Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Faith Healer Cashes in on Brutal Killing--A tabloid headline from 1952

Warning: Lengthy post ahead

The evangelist referred to in the article below is A.C. Valdez, Jr. His father, A.C. Valdez, Sr. (1896-1981), was a veteran faith healer who had been involved in the Azusa Street outpouring in 1906, and went on to become President of the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministerial Association from 1963-1966. A biographical sketch of A.C. Valdez, Sr. can be found here, although it's from a site that expresses an admiring view of charismatic "healers" and revivalists that I don't share.

A.C. Valdez, Jr., sometimes referred to as Alfred Valdez, travelled in dubious circles, as these newsletters from the 1950s here, here, and here will show. One will notice in these newsletters the familiar names of such shady characters as A.A. Allen, William Branham, Paul Cain, Morris Cerullo, David du Plessis, W.V. Grant, Kenneth Hagin, Gordon Lindsay, and T.L. Osborn. Mr. Valdez, Jr. conducted meetings in Milwaukee in the fall of 1953, and received such an enthusiastic reception that he decided to make the Wisconsin city his home base, founding the Milwaukee Evangelistic Temple in 1954. He became known as the "Flying Evangelist" for his practice of occasionally holding services on planes. In 1970 Mr. Valdez, Jr. fell ill, and R.W. Culpepper took over the ministry of his church (which, of course, makes the reader wonder why Mr. Valdez, Jr. wasn't able to heal himself). In July 1971 A.C. Valdez, Jr. petitioned for bankruptcy in Federal Court in Milwaukee. Other than this, I know virtually nothing about him. At some point (no date is given), A.C. Valdez, Jr. received a "prophecy"--supposedly from God--of Coming Tragedies soon to Befall the World.

Early in 1952 the movie Scandal Sheet was released to theatres. Broderick Crawford played the editor of a sleazy tabloid that was always running sensational headlines and stories. I happen to have a copy--coincidentally, from early in 1952--of an issue of a tabloid similar to the one depicted in the movie. Hush Free Press was published in Toronto. From the issue of February 23, 1952 (Vol. 17, No. 36, pp. 4-5, 8-9--emphasis in original):

Faith Healer Cashes in on Brutal Killing
Toronto’s Publicly-Owned Building, the Coliseum, Booked Up for Two Weeks’ Engagement of Religious Racketeer

A "Man of God", a peripatetic preacher, a religious racketeer, from the U.S.A.--one of the tribe of wandering evangelists who invade this country frequently, and make a financial clean-up, and skip out again with the loot--is primarily responsible for one of the most brutal and insensate killings of recent Canadian record: the beating and strangling to death of a seven year old Winnipeg girl by her foster parents; the case has shocked all Canada.
Spouting as a spell-binder from a public platform, posing as a prophet, and functioning as a faith-healer, he "worked up" two moronic minds until they "went off the deep end" and undertook literally to "beat the devil out of" an innocent child; the killers are now under arrest and awaiting trial on a charge of murder; the man who indirectly caused the crime disappeared from the Winnipeg scene.
The man is now in Toronto to continue his mission. He has engaged the Coliseum for the period of February 10th to 24th inclusive. He has come to sell Torontonians the kind of religious stuff that bore such wonderful fruit in Winnipeg.
He is capitalizing on blood money.

It is fitting that he have a proper introduction to the Toronto audiences.
Rev. A.C. Valdez--this is the name as he himself gives it--is a short, stocky man, an expounder of what he calls "the old-time gospel." For years he was pastor of a small church in Phoenix, Arizona, and practically unknown outside of his own parish.
One night, about four years ago, as he related to reporters in Winnipeg, he awoke at midnight and heard the voice of God; the room vibrated with the Presence. Angels in white appeared at his bedside, and laid hands on his body, and a strange new power came upon him--the power to heal the sick.
"Son," said the Almighty--as Valdez tells the tale--"I am giving you the gift of divine healing, the power to open blind eyes, to unstop deaf ears, and cause the dumb to speak and the lame to walk; the power to heal all manner of sickness and disease. I am giving you power and authority over demons, and tell the people I am coming soon."
"I feel this power come upon me--never experienced such a feeling before--when I pray for the sick," avers Valdez. I feel the power surge up my body and down my right arm and out my hand. It feels like sparks of electricity. People awaiting their turn at the fount of healing feel it, too. They also say it feels like sparks of electricity."
This is what he says himself--without proof, of course. He declares it dogmatically--and mobs of morons believe it because it moves their emotions and appeals to their imaginations without putting any strain on their intellects--which are pretty weak anyway. It is the kind of stuff that evokes blind faith in--and extracts fortunes in cash from--the lunatic fringe of modern society.
Strangely enough, as the marvellous man admits, his wife was with him, sleeping with him, on the night when he acquired his mysterious power--and she never knew a thing about it until he told her.
Naturally, a man so divinely endowed--as he declares--could not be expected to bury his talents in some geographic backwash. Afar off, Canada called him--Canada the great and good and gullible friend of so many foreign fourflushers--Canada, the El Dorado of gold diggers and money-grabbers, religious and otherwise. So he hied himself off to Winnipeg with his wife and two children, and booked into the Ford Hotel, and arranged a series of public meetings--free meetings--absolutely free to all comers--with, however, the privilege of putting cash on collection plates.
He came to heal sick Winnipeggers in a big way.
Christ went about healing the sick "without money and without price;" He would not even accept a donation afterwards; so the Good Book says. This nomadic nonentity, this practitioner from Phoenix, professed to emulate that Great Example--save and accept that he WOULD accept expressions of gratitude in monetary form.
How could he, this modern, human copy of Christ, this poor pastor, afford it, even though, as alleged he travelled under the auspices of the British Israel World Federation? Transportation for himself and family from Arizona to the Canadian West--three or four weeks’ stay of four people in a Winnipeg hotel--plus any rentals that might have to be paid for places of assembly--this in itself would cost quite a bit of money, far more than an average pastor possesses.
Above all, how could he afford to book Toronto Coliseum for 14 days--a huge and expensive public building? Did he count solely on The Lord providing shelter and sustenance along the way?
He could afford it--or the British Israel World Federation could afford it for him--because he is in one of the most profitable rackets of the times: a racket which wrings fortunes out of gullible mobs. In all probability Winnipeg "paid off" handsomely; but the best that Winnipeg could do would be only "chicken feed" compared with what Toronto does for him and his kind. And he came to Toronto under the advantage of priceless free publicity.
Aside from the vulgar matter of money, that Winnipeg venture was "successful" beyond all expectations. It commenced with a series of meetings at which people clapped hands and laughed out loud and professed to be healed of many ailments--something that orthodox preachers and medical men can never achieve. It continued with a series of "miracles." It came to a grand climax in a murder which it inspired. (Parenthetically it may be noted here that one woman who believed herself cured of diabetes and quit taking insulin in consequence, had to be saved by doctors afterwards; but such unpleasant little incidents never affect the great work of faith-healing).
Among the most zealous attendants at those three weeks’ sessions were Gavin McCullough and his wife Lillian, aged about 50. He was office manager for Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce; she was a housewife and mother of one son, Lorne, a student at the University of Manitoba. Both of them had a streak of religious fanaticism in them, and neither of them was noted for an excess of brains. At home they had a seven year old adopted child, Martha--a loveable and fairly healthy child with weak eyes.
Under the spell of the Reverend spieler they became convinced that they and their son were possessed of the devil; that they were all doomed unless the Evil One could be driven out; that the end of the world was at hand; and that she, Lillian, had been chosen to announce the Day of Fate.
Thereafter, as revealed later at a coroner’s inquest, they lived on the verge of lunacy. They pestered Lorne about his spiritual condition until he fled from home for peace and safety. They prayed almost continuously. Then spent one whole winter night, bare-footed and wearing only night-clothes, praying outdoors in the snow--and one of them was frost-bitten as a result.
Early on the morning of Lorne’s disappearance, little Martha awoke to a scene of mental and spiritual turmoil. Lillian told her that Lorne had gone away, and that the devil had him. Apparently the child was not impressed as they thought she should have been; she may even have smiled. Forthwith Lillian declared that the devil had the child, too; that the little one was "mocking God." She seized a bottle and beat Martha over the head. Then she handed the bottle to her husband; and he continued the beating, and finished the job by strangling the victim to death.
When police arrived in response to a neighbor’s call, they found the poor, broken little body lying surrounded by religious tracts which had been distributed at the Valdez meetings.
All this was brought out in evidence.
There will be another judicial hearing--the trial of the McCulloughs, husband and wife, for murder; and presumably the revelations there will be more extensive and final than have yet been made.
Will the "Reverend" Valdez be a witness at that trial, as one orthodox clergyman suggests he should be? Will his role as healer and prophet then be subjected to the scrutiny of reason and justice? Will Science be invoked to say whether or not one dupe was healed or even helped by the faith which this man expounds? Will the man himself be compelled to tell how and why and with what financial results he comes over the border to do and say such things to Canadians? Will the faith-healing racket be exposed?
If not, then justice will have failed.
Thus far, in his own behalf, the "Reverend" religionist has been reported only as blaming an orthodox parson for what happened; he says that the minister did not comfort and minister to the McCulloughs properly.
Religion is a thing of the intellect and the emotions. Intellect says that there is a Creator, a God, an Infinite Being, a Supreme Intelligence--call it what you will--over and permeating the universe; the emotions, throwing all reason aside, accept this unprovable fact in a personalized sense, believe with blind faith, and worship the Divine in hope and fear--hope for personal salvation, fear of personal damnation.
A judicious blending of the two elements constitutes what is commonly called orthodox religion. But over-emphasis on either of them causes a dangerous unbalance. Too much intellect and not enough emotion leads to a cold, detached type of worship, if there is worship at all--a sort of resignation to the inevitable, lacking in the warmth which Christianity inculcates. Too much emotion and not enough intellect breeds a nervous reaction which may become a species of insanity.
Under the influence of religious emotion uncontrolled by reason, people sometimes become the equivalent of maniacs, ready to maim or murder, or give away worldly possessions, or do any other irrational and abnormal things.
Clergymen and congregations of many faiths in churches long established maintain some semblance of mental balance in their attitude toward the Deity. But during the past century, and especially in the past fifty years, have sprung up a host of so-called preachers and evangelists--some of them little better than crooks and criminals at heart, but shrewd psychologists, all of them--who, realizing how readily the emotions of "the mob" can be played on by religious appeals of the right kind (for the purpose) and how profitable such appeals can be (for the preachers), have specialized in these activities and turned them into Big Business.
These men--some of them ignoramuses from an intellectual standpoint, but most of them master showmen--go about in trains and motor cars and airplanes like fakirs and medicine men, putting on shows, preaching all sorts of freakish and fanatical doctrines, playing on the emotions of their audiences, and "working up" communities to a state of near-lunacy which causes money to flow like water--into the preachers’ pockets. They are even "booked" by some independent churches to come and "do their stuff"--on a split-fee basis.
Fundamentally, the majority of them are liars and hypocrites, professing to be godly men "working for the Lord" when in reality they are only actors working for the Almighty Dollar. And the worst and most dangerous among them are the self-styled faith healers.
No one should deny that there is such a thing as being healed by faith. Science has established that the mind has great influence over matter. Many human ailments are of nervous origin; and a reorientation of the mind, a strong belief that the ailments can and will be cured without medicine or surgery, often results in a "cure."
But there are limitations to this process. Faith can help any curable patient to get well. Faith WILL NOT cure arthritis or cancer, or kill germs, or set a broken bone; there are many, many things which it will not do but which Medicine can do.
Therefore when some pipsqueak parson from Arizona or anywhere else proclaims himself to be specially endowed by God with powers of Divine Healing: that is stretching credulity too far, and suggests extreme egotism or incipient insanity. And when men of this type go about renting halls, and passing collection plates, and pretending to cure all manner of diseases by the laying on of hands: that should be classed as a criminal activity, unless a qualified doctor is present to certify every alleged "cure."
If these men remained on the scene long enough after their "healing sessions" to follow up their "cures" and face any legal music, it would not be so bad. But, in Canada at least, they are all transients, mostly from across the border; they come and go like vultures in flight; they stay just long enough to pocket a lot of Canadian cash, then they vanish beyond reach of consequences, leaving their patients to live or die as Fate decrees.
Undoubtedly they has caused many deaths. Thus far the law has not touched them; for he law is very reluctant to interfere with such exemplifications of religious faith. But they are just as much outside the law as an ignoramus who practices medicine without a license; and when they cause someone else to do something which brings about the death of a human being, they are morally guilty of homicide.
Now that a murder has occurred in consequence of emotions overwrought at religious meetings, it is time for the law to step in and curb such racketeers and protect Canadian fools and fanatics from their own folly.

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