Billy James Hargis

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Billy James Hargis (August 3, 1925 – November 27, 2004) was an American Christian evangelist associated with the Restoration Movement. At the height of his popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, his Christian Crusade ministry was broadcast on more than 500 radio stations and 250 television stations. He promoted an anti-Communist, segregationist message as well as evangelization, and founded a radio station, monthly newspaper and a college in Tulsa, Oklahoma to support his ministries. In 1974 several students at his American Christian College accused Hargis of sexual misconduct;[1] however, the Tulsa district attorney found no evidence or wrongdoing. Hargis went into early retirement and the college closed in 1977. He continued to publish his newspaper and to write books.

Biography[edit]

Hargis was adopted by a railroad employee, Billy James Hargis, and his wife; by the time the boy was 10, his adoptive mother was in poor health and close to death. The boy had been baptized and had few pleasures other than the family's daily Bible readings as his family was too poor during the Great Depression to own a radio.[2] When his mother was hospitalized, Hargis promised to devote himself to God if she were saved. She recovered, and at age 17, Hargis was ordained in the Disciples of Christ denomination, before completing Bible college.[2] After a few years, he left his pastorate for a ministry of radio preaching.[3]

In 1943, Hargis entered Ozark Bible College in Bentonville, Arkansas, and studied there for one year. By 1947, when he became concerned about Communism, he was pastor of the First Christian church in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a city west of Tulsa. He later received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pikes Peak Bible Seminary in 1957, and a theology degree from Burton College and Seminary in Colorado in 1958.[4]

In 1950 he established an organization called the Christian Crusade. In the mid-1950s, Hargis was closely associated with the evangelist Carl McIntire and in the early 1960s Hargis developed a close relationship with the resigned Major General Edwin Walker, but he increasingly went his own way in preaching anti-Communism. His targets included government and popular singers.[3][4] In 1957, the Disciples Of Christ withdrew his ordination because he was attacking other churches in his anti-Communist crusade, but by then Hargis' radio program was bringing in $1 million annually and he had established independence.[3] In 1960, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated Hargis, suspecting him of being linked to recent bombing attacks on Little Rock public schools and of planning to bomb Philander Smith College.No evidence was found and no charges were filed.[5] On May 31, 1961, Bob Jones University honored Hargis with an honorary Doctor of Laws.[6]

In 1966 Hargis founded his own congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called the Church of the Christian Crusade. This was part of a complex of organizations which he founded in Tulsa, including the American Christian College in 1971, and the Christian Crusade monthly newspaper.

Marriage and family[edit]

Hargis married Betty Jane Secrest in 1952. They had three daughters and a son, Billy James Hargis II, who died September 9, 2013.

Career[edit]

Hargis' motto was "All I want to do is preach Jesus and save America."[4] Drawing on premillennialist theology, Hargis believed national and world events were part of a cosmic struggle, where the ultimate actors were Christ and Satan. While Communism represented the latter, the United States represented the former. He used this as justification for why the United States should return to what he believed were its founding Christian ideals.

Positions and activities[edit]

Cover of David Noebel's Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles from the FBI's files on the Christian Crusade

Hargis preached on cultural issues: sex education and Communism, and urging of prayer and Bible reading to public schools, long before the rise of the late 20th century Religious Right. His belief in conspiracy theories lead to a belief that the government, the media and pop culture figures were promoting "communism" in the late 1960s. (His subordinate, Rev. David Noebel, wrote the short work, "Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles" (1965), which he expanded into "Rhythm, Riots and Revolution" the following year. Both pamphlets were published by the Christian Crusade.) Hargis claimed to have written a speech for Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, notable for his anti-Communist crusade.

Hargis was a member of the John Birch Society. Hargis favored segregation, accused Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of being Communist-educated, and published Dr. James D. Bales' anti-King book, The Martin Luther King Story. He said that the United States should get out of the United Nations and get the United Nations out of the U.S. Hargis urged his listeners to write to their Representatives and Senators and was one of the first fundamentalist Christian figures to urge his audiences to become politically involved.[citation needed]

Hargis addressed audiences with his revival style. He was the author of at least 100 books, including The Far Left, and Why I Fight for a Christian America. In addition, his organization published a pamphlet on sex education, entitled "Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?", by Gordon V. Drake, the Christian Crusade's educational director.[7]

In 1964, Hargis supported Republican Senator Barry Goldwater in that year's presidential race. Hargis also supported the late conservative Democratic Louisiana State Senator, Harold Montgomery of Doyline, whom he often mentioned on his programs.

Founding of institutions[edit]

Hargis founded the Christian Crusade in 1950, an interdenominational movement. In 1964 the IRS alleged that Hargis' involvement in political matters violated the terms of the Internal Revenue Code for religious institutions and withdrew the tax-exempt status of the Christian Crusade. At the time, Hargis had reported that the average contribution to his movement was $4, from a constituency of 250,000 donors, and it was receiving $1 million annually.[2] He was the publisher of the monthly Christian Crusade Newspaper, with a circulation of 55,000, and Weekly Crusade.

He founded the David Livingstone Missionary Foundation, which operated hospitals, orphanages, leprosy villages, medical vans and mission services in South Korea, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines and Africa. The direct mail entrepreneur Richard Viguerie began his career working for Hargis.

Concerned with the liberalization of abortion laws, in 1971 Hargis organized Americans for Life. That same year, he founded American Christian College in Tulsa, to teach Christian principles and provide an alternative to perceived left-wing and counterculture influences. When asked what was taught there, Hargis said, "anti-communism, anti-socialism, anti-welfare state, anti-Russia, anti-China, a literal interpretation of the Bible and states' rights."[8]

He also started a television show Billy James Hargis and his All-American Kids. It was sold to independent television stations. Students from the college performed in the musical group.

Scandal[edit]

In 1974, when Hargis was nearly 50, he was forced to resign from the presidency of American Christian College, and many of his activities due to a sexual scandal. These events had taken place at the college, his farm in the Ozarks, and while the "All American Kids" were touring.[9] Time Magazine covered the scandal in early 1976. The local newspapers, the Tulsa Daily World and the Tulsa Tribune, declined to publish the accusations. The Tulsa district attorney investigated but never brought charges against Hargis.

Hargis stepped down as president of American Christian College, where he was succeeded by former vice-president David Noebel. In February 1975, Hargis tried to regain control of the college, but was rejected by its board. By September he returned to his other ministries. They were said to welcome him after he repented. As Jess Pedigo, president of the David Livingstone Society said, "There was a danger of bankruptcy."[9] Hargis did not give the deed to the property to the college for months after leaving, which prevented it from gaining regional accreditation. In addition, he withheld the fundraising lists, which previously all the organizations had shared.[9] With declining enrollment after the scandal became public, the college closed in 1977.

Hargis denied the sexual allegations until his death, both publicly and in his autobiography, My Great Mistake (1985). After his book was published, in 1985 he told a Tulsa reporter, "I was guilty of sin, but not the sin I was accused of."[2] He eventually retreated to his farm in Neosho, Missouri, where he continued to work, issuing daily and weekly radio broadcasts. He continued to publish the monthly newspaper, The Christian Crusade Newspaper, and wrote numerous books.

In his final years, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and died in 2004 at the age of seventy-nine in Tulsa.

Legacy[edit]

His son, Billy James Hargis II, continued his ministry until his own death. Hargis' organization and college also started the radio station KBJH (FM 98.5) in Tulsa in the early 1970s. After the college's closing and the demise of his ministry, the station was sold to Epperson Broadcasting.

Hargis and his church owned and operated a small AM radio station in Port Neches, Texas up until the early 1990s. KDLF radio (so named after the David Livingston Foundation) played Southern Gospel Music and religious programming until it was sold around 1993. In the latter days of Hargis' ownership, the radio station was independently managed but was required to play Hargis' hour-long program daily.

His papers, described as "a goldmine for students of American politics," are stored at the special collections department of the University of Arkansas Libraries in Fayetteville.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James Stuart Olson, Historical Dictionary of the 1970s, Greenwood Publishing, 1999 p. 187 ISBN 0-313-30543-9
  2. ^ a b c d Adam Bernstein, "Evangelist Billy James Hargis Dies; Spread Anti-Communist Message", Washington Post, November 30, 2004.
  3. ^ a b c Michael Carlson, "Billy James Hargis. Rightwing preacher laid low by sexual scandal", The Guardian, 10 December 2004
  4. ^ a b c Glenn H. Utter & John W. Storey, The Religious Right: A Reference Handbook, ABC-CLIO Ltd 2001, 2nd edition, p. 6f., 92. ISBN 978-1-57607-212-7
  5. ^ "The Strange Love of Dr. Billy James Hargis". 
  6. ^ Sword of the Lord, 23 Jun 1961, pg 4.
  7. ^ Bruess, Clint E.; Greenberg, Jerrold S. (2008). Sexuality Education: Theory and Practice. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 38. 
  8. ^ "Billy James Hargis", The Economist, 16 Dec 2004, accessed 26 May 2011
  9. ^ a b c "The Sins of Billy James" Time, February 16, 1976.
  10. ^ "Hargis Papers Document Birth of Religious Right", University of Arkansas Daily Headlines, June 17, 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Heather Hendershot, What's Fair on the Air? Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest (University of Chicago Press; 2011) 260 pages;covers H.L. Hunt, Dan Smoot, Carl McIntire, and Billy James Hargis.
  • John H. Redekop, The American Far Right: A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and Christian Crusade, William B. Eerdmans, 1968.

External links[edit]