Freeman friend’s e-mail calls college’s response ‘most shocking, vicious’
With the exception of one e-mail sent to the Whitworth administration late February, the Freemans and their followers have reacted with silence to the college’s caution about the group and articles in The Whitworthian detailing the Freeman’s history.
Freeman group member Steve Johnson and his wife Sue Johnson, a Whitworth graduate, sent an e-mail Feb. 21 to the Whitworth administration and The Whitworthian calling the “recent attacks” against Bill and Patsy Freeman “most shocking, vicious and a true insult!”
Johnson said the Freemans have been a good influence on their lives.
“We have known the Freemans for over 30 years,” the e-mail read. “We have been privileged to be with them. They have been people who have encouraged us to love the Lord, his Word, and to grow in the Christian life.”
The Johnsons, who live in Lake Oswego, Ore., where Patsy Freeman and her followers lived until last fall, gave the Freemans $47,000 sometime in 1998 or early 1999 while the Freemans were in Scottsdale, Ariz., according to public court records.
Steve Johnson ended his letter asking for a public apology: “We anticipate that Whitworth (will) not continue in the direction you are now pursuing. Certainly, a gracious apology and retraction is in order.”
Johnson did not reply to e-mail and phone message requests for an interview. When contacted via cell phone recently, Johnson said before hanging up: “I don’t have anything to say to you except you can do what I said at the end of the letter and apologize. You can apologize just like it says at the end of the letter. That’s all I have to say.”
Bill Freeman did not reply to e-mail and phone message requests for an interview, either. When contacted via cell phone a recently, he said before hanging up: “If you want to talk to me then you publish a public apology to me. If you would like to write an apology to us for all the lies and all the things then I’ll talk.”
Whenever a Whitworthian reporter used a Whitworth phone number to try to contact Freeman or Johnson, he only got an answering machine.
When the reporter walked up to Bill Freeman’s office a week ago to request an interview, a man helping move boxes in the garage refused to tell Freeman that a reporter was asking to talk with him. Instead, he suggested that the reporter call Freeman.
The Whitworth administration has steadfastly backed its decision to send out an e-mail to college faculty in late January and, a week later, an e-mail to all students that said “numerous individuals previously involved with the Freemans contacted us to say that the couple had exerted negative influence on their personal lives.”
Administrators disagree with Johnson’s criticisms.
“I see our institutional response in very different terms than (Johnson) uses,” said Kathy Storm, vice president for Student Life. “It’s been our aim to convey the nature of the concerns voiced to us so that people could make more informed choices about which off-campus groups they’d choose to join. We did this in as fair and reasonable and honest a way as possible.”
In reply to Johnson’s e-mail, Whitworth President Bill Robinson wrote: “I believe we acted in a responsible way when we alerted the community to concerns that had come to us regarding the Freemans.”
The e-mail reply continued: “Were the dozens of e-mails, calls and letters traceable to a single source or a single set of sources, perhaps there would have been a basis to remain silent. However, the breadth as well as the depth of the concerns compelled us not to judge the Freemans but to inform our community of these concerns. It seems irresponsible to me to infer that such an outpouring of caution and hurt is all smoke and no fire.”
Robinson wrote that he was sure “some unjust accusations have been made of their ministry” and that he believed the Freemans’ “desire is to please God.” But, he said, “Unless people are just lying to us about their experiences, there is a ton of damaged fruit in the Freeman’s history.”
Robinson wrote that “based on the voluminous accounts of excessive control, pressure for financial support, broken lives and destroyed relationships, I would rather be on the receiving end of your criticism than be guilty of failing to issue an alert.”
In February, after Robinson had heard detailed information about the Freemans, he said that “my first responsibility is to do what’s best for our students, to enrich and protect the students.”
Since the series about the Freemans appeared in The Whitworthian in February, the newspaper has been contacted by a number of former ex-members expressing concern with the Freeman group. One ex-member and Spokane resident, Deborah Kirk, said she has some connections with Whitworth and is concerned about the group’s presence at the school.
Kirk warned that the Freemans often look for students who are in leadership positions and have the potential to recruit other students. The middle-class students “who are leaders and have parents with money” are “perfect for them,” she said.
After news of the Freeman group moving near Whitworth spread, some ex-members gathered together for the first time in more than a decade to talk about their experiences and the situation here.
Kirk said their common experience allows ex-members to easily come together.
“You’re so close,” she said. “It’s like post-traumatic stress syndrome – it’s like being veterans. There’s the automatic connection.”