Religion: The Sins of Billy James

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Noebel, a Hargis aide for twelve years, described how he felt when he first heard the students' accounts: "For two weeks, I couldn't sleep. I knew we had to get Hargis off campus or we were going to lose the whole school." Finally, on Oct. 25, 1974, Noebel and two other college officials confronted Hargis and two of his lawyers. According to two of those present, Hargis, who has a wife, three daughters and a son, admitted his guilt and blamed his behavior on "genes and chromosomes."

Two days later, Hargis preached a farewell sermon to his Tulsa congregation, then turned the presidency of the college over to Noebel. But Hargis stayed around the campus for weeks before he officially severed ties with the Christian Crusade and allied groups. His resignation came only after the Hargis organizations had agreed to cash in their $72,000 life insurance policy on Hargis and give him the money, and had guaranteed him a $24,000 annual stipend. Meanwhile, Hargis announced that he was retiring to his Ozarks farm because of ill health.

By February 1975 Hargis felt energetic enough to try to regain control of the college, but the board backed Noebel. Deprived of Hargis' name and his astounding money-raising talents, however, his former operations soon found themselves strapped for cash, and in September all but the college accepted Hargis' offer to return. The decision was risky, says Loyalist Jess Pedigo, president of Hargis' David Livingstone Missionary Foundation. "We thought his coming back might have been premature, but he was a broken man. He was truly repentant, and we urged him to forget the past. 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' " Perhaps more to the point, adds Pedigo, "There was a danger of bankruptcy."

So Hargis announced that he was "led of the Lord to come back to Tulsa." Since then he has been flamboyantly establishing a new base. He has bought a six-story building for his downtown headquarters, though the city has refused him permission to put his name atop it in lights 85 ft. long. And he signed up Anti-Communist Dan Lyons, who left the Jesuit priesthood to get married (TIME, Sept. 29), to edit the weekly newspaper, which again is lavishing coverage on such events as Hargis' "hero's welcome" in South Korea.

The American Christian College, however, has not forgiven Hargis. It took months for Hargis to transfer to the college the deed to the modernistic church building and the 8½-acre campus. Without it, the school had no hope of getting regional accreditation. Worse, Hargis has given the college only limited access to the names on the fund-raising list that all the Hargis organizations formerly shared. Says Noebel: "He's been telling everyone we are going to sink. Well, obviously we will sink as long as he holds the mailing list." Some 70% of the school's income comes from contributions. Enrollment has dropped from 228 to 160, and since word of the scandal spread to parents one teacher has talked 25 of them into letting their children stay enrolled.

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