[Paleopsych] NYT: Billy James Hargis, 79, Pastor and Anticommunist Crusader, Dies

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Billy James Hargis, 79, Pastor and Anticommunist Crusader, Dies
NYT November 29, 2004

[I, as we all do, wish Mr. Mencken could have written about him.]

The Rev. Billy James Hargis, a fiery evangelist and
anticommunist preacher who founded the Christian Crusade
and reached millions in an international ministry that used
radio, television, books, pamphlets and personal
appearances, died on Saturday at a nursing home in Tulsa,
Okla. He was 79.

Mr. Hargis, who had Alzheimer's disease, died at St.
Simeon's Episcopal Home, where he had lived since last
July, said his daughter, Becky Jean Frank. No cause of
death was listed, Ms. Frank said.

At the height of his popularity in the 1960's and 1970's,
Mr. Hargis - a shouting, arm-waving, 270-pound elemental
force whom Oklahomans called a "bawl and jump" preacher -
broadcast sermons daily or weekly on 500 radio stations and
250 television stations, mainly in the South, and in other
countries. He traveled almost constantly to deliver his
Christian and anticommunist messages, wrote 100 books and
thousands of articles and pamphlets, and published a
monthly newspaper.

Mr. Hargis, who began preaching as a teenager and later
abandoned life as a pastor to engage in what became a
lifelong crusade against communism, first gained
international prominence in 1953, when he went to West
Germany and sent aloft thousands of balloons bearing
Biblical passages in hopes of reaching the people of
Eastern Europe.

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, he organized and spoke at
rallies across America, allying himself with the Rev. Carl
McIntire, retired Gen. Edwin A. Walker and other
anticommunist crusaders. In 1966, he established the David
Livingston Missionary Foundation, which ran medical clinics
and orphanages in Asia and Africa, and in 1970 he founded
and became president of the American Christian Crusade
College in Tulsa.

Mr. Hargis appeared to be on his way to rivaling the Rev.
Billy Graham and other major evangelists of his time. But
his ministry and his following began to diminish after a
series of reverses, including a long fight with the
Internal Revenue Service that led in 1964 to the
cancellation of tax-exempt status for his $1 million-a-year
anticommunist Christian Crusade, for "political

Another case produced a landmark court decision and sharply
cut Mr. Hargis's broadcasting empire. He was accused by
Fred J. Cook, a journalist, of unfairly maligning him in a
radio broadcast. Mr. Cook sought free air time to reply
under the Federal Communications Commission's fairness
doctrine. A radio station in Red Lion, Pa., sued, saying
its First Amendment rights would be violated. But the
Supreme Court in 1969 upheld the constitutionality of the
fairness doctrine, and many stations thereafter were less
inclined to broadcast controversial programs.

In 1974, after Mr. Hargis was accused of having sexual
relations with students of both sexes, he resigned as
president of the college he had founded. He denied the
accusations at the time and in a 1986 autobiography, "My
Great Mistake," which was published by the Christian

Billy James Hargis was born on Aug. 3, 1925, in Texarkana,
Tex., and was adopted by Jimmie Earsel Hargis and Laura
Lucille Hargis. He graduated from Texarkana High School and
attended the Ozark Bible College in Bentonville, Ark., but
dropped out to become a preacher. At 18, he was ordained a
minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination, and
became a pastor at several churches in Oklahoma and

But in the early 1950's, he gave that up to become a radio
preacher, and soon developed a passion for anticommunism
that blended easily with his Christian sermons. As his
charges of harboring communists widened to include
government, business, labor, entertainment, cultural and
charitable institutions and religious organizations, the
Disciples of Christ dropped him as an accredited minister
in 1957. By then, however, his crusade had grown into print
and television media and was thriving.

While his audience later faded, his message essentially
remained unchanged. He continued to serve as the director
of the Christian Crusade Ministries until last summer, when
his son, Billy James Hargis II, took over.

Besides his son, a Houston resident, and his daughter,
Becky, of Tulsa, Mr. Hargis is survived by his wife, Betty
Jane, whom he married in 1951; two daughters, Bonnie Jane
Choisnard and Brenda Jo Epperley, both of Tulsa; 11
grandchildren; and 4 great-grandchildren.


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