Lester Roloff

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Lester Leo Roloff
Born (1914-06-28)June 28, 1914
Dawson, Navarro County
Texas, USA
Died November 2, 1982(1982-11-02) (aged 68)
Near Normangee, Texas
Residence Corpus Christi, Texas
Alma mater

Baylor University

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Occupation Evangelist & Independent Baptist clergyman

Lester Leo Roloff (June 28, 1914 - November 2, 1982) was an American fundamental Independent Baptist preacher and the founder of teen homes across the American South. It would be the controversial operation of those teen homes (primarily his Rebekah Home for Girls) which would place him in the public spotlight.

Early ministry[edit]

Born in Dawson in Navarro County in east central Texas of German descent, Roloff began preaching at the age of eighteen. He attended Baylor University in Waco (Roloff is reported to have brought his dairy cow with him to raise tuition funds through the sale of its milk) and later Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

After graduation, Roloff began preaching at small country churches in southern Texas, before taking on pastoral duties at churches in Houston and later Corpus Christi.

The Family Altar[edit]

It was in Corpus Christi in 1944 that Roloff began his radio show, The Family Altar.

The show consists of recordings of his sermons, aired in both 15 and 30-minute programs. Roloff also incorporated singing into his sermons, and would occasionally break into impromptu singing of hymns and/or leading his choir to sing along. The Family Altar program begins and ends with a recording of Roloff singing "When Jesus Comes (One Sat Alone Beside the Highway)" accompanied only by organ.

Ministry expands[edit]

In 1950, Roloff was called upon to fill in as preacher at a series of revival meetings in Corpus Christi after the scheduled speaker, B. B. Crim, died. The enthusiastic reaction to Roloff's preaching led him to resign his pastorate and pursue full-time evangelism. Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises was hence incorporated the following year.

Roloff preached stridently against communism, television, alcohol, tobacco, consumption of pork, and psychology. His strong stands led to disagreements with most of his Southern Baptist brethren. In 1956, after giving a speech at his alma mater Baylor University criticizing denominationalism, Roloff broke with the SBC and joined the Independent Baptist movement.

In 1954, Roloff returned to pastoral ministry by the establishment of the Alameda Street Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, an Independent Baptist church. He would remain there until 1961, returning to full-time evangelistic ministry at that time. In 1967, he would start another Independent Baptist church in Corpus Christi, Peoples Baptist Church, where he remained until his death.

The Roloff Homes[edit]

Roloff began actively ministering to alcoholic and homeless men. His first mission house was established in Corpus Christi in 1954. Additional children's homes were eventually added throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. The first Roloff home for females, Rebekah Home for Girls, was established in 1968, which brought in young girls who were addicted to drugs, involved in prostitution, serving jail time, kicked out of their homes, or in need of refuge.

The only literature permitted to those living in the Roloff homes was the King James Version of the Bible. Television was forbidden, and only one hour of radio per day was permitted to listen to Roloff's radio sermons. Daily church attendance was mandatory; each Roloff home had its own church and pastor on the grounds. Other policies, in accordance to the state, included windows being locked and alarm systems in order to prevent any truancy or escape. Contact with the outside world was denied except for monitored phone calls with parents. In addition, each dorm room had an intercom and loudspeaker.

In December 2001, Texas Monthly reported on the (then closed) Rebekah Home:[1]

Some of the homes were temporarily closed in 1973 because Roloff refused on church-state issues to license the home through the state government. The institutions re-opened in 1974 after Roloff successfully appealed to the Texas Supreme Court which ruled in Roloff's favor that it was unconstitutional to close the homes down. At one point, Roloff transferred ownership of the homes from his evangelistic corporation to his church, thus compelling the state to sue the "new" owners (and restart the entire litigation) while he kept the homes running. The Attorney General refiled the case and secured an injunction that tried to shut down the ministry. In 1975, the state passed laws that required the licensing of youth homes. Roloff was arrested twice for refusing to comply with this law.

In 1979, in an incident known as the "Christian Alamo", Roloff urged churches and pastors across America who supported the Roloff ministry to come to Corpus Christi and form a human chain around the church to prevent the Texas Department of Human Resources from removing children from the homes. Legal battles with the State of Texas continued, and the homes were closed and re-opened. The Texas homes were closed again in 2001.

Death[edit]

Roloff had always had a fascination with flight. He purchased his first airplane in 1954 and used it to travel between his various speaking engagements throughout the country. On November 2, 1982, the same day that the Democrat Mark Wells White, the outgoing attorney general, unseated Republican Governor Bill Clements, Roloff's plane crashed during a storm outside Normangee, Texas. Roloff and a ladies' singing trio from the home for adult women were killed. White had vowed if elected governor to shut down Roloff's homes. The wreckage of the crashed airplane is the centerpiece of Roloff Park at Hyles-Anderson College, a Bible College in Crown Point, Indiana, partly named for the pastor Jack Hyles.

Roloff's legacy[edit]

Roloff is cited as a major influence on both the Christian fundamentalist homeschooling and youth movements. His final recorded sermon was preached at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga and is entitled "Hills that Help." It is regarded as a classic by his supporters. Perhaps his most well-known sermon was "Dr. Law and Dr. Grace."

Roloff was posthumously inducted in 1993 into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises is still in operation to this day, maintaining its Corpus Christi address. The ministry primarily broadcasts re-runs of "The Family Altar" program on smaller, privately owned radio stations and sells copies of his sermons.

People's Baptist Church also remains in operation, but no longer operates teenage group homes. The church operates adult men's and women's homes for those seeking deliverance from alcohol and drug addiction.

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