Classical Conversations #5: Leaders Threaten to Use Legal Force to Silence a Concerned Parent

Classical Conversations, Cease and Desist, Legal Threats, No Talk


Classical Conversations, Legal threats against parents, Squelch free speech


NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:



This is the 5th article in a series on Classical Conversations (CC), a supplemental homeschooling program used by over 100,000 homeschool students. The next personal story is from April. We will read about her concerns and how Classical Conversations leadership, via an attorney, attempted to force her to silence by using legal threats.  Throughout this post, I have interjected my comments in green font.

It is important to reiterate that the personal accounts told in this series are indeed personal. You may be participating in a group where none of these accounts sound remotely familiar. But if even one of these accounts is true (I believe them to be true), there is a problem. As it turns out, I am aware of several people who share a similar situation as April, and so I think people need to be aware that this silencing tactic used by CC leaders may be used against you if you share concerns, too. 

In April’s account, there are specific titles of Classical Conversations leaders mentioned which may be unfamiliar to people new to Classical Conversations (in fact, I’m not even clear on the titles). In the interest of time and space, we will not define the titles/responsibilities – it’s just important to know that they are leaders within the CC organizational hierarchy. 

Now, we move on to April’s personal story. ~Julie Anne


April’s Story

My name is April. In 2011, I was looking for a way to get regular social interaction for my then-2nd grader and toddler. I was familiar with the basics of classical education. After finding no negative reviews of the program, I decided to give CC a go, as it seemed to be a good fit.

The Community Years

I was in a CC community for 4 years. It was a lovely community, but like most CC communities, we weren’t doing everything exactly “the CC way,” and most of us didn’t even know it. I was a tutor (a classroom teacher) in my 4th year, and even I didn’t know we were “rebels.” (I did not sign a contract or NDA, though, as is now required.) I didn’t know we were considered rebels until CC recruited and hired a support representative (SR)  from our community. CC hired a friend of ours and trained her to enforce their rules. And she tried. But we didn’t fall in line.

So, after several months of talks and meetings and mind-blowing spiritual abuse, we were essentially told, “If you don’t want to do things exactly our way maybe CC isn’t right for you.” So our entire community, save the new SR and her best friend on campus, left CC. In all, twenty-three families left. [The subject of spiritual abuse will be discussed more in depth later in this CC series.]

I was not devastated. We still had all our friends, but I was shaken up. I had listened to my former director and good friend sob on the phone to me after twice-weekly browbeating phone calls with our new SR and the area manager. I had endured personal tongue lashings for sending emails to my friends about how we should not have to suddenly do things differently because these women said so. We were like independent contractors, and we were delivering the product. We just weren’t delivering it precisely how they wanted.

And, I do mean “precisely”. We were dinged for:

  • using print-outs in class when we were supposed to be handwriting everything.
  • having the most basic of dress codes – a navy or white polo with any kind of solid color bottoms – meant to honor the church where we met.
  • combining the messier science experiments and art projects.
  • using a middle-school program created by a private individual, along with CC materials.
  • not running things simply enough and within the time limits imposed for each subject to be taught.

When I asked WHY we needed to do things these certain ways, I was told that we were like children, and CC leaders were the parents, and that sometimes parents do things that their children do not understand but are for their own good. And, the children don’t need to understand. I was a PAYING customer and was compared to a child.

It was a level of control I found mind-boggling, and yet I know our community had it better than some. At least we stayed together even after we weren’t with CC.

The Year After: Sharing Our Concerns

Our CC families roughly went one of two directions: to an independent co-op that stayed at the church where our former CC community had been meeting, or to a university-model school/co-op hybrid. We were happy, but my confusion and concern about why things with CC had happened the way they did lingered.

I started leaving comments on blog posts about CC, just telling our story. This was how I found a Facebook group where some of the questions that had been plaguing me were being addressed. The group was called “Exploring CC’s Business Structure,” and it lasted a little over a year. In that group, I discussed what happened to our CC community and CC’s business practices in depth. At least 100 women from all over the country were sharing their own stories and concerns about CC.

The group was public, and the owner of the group consistently invited CC leaders to address our collective concerns. CC leaders who could accurately answer our concerns never chimed in, though we had been told many times they knew about our group. If you have never dealt with Classical Conversations, or if you have flown under the radar or never had many questions, you may never have experienced the evasion and secrecy surrounding almost every aspect of CC’s business and rules. But, if you have had questions, you know. You most likely hit a wall. The ultimate defense CC leaders use against questions is silence. [This is classic gaslighting. It is crazy making. You know you’ve asked questions, you know the leaders have seen them, but they act like they don’t exist. This puts you in an awkward situation where you feel the need to walk on eggshells and bring the subject up again and risk more gaslighting.]

So, we in our little Facebook group were left to speculate as to why the rules were what they were. I was pretty outspoken with my theories. No CC leader with any real authority ever came in to correct me or to explain away my theories. We were on our own.

Contacting Churches, Classical Conversations, and Threat from CC’s Attorney

I think I was already “on the radar” of the CC leaders, but I guess I didn’t seem very threatening until I started contacting churches.

It began when I discovered that my old home church, the church I had attended for over 12 years, had hosted CC’s summer conference called “Practicum,” and was planning to host a CC community in the fall. I was concerned. I wanted the church I still loved to know our story. So, I contacted my former pastor via email and let him know a little bit about our community’s story. I also added that Classical Conversations and nearly all of their communities are for-profit organizations.

My former pastor did not know this. He said he had been told it was “a group of homeschoolers meeting together.” I could tell he felt like he had egg on his face because the church had a strict policy against hosting for-profit groups of any kind. My former pastor said he felt fooled. They decided not to host a CC community that fall.

This whole experience was upsetting to me. I was thinking that surely my old church had known that CC is for-profit and had worked something out. It was appalling to me that they did not even know. I began to become concerned that other churches in my area may not know and could possibly go against internal church policy without really knowing it. I decided to contact churches in my area listed on the CC website to let them know that CC is for-profit. I was behaving as a concerned citizen and Christian informing churches of an easily verifiable fact: CC is a for-profit business.

I contacted approximately 10 churches one day, and then got on with life, planning to contact more later. I heard back from a few. Several said they no longer were hosting CC communities (though they were still listed on CC’s website as host churches). Others eventually shared that they also did not know it was a for-profit company.

Almost two weeks went by from when I contacted those 10 churches. One night, I let my former CC support manager, area manager, and regional manager know what I was doing. For all I knew, this was an issue of a local failure to train CC leaders to disclose the for-profit status of the group up front. So, I emailed them and expressed my surprise at finding out my former home church had not known the group was for-profit. To my recollection and according to my emails, I never said to any church OR CC manager that I was afraid that the church could lose its non-profit status over hosting a CC, however, it was mentioned to the CC leaders. That is an important distinction to note when you read the letter from the attorney below. I also wrote that I hoped they would train their leaders to disclose for-profit status to churches up front.  

Less than a day after I sent the email to my former managers, the CC National Director over our area of the country emailed me. He said one of the churches I had contacted forwarded my “letter” on to CC. In his email to me, he noted that I was NOT a CC representative and firmly asked me not to “speculate” about CC’s business arrangements. I took this to mean he didn’t want me to contact any more churches. He also invited me to contact him directly if I had any questions about the matter.

Boy, did I have salient questions! I wrote back and asked two things:

  1. was anything untrue that I had written in the email to churches?
  2. could he assure me that other churches were not hosting CC’s without knowing it is a for-profit organization?

I did not receive an email back from the National Director. One week later, on June 4, 2016, the law firm hired by Classical Conversations sent me a cease and desist letter – a threat letter. The threat: stop talking about CC this certain way or we might sue you for an injunction to force you to shut up and/or for money.

Note: a cease and desist (C&D) letter and a cease and desist order are two different things. A C&D order comes from a judge or other agency with legal authority to tell someone to stop doing something. A C&D letter is simply a complaint of alleged wrongdoing sent to tell a person to stop doing it or the sender may take legal action. That is why a C&D letter is often called a “threat letter”. It’s just a threat. It has no legal consequence in and of itself. It’s often used as a scare tactic to try to stop a particular behavior without having to go to the expense and risk of actually filing a lawsuit. [C&D is a tool sometimes used to squelch any negative communication that reflects poorly on an organization.]

Cease and Desist Letter follows. 


Ward and Smith, P.A.
Deana A. Labriola, Attorney at Law
Wade II, Suite 400
5430 Wade Park Boulevard (27607)
Post Office NC 27636-3009

June 3, 2016RE: Cease and Desist Interference with Business Relationships and Interests, et al.
Our File 150219-00001

Please be advised that this firm has been retained to represent Classical Conversations Incorporated, a North Carolina corporation that you have communicated with and about on numerous occasions. This letter serves as a response to your prior communications with Classical Conversations and a demand that you immediately cease from spreading misinformation to others, including without limitation churches and individuals that have partnered with Classical Conversations, regarding legal and tax matters upon which you are unqualified to provide advice. [This attorney, on behalf of Classical Conversations, is stating as fact that April spread misinformation. This is not true. April clearly said that she told the churches she contacted that CC was a for-profit organization. The fact that CC is a for-profit organization is not misleading, but the truth.]

Specifically, it has come to our attention that you have contacted several churches throughout the State of Texas regarding Classical Conversations’ for-profit status and informed them that they may lose their non-profit status by partnering with Classical Conversations. [Note: April never said this to any church per her personal account above.] There is no legal basis for your assertions, which are simply inaccurate, misleading, and false. [Neither is there any basis for Ms. Labriola’s assertions. The narrative they are presenting is fictitious. In fact, it does not exist.]  Further, you do not have the professional qualifications that would enable you to render competent advice regarding these matters. [What advice is Ms. Labriola talking about? I don’t recall in April’s narrative that she gave advice. Furthermore, anyone she addressed this to would reasonably come to the conclusion that April was simply an interested party, not wanting any harm to come to a church whose focus is the Gospel of Christ. What a ridiculous conclusion to make that she was acting as a professional and giving professional advice. She’s a mom, for crying out loud.] This applies equally to the information posted on social media regarding nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. [Maybe it’s just me, but this screams to me that CC is afraid of what might happen to CC if the public finds out how they have conducted their business.]

You have also made numerous defamatory statements concerning Classical Conversations and its business practices and leaders, directing these untruthful statements towards Classical Conversations’ Licensed Directors, local members of your community, individuals on social media and state government agencies. [Once again, Ms. Labriola, on behalf of CC has accused April of making defamatory statements regarding Classical Conversations. I’ve been involved in a defamation lawsuit. I know what it means. According to the legal definition of defamation, they are accusing April of lying intentionally with the intent to cause harm (malice).] Collectively, these false statements [April’s statements weren’t false] have caused unnecessary and unfounded alarm among Classical Conversations’ businesses affiliates and state auditors. Your conduct has harmed and continues to harm Classical Conversations’ reputation and its ability to engage in lawful business activities. [This is called displacement. April is being blamed for “harming” Classical Conversations’ reputation; however, there is a very real likelihood that they may have their own legal issues and harm to deal with, unrelated to April, because of not communicating clearly with host facilities about being a for-profit organization using some non-profit facilities.] 

Because Classical Conversations is a North Carolina corporation, your improper conduct and activities directed towards Classical Conversations may subject you to North Carolina law.

[They are attempting to be judge and jury here by claiming improper conduct. They can’t do that. Only the court can do that. The important key word they included is “may.”]

Under North Carolina law, it is unlawful to engage in conduct, such as providing misinformation, that causes an individual or entity to breach a contract or prevents an individual or entity from entering a contact it otherwise would have entered. It is also unlawful to make false statements that harm an entity’s professional reputation, especially when the individual making these statements lacks the professional qualifications to render such opinions. Consequently, your conduct may subject you to claims under North Carolina law for, inter alia, tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with economic advantage, defamation, and the unauthorized practice of law. These claims may entitle Classical Conversations to injunctive and monetary relief for the irreparable harm you have caused.

[Blah, blah, more legalese and threats. April didn’t make false statements, she shared concerns. Remember, the pastor with whom April spoke was surprised about the information she told him. Why didn’t the pastor know? I also spoke with a pastor whose church hosts CC. He, too, did not know this. I have a hunch if I got on the phone and called other pastors, I would get the same story. Why don’t these pastors know that CC is a for-profit business? Is it spelled out plainly in the paperwork? I would sure like to see the paperwork.]

Accordingly, Classical Conversations demands that you immediately cease, directly or indirectly through others:

  • Communicating to individuals and churches misinformation or unfounded speculation as to legal and tax matters on which you are unqualified to advise, including without limitation matters related to the for-profit or not-for-profit status of Classical Conversations and the churches it partners with or may partner with in the future;
  • Interfering with, or directing or instructing anyone to interfere with, Classical Conversations’ current and prospective business interests and relationships, including without limitation any and all relationships with its licensed directors; and
  • Posting, writing, or communicating through any medium information concerning Classical Conversations that is unfounded, inaccurate, false, misleading, or defamatory.

In an effort to resolve this matter amicably, within five (5) days of receipt of this letter we request that you: (1) confirm that you will cease and desist from engaging in the activities set forth above; and (2) provide Classical Conversations with copies of any and all letters, e-mails, or other communications that you have sent to churches concerning Classical Conversations’ status as a for-profit entity or related legal and tax matters. If we do not receive such confirmation and documentation, Classical Conversations may have no alternative but to pursue the legal remedies available to it as a necessary means to protect its business interests which your conduct has irreparably damaged.

We look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours very truly,

Deana A. Labriola

cc:  Mr. Gary J. Rickner

This is a classic conversation, alright; this is classical attorney-speak, but it’s attempting to have only one side of the conversation be heard. Conversation requires two sides. The cease and desist threat is intended to manipulate, scare, and squelch any conversation CC feels is threatening them (whether the conversation is true or not is beside the point). I’m glad that April has chosen to go public with this. Families involved in CC and those considering CC need to see the truth, and what may happen if questions are asked.

All CC had to do was simply send appropriate answers to address April’s concerns, but they didn’t. But wait . . . why would a company withhold information? Does it make sense for an organization to not want to discuss important tax information or other business-related questions? Something is smelling like rotten fish here. When I get the whiff of rotten fish, it only makes me want to dig deeper.

CC is behaving like a bully. Either they have handled the situation of their for-profit organization working with non-profit facilities, or they haven’t. If they haven’t, then they have a bigger mess, and no wonder they are using an attorney to try to stop the conversation April is bringing up. It’s quite simple to correct the misinformation if April has it wrong. CC has a public website and could address it there quite easily. The question is: why aren’t they addressing it? That should concern any new parent considering CC.


photo credit: Patrick Feller Jefferson County Courthouse, Beaumont, Texas 1805311219 via photopin (license)

Are Complementarians Tough on Abuse?

Complementarianism, Desiring God, Domestic Abuse


-by Kathi

Desiring God featured a guest article by Rebecca McLaughlin titled, “Complementarians Should Be Toughest on Abuse.” I appreciate Dr. McLaughlin’s words and I think her intent is honorable. She addresses pastors and men to call out abuse, warns Christians to not be naive about abusers, and emphasizes that abused women need support and assistance.

Because this article is posted by Desiring God, I want to address the author’s thoughts according to how John Piper addresses marriage and focus on dynamics within domestic abuse. Why John Piper? Because Desiring God was founded by Piper and he is considered the lead teacher for the site. Any guest posts should be compared to what Piper has set as precedent for the site.

1. God calls husbands to sacrificial love:

McLaughlin says:

Some summarize complementarian theology as “husbands lead, wives submit,” but this is not what the Bible says. God calls wives to submit (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1). But the primary command to husbands is not lead. It is love (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; Colossians 3:19).

Her point does not fit the Desiring God narrative on complementarian relationships. John Piper defines headship and submission as:

Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.

Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.

Let’s not forget Piper’s, “Should Women Be Police Officers?” :

On the other hand, husband and wife, very personal and, hence, the clear teaching of the New Testament that the man should give, give leadership in the home and she give glad partnership in supporting and helping that leadership uh come, come into its own.

There is no way to work around complementarian’s view of the husband as the leader, especially when the wife’s role is to honor, affirm, and support her husband’s leadership. The “primary command” may be to love, but he is definitely the leader.

2. Strength is for honoring, not control:

Why is McLaughlin solely focusing on physical strength?

From a biblical perspective, the relative physical strength of men is not a tool for power play, but a motivation for empathy and honor.

Physical strength is not the only tool used in abuse.  She neglects addressing how words and manipulation are used in verbal and emotional abuse. A man may never use physical strength against his wife, but is still able to show power and convey his strength through his words, intimidation, and manipulation.

Strength is important in the complementarian view of man. Piper’s definition of headship includes protection. He used the following illustration as a definition of manhood:

Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could. Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.


The article where Piper states this addresses women in combat roles. He opines how men are naturally not able to follow a woman’s direct orders. Why did he even need to address this? Is a complementarian man that afraid that his manhood is being compromised if he has a woman with some type of authority over him?

The driving force behind abuse is power and control. While abuse may happen in any type of marriage, complementarianism provides structure to a marriage which allows power and control to exist. As long as men and women are different in roles and responsibility, there will always be a power differential.

3. Spousal abuse is gospel-denying sin:

For the most part I like what McLaughlin is saying here. I think she could do without the “gospel-denying” bit. The gospel is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Sin is sin. She does call pastors to hold abusers accountable and support victims.

**Side note: Is she teaching men here? Does McLaughlin writing  this article go against complementarian doctrine of the role of women in the church?

But what about the victim? How should she respond to her abuser? Let’s not forget John Piper’s words in 2009 (from video below):

If it’s not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.


**I will never stop referencing this video. I hope he is held accountable one day for his callous remarks about women affected by abuse.

Piper followed up with a post four years later to “clarify” his statement. His clarification only added bringing in civil authorities:

This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.

While he did state in this clarification post that abuse is wrong, he neglected to state that what he said was wrong. He continued to reiterate the view that women must submit, whether it be to civil or church authorities or to her husband. At what point do complementarians think that it is dangerous for a woman to submit? How many women continued to endure abuse because John Piper says that a wife’s role is to submit to her husband?

4. Jesus teaches vulnerability and protection:

From McLaughlin:

Due to its distortions and misuses, some believe complementarian theology must be abandoned to keep women safe. But imagine Paul and Peter had said nothing about wives. An unthoughtful pastor might use Jesus’s own words to justify sending a woman back into a dangerous situation. “Do not resist the one who is evil,” says our Lord. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). In Christ, we all enter the world with a posture of vulnerability.

With this I reference back to unthougthful Piper and his words: “she endures perhaps being smacked one night.” Remember, he never said that he provided wrong advice.

5. You’re twice as safe with a Christian man:

In McLaughlin’s final thought she says:

No woman wants to acknowledge spousal abuse. Many will suffer in silence, while their husbands maintain a godly pretense. We need you to work with your wives and sisters in Christ to ensure that no one in your sphere is issuing scars or hiding them. We need you to be like Christ to your wives, and to be like Christ in your church, speaking up with courage, standing up for women, and hating abuse in all its forms. Twice as safe is not enough — let’s make women a hundred times safer with Christian men.

What I struggle with most about this article is that even though I think the author’s intent is to bring awareness about domestic abuse and accountability toward abusers, she holds on to the premise that a complementarian marriage should be the answer for abuse. The words are good, but the fact remains that there is a hierarchy in marriage and the church. Remember Piper’s definition of submission for a wife. The wife’s role is to “honor and affirm her husband’s leadership.” Why does she not have any autonomy on her own? The husband’s headship is to be the leader of the home. Why does the weight of this fall solely on the husband’s shoulders? Why can’t the two work as one?

Are there good, non-abusive complementarian marriages out there? Of course there are. And for those people I say, “I wish you well.” Even though the good exists doesn’t mean the bad marriages do not. It is for this reason that I have a problem with a non-essential gospel doctrine that enables power and control to an abusive spouse.

Bill Hybels, the Willow Creek “System,” and Why the Women Needed to Speak Publicly

Bill Hybels, Clergy Sexual Misconduct, Willow Creek Church

Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, Clergy Sexual Misconduct


Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed wrote a very important article about the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek sexual misconduct scandal. This is a very important article that summarizes the system that was in place which allowed Bill Hybels to not only go unchecked, but to be protected and defended. You can apply this kind of corrupt system to many others where perpetrators are defended and protected. Simply replace the names/locations with another renegade high-controlling pastor who abuses (sexually or spiritually), and victims are silenced and their characters maligned.

The important take-home here is to note the universal pattern that keeps corrupt systems corrupt, and what it takes to stop this system so that truth can be revealed, and hopefully bring restoration to both victims and the church.

The women who spoke out are the heroes at Willow Creek. They were trashed, called all sorts of evil things, but truly, they were the heroes, trying to protect the church. We would do well to listen to survivors!

“We would not know any of the truth of this problem at Willow (Association and Elders) had they not gone public. Four years of silence, four years of nothing being known, four years when others may have spoken up. We know what we know only because the women had the courage to go public.”

Please read the article and try to apply the Willow Creek “system” to other abuse stories you are familiar with. I think you will see the pattern. This is the pattern we must learn, or we will repeat the same mistakes.

Scot McKnight’s article:  Willow: Why the Women Went Public?


Rachel, Victim of Clergy Sexual Misconduct by Tullian Tchividjian, Speaks Out about Fortress Press Book Deal and Lack of Repentence

Tullian Tchividjian, Clergy Sexual Misconduct, Fortress Press, Rachel, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

Tullian Tchividjian, Clergy Sex Abuse, scandal, spiritual abuse

Facebook profile photo

“But you can’t ignore wounds and cries for justice. For until all parties agree accountability has occurred, there is no reconciliation. And until reconciliation has occurred, there’s no restoration.”

~Paul Mundey

A couple weeks ago, I published a press release from Fortress Press. Later, Brad/futuristguy posted the article, Tullian Tchividjian and Fortress Press: Don’t Legitimate Second Chances Require a Real Track Record of Repentance First? It included important comments from a former editor at Fortress Press, David Lott. Here is part of David Lott’s comment which is relevant to this post, as you will soon see:

I’m not against second chances. I believe in God’s profligate grace. I have no prior personal opinion about Tchividjian or his book, though my subsequent study of what precipitated his downfall I find shocking and repugnant. But I do object strenuously to a publisher positioning itself as the arbiter and vehicle of such rehabilitation, and especially in such a self-congratulatory way in order to boost sales and gain media attention. I object to invoking the #MeToo movement in this misbegotten effort to expedite Tchividjian’s restoration to normality, while ignoring the voices of those whom he exploited. ~David Lott, former editor at Fortress Press

One important part of the press release from Fortress Press stood out to me when I read it:

After careful consultation with his pastoral counselor and other mentors, Fortress Press is confident that Tchividjian has repented of his past indiscretions and has put himself under the authority of trusted Christian leaders.

To be a reputable company, it’s important to go to the sources. Fortress Press apparently went to Tullian Tchividjian’s “pastoral counselor” and other “mentors.” Well, that’s fine and dandy, but if you recall, Tullian Tchividjian was under care and mentors and lied while he was engaging in sexual misconduct with multiple women (see this: An Infographic on Tullian Tchividjian’s Pursuit of Women) — all while he was senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, married to his wife, Kim, participating in Liberate conferences, writing best-selling books, speaking, podcasting, and of course, working on his physique and tan.

When you are dealing with a master manipulator and someone who chronically deceives people, it’s important to go directly to those he harmed. I did just that. I went to the primary sources and communicated directly with Rachel. Both told me that he has not contacted them and repented.

When I told Rachel (this Rachel: Survivor of Tullian Tchividjian’s Alleged Clergy Sexual Abuse Goes Public with Her Story – Part 1) about the re-release of his new book, she was very upset and wrote the following statement.

Written by Rachel

I️ am deeply disappointed to hear the news that Fortress Press, a Christian publishing firm, is partnering with Tullian Tchividjian to re-release his book. Tullian has never acknowledged the real truth about the past, but rather has viciously lied to cover his tracks and keep the spin in his favor. He has a very repeatable pattern of finding yes-men to hide behind and use to further his “career.” Christianity can be no more than a means of financial gain to this man. I️t pains me that vulnerable people believe he is a man of God. I believe he is a liar and a spin doctor of sinister magnitude.

Some good men have trusted Tchividjian and learned the hard way over the past few years. Much of this is public news … yet there are people who still want to believe he is legitimately repentant and to give him the platform his narcissism requires to further its own ends. It’s hard when you meet Tullian to believe that he could be a sinister person. He seems genuine, humble, very likable. However, the responsibility now resting at the feet of those “mentoring” him and helping further his career is to investigate the truth about him and not just believe his narrative.

Tullian has deeply hurt, and continues to hurt, people close to me whose stories may never be heard. His behavior “behind the scenes” remains scandalous. He has never taken the crucial steps that would indicate biblical repentance … confession of the truth and a genuine public acknowledgment of his repeated lies to the press. I️ have never wished to shame Tullian in a spirit of bitterness, as he has insinuated to others about my motives. But rather, details are necessary when spin and lies are being created to form a narrative. His narrative is always aimed at maintaining public sympathy and keeping his options open to profit financially from the church.

On 30th November, 2016, The Christian Post summarized the content of a blog post I️ had written for Spiritual Sounding Board. Tchividjian’s comment on my testimony denied the truth blatantly. Tullian has never recanted these lies or reached out or apologized to me for throwing my name in the dirt to protect his own.


He dismissed the following claims made by Rachel, however, as “absolutely false.”

Rachel claims Tchividjian: Encouraged her husband to divorce her without her knowledge; suggested to her that if Coral Ridge failed as a church and he was able to buy the building he would turn it into a nightclub; borrowed thousands of dollars from her and her husband to hire a private investigator to look into his now ex-wife, and said he does not believe premarital sex is unbiblical.

I️ stand behind everything that I️ wrote in the article to this day. There were no lies on my part. Tchividjian, when caught between a rock and a hard place (having been exposed by his pastor in Orlando 9 months after stealing over $11,000 from my family), returned the funds by check. Copies of the check were even posted on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog. Is Tchividjian insinuating these copies were forged?

Surely the beginning of genuine repentance for Tchividjian would be to confess his lies and to step away from profiting financially in any way from the church. His income should come from working in a secular job and restoration should be made, including financial restoration, to his many victims. Had we sued him, the courts would have ruled this in our favor. He has done nothing to right any of his wrongs, but merely adds insult to injury.

Why do foolish Christians still support this man without investigating who he truly is? Grace? We may all be sinners, but we don’t all have to be blindsided, used, and duped by someone who is a master of deceit.

Classical Conversations #4: A CC Veteran Gives Advice to New People Considering Classical Conversations

Classical Conversations, High-Controlling Groups, Deleted Comments, Blocked Commenters, Noble Gibbens, Leigh Bortins

delete comments, block people on Facebook, no-talk rule


NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:


Sometimes there are comments that come through that I think really need to be seen by a larger audience, not buried in the comment section of an article where people might never see them. Today’s post is one such case. When I saw Maria’s comment, I knew it needed to be read, especially by those who are considering Classical Conversations.

Her comment is information she learned from experience, not from what was given to her when she started in Classical Conversations. This fact should lead us to question:

  • Why isn’t this information given to newbies?
  • Why does it take so long for people to get information?
  • Why aren’t people being given straight answers to their questions?
  • Why are parents not allowed to use their critical thinking skills and ask questions, when CC supposedly promotes critical thinking?
  • Why is there so much confusion regarding liability issues, contracts, taxes, CC licenses, etc.? These are all legal issues that should have full disclosure.

There are many more questions I can add, but that’s a start. I am still learning about the CC organization and the hierarchical structure. Those with direct involvement in Classical Conversations are the ones who need to have the floor when it comes to sharing experiences, and that is what my blog does – allows you to have a voice, whether that is in the comments or your give me permission to turn your comment into a blog article. 

I am grateful for those who have trusted me with their sensitive information and those who have been willing to risk by sharing their personal stories. Having been involved in a high-controlling church environment where communication was squelched, I understand that fear, and that is why this blog exists. We do not need to live in fear. We need to live in truth and expose what goes on in the darkness. ~Julie Anne



Comment by Maria W. (edited only for grammatical clarity and punctuation)
Continue reading

Classical Conversations #3: Leaders Delete Comments and Block Commenters Who Don’t Toe the Line

Classical Conversations, High-Controlling Groups, Deleted Comments, Blocked Commenters, Noble Gibbens




NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

Please take a seat and join the conversation, even if you aren’t a homeschool parent. I think you might find it interesting. Continue reading

Resource Bibliography on Willow Creek Church Situation – Part 2




  • WC or WCCC = Willow Creek Community Church.
  • WCA = Willow Creek Association (a related non-profit separate from WCCC).
  • GLS = Global Leadership Summit, an annual mega-conference with multiple remote sites, presented by WCA.

For Twitter links, please read their entire thread. These were selected for something important about its content, even if the initial tweet may not seem so relevant.

Links to articles on major developments will be added as time allows, along with links to select critical analysis and commentary from social media.

Posting here does not imply endorsement. Social media links especially are chosen for their different angles on unfolding developments.

Also, check out the list of links and related information from Andy Rowell’s blog post, List of articles from allegations to resignation of Bill Hybels. He notes that he originally posted this in April 2018, but has continued adding links regularly since then. Thanks, Andy!

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News Articles, Official Statements, Blog Posts

June 27, 2018. About Willow Creek: What Do I Think? by Scot McKnight. Jesus Creed. (This is included as it sparked significant interchanges on social media.)

June 29, 2018. An Apology, by Steve Carter, Steve Ryan Carter.

June 29, 2018. Willow Creek co-pastor issues public apology for mishandling allegations, by Manya Brachear Pashman, Chicago Tribune.

June 29, 2018. Thank You Steve Carter, by Scot McKnight.

June 30, 2018. Statements from Heather Larson, Steve Carter, and the Willow Creek Elders, Willow Creek Community Church.

June 30, 2018. Elders Acknowledge Bill Hybels’ Sin; Heather Larson Apologizes, by Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed.

June 30, 2018. Willow Creek leaders issue public apologies for mishandling allegations, by Manya Brachear Pashman, Chicago Tribune.

July 01, 2018. Chicago Tribune Highlights the Current Apologies at Willow Creek, by Dee Parsons, The Wartburg Watch. See especially this comment from Thomas055.

July 02, 2018. Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit carrying on without Hybels, by Eric Peterson, Daily Herald. The Willow Creek Association’s multi-site Global Leadership Summit is still scheduled for August 9-10. There have been efforts by abuse survivors and advocates, particularly by benjaminady (@tripleoxymoron), to confront remote-site hosts with the facts about abusive elements in the WCCC/WCA/GLS situation and encourage them to withdraw from the event. The critical analysis of this article includes these comments:

July 03, 2018. Open Letter to Willow Creek Association Board and Tom De Vries, by Andy Rowell, Church Leadership Conversations.

July 03, 2018. The First 100 Days of the Bill Hybels Crisis, by Rob Speight, Rob Sp8’s Blog. This includes a series of nine emails from April 5 through June 16, 2018, that track the unfolding events.

July 04, 2018. Trouble At The Global Leadership Summit: An Open Letter to Tom DeVries, by Rob Speight, Rob Sp8’s Blog.

July 09, 2018. Willow: Why The Women Went Public?, by Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed. See what struck various commenters on Twitter:


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Critical Analysis and Commentary Posts/Threads from Twitter

Continue reading

Tullian Tchividjian and Fortress Press: Don’t Legitimate Second Chances Require a Real Track Record of Repentance First?

Tullian Tchividjian

This post is written by Brad/futuristguy.

Unfortunate things afoot with a return to a publishing platform by Tullian Tchividjian at Fortress Press, as endorsed by acquisitions editor Tony Jones. See this post at Spiritual Sounding Board on the press release and related issues.

Former Fortress Press editor David Lott posted a lengthy comment critical of the news on this announced publishing relationship, and how it is out-of-sync with the former reputation and publishing line of the company. Mr. Lott also cross-posted the above comment on his public Facebook page, along with these two later comments with relevant details and further analysis.

Comment #1, things get normalized that shouldn’t be.

Comment #2, clarification about Fortress Minneapolis under separate management.

More background: In 2015-2017, SSB posted extensively regarding Tullian Tchividjian and his reported multiple relationships of sexual misconduct, serial refusal of accountability, and more. Although he’s recently been speaking out on God’s grace in suffering, he has multiple unresolved relational/organizational issues. This book contract with Fortress Press appears to give him unconditional restoration without a track record of repentance plus remediation/repair work to mitigate damages.

Don’t legitimate second chances

require a real track record of repentance first?

Apologies are just words; transformed direction requires action.

One publisher apparently did impose consequences on Tullian Tchividjian’s unresolved interpersonal and institutional issues. Spiritual Sounding Board appealed in 2017 to David C Cook, which published several bestsellers by him. Julie Anne Smith asked them to stop promoting him and his books. (Research shows that several of them were released and/or became bestsellers while he was reportedly in the midst of sexual misconduct. This chart contains a detailed visual timeline.) His titles are now gone from their sales section.

God’s grace truly does liberate. But abuse and misconduct emotionally imprison their victims. If Tullian Tchividjian’s latching onto grace the last few years is genuine, surely he can refrain from spreading that news and rebuilding any public platform until he’s acted responsibly toward specific people he harmed.

~ Brad/futuristguy

This article has been cross-posted at futuristguy’s blog.

Theologian Scot McKnight Responds, “About Willow Creek: What Do I Think?”

Theologian and Jesus Creed blogger Scot McKnight was part of Willow Creek Church for nearly a decade. He has been asked repeatedly what he thinks about the situation with Bill Hybels. He responded today (June 27th) with, “About Willow Creek: What Do I Think?” This is an extensive article — almost 3,000 words — with Mr. McKnight’s insightful and incisive laying out of details and doctrines. He helps us to discern the facts, to see where integrity has decayed and trust been lost because of a false narrative and flawed actions by Willow Creek pastors and Elders, and to understand why he would come to this conclusion:

My aim is not to act like I know all that happened. I do not. I believe the women on the basis of what I have learned. I am, as I said at the outset, often asked about the Willow situation and I have done my best to discern the facts. What I do know is this: Bill Hybels and Willow Creek’s leadership have undone forty years of trust for many. A church that has stood valiantly for women in ministry, that has always stood for Christian grace and truth and forgiveness for repenters, that has supported #metoo in various places, that then responds to women as they did to these women unravels the thread Willow has woven for four decades. Many of us are asking why Bill Hybels and Willow Creek’s pastors and Elders slandered the women, calling them liars and colluders, and still refuse to offer them apologies. Willow is being undone as we watch, and the pastors and Elders are at the center of the unraveling.

Mr. McKnight explains why these women and other advocates who came forward were taking prophetic action to challenge Willow Creek leadership to rethink their actions and repent. His article does that as well. Willow Creek’s pastors and Elders are being confronted by an increasing number of witnesses. Hopefully they will halt their trajectory, turn, and listen …


Classical Conversations #2: What Led You to Join a Classical Conversations Homeschool Community? #ClassicalConvMadeKnown

Classical Conversations, #ClassicalConvMadeKnown

Classical Conversations #ClassicalConvMadeKnown

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NOTE: This is part of a series that began with this post: Classical Conversations: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Please take a seat and join the conversation, even if you aren’t a homeschool parent. I think you might find it interesting.

When I encountered the family who participated in Classical Conversations at the homeschool family camp in Washington state. I incorrectly assumed that this family was part of a homeschool group from the Pacific Northwest. What did I know? I had come from Virginia Beach where we had our own homeschool athletic clubs. If memory serves correctly, they even competed with local area schools. How cool is that?!

Here’s the thing about homeschooling many people don’t understand: homeschooling is vast with many “flavors.” I’m not sure when it registered for me that Classical Conversations was far more than just a group meeting in the Seattle area. Boy, I sure was wrong.

Check this out:

Did you know:

  • As of January 2018, there are over 117,000 students enrolled in Classical Conversations.
  • 45,000 Families are participating in Classical Conversations.
  • There are over 2,500 Classical Conversations communities in all 50 states.
  • Classical Conversations communities are in 22 different foreign countries. 

Because I have a diverse readership here, perhaps it would be good to go back to the beginning so that those who aren’t familiar with Classical Conversations or who don’t homeschool can understand more about it.

Each of you has a personal story of why you joined. Whether your experience ended up being positive or negative, I think most parents had their children’s best interest in mind when they chose Classical Conversations. So, to help my readers and me understand more, can you tell us:

What appealed to you about Classical Conversations?

What did it offer that other programs did not have?

What end goals you were attempting to achieve by joining Classical Information?

Did the program work for you?  Why or why not?

Feel free to elaborate. This is your place to share!

Classical Conversations #1: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Classical Conversations, Homeschool, Classical Education, #ClassicalConvMadeKnown





About 10 years ago, I was at a homeschool family camp with my family in Washington state, and it was talent-show night. Previous years at the talent show, children and families sang, kids performed skits, or danced a routine. However, this year, there were a couple of very young girls who recited historical passages. I cannot recall what was recited, but I remember being impressed with these girls, who were about 5 years old, reciting such long texts – texts that included vocabulary words with four syllables, using words I rarely use. Actually, I was blown away.

I later found out these girls were involved in a group called Classical Conversations (CC) in their area, and memorizing was part of their schoolwork. Along the way, I’ve run into several homeschool moms who have tried to encourage me to join Classical Conversations, especially when I expressed my interest in classical education.

Here is a brief description of classical education:

Classical education focuses on the great books of Western civilization, Latin, and lessons about morality and virtue, and is based on the medieval European curriculum that divided learning into the “trivium”: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The concept of fusing classical education into modern teaching was popularized by a 1947 essay by British author Dorothy Sayers called “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  (Source).

I had already been teaching my children and adopting some classical methods of learning after hearing a compelling lecture by Susan Wise Bauer who spoke at a HEAV convention in Virginia. I immediately bought her book and began implementing classical methods in my teaching. Prior to that, I used a hodgepodge of curricula, but now with Susan Wise Bauer’s recommendations, my children were on a tried-and-true academic track  – a proven educational method that had been used by students for centuries. It felt reassuring to have such a proven academic plan for my kiddos.

When we moved to a new state, many of our new homeschooling friends were supplementing their homeschooling with the Classical Conversations program. My new friends once again encouraged us to join. I asked questions, took a look at what we already had going on in our homeschooling plan, looked at the needs of our children, and my needs, and decided it was not a good fit for us at the time. Currently, there are so many options – maybe too many options – for homeschoolers. Parents need to use what works best for them and for their children to achieve optimum educational success.

Classical Conversations didn’t work for my family; however, it has worked for many families. For many families, CC has become a way for them to connect with other families who are homeschooling, and receive support. Children can grow up with other CC children through the years and gain solid friendships. Parents can encourage and support each other.

I’ve read accounts that using Classical Conversations has helped some inexperienced or perhaps unorganized moms/dads to stay on task and get all of the academic boxes checked, because someone else has made sure that the material is good and appropriate.

Students can participate in fun activities together from science projects, to memory work, speech and debate, and mock trials. Have you ever heard of a child reciting Newton’s Laws of Motion? When was the last time you heard of students learning Latin? Classical Conversations sounds like a rich and broad learning experience, doesn’t it? I have no doubt that many have benefited from this rich program.

CC also can benefit new homeschool moms who are overwhelmed with homeschooling options. It can give them a sense of security, knowing they don’t have pick books and programs when it’s already done for them. It’s a great way to get immersed into homeschooling without doing it blindly. Parents only need to cover reading, writing, and arithmetic (for the lower grades). The rest is covered at Classical Conversations which meets one time per week.

That all sounds great, doesn’t it?

It probably is great for many families/groups. But all groups do not run the same, nor do they have the same leaders or families, so there is bound to be different “looking” groups.

Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing negative issues connected with Classical Conversations. I’ve noticed them, too, as I have been in homeschool sites on the internet. And, recently, people have contacted me to share their experiences. I believe I’m in a position to do something that makes a positive difference, by hosting some conversations here at Spiritual Sounding Board, about apparent problems in the Classical Conversations system.

Julie Anne’s (yes, I go by both names or JA is fine, too) Background

Let me give new readers a little background so you can understand where I am coming from and the purpose of this blog. After starting BGBC Survivors, a blog about my abusive church experience, I, along with five others, were sued by the pastor there in 2012 in a defamation lawsuit. He lost the lawsuit and had to pay not only his attorney fees, but the defendants’ attorney fees, along with court and filing costs. Through that process, I learned a lot about First Amendment rights and responsibilities, and what people can and cannot say publicly.

When the lawsuit against me went viral, a lot of people came to my blog to send notes of encouragement. Along with those notes, many people shared their abusive church experiences. I continued to blog, changed the name to Spiritual Sounding Board, but now made it about spiritual abuse in general, and invited others to share their stories.

This blog is for survivors who have been harmed in church or Christian groups/organizations. Other stories covered here have included Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, Family-Integrated Churches; Bill Gothard, IBLP, ATI, and reports of sexual abuse; the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Stay-at-Home Daughters Movement, courtship, purity, and modesty teachings, etc. I do quite a bit of investigative reporting, have done interviews on these related topics, am quoted in major news articles, etc. I am not new to this gig. As a 23-year veteran homeschool mom, I know the Christian homeschool culture pretty well.

Let me get straight to the point: I have seen and heard enough about Classical Conversations that alarm bells are going off. This is going to be the first of probably many posts about Classical Conversations. For some who have not experienced any problems with CC, this will probably be shocking to you. I get that. I believe 100% that is has been good for you.  But there are others who have been harmed, and it is because of those people that I have decided to take this on (along with a team of others who were directly involved with CC).

I am working with a team of former Classical Conversations members who have done an incredible amount of research. Combined, they are connected with scores of people currently and formerly part of Classical Conversations. As typically happens with systemic abuse, once someone goes public and tells their personal story, others feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.

So far, here is a sampling of what I’ve seen/heard that I find troubling:

  • Mishandled child-to-child sexual abuse cases.
  • An atmosphere of: no talk, no asking questions, especially publicly if the question seems at all critical.
  • A blurry line between ministry and business aspects of the organization.
  • CC leaders using the Bible to control or silence people.
  • Misuse of Matthew 18 when dealing with conflicts.
  • A rigid atmosphere: “Classical Conversations is the only right way to homeschool” – others are inferior.

Sadly, these are not just normal issues, but issues that would represent systemic malfeasance

Apparently, leaders at Classical Conversations have made legal threats to members who post negative comments about their experiences. That is bullying behavior. Here at Spiritual Sounding Board (SSB), you have the opportunity to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I do not reveal sources, e-mail addresses, or IP addresses of my commenters to anyone.


Commenting Ground Rules

I have a minimal set of ground rules to keep Spiritual Sounding Board a safe place for people to share their experiences and expression their opinions.

  • My blog is set up so that your first comment is moderated. After that, all subsequent comments should go through fine unless there are ground rules broken (like language, personal attacks) or it gets stuck in spam. If you think your comment is stuck in the spam box, feel free to send another comment asking me to check the spam box, or send me an email at
  • Pseudonyms are absolutely fine. In fact, I find that people often feel more comfortable to share when using a pseudonym. Your story is very important. It is very likely that your story has happened to others. By you speaking out, you will give others the courage to speak out.
  • I do not allow comments with the pseudonym. “Anonymous.” Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone are up for grabs. 🙂
  • While this is primarily a place for survivors, I do allow conversation from people with opposing opinions, but no personal attacks. You get one warning before Owen, the SSB watchdog, comes out. I’d like to introduce you to Owen:
  • If you violate the warning again, you will be put in the “dog house,” which means all of your comments will be moderated. They will eventually be approved if they are okay, or trashed if they are rude and attacking. Good behavior will get you out of the doghouse. This must remain a safe place.


Note to Classical Conversations Leaders

Please do not be foolish and send me Cease and Desist letters from attorneys or threaten to sue me, as you have allegedly done to others. I am very aware of my First Amendment rights. The attorney who represented me in the defamation lawsuit taught me much; in fact, she also taught about First Amendment and SLAPP/anti-SLAPP law to other attorneys. She is probably the top attorney in the state on this topic. (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” Such frivolous lawsuits are basically designed to shut people up by threatening to tie up their time and resources. Anti-SLAPP suits counter those.)

I know how to make sure I am within legal parameters on what can or cannot be said.

I live in Washington State, which has anti-SLAPP laws. Discussion about Classical Conversations would qualify under the anti-SLAPP due to this phrase in the law: “in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public concern” (Wash. Rev. Code § 4.24.525 (4)(a-e)).

My blog is a public forum and the issues related to Classical Conversations are issues of public concern. And there you go.

Additionally, this is what will happen if/when I win a defamation lawsuit using anti-SLAPP statute:

If you win your motion to strike under Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, the court will dismiss the lawsuit (or the parts of the lawsuit found to be SLAPPs). You will also be entitled to receive your attorneys’ fees, your court costs, and an automatic statutory damage award of $10,000. The court may also sanction the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney.

I recently noticed my vehicle is getting close to 200,000 miles. That $10,000 would come in handy. Just sayin’.

Congratulations, Julie Anne!


-by Kathi

Many of you know that Julie Anne has been working on her bachelor’s degree in cyber security. How she has managed to juggle classes, kids, research and write stories for the blog, and advocate for victims is beyond me. She’s done a great job and I’m so excited for her and what she has accomplished!

Today is the last day for Julie Anne to turn in her assignments and graduation is on Friday. I hope you’ll all join me in doing a happy dance and celebrating Julie Anne!

Congratulations, friend!


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.