Dr Caroline Leaf has built herself an empire like a house of cards.
Not like the Netflix drama, “House of Cards”. Dr Leaf is nothing like Frank Underwood, although some of President Underwood’s best quotes might be applicable to her ministry … “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties” and “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth”.
Rather, Dr Leaf’s empire resembles a giant house of cards. It might look majestic and inspiring, but it only takes one puff of scrutiny and the entire thing collapses on itself.
Many people have asked me over the years, in person and on comments on the blog, whether I have ever spoken to Dr Leaf, Matthew 18-style, about the concerns that I have with her ministry. Did I approach Dr Leaf privately first, then approach leadership, before going public? Have I given Dr Leaf the right of reply? Am I just being critical for criticisms sake?
To mark the auspicious occasion of Dr Leaf’s arrival in Australia for her 2016 tour, I’ve decided to definitively answer those questions. Knowledge is power, so I think it’s important that Dr Leaf’s followers, and those who read my site looking for answers, can see the process that has taken place. That way, people can judge for themselves whether my actions and Dr Leaf’s responses are justified or not.
I heard Dr Leaf preach for the first time in early August 2013. I had heard her name bandied around, but didn’t know anything about her, so while she was in Australia that year I decided I would find out who she was and what she had to say. I attended her service at Kings Christian Church on the Gold Coast, and I left with very strong concerns about her scientific and scriptural accuracy. How was I to respond?
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gives us the following template for resolving issues between believers,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
The verse talks about sin here, though for the record I’m not saying Dr Leaf ‘sinned’ when she spoke, although some of what she said certainly flirted with heresy. Still, it was important enough that I felt it needed to be addressed. So I followed the biblical pattern as best as I could.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”
That’s a bit hard because Dr Leaf chooses to avoid the rank and file members of the congregations she visits. Certainly on that day I first heard her preach, she was nowhere to be seen after the services.
“… take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
Again, that’s a bit hard when Dr Leaf disappears after the service, and moves from church to church.
However, I tried to do the next best thing, in that I e-mailed the pastor of Kings Christian Church to voice my concerns.
“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church …”
I also took step number three. I took my concerns to the church worldwide via my very first blogs on Dr Leaf’s ministry.
As it panned out, the senior pastor at Kings offered to pass on my concerns to Dr Leaf. A short time later, I got a reply from Dr Leaf’s team, not privately in response to the e-mail, but publically as a comment on my blog. Mac Leaf, Dr Leaf’s husband, didn’t address any of the significant issues that I raised, but asserted that his wife was completely justified and I was clearly out of touch.
And so I replied to his ad hominem dismissal, and my reply has become the most read of all of my posts. As part of that blog, I gave an open invitation for Dr or Mr Leaf to respond. The offer was met with stone cold silence.
I’ve made other offers since. I offered to meet with Dr Leaf in any city in Australia, at my expense, to discuss my concerns and give her the opportunity to respond. More silence. I expanded the offer to include any city in New Zealand as well. Still no response.
In August last year, Dr Leaf came to preach at Nexus Church in Brisbane. This was only the second time I had an opportunity to hear her speak live. Her teaching hadn’t improved any, but I thought that I would at least introduce myself and shake her hand as I considered that the honourable thing to do. However, I was physically blocked by her presidential style detail – she was literally surrounded by eight people and there was auxiliary guard posted at the door to block anyone from approaching her human shield. I doubt even President Obama would have more people surrounding him. Ironically, Dr Leaf’s main text that morning was of the woman with the issue of blood. At least that woman got to talk to Jesus. I didn’t get anywhere near Dr Leaf.
After another year of silence, Dr Leaf is again flying south for the winter. For the first time, Dr Leaf has planned a workshop in Australia on this trip, the “Think and Eat Yourself Smart” workshop in Sydney on the 20th of August. When I first learned of her workshop in April, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. There was no question and answer time on the program for the day, but that didn’t bother me. The sound of Dr Leaf’s silence was deafening, and I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to foist myself on her. But I wanted to attend to get a deeper perspective on Dr Leaf’s food fantasies to better deconstruct them. I booked my ticket on-line on the 12th of April and when the ticket was confirmed, I booked my flights and accommodation.
On the 27th of May, six weeks after booking my place at the workshop, I received the following e-mail: “We have cancelled your registration for the Think and Eat Yourself Smart Conference in Sydney, Australia. Here is your refund advice. Blessings, Dr Leaf Team.”
No reason was given for the cancellation, and when I questioned the decision, no explanation followed. The most I got was a belated offer to refund my flights and accommodation costs.
Now, I realise that critiquing someone’s work in such great depth isn’t exactly endearing and I’m not on Dr Leaf’s Christmas card list, but being a critic isn’t grounds for refusal of entry. Not that Dr Leaf ever seemed to care about what I said. She made no effort to communicate with me over the last three years, at all, and she certainly hadn’t changed her teaching. She seemed completely indifferent to what I had to say, so cancelling my registration was unexpected.
I could think of many reasons why she or her team would take this action. One of them was that I might have personally offended her. It has never been my intention, but perhaps I misread the sound of her silence, and rather than Dr Leaf completely ignoring my work, she had been following it and was offended by it.
I decided that the most mature thing I could do in this situation was to approach her directly to apologise, not for my ongoing critique of her teachings, but for any unintentional personal offense, and to see if there was any scope for compromise. I sent the final letter to her via her husband’s e-mail on the 22nd of June. I offered my sincere apologies for any personal offense she may have taken, and I offered to meet with her whilst in Sydney, either before or after her workshop, to see if there was any middle ground. If she did not want to meet, or if we met but ended up agreeing to disagree, then I promised not to make any further contact with her. We would shake hands, and that would be the end of it.
On the 6th of July I received a reply. Not from Dr Leaf, and not from her husband, but from her lawyer. The general gist of the letter was, You’re welcome to your opinion, but you’re not welcome to hear her speak. Dr Leaf has no personal grudge against you, but don’t ever try to make any personal contact with Dr Leaf ever again.
I offered an olive branch and Dr Leaf took it from me, slapped me in the face with it and threw it back.
So ladies and gentlemen, this is where Dr Leaf and I stand. I feel like I’ve done everything that I could’ve to resolve my concerns with Dr Leaf in the manner ascribed in Matthew 18:15-17. I never wanted to be best buddies with her, or to be even vaguely liked by her, but it is disappointing that she can not bring herself to write a couple of sentences of reply to my offer of apology.
Many will consider her actions entirely justifiable. They might say that I’ve been rude or harassing, that trying to contact her directly was simply intimidating, and that I have no right to question her since I’m not a cognitive neuroscientist.
I could understand that logic if I was personally harassing and intimidating her, but I’ve always tried to remain critical of her work, not her personally. I have only seen her twice in person, and only ever tried to talk to her once. I have only communicated directly with her once, and that was rebuffed.
Others will consider that the problem lies with Dr Leaf herself. They may consider her actions demonstrate a fragile ego, or extreme hubris, or anti-intellectual hypocrisy.
Perhaps she realises that her house of cards empire is built on indefensible science which forces her to avoid scrutiny at any cost.
Who knows? Her refusal to engage means that we’re all none the wiser, and all we can do is speculate.
All I can say is that I’ve tried to follow the biblical model for resolving interpersonal issues, gone out of my way to give Dr Leaf the courtesy of the right of reply, and to act first and apologise when I thought personal offense may have been taken. That Dr Leaf has not taken up my offer on any of it is no skin off my nose, but I don’t think there is anything more that I can do. The ball remains in Dr Leaf’s court, or house of cards as the case maybe.
What do you think? You’re welcome to express your opinion in the comments section below.