Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Greatest Story Never Told - Part I: When Did The Writ Hit The Fan For Other Evangelical Pastors?

(Note to Eddie Long: Sorry, Eddie. You weren't the first and most certainly won't be the last. Although you have topped Ted Haggard and George Rekers... BIG TIME!)

Yeah, I'm having some fun with all of this. Sorry, can't help it. Chasing down hypocrisy is hard work, so when a lulu of a story practically lands in your lap, it's best to burn rubber and enjoy the ride. 

"David and Goliath." That's the simile "Bishop" Eddie Long came up with to describe his plight. The audience (congregation) cheered. However, I perceive a seminal problem: just who the hell is Goliath? The media? The public? The plaintiffs? His sermon, in fact, left way too many questions unanswered and had a kind of senseless "win one for the Gipper" feel because he didn't base it on anything solid. I have a feeliing that he'll be repeating it over and over ad nauseum because (as he himself stated) his lawyers told him not to say anything else. Unfortunately in this case, caution will give sway to speculation.
Anyway, since Long's non-explanation opens up a whole plethora of theories, I'd like to save them for Part II of this saga. 

The history of evangelical sex scandals goes way back and although I can't educate the reader with dates and names, I'm sure that more Scarlet Letters were sewn on both bodices and lapels than the America-is-a-Christian-Nation people would like us to think. And while most of the scandals were heterosexual in nature (e.g. the FBI closely monitored MLK and his infidelities), the ones involving homosexual relationships were probably swept under the rug too many times to count. 
So here's a rundown of evangelical homosexual scandals in the last half decade:

Known as the first "Jesus Freak," Lonnie Frisbee was a self-styled Pentecostal "prophet." He actually some success as an evangelist, despite his appearance. He became THE key person of the Jesus Movement and was instrumental in establishing both Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Movement denominations. 
Lonnie felt the righteous wrath of God, however, when both churches disowned him because of his homosexual behaviour. Lonnie continued to preach up to his death from AIDS in 1993.
An Emmy-nominated documentary about Frisbee titled "Frisbee the Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher received numerous accolades and was released in 2007.

The word that most defined Billy James Hargis was prolific: besides his show Christian Crusade being aired on 500 radio staions and 250 television stations (and in the 1950s and 60s), Hargis was a prolific author of more than 100 books fire-and-brimstoning their way through America with titles like Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles. He also founded American Christian College. Unfortunately, he was allegedly prolific in other areas: a sex scandal erupted at the college involinv both female and male students. 
 In fact, a couple he married claimed to have found out on their wedding night that he had deflowered both of them.
Hargis justified his homosexual acts by citing the Old Testament friendship between David and Jonathan and threatened to blacklist the youths for life if they talked.

Hargis faded from public life very slowly, broadcasting occasionally and publishing The Christian Crusade Newspaper as well as a number of books.

Interesting note: Hargis was inadvertantly instrumental in establishing the FCC's fairness doctrine. Hargis' programs promoted Barry Goldwater's run for president in 1964 and viciously attacked anti-Goldwater journalist Fred J. Cook. When Cook asked for equal time, Hargis refused. Cook took the case to court - all the way to the Supreme Court, in fact. The court then upheld the FCC's "equal time provision." Echoes of Tony perkins anyone? 

Perhaps it's fitting that Billy James Hargis, the penultimate hypocrite has also been referred to as the "father of the Religious Right."

Roy Clements' rise to prominence within Britain's evangelical community included authoring popular evangelical texts. He taught and preached at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge. He was immensely respected and served on several held boards of leading evangelical organizations. 

In 1999, Clements divorced his wife and revealed that he intended to live with another man. His books have since been removed from shelves. They are, in fact, very difficult to find. Clements now counts himself as a gay rights advocate and an activist for gay Christians.

Oh, what a tangled web: part-time escort and part-time drag queen gets religion, tries to become straight, marries an ex-gay woman, they become the "poster couple" for Focus on the Family, and ex-gay man becomes head of FOF's premiere anti-gay program, Exodus International.  All things are bright and beautiful until ex-gay man gets photographed in a gay bar. End of  job. 

John Paulk may still have a story to tell, but for the time being, he's still not really talking about it. He's focusing on his catering career and cooking show in Portland, OR. FOF has since warmed up to him enough to feature his recipes on their website. 


There is little doubt that Paul Crouch and his wife Jan are, well ... creepy. As founder and president of the world's largest evangelical Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Crouch looks like death warmed over (clad in whatever he thinks makes for good fashion sense - it doesn't) and Jan ltries to look like a cross between Tammy Faye and Dolly Parton with lavender hair (BIG lavender hair). They've hosted homophobes like Rod Parsley and John Hagee on their own program Praise The Lord.

Ironically, all that makeup and hair, all that showmanship (Paul sits in what can only be construed as a gold throne) serve as a visible reminder that the Crouches are hiding something: transparency has never been their strong suit. In fact, Wallwatchers (a financial watchdog ministry) has consistently given TBN an F in financial transparency. 

In 2004, the L.A. Times did published an expose of Crouch's finances as well as a large settlement that went to a former TBN employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford as part of a  sexual harassment law suit. It also intimated that friends and colleagues Benny Hinn and Jack Hayford knew about the affair. Allegations of extortion went back and forth in the ensuing months, with Ford even taking a public lie detector test on the TV reality show Lie Dectector test (he passed). Ford offered NOT to publish a book about Crouch and TBN for $10 million.  

Meanwhile, back at the scandal mill: Crouch was sued for $20 million for plagiarism after he had written and novel which was suspiciously like someone else's book. There was an out-of-court settlement. 

The Ford saga has faded into the past just as the Crouches intended, but it might resurface. We're waiting.

Haven't heard of Ted Haggard? Well, I hope the rock you've been living under is comfortable.  Ted Haggard was at the top of the evangelical food chain: a mega-church pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard boasted about weekly talks with George Bush. 

Male prostitute Mike Jones, however, took care of all that when he revealed that not only was Ted a frequent flier but earned more scandal miles by purchasing methamphetamines from Jones. Haggard's bumbling of the situation made it clear to his supporters that he was in no position to continue as an evangelical leader.  Although he announced that he was "cured" some months later,  his persona had been reduced to such a comic state that re-establishment in the evangelical community was  rendered moot. 

Haggard has begun a new ministry in the shadow of his old one - Colorado Springs. Although he still says he's "cured" he has become critical of the evangelical community that shunned him.

Paul Barnes saw his ministry grow from a basement to a 2100-member church he called Grace Chapel (in Douglas County, Colorado). It took him 28 years. When the Ted Haggard scandal broke, an anonymous caller to Grace Chapel voiced concerned that the same would happen to  Barnes. Barnes came forth, and in a video presentation to his congregation, resigned from his position:

"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. . . . I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

What is it with the name "Lonnie"? Must be genetic. 

A notoriously anti-gay Southern Baptist Convention heavyweight who resigned his post for engaging in “offering to engage in an act of lewdness” (read: seeking meat whistle lessons from an undercover cop posing as a male prostitute), Latham has now asserted his right to solicit sex from that cop.
Amazingly, Latham was acquitted of the charge of "offering to engage in an act of lewdness". His high standing in the Southern Baptist Convention and rabid homophobic rants might have had something to do with it. In any case, SBC's pressure caused Lonnie to admit that he had actually done the deed and "needed help."

George Rekers has a credibility problem. Check that: he has a problem in thinking that there are people dumb enough to believe him. His luggage boy rent boy story became the laugh riot of the internet and it was evident from the start that Rekers himself wasn't the profoundly intelligent "expert" in sexual orientation as he had been portrayed and that his work was criticized for skewing research results. Perhaps the most valuable thing that came out of the salacious story was that organizations like Family Research Council and America Family Association had been using Rekers as a "star witness" in cases involving gay adoption. The backpeddling of these organizations was classic: although Rekers was a founder of Family Research Council, current President Tony Perkins literally said "George who?"

Now we have "Bishop" Eddie Long, perhaps the most brilliant star in the fermament of homophobic hypocrisy. One of his accusers, Jamal Parris has appeared on television calling Long a "predator" and a "monster." In his Sunday sermon, Long likened himself to David battling Goliath:
 "I feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet."

"Predator," "monster." 

Eddie, you'd better start throwing those rocks now.

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