As a storm of allegations of sexual and psychological abuse at the International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) gathered on the horizon, leaders enlisted Eric Volz to navigate the turbulent waters that threatened to engulf the organization and its founder, Mike Bickle.
Bickle and IHOPKC have been at the heart of a worldwide worship and prayer movement for 25 years, captivating millions globally with the allure of participating directly in a divine plan.
The sensitive and serious nature of the allegations required outside help from a crisis manager, an expert at handling public perception and communications, especially for organizations confronting potential threats to their existence.
Volz, however, violated the cardinal rule of crisis management: never become a central figure in the crisis.
Volz, 44, has publicly sparred with reporters and critics. He prefaced disrespectful monologues with “Respectfully,” and signed off on menacing communications with “Blessings.”
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On Twitter/X, Volz earned the nickname “Minister of Truth,” a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
In Orwell’s novel, the “Ministry of Truth” oversees propaganda, the revision of history, and the manipulation of facts.
During my two decades in journalism, I have encountered a couple of rare instances where circumstances warranted stories about public relations professionals, or crisis managers.
The first occurred during the 2014 Ferguson unrest over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. A colleague and I uncovered information about the city’s newly contracted crisis manager having also fatally shot an unarmed man years earlier.
The second transpired while covering Atlanta City government. Text messages revealed a former spokesperson blatantly violated the Georgia Open Records Act. The individual became the first public servant in state history convicted under the Act.
Volz’s involvement with IHOPKC marks yet another situation that merits chronicling a crisis manager’s actions, as they appear to mirror the insularity, insensitivity, and self-aggrandizement that created the crisis.
“I think in Eric we see a public portrayal of IHOPKC’s private persona & culture,” Jessica Dedrick, who interned at IHOPKC from 2004 to 2006, posted on Twitter/X late Monday. “He brought further into daylight what exists in darkness & behind closed doors: duplicity, arrogance, bullying & insults, lying for personal gain, gaslighting, reliance on appearances, $$, etc.”
Visions of Grandeur
Volz’s past has raised significant questions about his ability to be objective regarding sexual assault allegations.
Volz formed his company, the David House Agency, on the foundation of his wrongful murder conviction in Nicaragua. In 2006, the body of Volz’s ex-girlfriend, Doris Jiménez, 25, was discovered after she had been strangled and raped.
Volz substantiated his alibi with digital evidence of being in Managua, about 55 miles south from Jiménez’s clothing boutique in Rivas where her body was found. The digital evidence was supported by witness testimony.
Before being charged with the 2006 murder, Volz had begun publishing a magazine in Nicaragua.
Volz would later blame the charges against him on unproven Central American political conspiracies. But his private conversations at the time suggested he was more focused on building a publishing empire than the grave allegations he faced.
A Central American journalist reviewing Volz’s subsequent book about the ordeal reported: “During a recess in the court proceedings, he turned to me and said he was looking forward to getting back to work making EP a leading magazine in Central America. It seemed like a rather grandiose – not to mention oddly timed – comment from someone who had essentially published only one issue. Volz’s ego and visions of grandeur might lead some readers to then wonder about his conclusion in the book: that he was a political prisoner that Ortega tried to leverage in missile-disarmament negotiations with the U.S. government.”
After Volz was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison, an appeals court overturned the decision. However, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the decision after Volz was deported back to the U.S.
In 2008, after Volz returned to his home in Tennessee, he expressed concern about the Nicaraguan Supreme Court’s potential actions. He concluded that he would become a fugitive again, whether through the reaffirmation of his guilty verdict or the ordering of a new trial, according to a UPI news agency article.
Volz filed a 700-page petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS), seeking justice and clarity. The OAS, dedicated to fostering solidarity, democracy, human rights, and development in the Americas, has yet to respond to inquiries submitted via email on Tuesday about the petition’s outcome.
Volz’ David House Agency went on to assist in several high-profile cases, including those of Matthew and Grace Huang, Jason Puracal, and Amanda Knox.
This background, rich with experience in handling delicate and complex situations, seemed exactly what IHOPKC needed during the crisis.
However, the nature of Volz’s past legal troubles, especially the allegations of sexual assault and murder, introduced problematic optics and inevitable questions regarding whether Volz would sympathize more with the accused than the accusers.
From the outset, Volz appeared positioned to potentially sabotage IHOPKC’s crisis management rather than effectively guide it.
Then he spoke, removing all doubt.
Rallying Cry for Critics
After working behind the scenes, Volz, in December, took on the role of spokesperson and lectured congregants at IHOPKC’s Forerunner Church against prematurely judging Bickle amid accusations from several of Bickle’s former associates that Bickle had engaged in decades-long sexual predation.
Volz called social media commentators, many of whom had invested years in IHOPKC, “armchair investigators.”
The misstep was immediately obvious. With a single phrase, Volz rallied, unified and motivated his opposition. Several people incorporated “armchair investigator” into the titles of their Instagram and Twitter/X accounts.
For a crisis manager in the social media age, Volz also seemed especially sensitive to criticism.
Soon after Volz became IHOPKC’s spokesman, Volz claimed in lengthy diatribe that he had never experienced slander to this extent — despite being accused of murder and imprisoned for more than a year in Central America.
Volz did not disclose that he had legally changed his name to Eric V. Lineiro a few years earlier and that “Volz” was actually now a pseudonym.
He also didn’t publicly mention that he had established a music business with one of IHOPKC’s key worship leaders, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest in his financial interactions with IHOPKC.
Transparency is essential in crisis management, and any concealment can significantly harm an organization’s reputation.
The Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics highlights the need for openness, stating, “Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society,” and mandates members to “Be honest and accurate in all communications” and to “Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s organization.”
Not disclosing financial interests, particularly those that could affect crisis management, points to ethical concerns. These omissions suggest possible conflicts of interest, compromising ethical standards and integrity, leading to more intense scrutiny of the organization’s values and practices.
The PRSA’s Code of Ethics stresses: “Avoiding real, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest builds the trust of clients, employers, and the public.”
But Volz apparent conflicts, unknown, at least to the broader IHOPKC community, helped expand the scope of scrutiny from the abuse allegations themselves to the organization’s response to them.
“When this is all over, and the truth about @mikebickle and @ihopkc is finally told, there sitting in the ashes of what was once @ihopkc will be an unknown number of precious women who have been twisted and broken by the men who were their leaders,” posted Stephen Magnuson, the former chief of staff for Bickle’s personal ministry, Friends of the Bridegroom, on Twitter/X in December.
“Spoiler Alert: the @ihopkc victims are not just women and the abuser is not just @mikebickle. There are numerous young men who have been abused by the men who led them … Are you listening Mr. @EricVolz, Minister of Truth …”
The need for a transparent, empathetic, and comprehensive approach to crisis management has been evident at IHOPKC throughout the crisis, yet Volz’s strategies have undermined claims of its leaders that they intend to hold people accountable.
IHOPKC leaders began banning staff and students of the organization’s unaccredited Bible school from bringing their cell phones to meetings for fear of being recorded.
Volz has defended his messaging and blamed the audience for confusion.
“Isn’t your sole purpose as the spokesperson to communicate things clearly and effectively?” asked Christina Forêt in a Twitter/X post. “It’s kind of weird for you to blame the IHOPKC community for their interpretations of your words when it’s obvious your communication style is the problem. It’s especially wild for you to put the responsibility on the attendees to make an accurate representation of what’s discussed when they are banned from using their own personal phones to take notes in the meetings …”
Christina Forêt hosts the Wake Up and Win podcast with her husband Blaise.
Rather than calmly addressing criticism, Volz resorted to blocking anyone who mocked him. Sometimes he blocked individuals for no apparent reason. Screenshots of Volz blocking people turned into badges of honor, proudly posted by those affected.
@EricVolz – I gave ALL of my twenties to sing on teams (mostly Jonas’), lead worship in PR’s, and go through IHOPU. I have deep friendships with MANY current staff and have given financially to IHOP for years. Please explain to me why you have blocked me? Thanks. #ihopkc pic.twitter.com/Dp3AjeqYwY
— Jesse Taitt (@jessetaitt) January 21, 2024
Last week, Eric Volz announced the results of IHOPKC’s internal investigation, conducted by a law firm known for its defense of clergy accused of sexual misconduct. The investigation narrowly focused on Mike Bickle’s actions, overlooking broader allegations of sexual and psychological manipulation within IHOPKC.
The investigative report essentially confirmed Bickle’s own admission from a statement in December, acknowledging sexual misconduct two decades prior.
Following the report, Volz declared his work at IHOPKC complete, asserting that the crisis had ended—a conclusion not universally accepted.
IHOPKC Transitions out of Crisis Mode.
With the completion of several lines of effort, including the McNamara investigation, my time providing crisis management services to IHOPKC has come to a close.
It has been my high honor to serve this precious community and I look forward…
— Eric Volz (@EricVolz) February 1, 2024
Volz expressed the need to decompress upon his departure. But he did so publicly, airing a video of him walking through the woods discussing his prayers for everyone involved with the IHOPKC scandal.
In a YouTube video posted on Sunday, Volz, was interviewed from his Nashville home by a pastor. He faced no critical questions. Volz attributed any ongoing crisis to external pressures, stating, “I don’t think IHOPKC is really in crisis-mode anymore.”
Volz is not without his fans, many of whom appear to have other interests intertwined with IHOPKC. After the YouTube video was posted, an IHOPKC loyalist encouraged Volz to get some rest.
But @EricVolzParody, a Twitter/X account created solely for the purpose of poking fun at Volz, responded: “Thank you. I’ve been the most humble person I have ever met. I am a broken man. It’s hard to hear anyone say anything bad about me. Some say it’s insecurity, but I call it a superpower.”
On Monday, I posted several pointed questions directed to Volz on Twitter/X, focusing on his potential conflicts of interest, use of a pseudonym, adherence to ethical guidelines, transparency about compensation, and accountability measures.
Though @ericvolz's personal musings in this interview might seem a diversion, they inadvertently spotlight IHOPKC's deeper crisis: a culture marred by opacity and unaccountability. It's a missed opportunity to confront the real survivors’ narratives and question the leadership's… https://t.co/W5Dvbmo3rA
— @altarofinquiry (@alterofinquiry) February 6, 2024
The inquiries remain unanswered.
Volz seemed more preoccupied with scrubbing his social media accounts of IHOPKC-related material.
Despite the apparent purging of evidence of half-truths and combative exchanges on Twitter/X, Volz defended his rapid deletion of the content as one of his standard practices.
This article originally appeared at Divine Detours and has been reprinted with permission.
Stephen Deere spent 20 years as a journalist, conducting investigations that won several awards and ignited major reforms in Atlanta and St. Louis, Missouri. He lives in Marietta, Georgia.