By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
The doctor went no easier on his flock. Once, when they weren't ponying up the dough to his satisfaction, Scott referred to them as "dumb, Christian quote-unquote assholes!" Another time, he warned them that unless they shaped up quick, God "might let you live this next year without Him so you can see the difference."
I couldn't imagine why people followed the man. His sermons were certainly far from compelling. He could, and often did, spend hours explaining how the King James Bible botched the translation of a particular word from the original Hebrew. He was also big on the sort of dodgy mystical material you used to see a lot on In Search Of, often reading aloud from highly questionable volumes on the legendary lost continent of Atlantis or expounding at length on his pet theory that angels built the pyramid at Giza (Jeez-uh, as he pronounced it). When he was in one of his rare jocular moods, he treated his followers to readings from joke books. Mostly, however, he just roared at people to send him money. And they did.
If I could have dismissed Scott as a charlatan, the whole thing might have ended there. But the man spoke of the Resurrection with such passion and at such length, day after day, that it seemed impossible for the whole thing to be just an act. Occasionally, the doctor would address some of the mysteries that plagued me: one time, he read a note from a viewer asking why he always had pretty women around him. His answer: "To keep the ugly ones off me." But it didn't take long for me to realize that watching the show most definitely would not answer all of my questions.
Eugene Scott was born Aug. 14, 1929, in Buhl, Idaho, to W.T. and Inez Leona Graves Scott, a traveling preacher and his teenage bride. In many ways, it was a childhood straight out of a Southern gothic novel. When Gene was still a child, his mother gave birth to premature twins, one of whom died within hours. A month later, Gene began to suffer from strange convulsions in the middle of the night, and his mother had a vision: she saw a stairway roll down from heaven and come right down beside her bed; then two angels descended and stopped in front of Gene. "Oh no, Lord," Leona cried out. "You can't take Gene." The angels heard her and picked up the remaining twin instead. Gene survived the night, but his brother didn't. The incident convinced Scott's parents that their son was bound for glory.
Soon after, the family moved to Gridley, California, where Gene's father agreed to head a church whose previous pastor had crucified himself on a tree. Young Gene was well-liked in town, and he excelled in school; in the seventh grade, he brought home a straight-A report card with a note from his teacher that read, "Do you know you have a genius for a son?" He played on his high school basketball team, although he took some guff from his dad's congregation for showing his legs in public.
When he came of age, he enrolled in the philosophy of education doctorate program at Stanford University, still somehow finding time in his hectic collegiate schedule to wed his high school sweetheart, Betty Ann Frazer, and work alongside his father at the Assemblies of God church on weekends. Soon, however, the pervasive secular skepticism of his Stanford peers rubbed off on him, and he suffered a paralyzing spiritual crisis, although he re-discovered his faith before graduation. For his dissertation, he summed up his life's goal with a quote from the American Christian philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr: to "descend from the anthill of scholastic hairsplitting to help the world of men regulate its common life and discipline, its ambitions and ideals."
After earning his doctorate in 1957, Scott taught at a Bible college in the Midwest and helped Oral Roberts establish a university in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although Scott speaks with a certain grudging admiration for Roberts today ("I believe that Oral believes he saw a 900-foot-tall Jesus . . ."), the tension that eventually caused them to part ways is also clear (". . . I guess it takes 900 feet to convince him"). On his TV show, Scott often tells the story of the days he spent golfing with Roberts. Roberts was a sore winner, and every time he trounced young Scott on the green, he walked away, leaving the golf bags behind for Scott to carry. Finally, the day came when Scott won. He still cherishes the memory of strolling off and leaving his golf bag for a chastened Roberts.
Post-Roberts, Scott rose steadily through the ranks of the fundamentalist Christian Assemblies of God movement, resigning as a member in good standing in 1970 to found his own Oroville ministry with his father. In the early '70s, he was asked to take over the 45-year-old Faith Center Church in Glendale, a position that came with four broadcast stations and a $3.5 million debt. Scott agreed to sign on as pastor, provided the church leaders resigned and he got complete control. He never seriously imagined the church would go for it, but they did. Scott went on the air in 1975, and although his show was a hit virtually from the start, his early years of broadcasting were personally trying. His 23-year marriage, perhaps unsurprisingly, crumbled almost immediately after he became a star (he calls his ex-wife "the Devil's Sister" and adds that if he goes to heaven and she's there, he'll move to another planet). In the '80s, Scott was hit by two financial disasters. His 1983 refusal to turn over his financial records for an FCC investigation cost the church three broadcast stations; four years later, the church lost a $6.5 million deposit when Scott tried to renege on a deal to buy a historic Los Angeles church.