7/28/09 – Opinion: Tony Alamo tests me to the max

July 28, 2009
Greg Sagan

Column – Greg Sagan: This preacher tests me to the max

Last week evangelist Tony Alamo was convicted of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex. His trial in federal court in Texarkana illuminated, once again, outrages performed at an isolated religious commune by its own leader.

Alamo, originally Bernie Lazar Hoffman, ran a sex camp under the guise of a religious experiment in social perfection. According to reports of the FBI investigation Alamo “married” girls, children of his followers, as young as eight so he could drive them across state lines to consummate their “relationships.” Some even received “wedding rings.”

I tend to push against the death penalty, but it’s cases like this one that keep my heart from going full bore against it.

I do believe I could shoot Alamo myself.

But enough about me.

My question is, what happens to all those people who gave their time, their devotion, their assets, their reputations, their wives and their children to Alamo’s odd take on his role as voice of God and shepherd of the people? What are they now to do with Alamo’s preached ideas? I do not mean bedrock principles shared by all Christian denominations. I refer instead to Alamo’s more prosaic and personal messages.

For example, he blames the Vatican for his legal troubles. According to Alamo the government, assisted by the Vatican, is after him because of the apocalyptic Christianity he preaches. Alamo calls himself “… just another one of the prophets that (sic) went to jail for the Gospel.” What should his followers do with this? Should they continue to view the Vatican with hostility and suspicion no matter what it does? Or should they conclude that their leader has a screw loose?

What if the atmosphere to which these families return embraces as orthodoxy that all leaders of their branch have the same right to prey on the children? We on the outside of this can at least agree that at eight years old no child can be assumed, under the law, to be capable of informed consent to such a marriage, can’t we? Moral depravity aside, it’s a legal travesty and an abuse of a pastor’s position to call such assignations “marriages.” Talk about cheapening the institution. I’d rather see gays and lesbians marry in every state in the nation than have to explain this version of “marriage” to my grandson.

I can invent all sorts of possible crises in belief that could be inspired by such a verdict, depending on the range of Alamo’s sermon topics. If he mentioned his four-year imprisonment on tax charges then he’s already blamed the government and the Vatican for that one. If he followed in the wake of other prominent conservative evangelists then he may have expressed political preferences. Should his followers attack the government? Or should they seek wiser counsel? Should they arm themselves and prepare to oppose evil? Surrender? Drink Kool-Aid? Become Democrats?

Perhaps the saddest outcome of this and similar disgraces could well be that those on the inside of such groups begin to turn away from the pure “word of God” messages delivered by such badly flawed men because of the bad flaws in these men. We all know of situations in which our colleagues, and perhaps even our family members and friends, will “shoot the messenger” – that is, attack the person who tells us bad news because we don’t like the bad news.

Isn’t it at least as plausible that we might “shoot the message” because we feel betrayed by the person who brought it? (Anyone looking for a topic for a doctoral dissertation in the behavioral sciences might look into this.)

Those of us on the outside of such institutions have our own challenges. It is easy for us to believe, with little evidence, all sorts of things. We might believe that all men and women of religious calling are hucksters and grifters and molesters of children when that is most emphatically not the case. We might choose to believe that this is another example of our secular society “victimizing” a Christian for his beliefs, also a bogus assertion. We might even choose to believe that the state has no right to intervene in such a situation because the state is not competent to evaluate the practices of religious conviction. There are others. Take your pick.

But it might be wise for those drawn to such isolated religious communes to apply a lesson from abusive marriages to their religious zeal, and that is that anyone who attempts to cut you off from people who can help you is exercising unhealthy control.

When that happens, you really should be ready at any moment to get the hell out of there.

In: 2009 - (Trial year), News Blogs & Forums

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Post A Comment

Please note: All comments are moderated. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please submit a well thought out post with proper punctuation and spelling, so that it can be reviewed and posted promptly (as space allows).

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.