Depending whom you ask, one of two things is happening at the big Cuyahoga Falls church run by legendary television evangelist Ernest Angley:
•?The devil himself has infiltrated the church, and Angley, who is a prophet of God, has been working tirelessly to fight him off.
•?Angley's church is a dangerous cult where pregnant women are encouraged to have abortions, childless men are encouraged to have vasectomies and Angley — who preaches vehemently against the “sin” of homosexuality — is himself a gay man who personally examines the genitals of the male parishioners before and after their surgeries. They also say he turns a blind eye to sexual abuse by other members of his church.
During the past few months, a tear has ripped through the 3,000-seat auditorium known as Grace Cathedral. One longtime associate pastor resigned, telling friends and family he felt he had been inappropriately touched by Angley for seven years.
The dispute exploded on July 13, when Angley and two others in his camp addressed the situation in a 2½-hour open service. The service was recorded by one of the attendees and shared with the Beacon Journal.
In response to swirling accusations that he is a homosexual who has abused both his associates and members of the congregation, Angley, 93, had this to say to a large Sunday gathering.
“I'm not a homosexual. God wouldn't use a homosexual like he uses me. He calls me his prophet, and indeed I am. ...
“They called Jesus a homosexual, did you know that? And still do. Because he was with men. Oh, Mary Magdalene and a few women. But you can't stop the people's lies.”
Then he addressed his history of urging the males in his congregation to submit to vasectomies.
“I've helped so many of the boys down through the years,” he said in his slow, singsong cadence. “They had their misgivings. Sure, I'd have them uncover themselves, but I did not handle them at all.
“And I would tell them how that would work. And they'd have to watch it. I'd have some of them come back to me that I felt needed to. And I would tell them, I would look at them, their privates — I, so I could tell how they were swelling.
“One young man, he decided to put in a garden [doctors advise against physical exertion after a vasectomy]. And he'd like to died. If he'd just told me — ask me. ...
“Another one was constipated. It was awful. And he was just dying deaths.
“And another one, one of his testicles fell out, absolutely fell out. ‘It's dangerous, you should have a nurse.' But I knew they wouldn't get one.
“And men's — I was a farm boy. We thought nothing about undressing. We didn't know about homosexuals. We talked about women.
“And some of these turned against me.”
They certainly did. In droves.
Many speak out
The Beacon Journal spoke individually with 21 former members of the church who insist that Angley has been running a cult, not a church, and say he consistently threatens and intimidates his flock into following his instructions, bullying them into life-changing decisions that often split up families.
These folks say Angley controls virtually every aspect of their lives, from deciding what they read and watch on TV to whom they will marry and when. The sheer amount of time they are urged to spend at the church — three- to five-hour services, multiple times per week, plus a host of other activities — enables him to limit outside interference, they say.
Angley and other top church officials say the wave of members who left the church this summer was part of a conspiracy to take control of the ministry, and that the former members are “lying” about virtually everything.
But a parade of ex-members — some who departed 25 years ago, some who departed only a few months ago — scoff at those assertions.
“This man is a monster,” said Pam Cable of Akron, who left the church in 1988. “He's a monster. And I can't understand why all these years have gone by and nobody's ever really been able to do anything about him.
“The people in Akron, Ohio, have a Jim Jones sitting in their backyard. ... These people in his congregation would drink the Kool-Aid if he told them to. They would.”
Kenny Montgomery, a former usher, also invokes the name of Jones, the religious leader who in 1978 persuaded 909 of his followers to commit suicide by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide.
“That place is a textbook cult,” said Montgomery, whose mother introduced him to the church at age 9. “I'm really scared for my friends and family that still go there.”
He and others say Angley holds so much sway over his members' lives that he has persuaded them to get abortions and vasectomies even when they didn't want to.
“None of us have kids because he makes all the men get fixed,” said Becky Roadman, 32, who quit the church last year and now lives in Georgia. “You're not allowed to have babies there.”
That assertion is seconded by Akron resident Angelia Oborne, who worked in the church's restaurant, the Cathedral Buffet, for 20 years before quitting the church a year and a half ago.
“My husband and I can't have children because my husband had a vasectomy,” she said. “We were looking at getting it reversed, but I'm 35 years old and ... may not be able to have children anymore.
“And that breaks my heart, because that choice was made for me, because of the brainwashing, the mind control. We weren't allowed to have children. If you turned up pregnant, it's almost as if you had sinned.”
Oborne says Angley once advised a friend to think of her growing fetus as “a tumor.”
“She was four months pregnant and she sat in the [abortion clinic] waiting room and told her baby that she was so sorry that she was doing this,” Oborne said.
“I know another girl — she won't come forward — but she was forced into having four abortions.”
Among those who have been pressured into abortions is Mimi Camp of Munroe Falls.
Camp was 25 and the mother of two boys when she and her husband moved from Florida to Akron and joined the church. When she became pregnant again and revealed what she figured would be the joyous news, her husband was upset, quoting Angley as saying, “It's against God's will for anyone to have a child.”
When they went to talk with Angley, Camp said, their pastor declared that abortion was her only option — “and then he went into some sort of vision and said, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord, if you have this child it could take your life or be retarded and you won't be the mother to your other two children.'?”
Camp grudgingly, haltingly acceded.
“I actually waited until I was 15 or 16 weeks along,” she said. “I was taking my prenatal vitamins and everything because I just didn't want to do it.
“I kept getting pressured. The church recommended the abortion clinic. The first one I went to, I got up and walked out. I couldn't go through with it.
“Then some higher-ups from the church were saying, ‘You know, you'd be doing the right thing. You really need to go through with it.' And I went ahead and did it.”
She deeply regrets the decision. She experienced early menopause and never had another chance to have the girl she always wanted.
“I thought perhaps it was a girl,” she said. “It was terrible. It was absolutely gut-wrenching.”
Bad time for kids
During a 90-minute interview in his office, Angley said he doesn't remember Camp's circumstances, doesn't push for abortions and only suggests vasectomies.
“I can't regulate their lives,” he said. “But I can advise them about things if they ask me.”
Why would the head of a church want to limit the size of his future congregation? Usher Mike Kish, who sat in on the interview, said, “I would hate to even bring a child into the world at this point, being a parent, just having common sense. ... If you look at the condition of this world ... it just seems to be going downhill.”
When Angley was asked whether he agrees that this is a bad time to have children, he responded: “It really is. It really is. I wouldn't want to be brought into this world now.”
Even if you had strong faith?
“No, because the people of strong faith go down. And their children are in danger ... . It wasn't like that when I was a kid. We could walk up and down the streets, we could play at night and we were not molested at all.”
Angley volunteered a story about a male church employee who, Angley believes, wanted a child too much.
“This girl, she wanted a baby, she's a second wife,” Angley said. “Those vasectomies can be undone, and he had it undone for her sake.
“I knew he shouldn't have. We almost lost her, and they had twins and one of them died [at birth]. The little boy [who survived], he is something else. He really loves me. ... The daddy, he's proud of him. But he knows he did the wrong thing.”
Angley and his late wife, Esther (he called her “Angel”), who died in 1970, never had children. When asked why, Angley said: “We didn't want children. We wanted to give our lives to the work of God. ... My wife really loved children, but she didn't feel like that we should have them.”
Some former members believe Angley has an ulterior motive in trying to prevent his parishioners from having children. Among them is Greg Mulkey of Barberton.
Mulkey was a prominent figure at Grace Cathedral, a singer in the Hallelujahs, a group featured on Angley's TV broadcasts, and a key member of the church choir.
“He doesn't want people to have kids because it would take their time and money away from [the church],” he said.
“He really forced people into abortions through scare tactics, as if he were a medical doctor. It turns my stomach.”
Mulkey says vasectomies were force-fed as well.
“When you tell another man to have a vasectomy, and you're not a doctor, and you have influence over that person, you're taking away their humanity.
“[It's] his way of controlling everyone. It's very scary stuff.”
Given Angley's level of control, ex-members say, parishioners are vulnerable to his advances and those of his associates. That subject will be examined in Part Two.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.