FROM THE ARCHIVES: Religious practices make headlines

Editor’s note: This regular feature explores topics covered in past issues of Aztec Press. This column is the first in a two-part series.

By SIERRA J. RUSSELL

The recent controversy over SB 1062 has brought the question of religious practices back to the forefront of public debate.

Religious freedom has been a highly debated topic dating back to the earliest issues of the Aztec Press.

An article from January 1974 featured an interview with Bill Lowery, a preacher and coordinator of “Christ is the Answer,” a nonprofit street ministry and traveling commune. The ministry was reportedly welcome in Tucson during its brief stay.

Lowery traveled with a team of about 200 people, including his family, and a tent the size of a football field.

He explained that only half of the tent was set up in Tucson because of relatively low attendance.

“We thrive on donations,” Lowery said. “The other night we took in $32 for a collection. Try feeding 200 people on $32. We find that every day is a miracle.”

As the group trekked from city to city, some new recruits joined the ministry while others departed. Lowery said some members would leave quietly in the middle of the night.

“Usually they do so because they can’t take the rough living, they didn’t count on the cost or they don’t get enough privacy,” he said.

The ministry included The Joyful Noise, one of the first Christian bands to incorporate electric guitar. It attempted to appeal to the younger generation.

A 1978 article focused on controversial disciplinary methods in a youth home run by Texas evangelist Lester Roloff.

Several teenage girls from Pima County had been sent to Roloff’s Rebekah Home in Corpus Christi, Texas.

They told their parents that disciplinary measures used in the house included solitary confinement. There were also reports from other girls about severe whippings with leather belts.

Roloff denied the harsh whippings. However, after a court hearing in 1973 he publicly declared, “better a pink bottom than a black soul.”

The evangelist spoke at a press conference in the Tucson City Council chambers about the Pima County teenagers. “The first thing we do is brainwash them because their brains are dirty, but we use the King James washcloth,” he said.

Roloff also said that brainwashing is common in our society and media is the main instrument of accepted influence. He also claimed that “children do not have any rights as long as they are wrong.”

The Rebekah House had been temporarily shut down in 1973 for failure to comply with government licensing standards. Roloff’s arguments citing religious freedom failed to stand up in court.

In the years that followed, Roloff’s methods were publicly scrutinized by some and supported by others. Some programs he launched decades ago remain in operation today.

Part 2: Religious beliefs.

 

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