Author Christopher Heuertz speaks at Lipscomb University, Jan. 10, 2019. Video screengrab via Lipscomb University

Brene Brown, Zondervan pull support for enneagram expert, Chris Heuertz, after sexual harassment accusations

(RNS) — Zondervan, the Christian media and publishing company, is suspending promotion of two books and indefinitely halting a documentary by popular Enneagram teacher and best-selling author Christopher Heuertz after allegations by nearly three dozen people who saw or experienced “spiritual and psychological abuse" by him.

A spokesman for Zondervan said a foreword and endorsement written by popular social scientist Brené Brown would be removed from Heuertz’s latest book, “The Enneagram of Belonging: A Compassionate Journey of Self-Acceptance.”

The decision by Zondervan follows a public post on the platform Medium signed by 33 women and men who wrote that Heuertz “has harmed many people and we cannot remain silent anymore.” Many others have since corroborated the accusations and added their stories.

The June 10 post described a pattern of spiritual and psychological abuse by Heuertz, a liberal Christian active in social justice causes as well as the contemplative tradition borrowed from Catholicism. He is an expert on the Enneagram, a model of the human psyche based on nine personality types that has exploded in popularity in certain Christian circles.

Heuertz apologized publicly on his webpage, saying, “Over the years, I failed to maintain suitable boundaries in some of my friendships with women. Some of those became inappropriate in nature and this pattern caused great harm to my marriage.

While none of these relationships crossed physical boundaries," he continued, "with the exception of one extended embrace, they were still inappropriate. I didn’t realize then how the dynamics of power surrounding these friendships could be so damaging. It’s one of the deepest regrets of my life."

A Zondervan spokesman said, “We are suspending any promotion of ‘The Sacred Enneagram’ and ‘The Enneagram of Belonging’ as we sort through information that is presented. We have also placed ‘NINE: The Enneagram Documentary’ release on hold indefinitely."

The board of  Heuertz’s Omaha, Nebraska-based organization, Gravity, said it would hire a firm to investigate the allegations. It also announced that Heuertz and his wife, Phileena, who co-direct the center, would take a voluntary sabbatical until the investigation is completed.

George Mekhail, who chairs the board of directors at Gravity, a spiritual retreat center, said there was an anonymous claim made against Heuertz a few years after he started Gravity. But the veracity of the claim could not be verified and the accusation fell outside of his work with Gravity. Mekhail did not detail the nature of that claim.

The investigation the Gravity board is now launching will examine all those claims.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Mekhail. “We want to get to the bottom of what’s going on. What exactly are the nature of the claims so we can take action as needed.”

In 2012, according to the Medium post, Heuertz was asked to step down from a leadership role at Word Made Flesh, an international organization that combats poverty and human trafficking around the world. His dismissal came, according to the former co-workers who drafted the Medium post, after several women of color he had mentored complained about his alleged sexually predatory behavior. Heuertz's agent disputes that he was let go from the organization for cause and said that in the past, Word Made Flesh spoke highly of Heuertz’s tenure with the group.

A statement from Word Made Flesh posted recently said it condemns the abuse that occurred and supports the women in their efforts to bring accountability and transparency.

"These harmful acts consisted of manipulation, bullying, psychological, and spiritual abuse of power," the statement continued. "We apologize for the fact that these events took place in the setting of Word Made Flesh and under past leadership."

The statements also apologized its "past failure to protect staff and acknowledged "the pain that they have carried and still bear, and support their courageous action to publicly state the wrongdoings."

It was not clear if there were new allegations of misconduct by Heuertz or if the allegations in the public post authored by Daphne Eck, a communications consultant from Castle Rock, Washington, date to Heuertz's time at Word Made Flesh. Eck was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by popular writer Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, has also said it would “pause” all collaboration with Heuertz.

In his apology, Heuertz wrote: “Although I have taken steps over the years to make amends, I have been unable to sufficiently express my sorrow. I want you to know that I have learned from these experiences.”

This story has been updated and corrected to reflect that Heuertz was a leader at Word Made Flesh. He was not the organization's founder. The updated story clarifies that claims about Heuertz’s departure from Word Made Flesh were made in a Medium post and that Heuertz’s agent disputes that account and adds details from Heuertz’s apology and Word Made Flesh’s statement.