Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Bible Speaks Story

From a reader:
Hello, I very much enjoy reading your blog, particularly your investigation of corruption and wrong doing.

Your posting the letter about Cohen’s public humiliation of the woman who gave him $2 million for his Lenox ashram in the post “A Corruption of Power” calls to mind another story of greed in holy places. During the 1980’s there was a church called The Bible Speaks, also located in Lenox MA. The Bible Speaks had a wealthy female donor. In her case she left Bible Speaks and demanded her money returned, resulting in a landmark legal decision. The outcome, after litigation, was that The Bible Speaks and its minister were ordered by the court to refund the woman’s donation.

Here is a excerpt from one of many articles which ran in the Boston Globe. (The story was extensively covered by the press at the time including 60 Minutes, The Berkshire Eagle, The New England Monthly, and The Boston Globe.) The Globe articles appear in full at http://www.carlstevens.org/gpage11.html

Author: By Ray Richard, Boston Globe Staff
Date: 05/20/1987 Page: 1Section: METRO
Accusing the founder of The Bible Speaks church of deceit, greed and the ''astounding" manipulation of a loyal follower, US Bankruptcy Judge James F. Queenan Jr. ordered the church yesterday to return all of the $6.5 million donated to it by Lenox millionaire Elizabeth (Betsy) Dovydenas.

Rejecting the church's claim that the First Amendment forbids such intervention by a judge, Queenan said the conduct of Rev. Carl H. Stevens Jr. toward the woman in the two years she belonged to the church "reeks of undue influence."

His decision set the stage for the possible forced liquidation of the 70- acre headquarters in Lenox of the fundamentalist church with 1,200 parishioners.

She was unavailable for comment yesterday but is scheduled to discuss the decision at a news conference today in the Boston office of her attorney, Gordon Walker.

No comment was available from the church or from Stevens, 57, who founded the evangelical church in Maine and moved it to Lenox in 1976.

The Bible Speaks’ attorney Norman Grutman of New York had argued that the First Amendment prevents judges from ruling on religious beliefs. Walker argued, however, that the case did not concern the validity of religious beliefs but only the alleged excessive influence exerted by a minister over a trusting parishioner.

Dovydenas, the mother of two young children, donated the money during 2 1/2 years she and her husband, Jonas, belonged to the church. She left the church in December 1985, when, she testified, she saw the minister lie with his hand on a bible.

Walker said "wiping out the church is not our goal. The Bible Speaks was in existence for a long time before Betsy gave it $6.5 million. I know of no reason why it can't continue to exist afterward. Whether it stays in Lenox, I don't know."

Judge Queenan said in his 60-page decision that the testimony revealed "an astonishing saga of clerical deceit, avarice, and subjugation" by Stevens, who "has abused the trust of the claimant as well as the trust of many good and devout members of the church."

The judge described the woman as intelligent and trusting, but said the minister achieved "total dominion and control over her." Queenan said that Stevens' wife, Barbara, 34, and Kathleen Hill, a 34-year-old office worker at the church, teamed with the minister to persuade Dovydenas that she "was a special person anointed by God to promote good through gifts of her money to the church."

Queenan said Betsy and Jonas Dovydenas "were forthright and credible" witnesses. He said that the other three "were evasive and lacking in credibility" and that their testimony "conflicted with much undisputed, documented evidence."

The judge found that Betsy "sought and accepted advice from Stevens on every aspect of her life: spiritual, marital, family, social, personal and financial." He said Steven's influence over the woman was achieved in part ''by deceit and insincerity" and that the minister's "attempts to ruin the claimant's marriage were intentional and malicious."

Stevens was insincere, said Queenan, "when he constantly told her that she had the power to release God's judgment by bringing miracles through her gifts to the church, that her primary purpose in life was to give her wealth to the church, and that Jonas and others were controlled by demons."


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