precedent. It is understandable to make a demarcation between testimony for therapeutic purposes and testimony for authenticity and authority. The therapist's goal is helping the client to deal with present reality, no matter what the past has held, and therefore is not concerned with historical verification. But such an idea of "truth" doesn't work when we are presented with a "true story." The responsible Christian publisher's goal is to promote truth that can be verified: "hard" evidence, consisting of eyewitness testimony and/or documentation.
Bob, Gretchen, and I felt our findings concerning the book demanded our exercise of a "sound mind" and "righteous judgment." To do otherwise would be sin. Yet our aim was not to simply present the evidence we had gathered, not to "attack" Lauren or anyone else. We passed no judgment as to the MOTIVATIONS of Lauren, Harvest House, or other of her story's backers. Near the end of the article, we did point out their biblical RESPONSIBILITIES, and noted that those responsibilities were not fulfilled. We are adjured to "test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
We don't need to have exhaustive knowledge in order to ask intelligent, biblically prompted (even mandated) questions. The Bereans were commended for double-checking even the Apostle Paul, going to the Scriptures "every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). We should also examine what is laid in front of us as truth.
The Bible respects evidence of a most tangible nature, as shown by the Lord's own story. Christ's life story was observed by friend and foe alike, and written down in minute detail by four different authors. Christ's resurrection was established on the eyewitness testimony of hundreds of witnesses. The body was missing and the stone was rolled away! We are not asking Lauren for the VOLUME of evidence that exists for the resurrection; we are asking Lauren for the same KINDS of evidence (e.g., eyewitness testimony and hard documentation).
Lauren does need our prayers. But what she does not need is for us to diminish the truth in order to make room for a lie.
In this issue, we highly recommended Bob Passantino's article, "Fantasies, Legends, Heroes--Part One," which offers both a challenge to think more critically as Christians, and the ammunition to begin meeting that challenge.
--- Jon Trott