After a Complaint, One Christian Pastor’s Illegal Healing Methods Come to Light

When you call yourself a Minister, you can get away with almost anything… unless your victims speak up.

That’s what Linda Erickson is doing in Illinois. She is coming forward with news that Philip Livingston, who “broke away from South Barrington-based Willow Creek Community Church to start his own Life of the World Ministries” held improper “religious therapy sessions” that involved her having to get naked to receive healing:

Livingston would hold “light therapy” sessions where he and other church members would remove their clothes and touch each other. He claimed it helped cure everything from drug addictions to yeast infections.

He said it was done only with consenting adults who were members of his donor-funded Light of the World Ministries. But one participant testified in Kane County Circuit Court that a teenage girl was involved, too.

Erickson says in the video that she was told to place her hands on his private parts and pray… and that Livingston would have her lay on her back so she could “absorb God’s fatherly love” for her through him.

The Chicago Tribune goes into much more detail about what happened:

Then Livingston increasingly went in alone with each participant. Both got naked. Livingston touched her private parts, even inserted his fingers into them. The women touched his penis while they prayed, according to testimony.

Livingston said the ritual wasn’t sexual. He said he was never aroused, something Ericksen disputed.

[Erickson] also made a bombshell allegation in an affidavit filed in Kane County: As part of the ritual, Livingston had induced a follower’s then 13- and 10-year-old daughters to stroll naked with him in his home, and about once a week he took the older girl into a room used for the ritual.

Livingston and the girls’ mother insist the girls were always clothed and not involved in the ritual. Their attorneys claim Ericksen lied to better her chance of winning custody of her baby.

Spare us all the comments about how anyone could “fall for something like this.” It’s irrelevant. This guy used his position as a religious leader to sexually abuse people. Who knows how many victims he had who haven’t come forward yet…

This isn’t a diatribe against religion. As far as we know, these are the actions of one person who runs a fringe church. It’s not like any church (including Willow Creek) is trying to defend him.

Let’s hope that, if and when he’s convicted, no one gives him any benefit of the doubt just because he has a religious title affixed to his name.

(Thanks to CarrieBeth for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Maybe Livingston is a minister of the same denomination as this guy.

    • Anonymous

      I was thinking of the same person.  It seems that prison is the best place for these people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1025224665 Matthew Crocker

    Unfortunately, there always have been ministers and priests who believe that salvation comes from the tip of their penis.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    Hemant said to spare us all the comments about how anyone could “fall for something like this” because it’s irrelevant, but I don’t think it is…  And I think this crime says something about religion as well. While the pastor may be an aberration, the gullibility of his victims is not. When you abdicate personal responsibility for your moral choices to a book or a pastor or any kind of a demogogue, you’ve laid down your best defense against exploitation of this and other kinds. That alone is one of the biggest indictments against religion and other faith-based ideologies I can think of.

    • http://www.facebook.com/reapsow1 Reap Paden

      I disagree.  We shouldn’t try to use this as  an example of another crime caused by religion because it isn’t limited to religion. This is an assault by a person the victim considered trustworthy or a person of authority.  The same thing happens in the workplace,  in schools, and any other situation where there is the possibility ‘power’ could be abused.  I think we try to take a lot of  negative behaviors and use them as an argument against religion when it isn’t reasonable to do so.  That undermines our position and gives the impression we are out to  “blame religion for everything bad in the world”

      • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

        I think you missed my point, reap. I wasn’t talking about the abuse of power by a leader. I was talking about the abdication of judgement by a follower. And I’m not blaming religion for everything bad in the world, but let’s give religion (most of them anyway) the credit it’s due for advocating servitude to a higher authority and presenting it as a virtue.

        • http://www.facebook.com/reapsow1 Reap Paden

          Hugh I was in no way saying you were responsible for placing all blame on religion. I am familiar with you and if I gave that impression my apologies. I do however see many people who have a habit of using any crime committed by a person even remotely associated with the church/religion and trying to use it as an argument for why religion is bad. It waters down valid points such as the one you were trying to make.

  • TheG

    “Livingston said the ritual wasn’t sexual. He said he was never aroused…”
    Oh, and how is that relevant?  Is that the pervert’s version of “I didn’t inhale”?

    If this man of god had kiddie porn on his home computer, would his defense be that it is okay for him to look at as long as he doesn’t get a woody?

  • http://www.facebook.com/reapsow1 Reap Paden

    “Spare us all the comments about how anyone could “fall for something like this.” It’s irrelevant. ” Thank you for that.

      I think it’s important to point out that attitudes like “how can
    someone fall for something like this?” go hand in hand with ” well if
    they were dumb enough to fall for that, they deserve what they get” 
    That attitude makes it less likely other victims will come forward
    because they don’t want to be seen as dumb.  People don’t choose to be taken advantage of or abused. Who are any of use to act like we have never been fooled by anyone?  Linda Erickson is incredibly brave, you never know how people are going to react to these types of situations.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

       That sounds to me like yet another leftist religious dogma.    So now we aren’t allowed to ask how someone could fall for something like that because it’s blasphemous or something?    Why are some atheists so uptight when it comes to talking about sex? 

      There are plenty of good reasons to ask “How could they fall for this”.   Suspension of ones rational facilities and putting your religious faith in someone obviously can have bad effects.   

      In order to stop a scam, and to help people recognize and prevent one, on needs to know “how could they have fallen for this?”

      “That attitude makes it less likely other victims will come forward
      because they don’t want to be seen as dumb.”

      That’s not our problem.    That’s the nature of the situation.    If you participate in a scam because of gullibility, greed, or your evil nature, then pretending that isn’t a component is lying to ourselves.

      Many scams rely on getting people to participate in a pseudo crime against other people, or rely on “get rich quick”.   

      BTW, if anyone wants to send me $1000 I’m a despot of some tiny African nation and I’m trying to smuggle billions in embezzled funds.   This $1000 will help me flout banking laws (or some other law).  I of course being thankful for your help in allowing me to flout these laws by returning your money ten fold.

      “People don’t choose to be taken advantage of or abused. “

      Obviously they do, every time they go to church.

      “Who are any of use to act like we have never been fooled by anyone?”

      These are adults being “fooled” not children.    They should know better, and are perfectly capable of giving consent.

      Besides what evidence do you have that they were “fooled”.   The adults may have been willing participants.   Why do you assume they were all suckers.   I betcha some of the men were thinking “fuck ya, god wants me to touch naked women”.

      What’s the difference between this and the Raelians?   Alien beings want you to have orgies, vs. God wants you to touch naked bodies for religious therapy.    Sounds just a ludicrous in both cases.   

      This reminds me of that feminist dogma that all rape is about power, not sex.   Not content to merely argue the position they add a moral assumption that anyone that disagrees is a moral deviant.   Ya, right.   Guess what, rapists do rape to get sex.  Duh.   In fact that’s the whole point.    What makes it a crime is that the victim doesn’t consent.     Any criminal that is forcing you to do what you don’t want to, like a robber, is going to use force.   Some robbers like some racist get into a power trip over there victims and beat the hell out of them beyond what is required to force consent.    That doesn’t mean robbery is about power, not stealing stuff.

      So please stop replacing one irrational religion with another full of irrational dogmas.

      If we want to actually prevent crime we have to know the true motivations and the true reasons why people become victims.   Not this fantasy stuff.

      Obviously in this case any victims would have to have been ignorant, stupid, or below the age of consent.   Otherwise they weren’t victims, but willing participants. 

  • Anonymous

    Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment on obedience to authority figures springs to mind.  Livingston is using this phenomena to abuse people.  It isn’t the victims’ fault and I’m glad that Hemant has pointed this out.  This should be a phenomena that church goers should be aware of and guard against.  Otherwise deferring to the authority of a pastor might leave them with more than just a loss of time and money.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    I think the question as to how someone can fall for this is relevant and important.  The answer, as hinted at by other comments, is to be found in human psychological weaknesses that we are all susceptible to.    Religion, with its glorifying ‘faith’ and subservience to higher authority along with the granting of certain humans with the capacity to understand or know this higher power leaves us very exposed and vulnerable to this kind of shenanigans.

    These people presumably felt they were being especially virtuous by trusting the guy so completely, as society has reinforced repeatedly the notion that faith is to be admired.

    Just like we try and warn children about peer pressure (as a means to help keep them out of trouble/hard drug use etc), we should also use these kinds of cases as warnings to everybody about faith pressure.   After all if it can make the degrading seem reasonable, we should be trying to inoculate people against it at all costs.  

  • mike

    I just watched Star Trek so …
    I shudder to think how an outsider might judge us all.  Imagine that the Vulcans land and are considering sharing their knowledge of Faster Than Light travel.  And then they read about bullshit like this.  I am ashamed of my species today.

    • Brian Macker

      I’m guessing you don’t watch much Star Trek.   Ever hear of Vulcan pon farr, and the rituals associated with their mating?    Quite embarrassing really, for the Vulcans.   So much so they were keeping it a secret.

      So don’t worry no need to be ashamed, at least when it comes to Vulcans.

  • Ducky

    “Livingston would have her lay on her back so she could “absorb God’s fatherly love” for her through him.”
    Man, I physically cringed when I read that. Good grief, what the hell is wrong with people? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    As part of the ritual, Livingston had induced a follower’s then 13- and 10-year-old daughters to stroll naked with him in his home, and about once a week he took the older girl into a room used for the ritual.

    He didn’t do anything to the 10 year old? What a pussy.

    • Guest

      how the hell can you even say something like that? did you not read how sick and twisted this story is? i was a victim of phil livingston’s controlling nature and i am beyond disgusted to see you trying to MAKE A JOKE out of this.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        mission accomplished then.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        mission accomplished then.

  • Brian Macker

    “Spare us all the comments about how anyone could “fall for something
    like this.” It’s irrelevant. This guy used his position as a religious
    leader to sexually abuse people.”

    Nonsense really.   So those women who form goddess cults are abusing their willing followers?

    BTW, statutory rape is a crime regardless of the guys position of authority.   Remove that from this situation, and what do you have?   I’ll tell you, the Raleians.

    He was having everyone touch everyone.   Suppose he just kept his hands off, and watched.  What then?    In fact, he wasn’t doing the sexual touching.   The women were sexually touching him.    They put their hands on his penis.   I imagine that the rest of the guys in the group therapy sessions were having their penises touched to.    You going to lock up all the women?

    These are adults not children and they need to be held accountable for their own stupid choices.


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