The story of my attempts to meet with Perry Noble is one of changing rules and massive discrepancies between what’s said in public and done in private. Whom I meet and why isn’t normally of much interest to anyone, but this particular story reveals important features of Noble’s character and leadership which should be concerning to anyone who has chosen to follow him or listen to him. In this post, I’ll describe the four main shifts in Perry’s meeting policy.
Early 2009: You should meet Perry
When I started blogging in early 2009, commentators on the blog repeated the rule they had heard from Perry and other NewSpring preachers: You cannot criticize Perry in public until you’ve met him and come to know him in private. Although by my actions it’s obvious that I disagree with the rule (I’ll do a post on this later), in early 2009 I invited him through email and personally through Brad Cooper, his youth pastor, to meet. We know that NewSpring received the requests, because we saw them later in the discovery documents they provided us, though, not surprisingly, there wasn’t any response from Perry.
All other things being equal, I didn’t mind that Perry didn’t want to meet. My writing about him doesn’t oblige him to meet with me, except that his meet-me-first rule allows him and his followers to ignore and censor critics like me who haven’t met his particular requirements. The rule is empty but important posturing. So long as they never take a meeting, they make all criticism illegitimate.
Mid 2009: You can’t meet Perry
Upon returning from New Zealand at the end of June 2009, I emailed Perry through Brad Cooper, with whom I had had a personal meeting, to request a meeting with Perry to alert him to the harassment (the long story is here). Here’s what I said:
In the last week or so my family and I have been under enormous and highly distressing harassment from someone who obviously strongly objects to my blog. In at least one instance, the harassment has crossed the line into criminality and caused significant damage to me that I am sure is both criminally and civilly actionable. It is relevant to Perry because I have evidence to suggest that the source of the attack is someone on NewSpring’s staff.
They refused my request, but even after a detective had identified a NewSpring staff member as the main culprit, vindicating my initial allegation, Perry still refused to meet, and flew his attorney up from Texas to talk to me. We got the message. When you ask to talk to a pastor and get an expensive attorney instead, the rules have changed. By the end of 2009, we had found our own attorney to continue that conversation, which meant that we were forbidden from talking to Perry or any of his co-defendants about it unless they had their lawyers with them. Importantly, it also meant that they also couldn’t talk to us without our attorney.
Late 2010: You must meet Perry
On October 1, 2010, I was surprised to open an email with the subject line, “From Perry Noble,” which said,
I will bet this is the last email you expected you would receive today.
I will make this short…I feel like you and I should get together and talk. Just me and you…no lawyers, no media…just a brother in Christ face to face with another brother in Christ. You can pick the place.
In my prayer times the past several days I feel like the Lord has made it very clear to me that we should have this meeting. I have consulted no one about this…just taking a step of faith. Here are some of what I want to talk about…
#1 – I believe you and I are brothers in Christ.
#2 – I know you were deeply wounded by the actions of a guy who was on staff at NewSpring.
#3 – At no time was I ever aware that a staff member (or members) of NewSpring were taking any sort of action against you.
I honestly believe there is a lot that you and I could learn from one another. So…there you have it. I honestly feel like I’ve done what the Lord told me to do…and I look forward to your response.
My first thought was that a friend was pranking me, but I forwarded it to my attorney to check with Perry’s lawyers just in case it was real. It was, though his lawyers had no idea that he’d sent it and quickly and predictably cancelled the invitation.
There’s a lot going on here. In a few short paragraphs, Perry displays a number of problems that ought to concern every NewSpring member and staffer.
It defames deity
It’s notable that Noble twice emphasizes the idea that God told him to do this. I don’t know what tests Perry has for testing God’s particular revelation to him (I know, you only need one: Is it Scripture?), but it might have been worth asking the following questions:
- Was God snoozing? Why didn’t God tell Perry that he should meet me in July 2009, when Perry could have actually done something to end the actions that were deeply wounding us? Had Perry been content to rely on Scripture rather than waiting for God to speak to him, he might have seen enough advice there to recommend a meeting. What would the Good Samaritan have done?
- Why is God so unethical? Why did God want Perry to violate legal ethics by speaking to me without my lawyer? Even Perry’s own lawyers knew better than God that this was a bad move.
- Will this cause Duncan to sin? Now that a Duncan-Noble meeting is part of God’s revealed will, it makes me into a grievous sinner–even more than usual–by refusing God’s will and not meeting Perry without my lawyer. As soon as you say “God told me,” what follows must be treated as a holy obligation, no less important than the Ten Commandments.
- Has God also told Duncan? Why did Perry even need to tell me that this was what God wanted for the two of us? If God has the ability to tell Perry, he can tell me, even if I hadn’t been listening his voice in the same way that Perry had been (think Jonah and Balaam, for example). This points to one of the special values of Scripture, through which God speaks to all of us the same way and with the same voice.
- How permanent is this commandment? More on this later.
God did not tell Perry to meet with me in 2010. After a weekend of reflection, Perry thought that a meeting might change my mind about proceeding with our lawsuit and wanted to give it a shot. It was no great surprise to me that Perry might have trouble recognizing God’s will, but the problem for his church is that this is how he governs it. For example, this is Perry from 2011:
Something the Lord taught me very clearly in 2007 was the principle that – Life And Leadership Is As Easy As Listening To God & Then Doing What He Says.
I really do believe that God still speaks…I believe He speaks clearly, loudly and often. Most people do not struggle with not knowing what to do…but rather with not doing what they already know.
I believe God’s Word and God’s Spirit work together, not in conflict with one another.
The model that Noble, Furtick and others like them follow is that God gives special revelation and vision to the leader, and everyone else has to obey
the pastor’s God’s will. NewSpringers, if Perry can get something as important as this so wrong and be so convinced that this really was God’s voice, what else is he wrong about?
It’s faithless to his friends
Perry’s two board members, Jason Moorhead and Shane Duffey, were also defendants in the suit. Although they were partially covered by the church’s insurance, there was no guarantee that a judgment against them wouldn’t exceed the church’s coverage and threaten their personal assets. Perry’s testimony about Moorhead and Duffey mattered very much to them and their families.
Yet, here’s Perry offering to meet with me without having even told his co-defendants about it. Having already thrown Maxwell and the volunteers under the legal bus by blaming them for everything, who’s to say he wouldn’t have done that to them? Oh, he might not have intended to do that, but it’s reasonably likely that an impulsive meeting would produce impulsive and ill-considered admissions.
I imagine that Moorhead and Duffey were probably more judicious in their reaction to this invitation than I would have been had I been them, their paychecks being signed by Noble, but our next meeting would not have been a warm one.
It imperils the institution
It’s worth noting that NewSpring was also a corporate defendant in the suit. Just as a private meeting put his friends at risk, it also threatened the entire church, which had much more to lose than Moorhead and Duffey. Now, my lawyer and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity Perry offered us, but what if we had have? Who knows what he might have said?
Did Perry even think about the affect his actions would have on the church and on his friends? Probably not, but at least he was obeying God, so it didn’t matter. Yet this man’s vision and feelings direct a massive church with a multi-million dollar monthly budget. What could go wrong?
It abrogates advice
Perry’s legal team was a very good one. He had five distinguished and experienced lawyers at his disposal to help him navigate the threat that our lawsuit had created. Yet after a weekend of prayer he decides that he knows better than they do about how to get this resolved. Take a look at the second point of his proposed agenda again; he acknowledges that a NS staff member deeply wounded us. In one stroke he admits both liability and damages.
His lawyers are all gentlemen, but even they might have let loose some blue language after seeing that one.
It’s clumsy communication
This is a more personal, thus minor, point, but the language doesn’t suit the moment. Perry is feted as a master communicator, but it’s not on display here. After what we’d been through–and Perry indicates that he knows what that is–you don’t demonstrate empathy by starting with “Howdy!” And you certainly don’t end with “Be Radical.”
For my wife, the casual tone of the message was yet another punch in the stomach, she who still walked past a room with an empty crib and worried about who was following her or posing a threat to her son whenever she went out in public. Howdy? Not so much.
Late 2012: You may never again talk to Perry
Taking Perry at his word that he really believed that God wanted us to meet face to face, I accepted his invitation the day after all the settlement paperwork had been signed, which was the day that our lawyers had done their jobs and no longer needed to mediate between us. Although we had met for a day for Noble’s deposition, only my lawyer talked to him, except for some light conversation between us over breaks about football and common friends. My invitation was also based on the optimistic assumption that Perry was on the up and up in wanting to meet as Christian brothers, and wasn’t just wanting to use his personal charisma to talk me out of the litigation absent my lawyer’s advice.
In my emailed response, I explained why I wasn’t able to accept the first invitation, but now that the lawyers were out of the way, I was pleased to accept it. I also added a few agenda points of my own so that he’d know what I would like to talk to him about, some of which weren’t about the case itself.
Here’s what my attorney received from Perry’s Texas lawyer the next day:
NewSpring Community Church considers all matters pertaining to Dr. Duncan to be concluded at this time, and does not anticipate engaging in further discussions with him. Please advise your client of the church’s position, and request that he refrain from contacting either Perry Noble or other members of NewSpring staff to discuss the litigation.
God had changed his mind.
Update: This post was edited slightly on 1/8/2013 to delete certain allegations in order to comply with a standing court order. Because the edits were legally necessary, I have not followed typical blog etiquette and showed the deletions.