Follow up on the James Stabile story

On December 15, I posted a lengthy account of a young man, James Stabile, who was featured in a CBN segment extolling the healing power of a ministry in Dallas. According to the story, he met Dallas area minister Joe Oden, while cruising the gay bars in the Oak Lawn neighborhood. Rev. Oden, at the time believed the young man was converted and renounced his homosexuality. However, after awhile, James went off to Pure Life Ministries in Kentucky because the homosexuality had not gone away. Not long after getting there, Mr. Stabile was sent back home to Dallas. 

Since then I have spoken with Rev. Joe Oden, Paul Strand at CBN and by email to Michael Johnston at Pure Life Ministries. I hope to talk to Mr. Stabile today as well. I will be adding to this post throughout the day but, between other things, want to get some of this recorded.

Joe Oden encountered James Stabile during the first “purity siege” on September 4th. The event was referred to in the Dallas Voice. On that occasion, Joe asked James if he had ever felt the power of God. James said no, and Joe said would you like to. James said yes, and Joe touched him, led him a sinner’s prayer and said Fire, referring to the Holy Spirit. Again, Joe touched him and said Fire. At that point, James seemed visibly impacted, and Joe took his reaction as a sign that he had been “radically touched by the power of God.” Rev. Oden believed this was quite possible since his conversion experience was of a similar nature. While his issues were not sexuality related, he said he was delivered from his past life in a similar dramatic fashion. A video of this event is available on Google Videos and still embedded on the Lightthehighway website.

However, Rev. Oden said, he now believes James began lying to them immediately about his life and past. He said they did not know it at the time but he was untruthful about his parents, specifically mentioning his father. For instance, according to Rev. Oden, Mr. Stabile said that his father was on drugs. Also, according to Oden, James said his father would be very angry if James went to a deliverance ministry, even that his father might retaliate against the church in some way. At the time, Oden did not know that James father was Joseph Stabile, pastor of the oldest United Methodist church in Dallas.

The Heartland church found James a place to live with Bible School students where he stayed for about 6 weeks. Here is how the Lightthehighway website describes what happened after the purity siege.

One of the most astounding encounters of the evening was that of James, a 19 year-old homosexual atheist, who called the police in an effort to stop the Siege. One of the men from the Siege struck up a conversation with him, and James stated that he had never accepted Christ nor felt the power of God. The young man told James he was about to experience something that would change his life, and that is exactly what happened. James was one of many who fell under the power of the Holy Spirit that night.

He then accepted Christ as his Savior, and was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. We serve a miraculous God!

Immediately, James packed his Jeep and moved in with five students who attend Heartland School of Ministry, a Bible college in Irving, TX. He left his family, his partner, everything he knew, and everything that identified him with his past. His plan is to attend Heartland School of Ministry. In an interview, James said, “I am willing to talk to any homosexual, drug addict or sex addict because I know what hell feels like, but now I know what heaven feels like and it is so much better.”

In addition, the church helped him get a couple of jobs. However, looking back, Rev. Oden now believes that the lying continued. At first, Rev. Oden overlooked some of James’ untruths because he believed he really wanted help. “On the flip side,” Rev. Oden said, “he said he wanted to be free of homosexuality and live for God.” After awhile, however, Rev. Oden and College pastor Steve Baldwin, confronted James about various lies. For instance, according to Rev. Oden, James told one of his employers that the church wanted James to make more money on his job so he could give it to the church. However, according to Rev. Oden, this was not true. Concerns over truthfulness led to the Heartland School Ministry asking James to leave the shared arrangement with the students in mid-October.

Then, James moved in with another couple who did not attend Heartland. While with this couple, he continued to attend church, albeit sporadically. At about this time, Rev. Oden contacted Joseph Stabile who told Rev. Oden that James had bipolar disorder and was probably not taking his medication. According to Rev. Oden, Rev. Stabile was upset with him for not contacting him sooner. Rev. Oden explained that he did not do so because of the things James had said about him. Also, at that point, once he was aware of the need for medication, Rev. Oden said he told James to take his medication. “I told him, ‘James, you need your medication.’” Rev. Oden explained, “We believe in healings but God had not revealed to us that he was healed of that so we told him to take his medicine.” Rev. Oden believes James was off his medication the entire time he was in contact with the Heartland ministry, but flatly denies that the church recommended that course.

All this time James was saving money to get into Pure Life Ministries. Apparently, he was still struggling with sexuality issues. On October 31, about a week or two before he went to PLM, the Christian Broadcasting Network came to town to shoot a segment on the I-35 revival. CBN wanted to interview someone who was changed as an aspect of the purity siege and ongoing revival activities. Paul Strand of CBN told me he had seen the video of James’ conversion and read his story on the Lightthehighway website and wondered if James would be available for an interview.

Rev. Oden told me that he did not think James was ready to be interviewed. After all, he had moved out of the Bible School housing because of continual lying and apparently was not free of homosexual desires because he wanted to go to PLM to address this issue. Shortly after the CBN segment was filmed, James went off to PLM, spending about 2 or 3 weeks there (I am not completely clear on the timeline as yet). Rev. Oden does not know much about what PLM knew about Mr. Stabile. Those arrangements were made between PLM and Mr. Stabile. However, he believes PLM probably did know that Mr. Stabile was bipolar.

Back to the CBN interview, Paul Strand told me that he asked some Heartland staffers if James Stabile was a committed Christian and if they felt safe enough with James to put him on national television. Paul said he received no cautions from anyone. However, Paul did not talk to Joe Oden until the interview. On that interview, Mr. Oden said, “We laid hands on him…He was hit by the power of God and filled with the Holy Ghost … got plugged into our church, and is just living for God.” I asked Rev. Oden if he would restate that if he had the chance to do it over and he agreed that he would. It is still not clear to me who gave Paul Strand the thumbs up on Stabile.

As an aside, Rev. Oden wanted to correct an impression left by the CBN segment that the Heartland church believed Isaiah 35:8 refers specifically to Interstate 35. “We do not believe that, that was something CBN came up with,” Rev. Oden explained. “We see Isaiah 35:8 as a theme or a symbol for the revival we believe God wants to bring to this area,” he said. Thus, Isaiah 35:8 is a kind of metaphor for the revival campaign. Oden says the church has events planned for another Interstate highway soon and does not believe this was prophesied in the Bible.

Apparently the publicity is having some effect as CNN’s Anderson Cooper Show is slated to have a crew in Dallas today to interview Oden and others about the I-35 revival.

Regarding Mr. Stabile’s short stay at PLM, I can add this. Michael Johnston, Director of Media and Donor Relations, said in response to an email asking about Mr. Stabile, “As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or deny the enrollment of any individual in our counseling programs.” Well, this is sensible but it did make me wonder if the confidentiality policy was due to the residential program was licensed. I then asked if the counselors or program was licensed and Mr. Johnston replied that 

Our counselors are “biblical counselors” not “professional clinical counselors” and are clearly identified as such in descriptions of our programs. Our counseling follows a pastoral model based on our closely held religious beliefs and is, therefore, expressly excluded from regulation and licensing requirements of The Kentucky Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.

I also asked Mr. Johnston how PLM handles people who come in with diagnosed conditions and their medical needs and he replied as follows:

1. If an individual comes into the program and is taking a psychotropic medication, he must inform us and he must have a valid prescription.

2. For his protection, and the protection of others in the program, the counselor will dispense those medications.

3. If an individual desires to stop taking those medications while in the program or has decided to prior to entering the program, he must provide a written recommendation from the prescribing doctor. If that action results in behavior that either adversely affects the individual’s progress in the program or adversely affects others, they will be allowed to continue with the medication.

4. We do not routinely require screening of those coming into our programs by a “local psychiatrist or licensed counselor.

I have a call in to Rev. Stabile and hope to talk to him as well.

More to come…

UPDATE: Rev. Stabile has issued a statement here.

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  • Anonymous

    If you research ALL parties involved, you will find that Stabile gave a pretty dramatic story to this church. First let me say we should research bi-polar disorder. Bi-polar disorder is a mood disorder. Stabile told church folks that he was the “prince of Oak Lawn”, his father was a satan worshipping atheist who owned JR’s bar as well as most of the establishments in the Oak Lawn district of Dallas. He told horror stories of how he was repeatedly raped by his father for 10 years. He also told church members that he was Bosnian. He made people to think his life was horrible. People at this church helped him in more ways than one. Stabile told countless lie after lie.

    For what reason he lied, no one knows, but he is addicted to it with or without medication. I will say that people like James make good con artists and they know how to manipulate people. I am not interested in hearing anymore interviews from him, but the other side of the spectrum…. those he used. It’s sad to see that the media is believing a “compulsive” liar.

  • http://nojam75.blogspot.com Norm!

    Johnston statement about PLM’s licensing is technically correct, but I could not find a disclaimer on PLM’s website stating their counselors are not professional counselors and not licensed. In fact, it seems it would be very easy for a client or parent to be misled by PLM’s description into believing PLM’s counselors are certified by the state or licensing board:

    Our Counselors

    All of our male and female counselors are trained in biblical counseling and are certified by the International Association of Biblical Counselors. . . .

    Not to mention the $30-per-30-minutes of counseling seems to be a rate similar to what professional, licensed counselors may charge.

    Also, it would seem that PLM may be subject to Kentucy’s laws and regulations regarding Fee-Based Pastoral Counselor.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Jim Burroway

    A miniscule correction: It’s the Oak Lawn neighborhood (not to be confused with the Oak Cliff neighborhood on the other side of the Trinity River)

  • jag

    This story is an absolute disaster for all involved.

  • Eddy

    Thanks for the follow up, Warren. I dig the way you dig, you dig? One minor fact correction. The neighborhood is Oak Lawn not Oakmont. (Christ for the Nations Institute is in Oak Cliff.)

    More importantly, though, you brought the answer to something that has eluded me ever since I ‘met’ you. Your name…I knew it had a familiar ring. A focal point in Oak Lawn is the intersection of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton. That’s where our street ministry team used to rendezvous over 30 years ago!

    My thanks to Rev. Oden for answering to the follow-up. Most appreciated! I do take exception to the point that CBN made the I-35 connection, though. It would seem that connection started at the 1995 General’s Conference at Christ for the Nations.

  • http://www.jimphelan.vox.com James E. Phelan

    The young man being “converted and renouncing his homosexuality” is the issue. This is not uncommon in Pentecostal circles, albeit any sin. This should not probably be confused with sexual reorientation, which is accomplished with assistance by licensed therapists over an extended period of time.

    I’m concerned with an over exploitation of this man in regards to so much misinterpretation, which I see really as misrepresentation. I pray for his well being.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/ Warren

    Anonymous – You sound like you have first hand knowledge of the situation. Please consider contacting me via email. It seems to me that these stories would have signaled serious problems from the start. And yet, I was not there to hear these stories so I am not passing judgment – it should be a caution going forward.

  • http://www.jimphelan.vox.com James E. Phelan

    Mr Stabile clearly has taken steps to convert to pentecostalism and renouncing sin in his life. Praise God. He can now choose to seek appropriate therapy to assist him with any sexual reorientation, if he so desires. I just hope he doesn’t fall prey to a certain minor populace who would embrace his religious conversion, but have him reject any inclination toward changing his sexuality, or saturated him with nay saying which suggests change is not possible and that attempts toward the same are harmful, which I sense is one possible hidden agenda.

  • http://www.icnministries.org Michael Brown

    Warren,

    Thanks for taking the time to follow through on this and for posting such a detailed report.

    Michael

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/ Warren

    Jim – What article are you reading that tells you that he has any enduring relationship with pentecostalism? Until he comments, it is hard to know where he is in his journey.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    And I’m confused as to why conversion to pentecostalism from methodism would be something worthy of praise. And I consider myself to be much closer to pentecostalism, theologically.

    But both rely on the redemptive power of Christ and his sacrifice. Pentecostals are no more nor less saved than Methodists or Baptists or Episcopalians.

  • jag

    Granted, I certainly admit I am not as well versed as others in this story…but I hardly saw this as a positive, that after his conversion, he immediately…:

    “He left his family, his partner, everything he knew, and everything that identified him with his past. His plan is to attend Heartland School of Ministry.”

    Whether you agree or disagree with same-sex relationships…abandonment seems not the best solution…and indicative of the impulsivity often associated with his disorder (if indeed, he does have bipolar). Particularly if he had a child…is there no sense of responsibility toward his family?

    I am not sure what the dynamics were, and I suppose I am rather “old-fashioned” in this way…but even if it was a committed relationship, there might be some discussion, some transition, etc.

    The whole thing seems so suspect. I want to be clear that it is not suspect because of the notion of change, but because of his *particular* case variables. It’s hard to know what to believe in this case when there are so many falsehoods.

  • Mike Airhart

    1. “Rev. Oden explained that he did not do so because of the things James had said about him.” So Oden accepts gossip at face value and makes little or no effort to verify?

    2. Isn’t PLM’s dispensing of medication by amateur counselors just as illegal in Kentucky as Love In Action’s dispensing of medication was in Tennessee? If not, shouldn’t it be?

    3. Will Oden continue to work with CBN in the future, now that he knows that CBN distorts news?

    For his own benefit, I hope that James remains in the care of his family and doctors, and separated from the incompetent opportunists of Heartland, PLM, and CBN.

  • isea metaphor

    This is the first time anyone has ever asked about what the ditched EX fiance thinks! Maybe He told the church that his Dad was a Satanist, abuser so that he could get away from the fiance. Wonder what the folks thought of the fiance? Wouldn’t he have come forward by now…. if he exists. Did these reporters learn anything in college? Come on Warren.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/ Warren

    RE: Pure Life Ministries and questions raised – I do not know the answers to the regulatory questions. They do seem relevant and open. I suppose someone would need to make an inquiry there.

  • http://www.jimphelan.vox.com James E. Phelan

    Clarification: pentecostalism, not necessarily the religion, rather the acts (e.g. receiving the holy spirit). It appears as so by the video, agents, etc.

    Hence, I was NOT saying pentecostalism from methodism was something worthy of praise. Rather, I meant a spiritual conversion in general was.

    I can not judge actual salvation, I’m good, but that’s God’s job.

  • Eddy

    Re the dispensing of medication by the program. Technically, they aren’t ‘dispensing’ them. The client already possesses them or has the prescription for them. Rather than allowing the client to have the entire bottle in their possession, they require the client to turn their meds over to staff who ensure that the client takes their prescribed dosage.

    I actually can’t imagine any group recovery center 1) turning away someone because they need meds 2) allow those meds to be kept anywhere other than a secured staff area. Conclusion: This is very normal and standard practice and has been for years.

    Mike-

    I don’t think you call it ‘gossip’ when the person is telling you something that might suggest they are a ‘vulnerable adult’. You need to treat it as ‘disclosure’ and maintain a certain level of confidentiality until you learn more. If the stories hadn’t been lies and the ministry had contacted the ‘evil father’, the client’s whereabouts would have been compromised. It’s significant to note that Michael Brown did contact Pastor Stabile once he recognized a pattern of lies. Would a therapist make that type of call or would they feel bound by ‘patient confidentiality’?

  • jayhuck

    From the article on James’ ordeal written by JOHN WRIGHT OF THE DALLAS VOICE:

    “Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. After nearly four months, James returned home last weekend.

    His parents said they feel it’s too soon for James to talk about what happened, and that they want him to see his therapist first.

    They said James has revealed little about his time at Pure Life, which he now refers to as “straight camp.” James just told them it was “horrible” and that there are some things he will never be able to share.

    James’ mother, Suzanne, said he told her the people at Pure Life constantly threatened that he was going to hell.

    Men in the program had to be fully clothed from the neck down at all times, including when they went to sleep, James told his parents. And they were prohibited from any physical contact, including shaking hands.

    When James got kicked out, his father asked someone at Pure Life whether they would buy him a bus ticket.

    After all, James had paid $2,100 to get in to the program, plus $150 a week. But the representative from Pure Life refused.

    Joseph Stabile has contacted “The 700 Club” and asked them to retract the information about James in the segment.

    For now, though, James parents are just glad to have him back.

    “None of that experience was Christian, helpful, loving or supportive,” Suzanne Stabile said.””

  • http://www.JimPhelan.vox.com Jim Phelan

    Just because he is home with his parents, doesn’t necessarily qalify as a “happy ending”. That’s a judgment only he can make.

    Oh, and by the way, isn’t this an adult we are talking about? Folks make it sound like he was a stray dog or 90-year-old Alzheimer’s patient or something. Most adults with bipolar disorder (if that is indeed true or not) can function without assistance from their parents.

    Finally, it seemed (and, this is a limited view, but hey so is all of this) that he was functioning ok. That evening he just finished a shift at work and then was heading out to socialize at a club. Maybe I’m missing something here?

  • isea metaphor

    Jim, it’s refreshing to see that some people stop and think, before allowing a brilliant socially- sensitive, chamelon, manipulator to illicit forth the emotional reaction that he is EXTREMELY adept at producing from each culture that he chooses to “cry wolf” in their midst. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have an emotional/mental disorder. How healthy is it for concerned groups to react like his parents did and rashly, serve right up the intended result that the mentally ill son craved and demanded through his ‘powerplay manipulation’ of an exposed social nerve? (Gasp!) How can I say this about our little victim poster boy. ohh! You have to give him credit…he’s good… and such an extremely gifted actor, he sometimes amazes himself I’m sure. The truth is, he is an individual that God loves very much, and he should be taught how to receive and seek out that love and attention from God and from others that love him, in a relationally functional manner. If I was a journalist, the first question I would probaly feel like I would need to look at is “what type of Bi-polar are we dealing with?” That is, if I was concerned about the truth getting to the public. Is it a bigger bang to just conveniently use the “Bi -polar” umbrella? Bi-polar type II is a mild – mood disorder.