Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Christian conservative evangelist Billy James Hargis, who founded a number of organizations, including American Christian College, preached antigay and antisex sentiments. He was forced to retire from the college and his ministries after he was accused of having sex with both male and female students and pressuring them to keep silent about the relations.

Summary of Event

The McCarthy era saw the rise of anticommunist attitudes throughout the United States. Right-wing fundamentalist Christians, including Billy James Hargis, stood at the forefront of those opposed to Communism;and Christian fundamentalism[Christian fundamentalism] communism, particularly the official atheism of the Soviet Union;atheism in Soviet Union. Originally ordained by the Disciples of Christ, Hargis founded the Christian Christian Crusade Crusade in 1950 and his own ministry, the Church of the Christian Crusade, in 1966. He had gained fame in 1953 for his effort to send God to the Soviets by sending Bible quotations in balloons. However, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service;and Billy James Hargis[Hargis] Internal Revenue Service disapproved of his political involvement and revoked his organization’s tax-exempt status. Hargis would gain even more fame in 1974, when he become embroiled in a sex scandal, but not just any sex scandal: He was accused of having homosexual sex. [kw]Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal, Evangelist Billy James (Oct. 25, 1974) [kw]Gay-Sex Scandal, Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During (Oct. 25, 1974) Hargis, Billy James American Christian College Evangelists;Billy James Hargis[Hargis] Hargis, Billy James American Christian College Evangelists;Billy James Hargis[Hargis] [g]United States;Oct. 25, 1974: Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal[01520] [c]Sex;Oct. 25, 1974: Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal[01520] [c]Religion;Oct. 25, 1974: Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal[01520] [c]Public morals;Oct. 25, 1974: Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal[01520] [c]Education;Oct. 25, 1974: Evangelist Billy James Hargis Resigns College Presidency During Gay-Sex Scandal[01520] Noebel, David A. Constable, Anne

In 1971, Hargis had founded American Christian College in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the aim of teaching youth how to avoid communist values through fundamentalist Christianity. His college’s choir, All American Kids, traveled around the country, performing for host churches. His doctrine opposed rock music, popular culture, and sex education in schools, all of which, he argued, led to a decline in public morality. His solution, much like that of the emerging Religious Right, was a return to biblical values. Indeed, Hargis’s Christian Crusade was a predecessor of the Christian conservative movement that became influential in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century.

Scandal erupted after Hargis was accused of having had sex with a couple (students at the college) after their wedding ceremony, a ceremony he had conducted that day. The couple brought their accusation to college vice president and Hargis follower David A. Noebel, who was horrified at the news. Noebel’s next action is truly significant. After two weeks of internal debate, he believed the students. Had he chosen to deny the accusations, the incident likely would have remained secret, but with his decision to support the couple’s accusations came confessions from three more students, all men, claiming to have had sexual trysts with Hargis.

According to the three male students, the sex occurred in several places, including Hargis’s office and home and in hotel rooms during tours with the All American Kids choir. Hargis reportedly justified these affairs by referring to the biblical friendship of David and Jonathan as one that was homoerotic. Typical of many molesters, he had threatened the young men, warning them against revealing the relationships.

Noebel took the case to the college board, which joined him in supporting the students. On October 25, Noebel and two board members met with Hargis and his lawyers. According to Noebel and one of the other officials, Hargis confessed to the affairs. Even though he was married, Hargis blamed his biological makeup for his behavior and agreed to resign from the college presidency and leave his leadership position at other Hargis ministries. However, he left only after being offered an annual stipend of twenty-four thousand dollars and seventy-two thousand dollars from a life insurance policy the college had to protect their interests in him. Hargis’s disgrace would not last. He immediately denied the allegations and the confession. Four months after his resignation from the college presidency, in February of 1975, he attempted a return to the job. However, the college board supported Noebel, who by this time was serving as Hargis’s successor.

Hargis’s ministries, however, suffered financially in his absence. His charisma and speaking skills had charmed supporters, who donated large sums of money to the ministries. In his absence, donations decreased. By September, his former ministries, except the college, were willing to forgive his actions and accept his return. Even though his popularity would never again reach its pre-1974 heights, he had regained his empire.

In 1976, Time reporter Anne Constable learned of the scandal, which had been kept from the public eye. Her story brought the affair to national attention and led to questions about Hargis’s integrity. Constable’s story drew special attention to a letter Hargis penned after his return to power, a letter in which he urged Christians to disavow images of homosexual men in popular culture. Hargis continued to deny culpability, blaming Noebel and internal school politics for his ouster, but the organizations that welcomed his return concentrated on his penitence (and their own near-bankruptcy), rather than on attempts to claim his innocence. The college and other Hargis ministries severed ties with each other, which presented the college with a new financial problem. Hargis had the address lists of all the donors, and he refused to share those lists. By 1977, the college’s doors would be closed forever, while Hargis’s other ministries would continue to flourish.

Impact

The scandal, in the short term, exposed Hargis as a hypocrite, while his departure from the presidency of American Christian College fueled that institution’s demise. The scandal certainly reduced Hargis’s fund-raising abilities, but not to the point that his ministries collapsed upon his return one year after the scandal broke. More to the point, however, the scandal drew national attention to the potential for hypocrisy in Christian fundamentalism. Hargis, in his autobiography My Great Mistake (1985), denied all accusations against him and focused his discussion on those same Christian values he had been accused of violating. The charismatic Hargis was good at making people forgive his own deviance (while denying any wrongdoing) while simultaneously preaching his antigay doctrine.

In the long term, analysts of the scandal argue that Hargis was part of a trend of outwardly conservative religious and political figures who behaved contrary to what they pronounced. As antigay politics consumed the U.S. Congress during the early 1980’s, and as the Religious Right, along with its flagship organization, the Moral Majority, influenced many on the subject of homosexuality, several well-known antigay activists, such as Congressman Robert E. Bauman, were embroiled in their own homosexuality-related scandals. Other fundamentalists also would stand accused of violating their self-professed sexual codes. For example, Jim Bakker, the charismatic leader of the PTL (Praise the Lord) ministries, had a sexual affair with his secretary, Jessica Hahn, during the 1980’s. Thus, Hargis’s behavior stands with other religious leaders and conservatives who failed to practice what they preached. Hargis, Billy James American Christian College Evangelists;Billy James Hargis[Hargis]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allyn, David. Make Love Not War: The Sexual Revolution—An Unfettered History. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000. Includes chapters about the connections of clergy, sexuality, and gay and lesbian rights. Chapters cover most of the twentieth century and include Hargis’s era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Danforth, John C. Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America, and How to Move Forward Together. New York: Viking Press, 2006. Argues the conservative Republican Party must move away from fringe issues to unite. Contrasts with the views of the Religious Right. Danforth was a well-known conservative politician.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hargis, Billy James, and Cliff Dudley. My Great Mistake. Green Forest, Ark.: New Leaf Press, 1985. Hargis’s take on the controversy surrounding his bisexuality, which he adamantly denied. Slanted toward the resurrection of his ministerial career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, William C. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books, 1996. History of the Religious Right, including its rise during the Hargis era and its impact on politics in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Brett A. Divine Apology: The Discourse of Religious Image Restoration. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Analyzes religious figures accused of sexual misconduct. Includes a section on fundamentalist preacher Jimmy Swaggart, whose scandalous dalliance with a prostitute, Debra Murphree, was covered closely by the national media.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Reviewing the Fundamentals.” Christianity Today, January, 2007. Focuses on the biblical teachings of the New Testament on sex and sexuality. Cites the book of James, which states that Christian leaders are placed under strict moral standards.

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