A blast from the past.
Colorado Springs has been called the “evangelical Vatican of the West.” For those not in the know the “evangelical Vatican” is Wheaton, Illinois.
And as life would have it I lived on Gundersen Drive which is the same street as about a dozen major evangelical organizations. For proximity I was living on the 500 block and Christianity Today is headquartered on the 400 block. In fact I worked at one of the major evangelical organisation there but I shall spare them a mention.
So back to Colorado Springs. One of the evangelical “ministries” there is a place called The Summit. I first heard about the Summit in my previous life as a born again nutter (now fully recovered thank you). The Summit is an old hotel which was purchased by Rev. Billy James Hargis in 1962.
Now Hargis is not so well known anymore. One reason is that he died in 2004. But he was a major force on the Christian Right in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was a rotund man who was obsessed with the Communist conspiracy to take over America.
The current leader of The Summit is Rev. David Noebel, who worked closely with Hargis for years. Hargis operated a campaign called Christian Crusade. But make no mistake about it David Noebel was playing second-fiddle to the main man: Billy James Hargis. Hargis was the speaker and Hargis was the man who raised the money they needed.
But if you go to Summit Ministries web site you will find no mention of Hargis at all. Down the memory hole. Even though Hargis was instrumental in starting The Summit he gets no mention whatsoever and Noebel is listed as the founder.
Now let us go to a trip I was taking across country. Not to Colorado but close enough. It was a two day drive either way. There were three of us sharing a camper truck. Myself, a young lady and this older gentleman who owned the camper and was doing the driving. We were going to a conference. Along the way, there and back, I and the young lady had a lot of time to talk. I had known her but not very well but got to know her better on the trip.
She was a student at American Christian College at the time. Hargis used to travel the country on campaigns with “The All-American Kids” a group of students from the college who would sing at his rallies. She was a member of this group.
And we got to talking about the school and about Hargis. She confided to me some things which astounded me at the time.
Now remember that Hargis was one of the biggest fundamentalists on the political scene at the time. But I learned that Mr. Hargis, like Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, et al had another side to him.
Apparently two the students got engaged. No surprise there until they got married. On the night of the honeymoon they felt they needed to confess their sins to each other. Neither he nor she were virgins. Not particularly shocking if you think about it. Except they both had lost their virginity to the same man: Billy James Hargis. And Hargis was the man who had performed their wedding. How cozy.
The vice president of the college was David Noebel.
The whole incident came to light as word went around campus as to what had happened. I figure if I had heard about it surely it was common knowledge on campus. Apparently it was. And as people started talking three more young men came forward to admit that Hargis had sex with them as well. All in all there were four male students and one female student who had sex with Hargis. One the students began a three-year sexual involvement when he was about 16 years old.
Noebel was told about this and he told the school board. They faced Hargis who admitted the incidents but said it was the fault of “genes and chromosomes”. (Actually a far more accurate answer than the one Haggard was concocting).
Hargis was basically forced out, or bought off depending on how you interpret it. He was given a large sum of cash to retire and promised a yearly stipend to leave. Noebel got Summit Ministries. The college, without Hargis to raise the funds, closed in 1977. Hargis got to pretend he was retiring for health reasons.
But in a short time the various ministries Hargis founded were having cash problems and most of them agreed to let Hargis take over again. The college did not and obviously neither did Summit Ministries in Colorado Springs.
Time magazine described Hargis as an “ultra-right Fundamentalist” who “has long denounced sexual sin and spoken out as a defender of traditional values in an increasingly lax society.” Yep, that’s pretty accurate. But boy isn’t this de’ja vu all over again.
Hargis was very, very close to the ultra-right John Birch Society that preached there was a secret conspiracy by bankers to take over the world. Noebel, like Hargis, was also close the Birchers and believes the same conspiracy theories.
Noebel, like Haggard, is on (or was in the case of Haggard) close friends with James Dobson of the antigay Focus on the Family. All in Colorado Springs. But now you know why Billy James Hargis disappeared down the memory hole at Summit Ministries.
Haggard was not the first, neither was Hargis for that matter. And Haggard certainly won’t be the last. Already some names are floating about. People have become sick and tired of the moralizing and the push for theocracy and far, far more willing to expose such people than they ever have been before.
Here is a photo of Noebel with Hargis.