Religion: The Sins of Billy James

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Dear Friend:

After years of shock and sorrow over the decline of morals and decency in our country, I thought I had become shockproof . . . Can you believe it: complete color films of sexual acts between women and men, including homosexual acts, using your children. Unless you and I act today . . . our children and our children's children will be exposed to perversion so sinister that good will become evil and evil will become good.

That fund-raising appeal, mailed out last month from Tulsa's Crusade for Christian Morality, bears the unmistakable stamp of its author, the Rev. Billy

James Hargis. An ultra-right Fundamentalist, Hargis, 50, has long denounced sexual sin and spoken out as a defender of traditional virtues in an increasingly lax society. In 1968, his organization published the bestseller (250,000 copies) Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?

Today, however, Hargis stands accused by former colleagues of committing some of the very sins he has railed against. TIME Correspondent Anne Constable and Reporters Richard Walker and Tom Carter have learned that five students—four of them men—at his American Christian College in Tulsa have come forward and said that President Hargis has had sexual relations with them. Asked about the charges, Hargis declined to give any specific reply. Through a lawyer, he stated: "I have made more than my share of mistakes. I'm not proud of them. Even the Apostle Paul said, 'Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am chief.' Long ago, I made my peace with God, and my ministry continues."

That ministry centers on the Christian Crusade, which was founded by Hargis in 1950 to promote far-right political and religious causes, and includes radio and TV programs and the Christian Crusade Weekly. Hargis rallies have featured such notables as former Major General Edwin Walker and Governor George Wallace. Though originally ordained in the Disciples of Christ, Hargis in 1966 organized his own independent Tulsa congregation, The Church of the Christian Crusade. It provided tax deductibility for Hargis contributors after the vocal Christian Crusade lost its tax exemption. Four years later, Hargis founded American Christian College to teach "antiCommunist patriotic Americanism."

Broken Man. It was at the college that Hargis' sexual troubles surfaced in October 1974, when the first of the five students confessed to then Vice President David Noebel. Noebel's account: Not long before, Hargis had conducted a wedding for the student; on the honeymoon, the groom and his bride discovered that both of them had slept with Hargis. Later, Noebel says, three more male students told him of having had sexual relations with Hargis over a period of three years. They said the trysts had taken place in Hargis' office, at his farm in the Ozarks, even during his tours with the college choir, the "All-American Kids." Noebel was told that Hargis justified his homosexual acts by citing the Old Testament friendship between David and Jonathan and threatened to blacklist the youths for life if they talked.

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