in December 2001
Michael Alfred Warnke
November 19, 1946
|Education||Rim of the World High School|
|Alma mater||San Bernardino Valley College|
|Occupation||Christian evangelist, comedian|
|Known for||Discredited "expert" on Satanism, Christian comedy|
(m. 1967; div. 1975)
(m. 1975; div. 1979)
(m. 1980; div. 1991)
(m. after 1991)
Michael Alfred Warnke (born November 19, 1946) is an American Christian evangelist and comedian who was exposed in 1992 for inventing stories of his past as a Satanist. Before being debunked by the Christian magazine Cornerstone, he was viewed as an "expert" on Satanism in the 1980s.
Mike Warnke was born in 1946 to parents Alfred "Al" Warnke and Louise Warnke of Evansville, Indiana. When he was five years old, the Warnke family moved to Manchester, Tennessee, where his father opened a truck stop. In 1955, Warnke's mother was killed in a car accident. In 1958 his father died, leaving Warnke an orphan.
After the death of his father, Warnke was taken to live with two of his aunts in Sparta, and from there to his father's half-sister and her husband in San Bernardino, California. In June 1965, he graduated from Rim of the World High School in Lake Arrowhead. That September, Warnke enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College but withdrew after one semester, whereupon by his account, he began his tenure as a Satanist. On June 2, 1966, Warnke enlisted in the United States Navy. After graduating from boot camp on August 22, 1966, his assigned military occupational specialty was as a hospital corpsman.
According to the account of his life in The Satan Seller, Warnke converted to Christianity during boot camp. However, high-school acquaintance Charlotte Tweeten has stated she recalls Warnke proclaiming faith in Christ in the year prior to his navy enlistment in 1966. He also wrote that he began dating fellow Rim of the World High School alumna, Sue Studer, during this time period. This has been disproven, however, and Warnke was actually engaged to Lois Eckenrod at this time. In 1967, he completed naval corpsman training, returned to San Diego, and married Studer. Together, they had two children.
In 1969, Warnke was deployed to Vietnam for a six-month tour of duty. Having been wounded in battle during those six months, he was awarded the Purple Heart. Warnke's own written accounts differ on the number of times he sustained injuries during his time in Vietnam. In The Satan Seller, Warnke says he was wounded twice, while in his second book, Hitchhiking on Hope Street, he states he was wounded five times. Despite these wounds received during his tour of duty as a hospital corpsman, second class, Warnke's various accounts have him spending much time detained, allegedly killing a man in battle, and surviving being shot several times, including once by an arrow. Warnke says it was the latter wound for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. Warnke returned to the United States in 1970.
While still serving in the navy, Warnke teamed up with San Diego evangelist Morris Cerullo and was touted for his "Satanist experience". Warnke and Cerullo toured the country participating in charismatic revival meetings. Cerullo wanted to write a book about youth occultism, and assigned the writing task to David Balsiger with help from Warnke. In early 1972, Warnke requested and received an early discharge from the navy as a conscientious objector so that he could work full-time in the ministry. Warnke then left Cerullo's ministry to start his own, forbidding Cerullo to use any of his material. It was at this time that Warnke and Balsiger went on to write the book that would make Warnke famous.
Rise to fame
The Satan Seller
In 1972, Warnke's book The Satan Seller was released. Written by Warnke, with help from Balsiger and Les Jones, the book tells of Warnke being orphaned as a child and his introduction into Satanism. Further detailed is Warnke's participation in sexual orgies, alcoholism, and drug dealing; his rise in the ranks of Satanism to the level of "high priest"; presiding over Satanic rituals including magical spells, summoning demons, ritual sex including a kidnap and rape; the attempt on his life — a heroin overdose — that left him angry and disillusioned; his heroism in Vietnam; and how he found Jesus and came home as an evangelist. The story ends with Warnke living happily in California with wife Sue Studer. In fewer than three months after the release, The Satan Seller had become a religious best-seller.
The book launched Warnke into stardom within evangelical Christian communities. He became a popular speaker at Christian meeting places such as Melodyland in Anaheim, California. In 1974, Warnke moved his family to attend Trinity Bible College in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a nine-month preparation for ministry. It was here, while among other charismatic Christians and recent converts preparing for a life of ministry, that Warnke met Carolyn Alberty and the two began an extramarital affair. Warnke also met Elijah Coady, an independent, schismatic bishop of the Syro-Chaldean Church, also known as the Assyrian Church of the East. Coady ordained Warnke as a deacon. Upon graduation, Warnke was again ordained, and he moved with his family to Denver, Colorado.
Recordings and wives
In November 1975 at an Indiana coffeehouse, Warnke's talk about his conversion from Satanism to Christianity was incidentally recorded. This recording became his first album, Alive, which was soon widely played on Christian radio. Later that same year, despite interventions from pastors and other acclaimed ministers, Warnke left his wife for Alberty and filed for divorce. The divorce was finalized in December 1975 and four months later, Warnke married Alberty.
Warnke's popularity earned him the cover of the September 1976 issue of the Christian magazine Harmony. In 1977, he released his second album, Jester In The King's Court. In 1978, he recounted his Vietnam experiences on his third album, Hey, Doc!. Warnke's albums became "the most popular Christian comedy albums ever produced". During a tour to Hazard, Kentucky, Warnke met Rose Hall, a thrice-divorced mother of three children, and began courting her while still married to his second wife. His second marriage came to an end when, as Alberty stated in an interview, "[Warnke] threw me into a wall and split my head open. He said, 'If you go to a local hospital and tell them what your name is, I'll kill you.'" Alberty fled to Florida. By November 1979, their divorce was finalized, and Warnke moved to Hall's farm in Kentucky. On January 2, 1980, Warnke and Hall were married.
Warnke and his label, Word Records, feuded over an album which he eventually produced and distributed on his own, A Christian's Perspective on Halloween (1979). Word Records and Warnke reconciled by 1981, resulting in Coming Home (1981), and now including wife Rose, Higher Education (1982) and Growing Up (1983). Under Word's Dayspring label, Warnke then released (solo) Stuff Happens (1985), Good News Tonight (1986), One In A Million (1988), Live ... Totally Weird (1989). Warnke also made a VHS home video, Do You Hear Me? (1989).
During the 1980s, Warnke's ministry prospered as he and his new wife toured and performed together, raising millions of dollars for their ministry. Contributions to the ministry were over $1 million in 1985, and over $2 million each year from 1987 through 1990. As their popularity waxed, their personal relationship waned. In 1984, Warnke's third wife wrote, "Satan provided a woman to fill the gap in Michael's life." The Warnkes separated in 1989 and later divorced in 1991. Six weeks after the divorce was finalized, Warnke married Rim of the World High School alumna Susan Patton.
In 1982, Warnke began to exaggerate his achievements. During the 1980s, his claims of academic degrees increased from two Bachelor's degrees to two Master's Degrees to a Doctorate of Philosophy. In The Satan Seller, Warnke says he was wounded twice while in Vietnam. In Hitchhiking on Hope Street, he said he had been wounded five times. He followed up his interest in the Syro-Chaldean tradition and his 1970s ordination as a deacon with a 1983 ordination by independent bishop Richard Morrill, lately of the Byzantine Catholic Church, Inc. This ordination allowed Warnke to call himself bishop.
On May 16, 1985, Warnke appeared in a prime-time news report about Satanism on ABC's 20/20. In the show's episode titled "The Devil Worshippers", Warnke was included in a number of segments where he discussed the implements and clothing used in Satanic ceremonies, a scar allegedly indicating where he was repeatedly cut so that his blood could be used in Satanic ceremonies, and what drew him to Satanism. After Warnke's appearance on 20/20, he was frequently cited as an expert on the occult by Christian radio host Bob Larson and the Chick Publications stable of authors.
Investigation and debunking
In 1991, Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke's life and testimony. The previous year, the magazine had debunked Lauren Stratford's story that had been recounted in her book Satan's Underground. Stratford claimed her deep involvement in Satanism led her to partake in a ritual in which her own child was sacrificed. After the exposé showed Stratford's alleged child had never existed, Cornerstone journalists Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott investigated Warnke and his claims.
The Cornerstone investigation spanned from interviews with over 100 of Warnke's personal friends and acquaintances to his ministry's tax receipts. It revealed a number of inaccuracies and evidence of fraud and deceit in Warnke's accounts. During the course of Cornerstone's investigation, pictures of Warnke taken during the time he was alleged to be a Satanist priest were discovered. Rather than showing an emaciated drug-addict sporting long fingernails and waist-length hair, the pictures showed Warnke as a typical "square" of the mid-1960s. The investigation also revealed Warnke's claims that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual to be false; Manson was in federal prison at the time, having no known ties to Satanic churches.
The investigation further uncovered that before joining the navy, Warnke had been involved with the college Christian ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke's multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Regarding one Christian intervention attempt, the Cornerstone article states, "[Don] Riling, Mike Johnson, Wes Yoder, and Mike and Carolyn were there. 'You’d have never guessed that this was a meeting of Christians,' says Riling. 'Mike and Carolyn were swearing the whole time, and they must have gone through a whole pack of cigarettes.'"
Most critically, the investigation showed how Warnke could not have done the many things he claimed to have taken part in throughout the nine months he claimed to be a Satanist - including his claims to be a drug-addicted dealer or a Satanic high priest. Before publishing, Cornerstone contacted Warnke for an interview, but he and the magazine could not agree to terms for such an interview. Cornerstone revealed its story at the annual Christian Booksellers Association convention in June 1992.
Warnke sent a response to Cornerstone, published in July, insisting he told the truth, stating:
I stand by my testimony of being delivered and set free by the power of Jesus Christ after being a Satanic high priest exactly as published in my book, The Satan Seller. ... some information was purposefully changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals and to prevent readers from using the book as a guide for occultism and Satanic purposes. But, as we stated in the front of the book, 'The events are absolutely as described.'
Despite these assertions, Warnke did not provide the name of a single Satanist but used invectives against ex-wife Carolyn. In the ensuing months, he conceded parts of the allegations, telling Christianity Today that there had been only thirteen members of his coven, not 1,500 as originally claimed, and that of those thirteen, the whereabouts of five were unknown to him, while the other eight had since died.
Public response was varied but was nevertheless overwhelmingly against Warnke. Initially, Word Records stated that they would stand by their artist. However, further investigations by local Kentucky reporters at the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed that Warnke's ministry had engaged in financial misdeeds and that, "Mike, his ex-wife Rose, and her brother Neale [Hall] received a total of $809,680 in salary at a time when the ministry newsletter claimed donations were down and more funds were needed." One week later, Word Records dropped Warnke from its label. Finally, on September 30, 1992, fewer than 100 days after the investigation was made public, Warnke's ministry closed its doors.
In the spring of 1993, Warnke submitted to the authority of an assembly of ministers "acting as elders", acknowledging his "ungodliness", his "multiple divorces", his "failure as husband, father, and friend", and of "embellishment and exaggeration ... in an attempt ... to entertain", and offering to pay back taxes to the federal government. The group recommended specific changes to the ministry, including a salary cap and accountability reports. Nonetheless, he continued to "stand by [his] testimony of former Satanic involvement", stating in a 2000 interview with the Daily Oklahoman, "Exaggeration did creep into some of my stories, but my testimony is still my testimony." As of 2006, a letter posted on Warnke's web site indicated the group had released him as having met their accountability requirements.
In 1997, Warnke suffered a heart attack. In 2000, he began attempting a comeback, limited to small churches in Kentucky. In 2002, he published Friendly Fire: A Recovery Guide for Believers Battered by Religion (ISBN 0-7684-2124-1), an account of what he perceived as his unfair treatment by fellow Christians in the wake of the Cornerstone exposé. By 2004, he was making occasional performing appearances at churches around the country, often referred to simply as "Christian comedian Mike Warnke", and sometimes as a former Satanic priest although some mentions in the news referred to the Cornerstone exposé.
- Tony Anthony - a British evangelist whose claims were exposed as false
- Ergun Caner - Former college President who made similar claims that he was an Islamic terrorist that have been disputed
- Lauren Stratford - an American whose claims to have been brought up as a baby breeder in a Satanic cult were exposed as false
- John Todd - an American who claimed to have been a Satanic high priest before his conversion to Christianity
- Michelle Remembers - a discredited memoir detailing Satanic ritual abuse by Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient and later wife, Michelle Smith
- "Selling Satan". Cornerstone (98). 1992. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- "Warnke's statement in response to Cornerstone's claims". Cornerstone. July 15, 1992. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- Cornerstone, issue 98: "Records show Warnke was in Vietnam for only six months"
- Hey Doc recording. Word Records
- As quoted in Cornerstone issue 98: "When Mike Warnke Speaks, the World Listens!". Contemporary Christian Music. February 26, 1979.
- The Exhaustive Christian Music Discography: W Archived March 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Sweet-Music.com (September 28, 2011). "W - Complete Alphabetical Christian Music catalogue listing: Sweet Christian Music - Celebrating Our 10th Year Shipping WorldWide!". Sweet-music.com. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved November 14, 2011.
- As cited by Cornerstone expose: Rose Hall Warnke; Joan Hake Robie (1985). The Great Pretender. Lancaster, PA: Starburst Publishers. ISBN 0-914984-03-9.
- "The Devil Worshippers". ABC News 20/20 transcript, show #521. May 16, 1985.
- "Why the Dates Don't Work (sidebar)". Cornerstone (98). 1992. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- "Warnke Update". Cornerstone (99). 1992. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- Jay Grelen. "Christian comedian says he lied about coven", Lexington Herald-Leader, November 3, 1992, page B1.
- Jay Grelen. "Christian comedian set to close doors of troubled ministry", Lexington Herald-Leader (KY), September 30, 1992, page C13.
- Tamie Ross. "Laughs stopped for Christian comic: Mike Warnke offers fans new outlook after ministry's crash", The Daily Oklahoman, September 30, 2000, page 1B
- Warnke's 1993 statement of apology and repentance Archived May 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- "Local notes - Controversial comedian", The Modesto Bee (CA), February 2, 2002, page G1: "Mike Warnke, a popular 1970s Christian comedian later accused of fabricating claims about his Satanist past, will speak at Pentecostal Church of God Friday through February 10. ... It is unlikely he will talk about his colorful past, said Hughson Pastor Roy Little. Warnke speaks these days about his current Christian faith."
- Monique H. Henderson. "Spotlight: Christian comedian Mike Warnke comes to Rancho Mirage: his humor is in the past", The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), October 3, 2007, page B2.
- "This week" (local events column), Springfield News-Leader (MO), September 15, 2007, page 2C: "Shoal Creek Revival Church ... Christian comedian Mike Warnke 7 p.m. today and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday."
- Carol Reiter. "Around Town: Walk for health care" (local events column), The Merced Sun-Star (CA), April 14, 2007: "Calvary Temple Worship Center, ... will present Mike Warnke ... . Warnke will share his life experiences from more than 35 years in World Wide Ministry."
- "Access religion" (local events column), The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), August 19, 2006, page 2E: "First Assembly of God of Guthrie, Christian comedian Mike Warnke ... . "
- Staff reports. "Ex-hippie employs comedy to spread God's word", El Paso Times (TX), October 15, 2004, page 1D: "According to his Web site, Warnke was a satanic high priest ... "...
- "Religion calendar", St. Petersburg Times (FL), October 21, 2006, PASCO TIMES section, page 5.
- Barbara Hale. "Around town: Mike Warnke entertains", The Merced Sun-Star (CA), August 3, 2006, page 2: "A man who has spent 34 years ministering to the lost and brokenhearted is coming to Merced to share his comedic style that gains the attention of listeners. The speaker is Mike Warnke, an ex-satanist high priest, hippie, drug addict, pusher and Naval hospital corpsman attached to a U.S. Marine Corps unit in Vietnam. ..."
- Mike Hertenstein, Jon Trott: Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke (ISBN 0-940895-07-2), Cornerstone Press 1993. An expanded, book-length version of the Cornerstone exposé by the original journalists.
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