Monday, November 29, 2004

Sinner Man where you gonna run to?

will miss Ozzfest this year

Internet rule #1: Think before hitting "send" on an email.

Internet rule #2: Think before posting to a blog. I applied rule #2 carefully before completing the following post, but after some thought, additional research, and the addition of some disclaimers, I decided to go ahead with it. I'm not just talkin' trash here. I believe this post is fair to its subject, and that his story puts certain issues we face today into context. So here it is:

As part of our continuing study of the moral example provided by conservative "values" icons, Night Light today notes the passing of the Rev. Billy James Hargis, whose obituary is in today's New York Times. Hargis was the Southern clergyman who began as a "bawl and jump" country preacher, but moved on to bigger and better things. His life story is instructive in light of recent developments, particularly the conservative movement's use of the media and religion to promote partisan politics and an agenda of intolerance. Billy James Hargis condemned his political opponents for sins he was busy committing, and lived to pay for it (but probably not enough.)

As a self-proclaimed anti-Communist, Hargis used his radio and television shows to label certain institutions and individuals as Communist- sympathizing, Red-inspired, or just plain immoral. Among Hargis's main themes were the evils of indiscriminate and "deviant" sex, celebrities he considered sexually transgressive (the Beatles were a favorite target with those provocative mop-tops), and the liberal world's attitude of permissiveness toward sin. Other preferred targets were the Anti-Defamation League, the women's liberation movement, and Richard Nixon (after he "betrayed" America by going to China.)

A journalist named Fred Cook brought his media empire down (or diminished it considerably) by suing for equal time under the FCC's now all-but-dismantled Fairness Doctrine. Hargis had savaged Cook over Cook's biography of Hargis favorite Barry Goldwater. Broadcasters carrying Hargis' programming objected to carrying Cook's response and, as the Times puts it, "many stations thereafter were less inclined to broadcast controversial programs."

This was just the beginning of Hargis' troubles. He had long-running battles with the IRS over his religious organization's overt endorsement of Goldwater for President, and its support for specific legislation. The IRS ruling stated that this behavior disqualified his group for tax exemption as a religious organization, and was later upheld by the Federal courts. Can you picture today's IRS making a similar decision, and a Bush-appointed judge upholding it? Ironically, Hargis had ratted out another religious institution to the IRS, the Christian Century magazine, after it endorsed Lyndon Johnson in an editorial. The Century temporarily lost its tax exempt status.

The next twist in the 270-pound Hargis's career - well, let's let the Times tell the story: "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." So, it seems that male and female he "made" them, our Rev. Hargis. What the Times fails to mention is that Hargis originally confessed to the seductions, blaming "genes and chromosomes" rather than taking personal responsibility, before withdrawing his confession and undertaking a series of public denials of the charges.

His victims were members of his choir, the "All American Kids." Insert your own ironic joke here: I'm getting worn out. His pattern of behavior came to light, according to at least one source, when two of the Kids got married. On their wedding night, each learned that the other had also been seduced. Other members of the choir confirmed the allegations, leading to the Reverend's temporary confession. His abdication of responsibility to genetic science was followed by a withdrawal of the confession, then by a series of denials and the continuation of his clerical and political activities.

It seems to follow the usual pattern: conservative decries liberals for their immorality and their belief that you don't have to be responsible for your actions, then runs for every excuse he can find when they (or a member of their family) behaves badly. Consider the behavior of Rush Limbaugh or the Bush family, for starters. For reference, Merriam-Webster defines a "hypocrite" as "a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion."

Three Disclaimers: First, I would not repeat allegations that I thought might be untrue, but it seems unlikely these charges are false given Hargis's own confession. And imagine the courage it took for any molestation victims, much less devoutly fundamentalist college students, to come forward in the 1970's. (Unfortunately it's not much easier today.) Second, I hope I don't hold others to a higher moral standard than I do myself. I have made mistakes in this life, like anyone, but I hope I've made sincere amends and avoided hypocrisy. Third, I don't judge Hargis for his obesity, although it creates unfortunate graphic images of his life story. End of disclaimers.

So now Billy James Hargis takes his leave and faces Judgment. Far be it from me to say what fate awaits him. But a word to the Reverend: If you do meet Satan, please tell him thanks for the Black Sabbath reunion tour but not to bother moving on to Twisted Sister.

Today's Sinner: Billy James Hargis
Commandments Violated: VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery; IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony