by Loren Seibold | 1 February 2024 |
Recently J. Alan Nash, a pastoral colleague from my early days in the Dakota Conference, passed away. When a friend told me about Alan’s death, I remember a story that I’d edited for Alan back in 2018. It was about how in the 1990s Alan’s daughter had accused him of being “a pedophile who had committed ritualistic infanticide.”
There was a time before the turn of the 21st century when helping people recover “lost” memories of a sexual nature became something of an industry for therapists. There certainly is sexual abuse, as well as sexual abuse within families, but some therapists began to specialize in discovering sexual abuse that the abused had no recollection of. The stories that emerged—generally quite heavily “pumped” by the therapist—were mostly incredible, in the original meaning of that word: without credibility.
(The practice of recovering memories has been largely debunked. Researchers such as Elizabeth Loftus and others showed that therapists planted false memories in patients by urging them to search for instances of incest in their past. It is now generally agreed that human memory—about lots of things, not just sexual abuse—isn’t as reliable as we think it is, especially when authority figures are suggesting memories for us to have.)
Alan’s story is worth reading in full, but I bring it up here because it features a couple who became fairly well-known in Adventist circles for being specialists in sexual abuse. They billed themselves as “Drs. Ron & Nancy Rockey”—though their doctorates, Alan discovered, were from an office in a strip mall in Seymour, Missouri. The Rockeys had no recognized credentials—except in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, where they became traveling “experts” under the auspices of Faith for Today. Here’s a section from Alan’s story that recounts a story from Nancy’s book Belonging.
Nancy Rockey, the primary author, fascinates us with details of memories that traumatized a married woman named Jenny. Her flashback arrived whilst she and her physician husband were attending a marriage seminar conducted by both Rockeys. During Jenny’s flashback she sees a three-year-old girl lying full-length upon a marble altar in a church—a church whose surroundings seem familiar. Jenny recognizes the girl on the altar as herself. She is bleeding from wounds inflicted upon her arms and lower legs. Her blood has been dripping into a silver chalice, which is passed amongst 12 men, who each drink from it.
Lurid, but unsubstantiated—and such stories oozed out of the recovered memory community like Jenny’s imaginary blood.
I am happy to say that Alan’s daughter retracted her accusation, but not before it had been reported to North Dakota Social Services. Social Services, to their credit, recognized that the Rockeys were unqualified, didn’t accept their testimony against Alan, and enjoined them not to present themselves in the state as professional counselors.
But that didn’t stop Dakota Conference president Bob Peck from believing the Rockeys and firing Alan; nor did it stop Faith for Today from making them featured speakers for ten years.
One commenter on Facebook described what happened when she attended Nancy’s lecture.
In the early 90s, friends and I attended a women’s conference weekend in Florida where Nancy Rockey was a featured speaker. We went to a session billed as being about children with ADHD—each of us had a son diagnosed with that condition. We were outraged when Nancy claimed that every child with ADHD had “obviously” been sexually abused. My son, who has both physical and mental special needs, had at that time in his life never been out of my sight.
My friend and I challenged her at the end of the session. She was practically shouting at us that her “findings” were true and could not be challenged. She claimed that our sons must have been abused by their fathers and we either just didn’t know it or didn’t want to admit it. We argued with her for quite a while, gathering an audience. She would not back down. She knew. She could not be mistaken.
I complained to the weekend seminar coordinator, who of course backed up her guest speaker. I don’t believe Nancy Rockey had any evidence to make that claim.… It still makes me angry to think about this and how many Adventists were under the sway of the Rockeys.
A doctor said it!
Adventists say we like education, as long as it doesn’t contradict the conventional Adventist wisdom. Some time in the last 30 years, pastors and others discovered that if you had a “Dr.” preceding your name, you could get more speaking appointments, not to mention promotions in the church hierarchy.
The result was a proliferation of degrees. Most were from accredited institutions that actually educated students. Some, though, like the degrees the Rockeys said had made them therapists, were diplomas that conferred little but self-importance.
It’s happened right up to the top of the church.
- In 2016, a call to the General Conference for Paul Charles, who was working in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID), was suspended when it was revealed that the two doctorates he claimed to have weren’t from legitimate institutions.
- Also in 2016, Paul Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division was revealed to have completed his dissertation at the University of South Africa by using a ghost writer who was a senior member of the SID leadership team.
- In 2018, three of the top officials of Spicer University in India—including the top officer, vice chancellor Noble Prasad Pilli—were shown to have fake Ph.D.s.
I doubt these are the only “doctors” in church offices who hope no one looks too closely at their diplomas.
Is anyone checking?
This isn’t about the Rockeys; they’re off the scene. They’ve been succeeded by new figures who exploit Adventist credulity. Take, for example, the new website on human sexuality, where people with “Dr.” before their names imply that homosexuality can be “cured”—a view that no legitimate medical or behavioral model supports.
Why does the Seventh-day Adventist church have such a hard time with message control? Why has an extremely large and expensive church hierarchy lacked the discernment to know when unqualified people are feeding church members nonsense under our nameplate? Where is the moral will to save church members from misinformation?
I credit our naïveté on such matters to our self-isolation. From the beginning Adventist leaders discouraged us from reaching outside the church except to evangelize. We have nothing to learn from other Christians, they said. (In his inaugural address to the church in 2010, General Conference president Ted Wilson warned church members to only look within the Adventist Church for information.)
Throughout our history, Adventist “influencers” grabbed ideas from outside the church and brought them to Adventist members as original material. This happened with Ellen White and health reform: it wasn’t until Ron Numbers’ Prophetess of Health that Adventists became aware that Ellen White’s health messages were borrowed from popular health reformers of her time. All she needed to add was “God showed me that…” and her stolen ideas became Adventist truth. We now know that she took ideas from many others, not just health reformers, all without attribution to the original writers.
I’ve seen it happen in my lifetime: Adventist versions of spiritual gifts education, Basic Life Principles, home schooling, gay-change ministries, and men’s ministries, to name a few. Most of them show up about the time they become popular in the conservative Christian world, and are offered, not necessarily with attribution, for Adventist use. And it’s still happening, sometimes in the offices of legitimate ministries such as Faith for Today or the General Conference.
But where inexpert experts really shine is in the shadowy borderland of independent ministries. Next, I’ll take a look at health “experts” who shouldn’t be giving anyone advice.
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.