There has been much controversy surrounding the current president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) of California. I have come to the conclusion after interviewing family members of the late Walter Martin, founder of CRI in 1960, former staff members of CRI, a good friend and the man who helped get CRI started with Martin, a former CRI board member and current CRI staff members, that the story that was told by Hank Hanegraaff at the time of Martinís death, in June of 1989, that he was the handpicked successor to Walter Martin, is indeed false.
In an interview with Jill Rische, Martinís oldest daughter, on July 27th of this year I asked her the following questions:
JH: Is there any reason to doubt whether Hank Hanegraaff was chosen by your father to lead CRI?
JR: Yes, nothing was said about Hanegraaff leading CRI until after my fatherís death. There is no letter or other proof that exists with this in mind. He was hired about 1988, solely to help raise the profile of CRI primarily through fund raising.
JH: Is there any other reason that would lead one to believe that the current president is unfit to lead CRI?
JR: The way he has treated people in CRI and others outside the organization. He told my father that he had authored a memorization course called ìMemory Dynamicsî (MD) and a course called ìPersonal Witness Trainingî (PWT). It has been shown that much of MD was plagiarized from the 1974 work of Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas entitled, ìThe Memory Bookî. PWT uses much of the material that D. James Kennedy wrote entitled, ìEvangelism Explosionî. For additional information people can view our website: waltermartin.org. We can also see by the treatment of my fatherís widow, Darlene Martin, at the memorial service for my father in 1989. The way he took advantage of her, by having her read a prepared statement about Hanegraaff that was not written or authorized by her. This information can also be found on the Walter Martin website.
In July I also interviewed former CRI staff members Rich Poll, Rob Bowman Jr., and Craig Hawkins all employees in and before 1989. They all stated that they never heard Martin speak of Hanegraaff becoming president upon his death.
July 29, 2000 I interviewed Tony Collarile, the man that was with Martin in Oakland, New Jersey in 1960 when he founded CRI. He was also a close personal friend of Martin. He told me he was with Martin in October 1988 at the dedication of the CRI headquarters in Irvine, California.
JH: You asked Martin in October 1988 at the dedication how he was doing?
TC: He said he was training some young men like Craig Hawkins and Rich Poll and he did not say anything about a successor. I met Hank Hanegraaff only once during this time. Hanegraaff drove Walter and me to a Baptist church in Garden Grove where Walter was speaking at a cult conference.
JH: Did he say anything about Hank Hanegraaff?
TC: No, not a word.
August 29, 2000 I interviewed Stan Tonnesen, a former CRI board member.
JH: Were you a board member of CRI at the time of Martinís death?
ST: Yes, from 1970 to 1989. I left because Hank asked me to sign a document that I would have to be in 100% agreement with him at all times. I would not sign this paper so I left.
JH: Did you ever hear Martin state that Hanegraaff was to be his successor?
ST: No, he was looking for other individuals but he never mentioned Hank Hanegraaff as his successor. I heard from more than 15 CRI employees pleading with me to do something with Hankís maneuvering. I brought it to the next board meeting but nothing was done because the board did not want to hear it.
JH: Were there fraudulent board meetings conducted during the transition?
ST: Yes, there was an illegal board meeting in Atlanta Georgia in July of 1989. Hank met privately with Everett Jacobsen and not the whole board. There was only one other person besides me and Everett on the board at that time, his name is Don Shelton. Don is no longer on the board of CRI, to my knowledge.
I had contacted CRI via e-mail in June of this year to ask what post high school education Hanegraaff possessed and if they could furnish me with either a letter or audio tape of Martin expressing his desire that Hanegraaff become president upon Martinís death. I received no reply. Almost a month later on July 25th, I sent another e-mail stating I was looking for a letter or audio tape of Martin offering the presidency to Hanegraaff and my inquirery was in conjunction with a small article I was writing concerning Hanegraaff as president of CRI. Within 24 hours I received an e-mail response but it addressed many issues that I had not asked. And curiously, information on Hanegraaffís education and Martinís public or private approval of him to be the next CRI president was strangely absent in this correspondence.
I was invited to call a toll-free number and talk to the man who had sent the e-mail to me. I called the same day I received my e-mail. As we began to talk about the things that were not addressed, he questioned my motives for calling him. He told he did not want to be mentioned by name in anything I was to write about CRI. He started to tell me about his problems with the waltermartin.org site (This site can be considered an official site of the Martin family). He stated to me, he felt that Jill and her husband Kevin Rische (who built the website) were both liars. He told me that since Darlene Martin used to back Hanegraaff in the beginning, for many years and no longer was backing him, that she now too must be lying. After I explained a possible scenario to him as to why she was not lying. He, to his credit, apologized for calling Mrs. Martin a liar. He never did change his mind about the Risches.
He encouraged me to then speak to Elliot Miller, spokesman and 25 year employee of CRI. After talking to this same man for over one hour and fifteen minutes, I asked to be transferred to Elliot Miller. Parenthetically, I have met Elliot on two occasions: once in October 1983 when I went to the CRI offices to visit and again in 1996 at the PFO Conference on Cults and Biblical Discernment in St. Louis, Missouri. I had asked him at that time, and he had accepted my invitation, to speak at a conference I was putting together on a cruise ship for later in 1997.
I asked him if he knew of the letter or audio tape I was looking for. He stated that none existed. I also asked him if he had heard Martin express to the staff that Hanegraaff was to be the next president. Elliot said he had heard Martin say such a thing at least on one or two occasions, as early as October 1988. When I asked him if other staffers, at the time, had heard the same thing. He said that they had. I then asked him if exstaffers such as Ken Samples, Rob Bowman, Ron Rhodes and Craig Hawkins could confirm that. He said some probably could but not to be surprised if they said Martin never said it.Because some of them, he said, may have an ax to grind with Hanegraaff and probably would not tell the truth.
He then told me he was glad I had contacted CRI but was disappointed in me for writing a negative article on Hanegraaff. He told me I should think hard about using ATS resources in such a way. Why, he asked, should I print such material on Hanegraaff when the CRI Journal and the CRI staff are fighting cults and other false religions so successfully.
It appears to me after having these two conversations, that CRI is involved in a major siege mentality. What their people are saying is that virtually all those on the other side of the debate on Hanegraaff, are liars and deceivers and Hanegraaff is not culpable in this. They further seem to believe that all those I have interviewed and many that I have not, are all out to destroy Hanegraaff. The reason(s), for those who are opposed to Hanegraaff, to have such strong feelings, never seem to be adequately explained by those who defend the current president. To put it another way. If Hanegraaff is only the handpicked successor to Martin, doing the best job he knows how to do. Why would anyone be upset with him?
This situation is not unlike what happened a few years ago when Cornerstone Magazine broke the story that Mike Warnke was a fraud and had never been involved as a Satanist. He cried, Satanic conspiracy and attacked all ministries, including CRI, that called for his resignation.
After talking with these two men at CRI, I am lead to one of two conclusions. Either all the people I have talked to over the last eight years, (I first talked to Rob Bowman in 1992 about being let go at CRI due to a ìfinancial crisisî), are as CRI would have me and the rest of the world believe liars, deceivers or worse. This would include the entire family of Walter Martin. Or Hank Hanegraaff is a rank opportunist, who usurped a ministry by taking advantage of the CRI board and the grieving widow of Walter Martin. This was at a time, within days, of the death of Martin on June 26, 1989, when CRI was deep in crisis.
Therefore, it is my contention, and I speak only for myself and in no way for the counter cult community at large. Hank Hanegraaff needs to step down from the presidency and repent, before anymore damage is done to the credibility of CRI and its ability to fight the fight it was created for, is further diminished.