The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

The Day I Ran Out of Church

It was the only day I ran, and I mean ran, out of church. Sure, there were plenty of times I was happy to leave, but this day I ran as fast as I could.

But, before I proceed, first the setting. I attended an evangelical high school and then Bible college both run by the same church — then the largest megachurch in the country with 20,000 people per Sunday.

I realized the church was toxic early on and moved to a different church. We were required to attend church but it could be another one of similar bent. I picked a small one with maybe 150 in the congregation. It was more preaching the Bible and less politics, and far less pure hate than I heard from the other pulpit.

I had the misfortune of being in the same high school class as the son of the preacher who ran the megachurch. He was already anointed to replace his father. I also knew he was seducing girls from the high school right, left and center. His father knew it as well but covered it up and his son covered up regarding his father’s mistress.

I left the school and started at the college but I got sick of them and broke quiet publicly on a right-wing radio show. That brought the wrath of loving Christians down on my head and I packed up my things and left the state, moving to Illinois. I continued to do radio shows warning about the dangers of the religious right and the bigotry it preached.

I was living on the North side of Chicago and pretty much enjoying life — no names though.

I had written my expose of the Moral Majority already and had also written my expose of evangelical “ex-gay” cults. But I was troubled the church was not taken down for the cesspool it really was. I had learned more in the years after I left.

I had a friend who I spent time with regularly. He was an editor at one of the major papers and also wrote for various magazines. He tickled my ego so I remember this night very well. We were having dinner at a nice little restaurant across from Lincoln Park. He got this shocked look on his face rather suddenly and I probably looked somewhat confused as to why.

He said something I appreciated then, and would appreciate it even more if someone said it today—40 years later! His mouth just dropped open and he said, “My god, in this light you look like you’re 16.” I think I laughed, and I did appreciate it. However, when I was still being carded at 30 I wasn’t as appreciative.

At that dinner I went into detail about the church and I tried to explain to him why it was so evil and why it needed to be exposed and I urged him to do the exposé. We talked about it several more times and he finally got the go-ahead from Chicago magazine. He wanted to attend a service at the church and he asked me to go along. I was not keen to do so. But it had been 8 years since I left the high school and 6 years since I left the college.

I was apprehensive about the place. I felt very uneasy there because I knew how nasty these people could be. But I wanted the exposé done so I went. I figured with 20,000 people I’d just melt into the crowd until we left.

Just as we going into the place I hear someone shouting out my name several times. I turned and saw the heir apparent, the preacher’s son, coming in my direction. I considered him the worst of the lot and I know he was something of a bully at school. He was literally the last person I wanted to see. I told my friend I was going back to the car and I’d wait for him there.

I just didn’t want the trauma of reviving memories with the one person I thought the worst of the lot.

An article was written and it was negative but there was so much that just couldn’t be proven at the time and thus couldn’t be used.

It was some years later it all fell apart on them. The preacher’s son, who I thought the worst of the bunch, had a string of mistresses when pastoring his father’s old church. He dumped his wife, a schoolmate of mine, and became an evangelist with his new wife, and they advertised in swinger’s publications. He was directly involved in the death of a child which was covered up as the preacher boy’s father had the baby shipped to Texas immediately to hide evidence. A second baby in the family also died “accidentally” a couple of years later. A police investigator publicly said he thought it was abuse and that the preacher’s son was guilty.

The age restriction is absurd as this a news report dealing with the death of the child.

The father’s affair with the mistress was exposed publicly and confirmed by his own daughter, another schoolmate of mine. She has openly said her father ran a cult and I agree.

The preacher finally died and his son-in-law, married to a second daughter, who was in the same class as my brother, becomes pastor but is now in federal prison for seducing an underage girl who came to him for counselling after being molested.

All this came out but well after the first expose I got my friend to write. We just didn’t have hard proof yet, it would come in due course. But, I found the atmosphere so toxic I couldn’t endure it again. I was barely willing to go inside with my friend but the moment I heard my name called out, I knew nothing good would come of it and ran.

Beginning in the late 70s I started to warn what would happen if evangelicals took over the Republican Party. Now we all are living that nightmare.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.