Gospel for Asia Asks 8th District Court of Appeals to Withdraw Sanctions

Gospel for Asia’s Writ of Mandamus Contradicts Investigation Filed by Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability

On June 18, Gospel for Asia’s legal team took the extraordinary step of petitioning the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for writ of mandamus which, if granted, would vacate Judge Timothy Brooks’ sanction of GFA and his order for a Special Master to oversee discovery in the fraud case against GFA brought by Garland and Phyliss Murphy.  Earlier this month, Brooks found that GFA had willfully delayed discovery and failed to comply with court orders. In response, he sanctioned GFA and signaled his intention to give an attorney access to GFA’s records as a means to speed up GFA compliance with court ordered discovery of information in the case.

Despite being a nonprofit organization, GFA has faced repeated questions and frustration from Judge Brooks over the inability to produce sufficient responses to discovery requests. Now, with the prospect of additional transparency, GFA is seeking to have the action reversed through the Court of Appeals.

GFA’s Case

In their June 18 filing, GFA defendants claim that Judge Brooks should not have sanctioned them because they have done their best to produce documents showing how they spent donor funds. Judge Brooks recently ruled that GFA had not done enough and abused the discovery process. As a result, he sanctioned the mission group.

GFA now counters by claiming that Judge Brooks erred by assuming GFA leaders in the U.S., namely K.P. Yohannan, have more control over operations in India than they actually do. GFA attorneys claim Brooks presented no evidence that Yohannan has the power to compel the production of necessary documents.

GFA also claims that Judge Brooks did not adequately take into consideration the burden of discovery as compared to the claims raised by the case. Specifically, the Murphys donated nearly $35,000 but the discovery requests involved over $360-million in donations.

GFA’s 100% Claim

As a part of GFA’s prayer to the appeals court, they make some claims that are at odds with other information in the public record. GFA’s attorney’s state:

As explained in opposition to Plaintiffs’ certification motion, GFA encouraged donors to participate in the good works GFA was sponsoring in Asia, but it’s the representations it made to donors varied. ECF73. For example, GFA told many donors that “100% of what you give toward sponsorship goes to the field,” ECF1, ¶17, but donations must be made “without restrictions” with GFA retaining discretion to use donations to best fulfill its mission. ECF71 at 4. There was no guarantee that each of the $376 million donated would be used for its exact designated purpose.

There is little dispute that GFA frequently touted their claim to spend 100% of donations on the field. This became a point of contention after concerns about their spending practices in India became public. After that, GFA made some changes which allowed them more flexibility.

In 2015, when interviewed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, GFA representatives acknowledged the claim that they sent 100% to the field. On page 5 of the ECFA report to GFA, this admission is clear:

Use of funds restricted for the field for other purposes. On June 3, ECFA discussed GFA’s claim that 100 percent of field funds are sent and used in the field. GFA staff confirmed that this was accurate.

On August 24, ECFA was informed that GFA India made a gift to GFA of $19,778,613 in 2013 to complete GFA’s new office. On August 27, GFA’s staff confirmed that the funds relating to this donation were originally received by GFA as gifts restricted for the field and GFA transferred to field partners to fulfill donor restrictions.

It appears to me that the attorneys for all sides might want to interview the people who conducted and participated in this report. Here we have an admission that nearly $20-million was donated for field work but then was sent back to the U.S. for completion of the Texas headquarters. The ECFA report continues:

Reallocating gifts donated for field purposes contradicts GFA’s claim that 100 percent of funds are sent to the field. In fact, a significant amount of donations restricted for the field made a circuitous trip back to GFA and were used for the headquarters construction, as though they had never gone to the field. This appears to be a violation of Standard 7.1.

GFA claimed that the field partner (presumably Believers’ Church) took out a loan to pay back the $20-million and then used field generated money to pay back the loan. If that is the case, then it should be a simple matter to produce the documents.

In May 2015, defendant David Carroll told me via email:

Our field office is also audited by an independent accounting firm, to ensure compliance with regulations governing the recognition and spending according to donor designations of monies received.

While I don’t know if these audits have been offered as a part of the discovery process, I have to wonder if they actually exist.

GFA’s Claim About Control over the Field

GFA’s attorneys claim Judge Brooks used the wrong definition of control in reference to the GFA defendants. Furthermore, they claim no evidence was presented to support any theory of control. From the writ:

Plaintiffs did not introduce evidence to prove that Petitioners had control over the documents in India. Instead, the court’s decision relied on what it termed “the power of the pursestrings.” A00262, A00360. Because GFA made large donations to third parties in India, the court assumed that Petitioners could compel the third parties to produce the documents Plaintiffs wanted. The court’s assumptions are no evidence of control, regardless of which standard is applied.

The district court also assumed that control existed because Petitioner K.P. Yohannan held a prominent position in BEC, and his family members were allegedly involved in related entities. A00011. Of course, there is a significant difference between being an ecumenical leader in a church and having the legal right to compel production from over 12,700 churches all over India on demand. And involvement in transferring funds does not equate to the legal ability to compel production of documents (and bank records have already been produced). Plaintiffs offered no evidence to connect Yohannan’s family members with particular entities from whom documents were requested, nor do Plaintiffs show that Yohannan could compel these unnamed family members to use their alleged positions to obtain documents from any, much less, all of the 12,000 locations in India where documents are located. The district court’s reasoning is all based on assumptions of control, not evidence.7

Note here that GFA does not offer any evidence that Yohannan is without authority in India. Instead of asserting something, the attorneys simply cast doubt.

Why has GFA not produced documents describing Yohannan’s role in India?  The only Constitution which can be found designates him as the supreme authority over all matters temporal and spiritual. He doesn’t just hold a “prominent position;” Yohannan is the supreme leader.

Yohannan’s son-in-law Daniel Johnson is on the board of Believer’s Church as is Yohannan’s niece Siny Punnose. Yohannan sits on multiple boards of the hospitals, schools, Bridge of Hope, and other entities in India and around the world. Yohannan’s name is on all of the deeds of property owned by the church.

This notion of no control in India was doubted in 2015 by the ECFA as well due to the church Constitution of 2003 which is the copy given to ECFA by GFA. In that Constitution, Yohannan is referred to in this way:

By virtue of the ecclesiastical position, the Metropolitan Bishop is the legal authority on everything that belongs to the Church.

Based on their review of documents and GFA’s statements about Yohannan, ECFA came to the following conclusion:

Based on this level of oversight and control as well observed during our review, ECFA staff questions whether GFA has a sound basis to disclaim any control over the activities of field partners.

In some respects, the ECFA investigation was a preview of the Murphy case. If the RICO case turns out like the ECFA investigation, GFA might want to consider a new legal strategy.

Immigration Officials at the Border and the Milgram Experiment

I thought immediately of the Milgram experiment when I saw this interview with Tom Homan the Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 1961 and 1962, social psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to know if average Americans would follow the orders of an authority even if those orders led them to harm fellow research subjects. Milgram created an elaborate ruse to fool volunteers into thinking they were giving electric shocks to an accomplice of Milgram. Milgram created an experimenter role, an actor who had to learn word pairs, and the actual subject who had to teach the actor the word pairs. When the teacher thought the learner (the actor) got an answer wrong, the experiment called for the teacher to shock the learner for the wrong answer (who the teacher thought was strapped into a chair). The teacher-subject thought the shocks increased with each wrong answer until the learner finally indicated that his heart was hurting and wanted out of the experiment.

No shocks were actually being delivered. However, the teachers thought they were actually giving shocks. The experimenter was in the same room and exhorted the teacher to continue with the experiment over the loud protests of the actor-learner. Milgram’s question was: Would these average citizens continue giving what they thought was painful shocks to a helpless fellow citizen based on the direction of an authority figure?

There were various trials but about two-thirds of the subjects shocked subjects to 450 fake volts because they thought the experiment required it.

Now, ICE officials and workers at the border are refusing to take responsibility for their actions and saying that they do what they do because of the law. One of the factors that social psychologists typically point to is the defusing of responsibility. In the replication of the Milgram experiment, follow up interviews of subjects really highlighted this factor (Watch this clip to see subjects placing responsibility on the experimenters).

I realize that a person cannot just stop doing a job that is needed to support a family. However, over time, there are whistleblowing mechanisms in government and the ability to go to the press. Mr. Homan paused several times before he answered and fell back on the a frighteningly familiar rationale for doing something that has people on the right, left, and center ready to march.

How long will GOP politicians, ICE officials, and workers do what they believe their authorities tell them to do?

The Milgram experiment is an enduring caution that Americans are not immune to cruelty and defusing responsibility in ways that can lead to further tragedy. I think we are already there on the border and need to end the Administration’s zero tolerance policy now. It is inhumane.

See below for original footage of the Milgram study:

Social psychologist Jerry Burger and ABC News reported on this replication in 2007.

Happy Juneteenth!

Happy day to celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S. Juneteenth is a holiday in 40 states; here is a tweet from Jamar Tisby which links to an article which makes a case for Juneteenth as a national holiday. Whether Juneteenth should be the day or another day should be designated, there should be such a holiday to commemorate the end of slavery.

 

Photo: Public domain: Source: The Portal to Texas History Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. Date: June 19, 1900. Author: Mrs. Charles Stephenson

Letter from Rep Mike Kelly on Separation of Children from Parents at the Border

As a follow up to my call last week and an email on the same subject, Rep. Mike Kelly sent this email to me answering whether or not there is a law requiring the separation of children from asylum seeking families. See this post for my answer from his staff.

June 15, 2018

Dear Mr. Throckmorton,

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry into the United States. I greatly appreciate that you have taken the time to contact me on this important issue.

In April of 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum for all federal prosecutors with instructions to follow when prosecuting cases related to illegal immigration. Congress has already codified many of these actions, which have been sporadically applied over the years. This includes prioritizing cases involving the unlawful transportation or harboring of aliens, especially when the individual was illegally brought into the United States to facilitate future criminal activities. The memo also directs prosecutors to pursue cases involving entry into the country by individuals who have already been convicted for illegal entry in the past, especially when the defendant has a criminal history, gang affiliation, or other aggravating circumstances.

Since 1997, it has been U.S. policy to release undocumented immigrant children rather than hold them in federal custody while their cases are considered. Children are released first to their parents if possible, to other adult relatives if not, and to licensed programs if no relatives are available. This policy was confirmed in 2015 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which clarified the requirement for the federal government to quickly release undocumented children, regardless of whether they were apprehended at the border alone or with family members, and even if their parents are facing criminal proceedings. Under the Administration’s memorandum, immigrants who are prosecuted for crossing the border illegally will be able to apply for asylum, but may be detained while their cases are considered. If granted asylum, any conviction for illegally entering the country is vacated. Families who do not illegally enter the country and instead use the legal process of requesting asylum at ports of entry are kept together while their request is processed.

The United States has the world’s most generous immigration system – one which attracts individuals and families from around the globe seeking security and their own experiences of the American Dream. While we should continue to draw on this spirit of acceptance and understanding, this cannot come at the cost of violating the U.S. rule of law. Children should not be subject to detention in federal custody, but failure to prosecute crimes related to illegal entry only encourages further criminal activity, endangering the lives of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

A recent report by the Department of Homeland Security showed a 315% increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into the country in the past two years. These individuals have attempted to take advantage of previous leniency to commit horrendous crimes like human trafficking. It is critical that the United States maintains the rule of law and discourages future criminal activity while maintaining our status as a welcoming nation for unjustly persecuted persons and those in countries of conflict. Rest assured, I will continue to monitor this situation and will keep your thoughts in mind should any relevant legislation come before me for a vote.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff if I can be of assistance in the future. It is an honor and a privilege to represent Western Pennsylvania in the United States Congress.

If you would like to hear more from me on this issue and others, please subscribe to my newsletter at www.kelly.house.gov.

Sincerely, 


Mike Kelly
Member of Congress

I continue to look into the specifics of this tragedy. A briefing by the Dept. of Homeland Security on Friday revealed that nearly 2,000 children had been removed from their parents, some of which were from asylum seeking parents.

I followed up with a specific question asking about a law (there isn’t one) and whether or not he might be mistaken about asylum seeking families being separated. According to news reports, such families are experiencing separation no matter where they present themselves. I intend to keep an open mind, however, because there are so many conflicting reports.

Rep. Mike Kelly’s Office: There is No Law that Requires Separation of Children from Asylum Seeking Families

UPDATE: On the 15th I received a letter from Mike Kelly’s office in response to an email I sent asking the same questions as in this post. See the letter here.

……………..

Today, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Donald Trump’s false claim that there is a law that requires children be removed from their asylum seeking parents at the U.S. border. Watch:

Because I couldn’t find a law nor has anyone supporting the policy cited a specific law, I called my representative Mike Kelly (R-PA). The fellow who answered the phone (I didn’t get his name) said he would help me find that law. As he searched for it, he engaged in a bit of discussion with me about people illegally crossing the border. However, my question was about those presenting for asylum with children together as a family.

After searching and talking for about 10 minutes, Rep. Kelly’s staffer concluded that there is no law requiring the separation of children from their parents. He indicated that the practice fell within the jurisdiction of the border agencies and immigration officials and ultimately the Trump administration.

Thus, according to the office of my Trump supporting Republican representative, President Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are deceiving the American people by saying there is a law which they are simply enforcing. 

How low can Sanders and company go? Today she invoked the Bible after Jeff Sessions also did to justify this awful policy. Watch the video above to the end.

In one way, I am glad that Kelly’s office acknowledged that there is no law requiring the Trump administration policy. However, on the other hand, it is discouraging to know that Rep. Kelly must silently know that the story being sold to the American people is false.

Trump Says Nuclear Threat is Over; North Korea Experts Skeptical

A former foreign service officer who served in North Korea while Kim Jong-Un’s father ruled is skeptical of President Trump’s claim that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” David Lambertson who worked as American liaison to the Korean Economic Development Organization in North Korea told me that the threat is over only in Trump’s “imagination.”

Early yesterday, President Trump congratulated himself in this tweet:

Lambertson spent five years as a part-time KEDO representative and was also an ambassador to Thailand during his career. He was in North Korea as a part of the project negotiated during the Clinton administration with Kim Jong-Il, the father of Kim Jong-Un. In exchange for a promise of halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, a consortium of nations agreed to build a nuclear power plant in North Korea. Eventually, the project ended without a completed plant and without the promises being kept by North Korea.

Lambertson told me that Trump returned from his summit with Kim Jong-Un “with very little of substance to show us.” Moreover, Trump gave up a couple of “substantive points, namely the halt to ‘provocative war games,’ and simply the elevation to world statesman of the world’s worst dictator.”

Making a comparison to the Iran treaty, Lambertson said that the meeting was “the beginning of a ‘process,’ we are told–one that will bear close watching.”  He added that “every milestone along the way needs to be looked at carefully and skeptically.”

Lambertson said “we should be thankful” that “tensions with North Korea are lower than they were” but added, “until there is actual, verifiable progress toward denuclearization, we should keep our enthusiasm under control, despite Trump’s bloviating.”

Lambertson concluded:

The North Korean nuclear threat has not disappeared, except perhaps in the President’s imagination.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations concurs with Lambertson:

Since Trump has returned from Singapore, he has praised Kim Jong-Un as a ruler who loves his people. This of course will come as a surprise to the people of North Korea.

The American Lawyer Reports Gospel for Asia’s Sanctions

Given the size of Gospel for Asia, I expected Christian media to report on the sanction imposed on GFA by federal Judge Timothy Brooks in the RICO lawsuit last week. Judge Brooks scolded GFA’s lawyers for abusing the process and for treating discovery as a “shell game.” He announced his plan to appoint a Special Master to oversee the discovery process in the case.

Outside of this blog, the only other coverage of Judge Brooks’ drastic action is in the American Lawyer. This publication focused on the fact that the legal team representing GFA is fronted by high profile attorney and former Bush administration Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

GFA issued a terse statement to the publication, saying that they strongly disagreed with the Court’s rulings.

The article neatly summarizes the case as well as GFA’s stall tactics up to now. Regular readers should be familiar with the details but give the American Lawyer some love and move on over to check it out.

Revoice Evermore

The controversy over the upcoming Revoice conference continues to resound through social media. To catch up a little, read my first post on the matter.

Revoice is an organization composed of people who seek “to encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.” The group encourages same-sex attracted people to be open about their orientation in traditional church structures but to remain celibate.

In essence, it looks like those opposed to Revoice don’t like it that Revoice supporters refer to themselves as gay or queer or as a sexual minority person. Both sides believe gay people should be celibate, but the anti-Revoicers don’t think it is right to use gay as a self-description.

Evidence is compelling to me that same-sex attracted people demonstrate a variety of essential differences which justify a descriptive difference even if they decide their beliefs don’t allow same-sex sexual behavior.

At the heart of the discussion is biblical exegesis of I Corinthians 6 suggesting that Christian converts not only leave their behavior behind but also their identity and state of being. Recently, Rev. Owen Strachan made this point in a Patheos post, writing:

 In layman’s terms, Paul views the Corinthians as having broken decisively with their old identity and practice. They were thieves, but are not any longer.  They were drunkards, but are not any longer. They were homosexuals (whether the malakoi or the arsevokoitai, the passive or active homosexual partner, respectively, according to the Greek) but are not any longer.

Strachan adds:

David Garland says it well in his own exegetical commentary: “The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners.”

The verses in question are I Corinthians 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Assuming these words are translated correctly,* I wonder if there could be another way to understand this passage. Strachan wants us to believe that spiritual conversion changes a person from gay to not gay. His exegetical partners set up a complete transformation standard for conversion.

However, empirically speaking, this is rare. Most same-sex attracted people who have converted to Christianity remain same-sex attracted many years after conversion. Since Strachan and his Revoice critics view same-sex desire and attraction (not just behavior) as sin, then they leave the same-sex attracted Christian without hope. I don’t know what they think changes at conversion for a gay person. I know this is an inconvenient observation, but it is a true one. I asked Strachan in a comment at his blog to address this issue but he has not answered.

In the list above, some of those traits are more likely to change completely with conversion than others. For instance, I have little trouble believing a thief will completely transform but not all converted alcoholics do.  Relapse happens.

Will Covetous Believers Go to Heaven?

In my view, the I Corinthians 6 passage affirms that God can reach anyone with forgiveness and redemption. Even swindlers, thieves and adulterers can be justified, and once justified, one is always justified. Once you were not justified, but now you are. Some of those Corinthians were pretty far gone but God forgave and justified even them. To say that God requires a complete transformation standard defies human experience. If covetous believers aren’t going to make it, then very few are going to make it, including many preachers.

As far as I can tell, the Revoice approach is quite traditional but recognizes the reality of human experience. To them, “gay” doesn’t signal a rejection of their beliefs but rather is a matter bearing true witness.

 

*It is no secret that the translation of several of the traits described as sins in the I Corinthians 6 passage has been disputed. I am not taking a position in this post on the accuracy of the translation.

 

 

Federal Judge Sanctions Gospel for Asia in Fraud Case

On June 4, federal Judge Timothy Brooks sanctioned mission giant Gospel for Asia in the ongoing fraud case of Murphy v. Gospel for Asia for failure to produce evidence as requested multiple times by the court. The court found that GFA “needlessly squandered the resources of the parties…and put an ‘extraordinary drain on the Court’s resources,” and that GFA’s “abusive conduct in this case since August constitutes a willful violation of its discovery orders.”

Judge Brook’s Order

In sanctioning GFA, Judge Brooks will require GFA to pay for a Special Master to oversee the gathering of evidence.  In the process, this attorney will have the ability to appoint a forensic accountant and will have access to all pertinent GFA records and communications.

Setback for Gospel for Asia

This is a major setback for GFA. For several years, GFA has been defending itself by saying that all funds are spent as donors intend. However, now after months of telling Judge Brooks that this can be proven, GFA is no closer to producing the evidence.

In his order, Judge Brooks accuses GFA of evasive tactics and warns them that discovery is not a shell game. Furthermore, he denied GFA’s claims that they have no control over entities in India. He pointed to documents demonstrating wire transfers between entities, the fact that Yohannan’s family members sit on many boards in common, Yohannan’s prominent status in Believers’ Church and prior ability to get financial documents from organizations they say don’t control.

Judge Brooks had strong words for GFA saying that they had failed to “obey clearly worded directives issued by this Court and to respond in good faith to Plaintiff’s discovery requests.” The federal judge has found GFA’s behavior in litigation to be far from what was promised by spokesman Johnnie Moore in 2016:

Gospel for Asia is 100% focused on continuing its work around the world while working very hard to put an end to the false accusations being continually made against the ministry. Gospel for Asia can document the legal and ethical use of funds donated and clearly answer every question…

As Judge Brooks pointed out in his order, GFA has had many chances to document their use of funds but has stalled all along the way. Now, they face sanctions in federal court and the appointment of a Special Master.