Extreme Swimmers Tackle the Ocean’s Seven

Extreme Swimmers Accept The Challenge of ‘Ocean’s Seven’

By Suzanne Sataline
October 16, 2010

ON THE SAN PEDRO CHANNEL — The fishing boat idles five miles off the California coast. Anne Cleveland bobs in the dark chilly waters. After three hours in the drink, she has stopped swimming. She shivers.

“Gut it out!” yells Paula Selby, an official on board. She’s overseeing Ms. Cleveland’s swim between Rancho Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Ms. Cleveland complains that her neck is raw from the salt water and that she has a queasy stomach. She takes a few reluctant strokes and stops, treading water. “How much longer?” she asks.

Oh, about 21 hours.

“She said she was going to cry and scream,” says training partner Grace van der Byl, watching from the boat. “If we get past six to eight hours, she’ll be fine.”

The 21-mile Catalina crossing is a mere warm-up. Ms. Cleveland is training for the so-called Ocean’s Seven, swimming’s take on mountain climbers’ “seven summits.” It is attracting a small cult of aquatic fanatics.

Marathon swimmers once proved their might by crossing the English Channel between Dover and northern France. For some, scaling the nautical Everest has become as routine as a weekend hike. Nearly 1,200 people have swum those 21 miles, including grandfathers, children and amputees.

Steven Munatones, a coach and marathon swimming guru, thought swimmers needed more challenges, so he devised the Ocean’s Seven — a list of channels that a well-rounded marathoner should master — and posted it on his website devoted to distance swimming.

There’s the English Channel, for old time’s sake; as well as the Catalina crossing; Cook Strait in New Zealand; the Tsugaru Channel in Japan; and the shortest, the Strait of Gibraltar, about eight miles between Spain and Morocco. Most swimmers say the toughest are the Molokai Channel in Hawaii, at 26 miles, and the frigid North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Munatones chose them for their geographic and climatic diversity, extreme hardships and the intricate planning needed to succeed. If 70% of the Earth is water, “we have yet to really scratch the surface,” says Mr. Munatones, publisher of the Daily News of Open Water Swimming and other websites he runs from his home in Huntington Beach, Calif.

A dozen swimmers have taken up Mr. Munatones’s dare, he says, since he posed it in 2008, and others have expressed interest.

He tracks swimmers’ progress on his blog. Swimmers must schedule their own attempts with the local groups that set rules, and in some cases verify, each crossing. He counts swims done before he created the challenge.

James Pittar, 41, of Sydney, Australia, has five crossings and is the furthest along, though he is blind. This month, he ditched his Molokai attempt after five hours in high waves.

Forrest Nelson, 45, of Los Angeles has crossed four, and would like to attack the Irish channel next.

Channels crossed by Ocean's Seven swimmers

“I call it a sickness,” says Mallory Mead, 24, of Indianapolis, who has finished two. She is seeking sponsors to help pay for her meticulous plan. “You do one, and then all you can think about is how you’re going to top that.”

Some of the channels are ice-cold. Some are very warm. Above the surface and below, dangers lurk. Swift currents, fog and swells can swamp a swimmer. Medusas, or jellyfish, can sear skin.

Six years ago, Ms. Cleveland plowed through biting winds and four-foot chop on a trip from Dover to Cap Gris Nez and back, a double English Channel crossing in 28 hours and 36 minutes. Last winter, at 54, she began thinking: What if she made the Catalina crossing twice — a 42-mile jaunt?

She would be the first person to swim the round trips of both major channels — a “double double” in swim parlance. It would prep her, she thought, for tougher Ocean’s Seven swims.

Catalina can rattle seasoned swimmers, and this season it has been troubled water.

A third of the 41 solo swimmers this year didn’t finish, with colder-than-normal sea temperatures, in the low-60s, says Ms. Selby, a board member of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. The group sets the crossing rules.

Ms. Cleveland grew up swimming in La Jolla, and trains up to 37 miles weekly in the pool and sea. She sells real estate, and the sour market has helped free her time.

The day of her big swim, graphite-colored clouds blanketed the sky. Ms. Cleveland was wearing a Lycra suit approved by the channel federation, which bans anything buoyant or insulating. A silicone cap covered her platinum hair.

Ms. van der Byl slicked Ms. Cleveland’s chest and freckled arms with a mixture of zinc oxide and flesh-toned surfer’s sunscreen. “War paint,” Ms. van der Byl said, “to scare all the fish off with.” That’s the swimmers’ euphemism for sharks.

“See you guys tomorrow afternoon!” Ms. Cleveland said.

At 5:20 p.m., she walked into the teal blue waters and started swimming toward Catalina Island.

For nearly three hours, she freestyled with gusto, holding more than two miles an hour. The swells were gentle. Dolphins glided by. She said little to her friends who kayaked alongside. According to the rules, she couldn’t touch them or the boats. Every half hour, a kayaker tossed her a carbohydrate drink. She rolled onto her back, chugged the liquid, and resumed her pace, all in 20 seconds.

After nightfall, Ms. Cleveland complained of cramping. She couldn’t keep down the liquid.

An hour later, she stopped. “I can’t swim anymore. I’m cold,” she said in a small voice.

“You got to keep cranking to stay warm!” Ms. Selby said.

For five minutes, Ms. Cleveland stopped and started. She paddled toward the stern, as her boat mates told her, no. She wavered, then touched the boat’s metal step.

Ms. Selby called it quits at 9:28 p.m.

Ms. Cleveland stayed in bed for a week with flu symptoms, then swam a one-mile race, just for fun. “In two years I’ll have another one of those Ocean’s Seven,” she says. “I can’t stay away.”

Houses of God Turn to the Book of Bankruptcy

In Hard Times, Houses of God Turn To Chapter 11

By Suzanne Sataline
December 23, 2008

EASTON, Md. — The auctioneer told the small crowd huddled outside the Talbot County Courthouse that the property would be sold “as is” — rectory, bell tower, oak pews and rose-tinted stained glass windows included.

“Who gives $700,000, 700, 700?” he called out. One man, a representative for a local bank, raised his finger. The auctioneer tried in vain to nudge the price up. “Sold!” he cried. St. Andrew Anglican Church had just been bought by the bank that had started foreclosure proceedings against it.

“It’s probably good for my soul to be taken down a notch,” said the Right Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, the rector of St. Andrew, after the auction.

During this holiday season of hard times, not even houses of God have been spared. Some lenders believe more churches than ever have fallen behind on loans or defaulted this year. Some churches, and at least one company that specialized in church lending, have filed for bankruptcy. Church giving is down as much as 15% in some places, pastors and lenders report.

The financial problems are crimping a church building boom that began in the 1990s, when megachurches multiplied, turning many houses of worship into suburban social centers complete with bookstores, gyms and coffee bars. Lenders say mortgage applications are down, while some commercial lenders no longer see churches as a safe investment.

“We are seeing more stress in churches than we have in modern history,” says Mark G. Holbrook, president and chief executive of the Evangelical Christian Credit Union of Brea, Calif., which specializes in lending to churches. The credit union has moved to foreclose on seven of its 2,000 member churches this year, and Mr. Holbrook says he expects to take similar action against two more next year. Before now, it had foreclosed on only two churches in its 45-year history.

Church Mortgage &Loan Corp. of Maitland, Fla., another church lender, foreclosed on 10 church properties in the past couple of years. Unable to sell any of them, the company didn’t have the funds to pay more than 400 bondholders the estimated $18 million it owes, says company lawyer Elizabeth Green. Church Mortgage filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

Strongtower Financial of Fresno, Calif., says two of its 300 evangelical church borrowers are in default, compared with only one in the previous 15 years.

Dozens more churches are listed as delinquent on their loans, according to a search of county court records nationwide.

Churches were long considered good credit risks, lenders say. Weekly collections tend to be steady, even during recessions, and churches feel a moral tug to pay debts. Most of the nation’s 335,000 churches carry little or no mortgage debt, and are based in buildings that were paid off long ago.

But some churches, especially those not affiliated with major denominations, borrowed briskly to build or expand in recent years. Spending on construction of houses of worship rose to $6.2 billion in 2007 from $3.8 billion in 1997, according to the U.S. Census. Now, churches are seeing congregants lose jobs and savings.

The 125-year-old Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, of Jacksonville, Fla., borrowed about $2.6 million in 2002 to add a new education wing, reflecting pool and tower. In addition, the church’s 1,200 members pledged $1 million to the building campaign, but two-thirds of that money was never actually donated, according to the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Allen Newman.

A quarter of the congregants soon stopped attending church, says Mr. Newman, so weekly collections started to dwindle. He and the church leaders cut staff and electricity use to save costs, but in January, facing a foreclosure judgment of $3.3 million, the church filed for bankruptcy protection. Mr. Newman says the church hopes to settle its debts and emerge from bankruptcy proceedings in the coming months.

“There have been too many churches with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude,” says N. Michael Tangen, executive vice president at American Investors Group Inc., a church lender in Minnetonka, Minn. “They had glory in their eyes that wasn’t backed up with adequate business plans and cash flow.”

St. Andrew, the recently auctioned Maryland church, opened 17 years ago in a former sporting-goods store in downtown Easton. The town of historic colonial mansions and sprawling farms was once home to Frederick Douglass. More recently, the town has become a retreat for Washington’s elite.

The rector of St. Andrew, Bishop Johnson, attracted like-minded conservatives who disliked Episcopal innovations, such as ordaining female priests. In 2005, the church borrowed $850,000 to buy a much larger space that had once belonged to a Roman Catholic parish.

The 1868 Gothic revival structure was large for Bishop Johnson’s congregation of 50 people. But the gregarious Midwesterner, who once raised money for a ballet troupe and orchestra, said he was confident his ministry and donations would grow. “I’m well liked, I’m a lucky man,” he says he felt at the time. He wooed real-estate agents, bankers and well-heeled locals — some of whom didn’t even attend the church — and received pledges worth $200,000.

Some donors said they were impressed with the bishop’s generous food pantry and help given to local Hispanics. For a time, Bishop Johnson said Mass in Spanish on Friday nights for workers at a crabmeat processor, and the parish also offered English classes.

“He served a part of this community that often times does not get served well,” says Lee Denny, president of the local General Motors dealership. Mr. Denny, an elder in Easton’s Presbyterian Church, donated $10,000.

But expenses mounted. There were mice in the basement and bats in the belfry. It cost about $45,000 to stanch creeping black mold. Once the local Catholic parish began saying Mass in Spanish, it drew off most of St. Andrew’s immigrant members. Weekly donations dropped to about $600 from $1,425 three years ago, says Bishop Johnson. And many of those who had pledged $200,000 toward the mortgage payments told the bishop they needed to delay their gifts, saying their stock portfolios were down.

Last February, the church couldn’t meet its monthly interest payments. The lender, Talbot Bank, a unit of Shore Bancshares Inc., foreclosed in August, seeking $950,000, including principal and unpaid interest. It was one of five properties Talbot foreclosed on in two years, but the only church, says W. David Morse, a vice president at the bank.

At the auction’s end, Bishop Johnson shook hands with Mr. Morse. “These people are not Wall Street bandits, for crying out loud,” the bishop said of his bankers. St. Andrew’s congregants will likely stay in the building for several more weeks while the bank seeks a buyer.

The transaction gave James C. Andrew, the auctioneer, some pause. He was married in the building in 1997 when it was a Catholic church and his two children had been baptized there. “I’ll probably wind up with coal in my stocking for Christmas,” he said.

Mormons Dismayed By Harsh Spotlight

Tabernacle on Trial

Mormons Dismayed By Harsh Spotlight

By Suzanne Sataline
February 8, 2008

Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency brought more attention to the Mormon Church than it has had in years. What the church discovered was not heartening.

Critics of its doctrines and culture launched frequent public attacks. Polling data showed that far more Americans say they’d never vote for a Mormon than those who admitted they wouldn’t choose a woman or an African-American.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in late January revealed that 50% of Americans said they would have reservations or be “very uncomfortable” about a Mormon as president. That same poll found that 81% would be “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with an African-American and 76% with a woman.

The Mormon religion “was the silent factor in a lot of the decision making by evangelicals and others,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the poll. The Romney campaign ran into “a religious bias head wind,” Mr. Hart and his Republican polling partner, Bill McInurff, wrote late last month.

“I don’t think that any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there,” said Armand Mauss, a Mormon sociologist who has written extensively about church culture, in an interview last week. “The Romney campaign has given the church a wake-up call. There is the equivalent of anti-Semitism still out there.”

Yesterday, the former Massachusetts governor said he was suspending his quest for the Republican nomination, following a poor showing in the “Super Tuesday” contests. Mr. Romney made no mention of his religion when he withdrew.

There were many other factors that may have contributed to his failed campaign. He didn’t gain sufficient traction among the social conservatives influential to his party. Opponents attacked him, saying he changed his moderate stances to more conservative ones to attract votes, including his position on abortion.

Some observers play down religious bias as a factor. Ken Jennings, a Mormon who was a “Jeopardy!” champion, says anti-Mormon attacks “contributed” to Mr. Romney’s problems, but weren’t the only obstacle. “I suspect there were bigger forces in play than the religion,” such as perceptions that Mr. Romney had shifted his positions, says Mr. Jennings, of Seattle. “There were principled reasons to say, ‘I like McCain over Romney.'”

Religion “wasn’t a factor in the governor’s decision to step aside,” says Eric Fehrnstrom, a campaign spokesman. “There was a lot more focus on religion early on in the race, but as people learned more about Gov. Romney, his success as a businessman and as leader of the Olympics, it receded as an issue into the background.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Romney’s campaign exposed a surprisingly virulent strain of anti-Mormonism that had been largely hidden to the general public.

In December, political pundit and actor Lawrence O’Donnell Jr. unleashed a tirade on the “McLaughlin Group” television talk show, tearing into the Mormon Church and Mr. Romney’s faith. “Romney comes from a religion founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist. And he comes from that lineage and says, ‘I respect this religion fully.’ . . . He’s got to answer.”

Mormons were outraged. Hundreds complained to the show and on radio talk shows and the Internet, protesting that the remarks about church founder Joseph Smith were bigoted and unfounded.

Mr. O’Donnell, a former MSNBC commentator who plays a lawyer for polygamists on the HBO drama “Big Love,” says he has nothing to apologize for. “Everything I said was true,” he says. Although the McLaughlin Group says it will keep Mr. O’Donnell off the air for now, neither MSNBC nor HBO plans to take action against him, spokespeople say.

“The vast majority of Americans recognize that one of our strengths as a nation is our tolerance for religions that are different than our own,” says Mr. Fehrnstrom, the campaign spokesman. “Sadly, not every person thinks that way, but there’s nothing that can be said or done to change their small minds.”

For Mormons, Mr. O’Donnell’s comments were a rallying cry. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught not to argue with outsiders over faith. But as criticism of their church rose to new heights during the campaign, they took on their antagonists like never before, in a wave of activism encouraged by church leadership.

Mormon leaders and church members say they were initially unprepared for the intensity of attacks, which many say were unprecedented in modern times. The attacks, they say, are a sign that their long struggle for wide acceptance in America is far from over, despite global church expansion and prosperity.

On the Internet, the Romney bid prompted an outpouring of broadsides against Mormonism from both the secular and religious worlds. Evangelical Christian speakers who consider it their mission to criticize Mormon beliefs lectured to church congregations across the country. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, wrote that a Mormon presidency would threaten Christian faiths. Atheist author Christopher Hitchens called Mormonism “a mad cult” on Slate.com, and Bill Keller, a former convict who runs an online ministry in Florida, told a national radio audience that a vote for Mr. Romney was a vote for Satan.

“It seems like it’s been open season on Mormons,” says Marvin Perkins, a Los Angeles Mormon Church member who lectures about the history of blacks in the church.

Mr. Romney was reluctant to speak publicly about his religion. Eventually, senior advisers persuaded him to do so to allay voter concerns about how it might affect his decision-making as president. Comparisons were made to a campaign speech that John Kennedy, who became America’s first Roman Catholic president, delivered to an audience of Baptists. Although Mr. Romney’s December speech was well-received by political pundits, it did little to move his polling numbers.

That same month, M. Russell Ballard, one of the church’s 12 apostles, or governors, urged students at a graduation at Church-owned Brigham Young University to use the Internet and “new media” to defend the faith. At least 150 new Mormon sites were created and registered with the site mormon-blogs.com. “People were haranguing us on the Internet,” Mr. Ballard said in an interview. “I just felt we needed to unleash our own people.”

Normally insular church leaders, with help from Washington-based consultant Apco Worldwide, began a public-relations campaign last fall, visiting 11 editorial boards of newspapers across the country. In another first, the church posted a series of videos, some featuring Mr. Ballard, on YouTube to counter a wave of anti-Mormon footage on the site.

Many Mormons were excited by Mr. Romney’s candidacy. “There’s a member of the tribe that’s up there,” Nathan Oman, an assistant professor at William and Mary School of Law, said last month, adding that he had not yet decided whom to vote for. “What happens to him is a test of whether or not our tribe gets included in the political universe.”

Mormonism began in 1830 after Joseph Smith, a farmer in upstate New York, said an angel led him to some golden plates that contained a “New World gospel” — the Book of Mormon. Mormons regard themselves as Christians, but some Christian denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, do not. They regard as heresy the Mormon belief that Mr. Smith was a prophet and that the Bible was not the final word of God.

The faith’s early history was marked by tension and brutal forced exiles, sparked in part by the practice of polygamy by some church members. After Mr. Smith was arrested in Nauvoo, Ill., a mob killed him and drove off his followers. The Mormons fled to Utah. Polygamy fed repeated conflicts with the federal government until the church banned the practice world-wide in 1904. The church has flourished in recent years, and claims 13 million members world-wide.

Mr. Romney’s candidacy revived old lines of attack and mockery of some of the church’s unusual practices, such as secret ceremonies, the wearing of special undergarments, and the baptizing the dead in the belief that it will help them join family members in heaven.

Among the most active critics were practitioners of evangelical Christian “apologetics” — speakers and writers who make their mission to actively defend their faith. For some of them, that involves criticizing Mormonism.

At the Life Point Bible Church in Quincy, Ill., last month, evangelical apologist Rocky Hulse told 35 members that Mr. Romney should not be considered a Christian. Mr. Hulse, a former Mormon, told the group that Mormons believe in more than one god and that they believe God impregnated Mary in the normal fashion, not by granting her a virgin birth. The audience sat rapt.

Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, a Mormon group, says Mr. Hulse is wrong on the facts. Mormons pray to one God, he says, and believe, like most Christians, that Mary was a virgin. Mr. Gordon went on talk-radio shows to rebut claims of other apologists.

In December, while campaigning for the Iowa caucuses, former Baptist preacher and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee asked a magazine reporter: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” The Southern Baptist Convention, Mr. Huckabee’s denomination, posts essays on its Web site saying Mormonism is a non-Christian cult.

Mormon church leaders, who repeatedly asserted the church’s neutrality in elections, had tried to keep out of the political fray. Church spokesman Michael Otterson says they couldn’t ignore Mr. Huckabee’s comment. Members said it implied that they were devil worshipers. Phones were ringing off the hook at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

“Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers” from a pre-existing world, the church said in a statement. “Christ was the only begotten in the flesh.”

“I’m not impugning the motives of a political candidate,” Mr. Otterson said. “But the result of the question was to confuse the situation, not to enlighten.” Mr. Huckabee swiftly apologized to Mr. Romney for the comment. He handily won the Iowa caucuses, helped by huge numbers of evangelicals.

(Mr. Huckabee himself may face voter opposition for his religious views. The January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 45% of Americans have concerns about an evangelical Christian as president.)

Soon, the Mormon Church began posting its videos on YouTube — 22 so far. One clip, for example, showed Mr. Ballard, the church apostle, answering the question “Are Mormons Christian?” It has drawn 26,000 views. By contrast, a cartoon clip from “The God Makers,” a 1980s film that mocks Mormon beliefs, has been viewed 945,000 times.

Mr. Ballard’s call for more new-media activism inspired dozens of new Web sites. On Politicalds.com, several Mormons of different political views write about the presidential race. Founder Mike Rogan, of Chandler, Ariz., says he started the blog “to combat some specific misconceptions about Mormons,” including that all Mormons are “conservatives with a mindless ‘sheep’ mentality.”

Mr. Hitchens, the best-selling author of “God is Not Great,” wrote last fall that Mr. Romney owed voters a discussion about “the mad cult” of his church. Similar commentaries inspired Ryan Bell, a Salt Lake City attorney, to start a Web site, Romney Experience.com last summer. “Every faith has wacky doctrines,” he says, adding that the press seems fixated on his faith’s more sensational side.

Mormon fury boiled over after Mr. O’Donnell’s appearance on the “McLaughlin Group,” when he called Mr. Smith a proslavery criminal and rapist. He said Mr. Romney “was” a racist because he was a member of a church that discriminated against blacks until 1978.

Mr. Bell and others responded on their Web sites that church founder Mr. Smith, who faced many charges in his turbulent life, including treason, was never convicted of any crimes. (At least one Mormon historian says he was found guilty of a misdemeanor as a minor for fraud, but others say incomplete court records make it impossible to determine.)

The allegations about blacks stung the most. Many Mormon historians say Mr. Smith welcomed blacks from the church’s inception, had ordained some blacks, and ran on an abolitionist platform for president in 1844. Blacks were barred from being church leaders, they say, by his successor, Brigham Young. Many Protestant churches, Mr. Bell pointed out, were segregated well into the 20th century. In 1978, the church lifted the ban on blacks becoming leaders.

Mormons called on the “McLaughlin Group” to take action against Mr. O’Donnell. Host John McLaughlin decided that Mr. O’Donnell, who appeared seven times last year, will be kept off the air for now, says Allison Butler, the show’s managing director. Any apology to Mormons must come from him, Ms. Butler says.

Although Mr. Romney’s withdrawal from the race is likely to quiet the controversy for now, many church members believe the turmoil of the past year will have lasting effects.

“There will be a long-term consequence in the Mormon church,” says Mr. Mauss, the Mormon sociologist. “I think there is going to be a wholesale reconsideration with how Mormons should deal with the latent and overt anti-Mormon propaganda. I don’t think the Mormons are ever again going to sorrowfully turn away and close the door and just keep out of the fray.”



Health Claims Boost Supplement Firm


True Believers

Health Claims by Sales Force Boost Supplement Firm

By Suzanne Sataline
May 11, 2007

When doctors found a tumor in Angie McHenry’s bowel in the spring of 2006, they told her that her cervical cancer had become terminal. But her uncle, Stephan Huffman, gave her some hope.

Mr. Huffman, a retired high-school teacher, is a sales associate for Mannatech Inc., a publicly traded company that markets vitamins and nutritional supplements. He and his wife persuaded Ms. McHenry to swallow, each day, 32 Mannatech tablets and six scoopfuls of the company’s Ambrotose, a derivative of aloe vera and larch-tree bark.

“He said it would knock the cancer away,” recalled Ms. McHenry, a Coldwater, Ohio, mother of three, in an interview last month. “I would go into full remission. He said he had seen proof in other people.”

Mannatech, based in Coppell, Texas, relies on an army of enthusiastic consumers of its nutritional supplements to sell the products to family, friends and others. These sellers are unsalaried, but receive commissions and bonuses from the company, based in part on their recruitment of other sellers. Some of them make sweeping claims about the power of Mannatech products to provide relief from serious diseases.

In the eight years since Mannatech went public, several questions have loomed large for company executives and board members: Are nonemployee salespeople pushing its products in ways that violate Food and Drug Administration guidelines? And how far should Mannatech go in policing its free-lance sales force?

About half of Mannatech’s supplements, the company says, contain nutritional sugars it calls “glyconutrients.” The body needs simple sugars, but some scientists say there is no proof that sugar supplements provide health benefits. Mannatech say its glyconutrient mixture, called Ambrotose, “supports the immune system.” Because none of the products are approved by the FDA for the treatment of disease, it isn’t legal for anyone to market them as such.

Mr. Huffman, who sold $1,200 of Mannatech products to Ms. McHenry, says he doesn’t recall telling her they would “knock her cancer away.” He adds, though, that “in many instances,” Ambrotose “encapsulates the cancer.”

Ms. McHenry consumed the tablets and powder for two weeks last year, she said, until nausea made them difficult to swallow and her oncologist persuaded her to quit. Mr. Huffman says he returned her $1,200 to alleviate hard feelings. Ms. McHenry died on April 20.

“Nobody is claiming these products by themselves are providing a treatment for disease,” says Mannatech Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Caster, one of the company’s founders.

Mr. Caster identifies himself as a Christian, and some customers are drawn to the company for that reason. He and his wife, Linda, refer to Mannatech as a blessing, and say God spoke through her to give him the idea for the company. Many top salespeople share their religious beliefs. Marshall Howard, a salesman who says he’s a Christian, recently told hundreds of associates at a gathering that they were “chosen” people in the “glorious mission of Mannatech to change hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Such fervor is visible when Mannatech devotees, many of them nonsalaried sales associates, gather for an annual company-sponsored event called MannaFest. At this year’s gathering, a four-day affair held in Dallas in March, at least 10 people came on stage one night to testify that after taking Mannatech products, they recovered or found relief from conditions ranging from paralysis to tumors to lesions. Another 25 people said they took glyconutrients and found relief from afflictions such as leukemia, arthritis, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome and cancer.

Mr. Caster says the consumer testimonials are perfectly legal because none use the words “cure,” “treat” or “mitigate” in referring to diseases. Mannatech product labels, which are reviewed by the FDA, state that the products are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Mr. Caster says that message is repeated frequently during conference calls with associates. He says he and the company abide by all laws, and train associates to do the same.

Nevertheless, scrutiny of the company’s marketing has been increasing. The Federal Trade Commission has logged at least 30 complaints about Mannatech since 1998 alleging deception, making false health claims, and improper sales practices. The FTC has brought no action.

After reports about the company’s sales tactics caused its stock to drop in 2005, shareholders filed lawsuits in state and federal courts. Several have been consolidated as a federal class-action in Dallas federal court. It alleges that executives knew about and ignored improper health claims by employees and salespeople, and that Mr. Caster overruled recommendations by the company’s regulatory-compliance committee to discipline big sellers who made such claims.

Mr. Caster says the company has fined some associates as much as $25,000, and has terminated some for making improper claims. “Does something like this ever get away from us?” he says. “Well, of course. Those are the types of things that we’re out there looking for, and that we’ll catch.” He says the company intends to vigorously defend itself in the litigation.

The Texas attorney general’s office indicated in a memo last October that it had been investigating Mannatech for possible health-law violations since 2005. The memo, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, said the state “anticipated filing suit against” Mannatech for alleged violations, including “unproven health claims.” To date, the attorney general has taken no action. A spokesman for the attorney general declined to comment.

Mannatech’s vitamins, powders and capsules aren’t sold in any stores. The company sells them over the Internet, and through a large sales force of free-lancers. It has no salaried sales force. Companies whose salespeople are independent, and are paid based on their own sales and those of other sellers they directly and indirectly recruit, are known as “multilevel marketers.”

Mannatech has more than 100,000 active sales associates, arrayed in a hierarchy. Mannatech pays commissions to associates based on the purchases of the associates they recruit and others down the line from them. To be eligible for financial bonuses, an associate must buy $100 in Mannatech products each month. Top Mannatech associates have earned as much as $1.6 million a year, according to compensation information shared with associates at MannaFest.

Books, home and beauty products, and cleaning materials have long been peddled in this fashion. These days, so are many nutritional supplements. Multilevel marketers accounted for $4.4 billion of $22 billion in sales of dietary supplements in 2006, says Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal.

Mr. Caster helped start Mannatech in 1993. Months later, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Under that law, makers of dietary supplements aren’t currently required to document that their products are safe or effective. But it bars them from claiming, without FDA approval, that any product can treat, cure or prevent illness.

Mannatech went public in 1999, and sales have grown steadily. Last year, Mannatech earned $32.4 million on sales of $410 million, compared with $1.9 million earned in 2002, on sales of $141 million.

Early on, Mr. Caster and his wife turned to friends and prayer partners to sell products and recruit other salespeople, according to Ms. Caster’s self-published book, “Undeniable Destiny.” Steven Barker, a professor of veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University who served as a Mannatech director from 1998 to 2002, said the board was concerned about religious influence on marketing.

“People would become overzealous and start making claims that this was manna and it had miraculous properties, that it was God’s gift,” says Mr. Barker. “Sam is a very religious individual, and he would listen to people making claims they thought were miraculous….The board wanted him to tone it down. They didn’t want it to become a revival, some kind of ultrareligious event.”

Roger E. Beutner, a retired engineer who served on the board until 2003, says “exaggerated” claims about product benefits made some directors uncomfortable.

Co-founder Charles “Skip” Fioretti, then chairman and chief executive of Mannatech, worried that the FDA could take action on unproven claims, says Mr. Barker. In addition, there was tension between Messrs. Caster and Fioretti over business issues. In 2000, the board removed Mr. Caster as president after what he says was a clash of values with Mr. Fioretti. Mr.

Caster became co-chairman, but quit weeks later. Mr. Fioretti did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. Caster’s supporters were upset, according to Mr. Barker, and Mr. Caster returned as a director within weeks. Mr. Caster says he made it clear that he and his wife intended to talk about their faith when speaking about the company. Eventually, more of his supporters joined the board, and by 2002, Mr. Fioretti had left. Mr. Caster became chairman, and later, chief executive.

These days, God and the Bible are mentioned frequently by some sales associates during meetings and conference calls. At this year’s MannaFest, one associate led a training workshop called “Leadership Lessons from Moses,” which used quotes from Exodus. At “Leadership Skills from a Biblical Perspective,” associate Dottie Anderson described “Jesus as the first network marketer.”

To sell the products, many associates rely on testimonials and case histories. At Mannatech conferences, H. Reginald McDaniel, a Dallas-area pathologist and the company’s former medical director, sells various reports containing case histories. He says he has chronicled hundreds of cases of patients with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, allergies, and cystic fibrosis whose health improved, and some whose symptoms disappeared, after taking glyconutrients. “I’d be derelict if I implied everyone with an improved diet gets a turnaround in health, yet a significant number do,” he says.

During the “testimonials” program at this year’s MannaFest, a mother showed slides of her two sons in hospital beds. After taking glyconutrients, she said, they are now free of brain seizures. A young man walked to the microphone and told the crowd that he had been paralyzed from a car crash before taking Ambrotose.

Jordan Scott, a wan 13-year-old from Lubbock, Texas, said that when she was a toddler, cystic fibrosis frequently left her choking on mucus and battling lung infections. She began taking glyconutrients, she said, and she can now play the oboe, and she placed third at a cross-country meet. “A doctor said I have the lungs of a healthy child,” she said, sobbing and thanking God, as the audience applauded.

Mr. Caster says Mannatech products are “not a cure for cystic fibrosis….I think dietary supplements can improve the quality of life.”

“I have never, ever said” that testimonials “should substitute for science,” Mr. Caster says. Health benefits reported by users, he says, help “guide us in our research.” Mannatech says it is conducting studies on the benefits of using its products.

Some researchers says they doubt that Ambrotose offers any health benefits. Hudson Freeze, who studies complex carbohydrates as a professor of glycobiology at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., contends the body can’t digest Ambrotose because humans lack the enzymes necessary to break down the plant fibers it contains into simple sugars.

Mannatech has said it has completed a study that shows the body can break down glyconutrients, and that it is slated for publication in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The journal’s managing editor, Barbara Nell Perrin, says it will publish an abstract of the study that will not be peer-reviewed.

Mannatech associates often post messages on Web sites, including the MannaShare forum on Yahoo.com, seeking tips on selling Mannatech products to people with specific afflictions, including cocaine addiction, hemophilia and Down syndrome.

“If anyone anywhere has any information — studies, testimonies, anything — on glyconutrients and esophageal cancer — PLEASE e-mail it to me,” Mannatech associate Joan Francis, of Batavia, N.Y., wrote in January on one forum, after her father had been diagnosed with the disease.

After posting the message, Ms. Francis says, she consulted with several doctors who recommended amounts of Mannatech glyconutrients to take. Dr. McDaniel, the company’s former medical director, was one of them, she says. Ultimately, she persuaded her father to forgo chemotherapy and take Mannatech supplements.

Her father, George Schaefer Jr., says he was skeptical, but agreed to try. He bought about $700 worth of supplements over two months. Recently, on the advice of his son, he stopped taking the products and switched to chemotherapy, Ms. Francis says.

Betty Wiggins, a Durand, Mich., grandmother who identifies herself as a nurse, says she has advised more than 3,000 people over the past five years to take Ambrotose for everything from vomiting to cancer. For lung

cancer, for example, she says she recommends 100 grams of Ambrotose per day. “I don’t have anyone who hasn’t fully recovered from any illness,” she says. “You aren’t supposed to say someone is healed, for some reason.”

The Texas Department of Health Services periodically reviews Mannatech’s product labels and promotional materials, among other things. Cynthia Culmo, a former director who oversaw Mannatech inspections, says that recommending Ambrotose to treat a disease, or specifying dosage amounts beyond the guidance given on the label, are “likely” violations of federal law.

Mr. Caster says he did not know about Web sites that suggest dosage amounts.

For the desperately ill, the Web sites can be seductive. Jackie Wells, a nurse in New Mexico, was diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the degenerative nerve disease that killed Lou Gehrig. A Web site suggested treatment with glyconutrients, and she consumed $130 of Ambrotose over six months. She has lost use of her arms and now relies on her husband to feed her and brush her hair. “I felt like somebody had taken advantage of me,” she says.

After Jeffrey Cook of Sleepy Eye, Minn., was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, two local Mannatech associates gave him a DVD containing testimonials, recalls his wife, Jane. “The video showed a guy with the same type of cancer,” says Ms. Cook, a licensed nurse. “It had healed him, basically.”

The associates, Melissa and Pat Schroepfer, sold Mr. Cook $1,000 worth of glyconutrient products, says Ms. Cook. Mr. Cook died last October, a month later. The Schroepfers reimbursed her the money. Melissa Schroepfer declined to comment, and Pat Schroepfer, her father, didn’t return calls.

To Treat Cancer,
 Herbs and Prayer

Christine Daniel

To Treat Cancer, Herbs and Prayer

January 24, 2007

As her lung cancer spread, shortening her breath, pressing into her back, Minna Shakespeare had faith that a thick, brown liquid she bought by mail from a California physician for $13,536 would cure her.

Her husband says Mrs. Shakespeare, a registered nurse and devout Christian in Cambridge, Mass., stopped chemotherapy on the doctor’s advice. Easton Shakespeare recalls his wife assuring him that the doctor, who prayed with her over the phone, was trustworthy.

Mrs. Shakespeare died in April 2003, four months after her first dose of the viscous liquid. Her husband’s complaints triggered a federal investigation of Christine Daniel, a licensed physician and Pentecostal minister practicing in Mission Hills, Calif. Investigators say she used religion to sell expensive nostrums that she claimed could cure cancer.

Dr. Daniel’s small business is part of a boom in “Christian wellness” — dietary supplements and herbal formulas, sometimes along with diets inspired by Biblical descriptions, that sell briskly in a lightly regulated industry.

Sales by religiously affiliated companies have surged since the mid-1990s to account for 5% to 10% of the dietary-supplements business, which had about $21 billion in 2005 sales, says Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal in San Diego.

The products are heavily promoted on religious TV, radio and Web sites through ads featuring testimonials akin to those that evangelicals share in church services. “Rather than sending money to the guy on TV who promised to heal you, you now can send your money for a book on diet and a list of supplements,” says Donal O’Mathuna, a chemist and co-author of a book on alternative medicine.

Federal authorities have identified at least three dozen people who drank Dr. Daniel’s mixtures, says a person familiar with the matter. Among those, at least eight people died of cancer, according to a Food and Drug Administration investigator’s affidavit. Some patients bypassed conventional therapies for Dr. Daniel’s regimen, according to the affidavit, patients and family members.

In a brief phone interview, Dr. Daniel said she has sold no substances, and only provides palliative “end of life” care. “The federal government has it wrong,” she said, describing federal investigators as “nut cases” and “evil.” She declined requests for further comment.

Her Tarzana, Calif., attorney, Manuel Miller, added, “Obviously it goes without saying, we deny anything improper or illegal that’s been done by her. She’s totally innocent.’’ He said Dr. Daniel “would never under any condition” tell a patient to stop chemotherapy. He said he wasn’t familiar with products patients say they bought from his client. “When you’ve got the last stages of cancer, you’re looking for anything possible. The issue is: Did she ever say this will cure cancer?”

According to the FDA investigator’s affidavit, on a 2002 religious broadcast Dr. Daniel touted cancer cure rates of 60% or better. In an interview with the California Medical Board, she denied making that claim, the affidavit said. It said she acknowledged selling vitamin mixtures but said they had no regulated ingredients. A prosecutor said there’s no evidence she’s still selling the products.

Former patients and the affidavit say Dr. Daniel sold at least six different liquid formulas. FDA analysis found some of the formulas contained various herbal compounds, as well as protein powder, vitamins, alcohol, and beef extract. Some patients said they paid as much as $6,000 weekly for care at Dr. Daniel’s wellness clinic, while others report paying a similar amount for a monthly supply of her mixtures. For some patients, office visits were covered by their medical insurance.

The FDA is looking into allegations that Dr. Daniel violated federal law by introducing an unapproved drug into the market, misbranding a drug, and committing mail and wire fraud, the affidavit says. Prosecutors filed the affidavit under seal in U.S. District Court Los Angeles in January 2006 to obtain a search warrant of Dr. Daniel’s home and office. “There is nothing wrong with a medical doctor claiming that they can cure someone,” said lead prosecutor Joseph O. Johns, an assistant U.S. attorney. “What is illegal is selling an unapproved new drug and claiming that it can cure cancer.’’ A federal grand jury has heard testimony in the case, say lawyers for a witness and for Dr. Daniel, who both testified last year.

Mr. Shakespeare thinks the doctor hastened his wife’s death. “She was charging us for one thing, but selling us another,” he says. “I think the operation she had was all a scam. And it was a well-organized scam.” Mr. Miller, Dr. Daniel’s lawyer, said she had done nothing improper in the case.

The supplement business has boomed since passage of the 1994

Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Under the law, manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to document that their products are safe or effective. The law bars makers from claiming they can treat, cure or prevent illnesses without specific FDA approval, but lets them tout benefits such as “improved digestion.”

The FDA sent 75 letters last year warning supplement makers of possible violations, while the Federal Trade Commission has brought 126 prosecutions in the past five years against such companies for fraud and deceptive advertising. Critics and government officials say regulators are swamped by the rise in dietary supplements and unable to monitor them all.

Jordan Rubin, author of “The Maker’s Diet,” which its publisher says has sold 1.8 million copies, has run afoul of both the FDA and FTC. Mr. Rubin is the founder of Garden of Life Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., which sells supplements. Mr. Rubin has told church and television audiences that “God healed me” from Crohn’s disease, he said in an interview. In 2004, the FDA warned the company to stop claiming the products could treat illnesses including colon cancer and arthritis.

In March 2006, Mr. Rubin and his company settled FTC charges by paying a $225,000 fine and agreeing to change advertising for four products including “Primal Defense,” which the commission said was marketed as a treatment for asthma, lupus, and Crohn’s disease. In an interview, Mr. Rubin said his company had $45 million in sales last year, is in full compliance with the law and plans to start an organic food line.

Others have lived within the regulatory limits. Physician Don Colbert, author of “What Would Jesus Eat?” sells supplements through his company, Divine Health Nutritional Products, with plant compounds that the company says are “important in preventing both heart disease and cancer” and strengthening the immune system.

Reginald B. Cherry, an Arkansas cardiologist and author of “The Bible Cure,” appears weekly on religious cable channels and says tens of thousands of people buy his herbal products. One with notoginseng and hawthorn berry “may help maintain a normal heart rhythm,” according to his company’s Web site. Both doctors say their marketing complies with federal standards, and no regulators have objected.

California’s Dr. Daniel works out of a one-story stucco building with security grates that she shares with a termite-extermination business in Mission Hills, Calif., a dusty working-class and immigrant neighborhood. A petite woman with a quick walk and an arresting smile, Dr. Daniel graduated from Temple University Medical School in 1979 and started practicing medicine in the Los Angeles suburbs the next year. Her practice was housed in several strip malls before her current location in the San Fernando Valley. Along the way she opened the wellness clinic, marketed under several names, alongside her conventional practice, called Sonrise Medical Clinic Inc. They shared a phone number.

Dr. Daniel says she has witnessed medical miracles. In a self-published 2006 book, she recounts how, after she prayed, a stroke victim walked without a cane and a drowned child with no vital signs returned to life. “I do not use prayer as a medicinal tool, but a combination of prayer with my medical care has never hurt any patient; if anything, it has saved lives,” Dr. Daniel wrote.

She closes her office daily at lunchtime for prayer, she wrote. Traci Wooden, a former receptionist who left in 2004, says staff members would arrange chairs in a circle and invite patients to join in. Dr. Daniel would sometimes pray in tongues — unintelligible speech considered divinely inspired — as she sought Jesus’s help, according to Ms. Wooden. One staff member had the title “prayer counselor,” according to Dr. Daniel’s 2006 book.

Over the years, Dr. Daniel acquired a reputation in Los Angeles for helping the downtrodden. “She’s got a generous heart,” says Martha Graham, a civilian employee with the Los Angeles Police Department. The doctor has treated many homeless people and welfare recipients, and volunteered at weekend health fairs, say Ms. Graham and Ms. Wooden. After fires in San Bernardino County in October 2003 drove many residents from their homes, Dr. Daniel donated blankets, diapers and her own clothes, Ms. Graham says.

Ms. Wooden says she started work the month after Dr. Daniel publicized her wellness practice on Dec. 5, 2002, on the “Praise the Lord” program on Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN is television’s largest Christian broadcaster, with 10 million viewers weekly, a network spokesman says. She appeared again in May 2003. After the first show, Ms. Wooden says Dr. Daniel saw as many as 40 patients a week, which gradually dropped to about half that number. About half the patients at any given time were given supplements, she said.

According to the FDA affidavit, Dr. Daniel said on the show that her cancer treatment combined prayer with herbs from around the world. She had not found radiation to be effective, she said, but patients with advanced cancer were “living today because of our treatment,” and even her “lowest level” formula had a 60% cure rate. Dr. Daniel told viewers that a Michigan woman whose breast cancer had spread to her brain had normal blood tests within two weeks of taking her first dose, the affidavit said. The network aired the clinic’s phone number.

Eugenia Vigiletti from Norwalk, Calif., a retiree with breast cancer, was a viewer who visited the clinic. “I figured Dr. Daniel was honest, otherwise TBN wouldn’t have her on her program,” she says. She paid $1,400 for an office visit, a one-time mixture and heat lamp to shrink her tumor, she says. She didn’t return, after a disagreement over insurance coverage.

TBN requires on-air guests to sign waivers absolving the network from liability, says Colby May, outside counsel for TBN, a religious nonprofit. Nobody at TBN “will knowingly put on anybody who is making claims of matters of medical context that are known to not be true,” he says. Dr. Daniel appeared on the show again in May 2003, a network spokesman said.

Dr. Daniel also gained patients through her Pentecostal church, New Christ Memorial in San Fernando, where members often testify to medical miracles they say they have experienced. Church member Olivia McClurkin put her faith in Dr. Daniel. A professional gospel singer, she learned she had cancer in both breasts in 1999. While another doctor recommended a mastectomy and chemotherapy, Dr. Daniel told Ms. McClurkin that her treatment would get rid of the tumors, the patient recalls.

Dr. Daniel denies saying that, said her attorney Mr. Miller. “She’s not saying that any of her herbs cure cancer,” he says.

Ms. McClurkin moved closer to the clinic and visited it daily for 90 days in the spring of 2001. After a staff member prayed with her each day, she says, she drank a concoction with “exotic herbs and roots from Africa” that, she was told, Dr. Daniel collected on twice-yearly trips. Ms. McClurkin said it was thick and muddy and tasted like “hot garbage on a summer day.” Then she swallowed about 20 pills that Dr. Daniel’s staff gave her, she said.

She said the doctor and staff would not disclose the composition of the pills or the liquid, despite her repeated inquiries.

The tumor initially shrank and Dr. Daniel said she was improving, Ms. McClurkin recounts, but then it began growing through the skin and ulcerating. She says Dr. Daniel then treated it with ointment, with no improvement. After 90 days, Ms. McClurkin told Dr. Daniel she was leaving. “She told me if I left her, I would die,” the patient says.

Ms. McClurkin returned to her family’s home in Long Island, N.Y., but didn’t treat the tumor right away. Beginning in 2003, she has had a total mastectomy on her right side, a lumpectomy on her left breast, 19 lymph nodes removed and a hysterectomy, says her doctor, breast cancer surgeon David I. Kaufman. The cancer moved to her lungs, liver, chest wall and several bones. She is bald. Given how long she put off medical treatment, “It’s amazing she survived,” Dr. Kaufman says, adding that her condition is stable.

Ms. McClurkin ascribes her survival to Jesus — not Dr. Daniel. “I would question if she is or is not a Christian,” Ms. McClurkin says. “That’s between her and God.”

Jean McKinney, a colon-cancer patient, sought Dr. Daniel’s treatment as a last resort after having part of her colon removed and being told by oncologists that she had no medical options left. Starting in December 2003, her husband said, she swallowed a herbal remedy at Dr. Daniel’s clinic and sat under a heat lamp to shrink the tumor. The visits cost $6,000 a week, for which Dr. Daniel would not take insurance, says the patient’s husband, The Rev. George McKinney, a Pentecostal minister in San Diego.

Mr. McKinney says Dr. Daniel didn’t promise to cure his wife, but did indicate that “there were persons who came to her with serious cancer and it would be healed.” After three months, he said, Dr. Daniel advised his wife to go into chemotherapy. By May 2004, the cancer had spread to Mrs. McKinney’s uterus and lungs, and she died a month later. Mr. McKinney estimates that Dr. Daniel’s treatment cost $144,000, sending him into debt for a time. Still, he credits the doctor with giving his wife hope for survival that he believes extended her life.

Dr. Daniel handled other clients by phone, including Minna Shakespeare, according to interviews and the affidavit. After reading Mrs. Shakespeare’s X-rays in December 2002, Dr. Daniel recommended her fifth strongest formula, which cost more than $6,000 for a one-month supply, says Mr. Shakespeare, an electrician. His wife told him that Dr. Daniel said

“she knew of a lot of people where traditional medicine didn’t work, but when they take her medication, they recover,” he says.

A month later, blood tests ordered by Mrs. Shakespeare’s Massachusetts doctor showed her cancer cells were still multiplying. Dr. Daniel then sold her the highest-concentration formula, the husband said. Dr. Daniel wouldn’t tell the couple what the formula consisted of, he said. An FDA lab found that one mixture that Mrs. Shakespeare took contained carbohydrates, ascorbic acid, fructose, protein, alcohol, vitamins and caffeine, according to the agency’s affidavit.

Dr. Daniel then advised Mrs. Shakespeare to resume the chemotherapy she had stopped, her husband says. In February, Mrs. Shakespeare stopped taking Dr. Daniel’s liquids and underwent chemotherapy.

After his wife’s death, Mr. Shakespeare called Dr. Daniel and demanded a refund. When she refused, Mr. Shakespeare phoned consumer groups, one of which contacted the California Medical Board, triggering a joint investigation with the FDA.

In December 2003, Dr. Daniel told an undercover California Medical Board investigator, posing as a cancer victim’s son, that she offered herb mixtures priced from $350 to $4,270 for a formula called C-6 6:4, with the higher concentrations “working better,” the affidavit states. “The FDA does not allow us to say we cure anybody, but this is what we do,” it quotes her as saying.

At a meeting with medical board staff in August 2004, Dr. Daniel said she rarely treated cancer, the affidavit states. She said she shipped most cartons of nutritional supplements overseas as part of a food program in developing countries.

She remains licensed in California, says a medical board spokeswoman. The case is still under investigation.

The ‘Purpose Driven Church’ Splits Believers

Veneration Gap
A Popular Strategy for Church Growth Splits Congregants

By Suzanne Sataline
September 5, 2006

IUKA, Miss. — In April, 150 members of Iuka Baptist Church voted to kick Charles Jones off the deacons’ board. The punishment followed weeks of complaints by Mr. Jones and his friends that the pastor was following the teachings of the Rev. Rick Warren, the best-selling author and church-growth guru. After the vote, about 40 other members quit the church to support Mr. Jones.

Mr. Warren, the effusive pastor of stadium-sized Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., is best known for his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold 25 million copies and urges people to follow God’s plan for them. He has spawned an industry advising churches to become “purpose-driven” by attracting nonbelievers with lively worship services, classes and sermons that discuss Jesus’ impact on their lives, and invitations to volunteer.

But the purpose-driven movement is dividing the country’s more than 50 million evangelicals. Some evangelicals, like the Iuka castoffs, say it’s inappropriate for churches to use growth tactics akin to modern management tools, including concepts such as researching the church “market” and writing mission statements. Others say it encourages simplistic Bible teaching. Anger over the adoption of Mr. Warren’s methods has driven off older Christians from their longtime churches. Congregations nationwide have split or expelled members who fought the changes, roiling working-class Baptist congregations and affluent nondenominational churches.

Last summer, the evangelical church of onetime Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers split after adopting Mr. Warren’s techniques. That church, Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, wanted to increase membership and had built a huge sanctuary several years ago to accommodate hundreds of people. Church leaders adopted a strategic plan built around Mr. Warren’s five “fundamental purposes”: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. One goal was to make sure more than 19% of the church’s members were adults in their 20s and 30s, says the pastor, the Rev. Barry McCarty.

The Rev. Ron Key, then the senior minister, says he objected to the church’s “Madison Avenue” marketing. “I believe Jesus died for everybody,” Mr. Key says, not just people in a “target audience.” He says the leaders wanted church that was more “edgy,” with a worship service using modern music. Mr. Key was demoted, then fired for being divisive and insubordinate.

About 200 people, many of whom had left the church earlier because they thought it should give more money to mission work, began worshiping in a Doubletree Hotel, and later in a college gym, with Mr. Key as pastor. Ms. Miers, the White House counsel, worships with them when she comes to town, a White House spokeswoman says.

At a time when many churches are struggling with declining or aging congregations, advocates of the purpose-driven movement credit it with energizing congregations, doubling the size of some churches and boosting the number of “megachurches” of more than 2,000 members. Mr. Warren says his church and nonprofit arm have trained 400,000 pastors world-wide. He reaches many more through sales of his sermons, books and lessons on the Web. Mr. Warren says he donates 90% of his money to fund philanthropy and overseas training.

Mr. Warren preaches in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt, and he encourages ministers to banish church traditions such as hymns and pews. He and his followers use “praise team” singers, backed by rock bands playing contemporary Christian songs. His sermons rarely linger on self-denial and fighting sin, instead focusing on healing modern American angst, such as troubled marriages and stress.

As membership in Protestant churches stagnated in the 1980s, Mr. Warren, a Southern Baptist in Orange County, Calif., learned from surveys that the region’s Reagan-era baby boomers said they didn’t connect with their parents’ churches. He figured they might find God if they could sit in a theater-style auditorium and listen to live pop music and sermons that could help them with ennui and personal problems. Through Mr. Warren’s Internet marketing savvy, tens of thousands of subscribing pastors learned about his church, which draws 20,000 people each weekend. In the past decade, many pastors jumped to replicate his methods, creating new churches and transforming existing ones.

Christians have long divided over efforts to adapt and modernize their faith. Some believers worry that purpose-driven techniques are so widespread among Protestant churches that they are permanently altering the way Christians worship. Some traditionalists say Mr. Warren’s messages misread Bible passages and undermine traditions. Mr. Warren is “gutting” Christianity, says the Rev. Bob DeWaay, author of a book critical of the approach. “The Bible’s theme is about redemption and atonement, not finding meaning and solving problems,” the Minneapolis pastor says. A spokesman said Mr. Warren believes the Bible addresses sin and redemption, as well as human problems.

Some pastors learn how to make their churches purpose-driven through training workshops. Speakers at Church Transitions Inc., a Waxhaw, N.C., nonprofit that works closely with Mr. Warren’s church, stress that the transition will be rough. At a seminar outside of Austin, Texas in April, the Revs. Roddy Clyde and Glen Sartain advised 80 audience members to trust very few people with their plans. “All the forces of hell are going to come at you when you wake up that church,” said Mr. Sartain, who has taught the material at Mr. Warren’s Saddleback Church.

During a session titled “Dealing with Opposition,” Mr. Clyde recommended that the pastor speak to critical members, then help them leave if they don’t stop objecting. Then when those congregants join a new church, Mr. Clyde instructed, pastors should call their new minister and suggest that the congregants be barred from any leadership role.

“There are moments when you’ve got to play hardball,” said the Rev. Dan Southerland, Church Transitions’ president, in an interview. “You cannot transition a church . . . and placate every whiny Christian along the way.”

Mr. Warren acknowledges that splits occur in congregations that adopt his ideas, though he says he opposes efforts to expel church members. “There is no growth without change and there is no change without loss and there is no loss without pain,” he says. “Probably 10% of all churches are in conflict at any given point, regardless of what they’re doing.” That, he contends, “is not just symptomatic of changing to purpose-driven. It would be symptomatic in changing to anything.”

Despite successes elsewhere, the exodus at some churches adopting the purpose-driven approach has been dramatic. Since taking the job of senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lakewood in Long Beach, Calif., seven years ago, the Rev. John Dickau has watched attendance slide to 550 from 700. “I’ve often wondered, where’s bottom?” he says.

Mr. Dickau has emulated Mr. Warren by favoring sermons about marital and family issues. He says he has attended several Church Transitions conferences to glean new insights and is personally coached by Mr. Sartain. Still, Mr. Dickau says, he made plenty of missteps, mainly, moving too fast. He proposed that the church drop the word “Baptist” from the name, to reach people who wouldn’t identify with a denomination, but the congregation vote failed.

He jettisoned the piano for a guitar. And still people left, he says — because the music is modern, because the congregation no longer uses hymn books, because the center screen that displays the song lyrics obscures the cross. Having a smaller congregation has meant trimming the $1.7 million budget to be able to afford adding to the sound system and new stage lights, which cost $150,000, Mr. Dickau says.

Still, he says he doesn’t regret adopting a purpose-driven approach. “This church won’t be here that much longer if we don’t make these changes,” he says.

The Rev. Bob Felts, pastor of Brookwood Church in Burlington, N.C., says his former congregation seemed enthusiastic about the purpose-driven approach in the 1990s. So he eagerly introduced the concepts to his new church starting in 2001.

Half the members, he said, balked at his decisions to dress casually, restrict choir performances and use electric instruments. Services now may start with a piercing electric-guitar solo, boosted with amplifiers from the $50,000 sound system. Nearly five years into the process, Mr. Felts says he has more young people than in years past: 40% of those who attend are under 22, as opposed to 20% years earlier. But attendance shrank to 275 this summer from 600. (He expects returning students from the area college to swell the rolls by 70.) Mr. Felts says he had to cut tens of thousands of dollars from the annual budget, which is now $600,000. He says some departing members have accused him of “ruining the church.”

Mr. Felts says that despite his church’s troubles, most churches that follow the purpose-driven way are growing. “It takes time and persistence,” he says. “You’re talking about a new paradigm.”

Mr. Warren’s philosophy has become such a lightning rod that some church leaders are reluctant to declare that they are using purpose-driven methods — and some congregants see hidden agendas in the smallest changes at their churches.

Since Iuka Baptist’s founding in 1859, its services had remained much the same. Sunday morning began with hymns such as “How Great Thou Art” and “O Worship the King,” followed by prayer and a lengthy sermon. Many of the white working-class families who attend the church have known each other since high school.

But the church was in debt and wasn’t growing. After Iuka’s pastor moved to another church in 2003, a search committee recruited the Rev. Jim Holcomb, 48. He preached with gusto, liberally salting his sermons with personal stories and jokes. Changes were coming, he told members, and he warned that the church could lose some members because of it.

Mr. Holcomb says he partially read an earlier Warren book called “The Purpose Driven Church” and read Mr. Warren’s essays in the Ladies’ Home Journal. He says Mr. Warren’s teachings were never part of his agenda. He was promoting “aggressive, evangelistic outreach” to bolster the church. “If that’s purpose-driven, then I’m purpose-driven,” he says.

Innovations that are hallmarks of many purpose-driven churches soon began rippling through Iuka Baptist. Mr. Holcomb began a second worship service at 8:30 a.m. Sundays with a “praise team” that sang hymns as well as Christian pop songs with lyrics beamed on a screen. In 2005, Iuka Baptist adopted its first mission statement, a tactic that Mr. Warren says helps the church focus on its objectives. One of the school’s adult Sunday school teachers bought each of his 12 students a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life.” The church’s youth minister assigned the book to his 60 middle-school and high-school students.

The church began to grow. Membership this spring was 694 local members, up 170 since Mr. Holcomb became pastor, according to church staff. But the changes dismayed several older members. Charles Jones, 67, had belonged to Iuka Baptist for 59 years and was one of 15 deacons, or lay officers. He and his wife, Nena, were married at the church, as was their daughter.

The Joneses grew disappointed that they rarely heard Mr. Holcomb deliver messages from the pulpit about God’s wrath or redemption. “He didn’t preach on somebody going to hell,” says Mrs. Jones, 61. Mr. Holcomb says he has always preached sound biblical messages.

Mrs. Jones began scouring the Internet to investigate all the changes taking places at Iuka. Her searches led her to Web sites run by critics of Mr. Warren as well as to Mr. Warren’s own Web site.

More than a dozen church members, including the Joneses, began meeting privately to complain about changes. Church leaders became angry. “The Rev. Jim Holcomb has been slandered and insulted by some of you,” the church’s minister for education, the Rev. Kim Leonard, thundered at one service. Mr. Holcomb and Mr. Leonard deny that Iuka Baptist was becoming purpose-driven. Mr. Leonard says it was “coincidence” that the new initiatives resembled strategies advocated by Mr. Warren and his movement.

Then a Web site run by a critic of Mr. Warren posted a letter from Mrs. Jones describing her worries about Iuka Baptist and comparing the congregation’s admiration for Mr. Holcomb to the cult followings of Jim Jones and David Koresh. The posting sparked angry emails from church members. A church meeting was soon called. Hundreds of people packed into the pews. After heated arguments, the congregation voted 150-to-41 to throw Mr. Jones off the board. The members also accepted the resignations of two other deacons, friends of Mr. Jones who had been asked to leave the board. In the weeks that followed, 40 church members quit.

With no church to worship in this spring, Mr. Jones led 30 former Iuka members in prayer one May night at a public park. He asked God to bless their former spiritual home and those who had forced them from it.

“Keep your eyes on Iuka Baptist Church, Lord,” Mr. Jones said, his head bowed, “that you may open their eyes and their hearts.”

Mr. Holcomb, the pastor whose changes at the church started the controversy, has left Iuka for another church. A search committee continues to look for a new pastor. Deacon Kenny Phifer said the committee won’t hire a pastor who will make Iuka purpose-driven.

The eBay Atheist

Hermant Mehta, who sold his soul on eBay

On eBay, an Atheist Puts His Own Soul
On the Auction Block

March 9, 2006

A few weeks ago, Hemant Mehta posted an unusual item for sale on eBay: a chance to save his soul.

The DePaul University graduate student promised the winner that for each $10 of the final bid, he would attend an hour of church services. The 23-year-old Mr. Mehta is an atheist, but he says he suspected he had been missing out on something.

“Perhaps being around a group of people who will show me ‘the way’ could do what no one else has done before,” Mr. Mehta wrote in his eBay sales pitch. “This is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me.”

Evangelists bid, eager to save a sinner. Atheists bid, hoping to keep Mr. Mehta in their fold. When the auction stopped on Feb. 3 after 41 bids, the buyer was Jim Henderson, a former evangelical minister from Seattle, whose $504 bid prevailed.

Mr. Henderson wasn’t looking for a convert. He wanted Mr. Mehta to embark with him on an eccentric experiment in spiritual bridge-building.

The 58-year-old Mr. Henderson has written a book for a Random House imprint and is currently a house painter. He runs off-the-map.org, a Web site whose professed mission is “Helping Christians be normal.” Mr. Henderson is part of a small but growing branch of the evangelical world that disagrees with the majority’s conservative political agenda, and wants the religion to be more inclusive and help the disadvantaged.

Days after the auction, Mr. Henderson flew to Chicago to see Mr. Mehta, who is studying to be a math teacher. The two met in a bar, where they sealed a deal a little different from the one the student had proffered. Instead of the 50 hours of church attendance that he was entitled to for his $504, Mr. Henderson asked that Mr. Mehta attend 10 to 15 services of Mr. Henderson’s choosing and then write about it.

Mr. Mehta also agreed to provide running commentary on the church services on the off-the-map site and take questions — bluntly sharing a nonbeliever’s outlook on services that many consider sacred. The deal called for Mr. Henderson to donate the $504 to the Secular Student Alliance, a group headed by Mr. Mehta that has 55 chapters in the U.S. and abroad.

“I’m not trying to convert you,” Mr. Henderson said at the bar. “You’re going there almost like a critic….If you happen to get converted, that’s off the clock.”

For Mr. Mehta’s first service, the two attended noon Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, a Catholic church near Mr. Mehta’s apartment. In the third pew from the rear, Mr. Mehta silently gazed at the statues and the worshipers’ folded hands. He tried to follow along, but was a beat behind the congregation as it stood and knelt on cue.

Mr. Henderson asked Mr. Mehta to score the priest, on a scale of one for boring to 10 for “off the charts.” Mr. Mehta gave him a three. “More stories” in the sermon, Mr. Mehta suggested — and less liturgy.

Asked about that advice, the Rev. John Cusick, who said the Mass that day, was unfazed: “There’s nothing he could say that I haven’t heard 100 times over.”

Mr. Mehta’s commentaries award sermons kudos for clarity, demerits for redundancy. After a service at Chicago’s nondenominational Park Community Church, he criticized the preacher for repeatedly referring to a Bible verse in which the Galatians are called “fools” for doubting the divinity of Jesus — without explaining why the passage was relevant to his congregation. The room, Mr. Mehta noted, was already full of people who didn’t share the Galatians’ doubts.

Associate Pastor Ron May wrote in to thank Mr. Mehta: “As the guy who spoke yesterday, I really appreciate the honest eval. (Unfortunately, a lot of the time you only get polite smoke…good job…thanks for the message.)”

Mr. Mehta was born in Chicago and raised in Jainism, an ancient Indian faith whose followers vow to harm no living thing, not even microbes in the air.

He praises famous atheists, but has also read parts of the Bible, loves watching televangelists like Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen, and admires their appeal to congregations. “If I could be an atheist pastor?” he says, “Oh God, that would be great!”

Mr. Henderson, who was a member of the Association of Vineyard Churches, a nondenominational ministry, says he preached for 25 years, but says he grew disenchanted because many of his peers were obsessed with gathering more believers and increasing their budgets. Off-the-map started as a hobby, an outgrowth of a long talk with a friend and co-founder Dave Richards, who had been a member of one of Mr. Henderson’s congregations, about why they disliked evangelizing.

Mr. Henderson began interviewing nonbelievers — in front of audiences and video cameras — about the ways Christians had offended them. That material became part of his book, “a.k.a. ‘Lost,’ ” espousing his softer approach, published last year by WaterBrook Press.

Hiring Mr. Mehta has been his wisest investment, Mr. Henderson says. The Web site received 5,000 hits in the first 10 days after the auction — typically the number of visits in an average month.

Some visitors to the site castigate Mr. Henderson for giving an atheist a forum. One said he was “rather misguidedly (throwing) money at someone to simply get him ‘churched’ for a time so he might possibly get ‘saved?’ ”

Mr. Mehta has also been reading and critiquing church bulletins. In one, Park Community asked the congregation to pray, in advance of a coming meeting on the construction of a church building “that God would…open the doors to the right parking solution, allowing us to build a worship space for 1,200 people, rather than the 850 currently permitted.”

“Really?” Mr. Mehta observed on the Web site. “That’s what you’re praying for? Do they think a god will change parking restrictions? Will a god change the price of nearby property? Will a god add another level to a parking structure?”

Mr. May, the pastor, admitted such talk sounds weird to an outsider. “It’s good to be reminded it’s unusual,” he said

Mr. Henderson says he is thrilled that Mr. Mehta is prompting such reactions. “We’re getting to a place where we’re talking and not converting,” he says.

With about half his obligation to Mr. Henderson fulfilled, Mr. Mehta says he’s no closer to believing in God, although he does admire churches for the communities they create. Church, he has decided, is “not such a bad place to be.”

After Katrina, Faithful Save Saints

Combing Gulf Coast, Faithful Secure Relics of Battered Churches

December 3, 2005

SLIDELL, La. — Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, two old friends went searching for keepsakes in the ruins of their childhood church, Our Lady of Lourdes.

Lisa Aldridge dug through the shorn ceiling beams and tree branches out back. “There’s a statue down here!” she called out, and stood, cradling a pumpkin-size, decapitated wooden head in her arms.

“Oh my God, Lisa,” her friend Wendy Jochem said. “It’s Jesus!”

There was a deep slice through the crown of thorns and a missing lock of hair. The head’s left side was coated in oily mud, which Lisa’s brother, Philip, tried to hose off. The women found the statue’s pinkie, which Mrs. Jochem later set on a shelf in her Stuart, Fla., home.

Ms. Aldridge’s childhood home near the church was destroyed by the storm, so she strapped the head into her car’s passenger seat and drove to her sister’s house in Tallahassee. The rest of the statue was still bolted to the cross, perched on the last slab of roof left when the cathedral ceiling collapsed, awaiting its own rescue.

The Gulf Coast is awash with church-less and sometimes headless statues. Wooden and ceramic images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have turned up in water, under ceilings and crumbling walls, and on train tracks miles from an altar.

Intact or broken, these are sometimes the sole treasures from parishes that have all but vanished. The people who shelter these objects hope to

return them someday to rebuilt churches. To those who lost everything, custody of a saintly image can be a source of comfort. Family milestones are intertwined with parish life and finding a religious relic is akin to recovering the past.

In Tallahassee, Ms. Aldridge’s sister, Terri, placed the bust on her wood stove and clustered small crucifixes around it. A 48-year-old optometrist, Terri Aldridge hadn’t practiced her faith for years. But in time, she says she started meditating by the bust of Jesus, staring at its parted lips and downcast eyes. It set her thinking about Christmas midnight Mass during her childhood, when the white-gloved altar boys had carried candles through the darkened church. “The spirit of that entire building is embodied in that head. It’s like the church is sitting right there,” she said, breaking into tears during a telephone interview. “It’s damaged, but it’s not gone.”

Catholic saints have an unusually powerful presence in the New Orleans region, where back-road lawn shrines cocoon casts of Jesus’ mother. Catholic traditions brought by the French and Spanish and adopted by Haitians and Africans blended into popular culture. On St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, revelers visit strangers’ homes to see hand-built altars festooned with the saint’s likeness.

After seeing the destruction of her St. Bernard Parish home, east of New Orleans, 60-year-old Lynn Adams ran next door to her church, Prince of Peace. She found the statue of Mary keeled over on a hassock, but otherwise fine, and moved it to her cousin’s garage. “I’m not no holy roller, but I believe in signs, I do,” Mrs. Adams says. The statue’s survival proves God exists, she believes, and she said as much in a note she left in the statue’s place: “He took care of His Mother.”

Hope nestles in the smallest fragments. Parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle in Long Beach, Miss., unearthed from the wreckage the hands and forearm of a crucifix. “If you find something, at least you can take that something into your future,” says Paula Spears, the liturgy director at St. Thomas, who is safeguarding the items.

Scavenging one day in Bay St. Louis, Miss., Caleb Kergosien, 12, spied a 3-foot carved figure of Christ in a Water Oak tree. It turned out to be from St. Joseph’s chapel of Our Lady of the Gulf, where his parents had married 15 years ago.

The statue hung in the family’s government-supplied trailer for a week, watching over meals and homework time. “The truth is, that week, they were a little better behaved,” says the boy’s father, Geoff Kergosien, who has since moved the figure to storage with the family’s other possessions.

The Aldridges weren’t alone in sifting through the remains of Slidell’s Our Lady of Lourdes. Hazarding collapsed beams and dangling stained-glass windows, Susan Daigle grabbed the Blessed Mother statue. On her way out, a hail of falling glass narrowly missed her, she says. She went back, scooped up a St. Joseph, and then scurried back again to snatch the St. Anthony, face-down in mud. “I do daring things,” says Mrs. Daigle, 64. “But they’re going to take care of me in the end!”

Homeless from the storm, Mrs. Daigle stored two statues in her daughter’s closet and left the St. Anthony with former Slidell Mayor Sam Caruso. Father Adrian Hall, the priest at Our Lady of Lourdes, praised the “devotion” of his parishioners for rescuing the statues and other pieces. The church is keeping a record of who has what.

Mr. Caruso, a former seminarian, has long collected items discarded by churches — including the marble altar railing where he knelt for his First Communion, which serves as the base of his dinner table. The mud-freckled St. Anthony now leans against the Caruso home, overlooking wooden pilgrims on the lawn. His daughter-in-law, Anna, prayed to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, when part of the garage door went missing. She found it.

Last month, the body of the crucifix from Our Lady of Lourdes rose from the splinters of the church. Its spindly limbs, bleached white by the sun, twisted from the jib of a power company truck before the linesmen tucked it into a woodworker’s van. “I’m not real religious, but he’s Jesus and he needs help,” says John Schott, 40, the woodworker and former altar boy who volunteered to make repairs.

The carved statue — 10 foot 6 inches “with thorns,” Mr. Schott says — is in his furniture repair shop now. He plans to disinfect the wood, which is probably pine, fill the cracks with glue and resin, then stain it. The crucifix, brought from Italy more than 40 years ago, will be stored until the church is rebuilt. He will also need to reattach the head, which he has yet to see.

Mr. Schott’s hardest task was removing Christ from the cross. Because it was too unwieldy to lower the entire crucifix, Mr. Schott lay on a sliver of church rooftop strewn with broken glass and sawed at the bolts connecting the body to the cross. Then he examined the nails and recalled a childhood wish to remove Jesus’ pain. “Being a Christian, I wanted to get the nails out of his hands and feet,” Mr. Schott said.

The wood shrank as it dried. After a couple of weeks, Mr. Schott tugged. The nails slipped out easily.