That’s the opening sentence of the novel Elmer Gantry—the most scathing satire Sinclair Lewis ever wrote.
It tells the story of a young, narcissistic, womanizing college athlete who becomes a Methodist minister and spends his life as a false prophet, until his “con act” finally leads him, and many followers, to misery.
The novel, written in 1926, created a public furor. The book was banned in several states and denounced from pulpits across the USA. One cleric suggested that the author should be imprisoned for five years. And like with the ayatollahs’ “fatwa” against Salman Rushdie for his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses, there were also threats of physical violence against Sinclair Lewis.
The novel could easily have been written today. It satirically represents, and brings to life, the hypocrisy behind the multimillion-dollar industry of religion. Elmer Gantry remains unpopular with most evangelical Christians to this day.
It hits too close to home.
SFGN has compiled “The Hypocrisy A-List.” It features preachers and Republican politicians who get caught in unholy scandals of one type or another—preferably of a sexual nature.
These people tend to be extremely homophobic in their sermons and their politics.
“The Hall of Shame”
Part 1: THE PREACHERS – FALL FROM GRACE
(Part 2: The Politicians will follow)
BILLY JAMES HARGIS, early 1970s. A prolific author and radio evangelist. Formed American Christian College in 1971 in order to teach fundamentalist Christian principles. However, a sex scandal erupted at the college, involving claims that Hargis had had sex with male and female students.
JIMMY SWAGGART, 1987. The Self-Appointed Judge of America’s Televangelists found himself the penitent when he was caught patronizing a prostitute.
MIKE WARNKE, 1991. A popular Christian evangelist and comedian during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991, Cornerstone Magazine turned up damaging evidence of fraud and deceit. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke’s multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces.
JIM BAKKER,1991. The founding father of the Praise the Lord Club was involved in a sex scandal with Jessica Hahn. Around the same time, various improprieties in the business dealings of PTL were uncovered. He wound up being sentenced to a 45-year term in prison for fraud. His wife Tammy became a favorite gay icon.
ROY CLEMENTS, 1999. Prominent figure within British evangelical Christianity. In 1999, he revealed he was in a homosexual relationship, resigned as a pastor, and separated from his wife.
JOHN PAULK, 2000. Former leader of Focus on the Family ‘s “Love Won Out” and former chairman of the board for Exodus International. In September 2000, Paulk was found and photographed in a Washington, D.C. gay bar, and accused by opponents of flirting with male patrons at the bar.
EARL PAULK, 2007. (no relation to the above) was the founder and head pastor of Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Georgia, from 1960 until the 1990s. A number of women from the congregation came forward during the 1990s claiming that Paulk had sexual relations with them. Some of these claims have subsequently been proven correct.
PAUL CROUCH, 2004. Founder and president of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest evangelical television network. In September 2004, the LA Times published a series of articles raising questions about the fundraising practices and financial transparency of TBN, as well as the allegations of a former ministry employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford, that he had a homosexual affair with Crouch during the 1990s.
TED HAGGARD, 2006. Was the pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard’s position allowed him occasional access to President George W. Bush. In 2006, it was alleged that Haggard had been regularly visiting a male prostitute who also provided him with drugs. Haggard admitted his wrongdoing and resigned.
PAUL BARNES, 2006. Founder and former senior minister of the evangelical church Grace Chapel in Douglas County, Colorado. He confessed his homosexual activity to the church board, and his resignation was accepted on December 7, 2006 This scandal was notable because it was similar to Ted Haggard’s (above), it occurred in the same state (Colorado), and around the same time (late 2006).
LONNIE LATHAM. In 2006, Latham, the senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church and a member of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, was arrested for “offering to engage in an act of lewdness” with a male undercover police officer.
COY PRIVETTE, 2007. Baptist pastor, conservative activist, politician in North Carolina, president of the Christian Action League, and a prominent figure in North Carolina moral battles. In 2007, Privette resigned as president of North Carolina’s Christian Action League and from the board of directors of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, following revelations on July 19 that he had been charged with six counts of aiding and abetting prostitution
THOMAS WESLEY WEEKS, III, 2007. Married fellow evangelist Juanita Bynum in 2002, but they separated in May 2007. In August 2007, Weeks physically assaulted Bynum in a hotel parking lot and was convicted of the crime in March 2008. The couple divorced in June 2008 and Weeks remarried in October 2009.
JOE BARRON, 2008, one of the 40 ministers at Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, was arrested on May 15, 2008 for solicitation of a minor after driving from the Dallas area to Bryan, Texas, in order to allegedly engage in sexual relations with what he thought to be a 13-year-old girl he had met online. The “girl” turned out to be an undercover law enforcement official.
TODD BENTLEY, 2008. Rose to prominence as an evangelist at the Lakeland Revival in Florida. In August 2008 he stepped down permanently when it was revealed he was separating from his wife, Shonnah, and was in a relationship with Jessa Hasbrook, a member of his staff.
TONY ALAMO, 2008. Federal agents raided Tony Alamo Christian Ministries headquarters as part of a child pornography investigation involving allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse, polygamy, and underage marriage. In late July 2009, Alamo was convicted on ten counts of transporting minors across state lines for sexual purposes, sexual assault and other crimes. On November 13, 2009, he was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 175 years in prison.
GEORGE ALAN REKERS, 2010. Baptist minister, co-founder of the right-wing Family Research Council, and a member of the notorious National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality, took a 10-day trip to Europe with a 20-year-old male prostitute.
A special entry for wackiness is reserved to:
PAT ROBERTSON and JERRY FALWELL
In 1999, Jerry Falwell suggested that Tinky Winky, ibe of the Teletubby characters, was gay because “.. it has the voice of a boy yet carries a purse. He is purple, the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle, the gay-pride symbol..”
After the 9/11 attacks, Falwell said: “I really believe that the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” Fellow evangelist Pat Robertson concurred with his sentiment. Falwell further stated that the attacks were “probably deserved.”
On June 10, 1988, Pat Robertson said Orlando, Fla., should beware of hurricanes, since it and Disney World allowed Gay Days to be held there.
“I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you,” Robertson said on his TV show, The 700 Club.
In the months following the statement, Orlando was spared, but hurricanes Charley and Frances made landfall in Texas, dumping heavy rains, killing over 14 people, and hitting the town of… Corpus Christi. Apparently even God has a sense of humor.