In the televangelism world, Ernest Angley used to be a big deal, up there with Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart. But the 93-year-old's Grace Cathedral seems quaint and a little creepy now. A new investigation says that might have to do with Angley's weird encroachments into his flock's sexual and reproductive lives.
"Falling From Grace?", a five-part series by the Akron Beacon Journal, suggests that Angley's Ohio-based ministry runs as a totalitarian cult that bars parishioners from having children—mandating abortions and vasectomies—and has required some men, including the now ex-associate pastor, to receive "a special anointing" from Angley in the nude.
It's hard to decide which are the worst allegations leveled by dozens of ex-church members against Angley, but his China-like reproductive mandates—especially ironic, given most evangelical Christians' condemnation of abortion—are chilling:
"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..."
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."
There are also charges of rampant sexual abuse in the church that allegedly were ignored or actively suppressed by leaders. Angley himself has been accused of molesting his associate pastor, 29-year-old Brock Miller, who left the church this summer:
Angley "had him undress and touched him all over," said a family member who did not want to be identified because many members of the large family are still devout followers. "I don't believe he touched him on his part, but it doesn't matter. That doesn't belong in the church. It doesn't belong anywhere, but it [certainly] doesn't belong in the church."
When asked whether Angley explained the reason for the touching, the person replied, "[Miller] was receiving 'a special anointing.' "
Here's where it gets really weird, though:
Some male ex-churchgoers say they weren't surprised by Miller's allegations, because Angley took an inordinate amount of interest in their own genitalia.
As was reported in the first installment of this series, Angley routinely brings men into his office to examine them before and after vasectomies, which he allegedly urges all of his male churchgoers to undergo...
Reporter Bob Dyer's dispatch includes an interview with Angley explaining what he would see when he looked at his faithful's recently-modified scrotums and penises. Angley also reportedly took an interest in his male parishioners' members in pastoral counseling. One churchgoer recalled seeing the minister for his marital problems, including a lack of sex with his wife:
"I [talked] to Ernest about that, because you're not allowed to see an outside counselor, because an outside counselor has a 'Doctorate of Devils,' as he calls it.
"He asked me, 'Do you do oral sex on her?' And I said, 'Yeah, but I don't know what that has to do with it.' And then he puts his hands over his mouth and starts stroking his chin and licking his lips. This is creepy.
"And he goes, 'So, are you large?' And I go, 'What do you mean?' And he says, 'Your penis — is it really large?' And I got kind of pissed. I go, 'You know, I never sat around and compared it with another man's.'
"He backed right off when I said that. He says, 'Well, you just need to pray to God and seek God more and all this will be better' — and pretty much shoved me out of his office."
For his part, Angley told the paper that Miller was a drunken liar, and most of the ex-parishioners now accusing him were sinning prevaricators, too. "It's all kinds of tales. But if I traced down every lie, I wouldn't get nothing else done," he said. "Jesus didn't, and I try to be just as much like him as I can."
In a sermon around the same time, trying to explain the allegations swirling around his ministry, Angley told worshipers: "They called Jesus a homosexual, did you know that?"