An Ohio preacher who is trying to make a name for himself in the Religious Right faces a new round of questions about his extravagant lifestyle and fund-raising practices.
The Rev. Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus and founder of a group called the Center for Moral Clarity, is an up-and-coming Religious Right figure working hard to make himself a national figure. At 48, Parsley is young enough to replace aging movement leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Parsley also has a nationally broadcast television ministry.
Parsley is extremely active in Republican politics in Ohio. In November of 2004, he worked to bring out voters to support a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage in Ohio. Many of those voters, analysts believe, also backed President George W. Bush, perhaps providing him with a margin of victory in that key swing state.
But Parsley’s high profile is coming at a price, and critics are stepping up to the plate. Ole Anthony of the Texas-based Trinity Foundation, a group that monitors TV preachers, notes that Parsley lives in sprawling $1-million home. Anthony called Parsley a “power-hungry” man with “an extravagant lifestyle that has become the hallmark of televangelists these days,” reported The American Prospect.
Unlike other mega-churches, Parsley’s World harvest has never applied for membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a voluntary oversight group that encourages evangelical ministries to spend contributions wisely. Parsley says his church is governed by an annual audit “through the scrutiny of the board of directors,” but critics note the church board consists of Parsley and his parents.
Reported American Prospect, “Parsley’s secrecy has led Ministry Watch, a conservative Christian organization that monitors financial accountability practices, to give his and several other well-known Word of Faith organizations an ‘F’ rating for transparency. World Harvest, through its press agent, claimed that its resistance to disclosure ‘is consistent with the policy of most churches across the country.’ But Rod Pitzer, Ministry Watch’s director of research, said that World Harvest’s lack of transparency is ‘very unusual’ and that the ‘vast majority’ of Christian organizations are becoming more transparent.”
Anthony told the magazine that Parsley enlisted the aid of a Georgia attorney named Dale Allison to help his church grow. The publication described Allison as “a brazen con man who helped pastors set up dictatorial churches, through which they enriched themselves by convincing followers that God required them to give their money to the pastor.” Allison was disbarred in 1997.
Litigation by former church members indicates that Allison may have provided Parsley with a template for creating church bylaws stating that “the government of the Church is in the hands of the Pastor, who has ultimate authority under Christ” and “the church must function as a theocracy.”
Parsley worked with Allison from 1987 to 1994. In an e-mail exchange with American Prospect, Parsley’s media relations person would only say that the preacher has not retained Allison in a decade.
Yet American Prospect found it odd that Parsley continued to work with Allison after a scandal over a Parsley-run Bible college. Noted the magazine, “Among the questions Parsley refused to answer directly was why he continued to use Allison’s services after a 1986 article in the Columbus Dispatch reported that Parsley was running a franchise-like, unaccredited Bible college out of his church basement while claiming that the college was accredited by the state of Ohio. When confronted by angry students who discovered that their credits were not transferable, Parsley claimed that he was ‘very definitely a victim’ of the Bible college’s false claims. The Dispatch article identified the Bible college’s lawyer as none other than Dale Allison, but Parsley refused to explain why he would continue to employ an attorney whose other client had ‘victimized’ him.”
Parsley’s actions have sparked at least three lawsuits since the 1990s. One man, a painting contractor, asserted in court papers that Parsley and his father assaulted him during a dispute over money. The case was later settled out of court.
In another lawsuit, Parsley’s aunt, Naomil Endicott, accused Parsley’s father of sexual harassment. That case was also settled out of court, but in court papers Endicott said the workplace was hostile to anyone who dared question the “self-serving, unethical, or inappropriate behavior” by Parsley and his parents.
In yet another legal battle, Parsley’s cousin, Dwayne Endicott, sued Parsley in 1995, claiming that he was forced out of his job as a maintenance worker at the church after Parsley discovered that he had complained to a friend about the lack of overtime pay. In a sworn affidavit, Endicott testified that Parsley “yelled, screamed, and berated me for almost 10 minutes, stating that I was causing dissension and discord in the church.”
None of this seems to have fazed Parsley’s followers, and he continues to make inroads in Ohio politics and in religious circles nationally. In late November, the Dayton Daily News reported that Parsley hosted an evangelistic rally and food distribution program as part of a plan to convince 1 million Ohioans to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.
During the event, which the newspaper described as “disorganized, at times tense,” Parsley insisted his goal was simple evangelism, not politics.
“Evangelical Christians, what might be called the Religious Right, I believe for far too long have been disconnected from the disconnected,” Parsley said. “We’re not going to speak just to the Left or to the Right, we’re going to speak to both.”
But just about a week before that event, Parsley, under the auspices of his Restoration Ohio group, held a rally on the statehouse steps in Columbus during which Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell made remarks. Blackwell is running for governor as a Republican, and Parsley has featured him at several events.
Despite his blatant promotion of Blackwell, Parsley insists he is non-partisan.
“I am neither Republican nor Democrat, I’m a Christocrat,” he said. “I love a democratic republic, and I want to be right in the middle of that process.”