AKRON, OHIO — When you bring down a TV evangelist, chances are high that you’re going to be told you’re going to hell. You’ll get a quasi-death threat or two. You’ll be told you made stuff up and worse, that you exploited people for your own gain.
So it is for Bob Dyer, a longtime columnist and reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, who recently wrote a series of stories uncovering the weirder and possibly illegal actions of Ernest Angley, the famed 93-year-old evangelist who presides over Grace Cathedral in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. The list of accusations is short but extremely bizarre: He allegedly covered up sexual abuse within the church and personally examined the swelling genitals of his male parishioners who had vasectomies at his urging. Angley readily admitted to Dyer he doesn’t believe the world is a worthy place for children — his wife died in 1970, they had no children and he encouraged his congregants to do the same.
Oh, it gets worse. Women were encouraged to have abortions. There was also a murder in the Church cafeteria — a male employee had an unrequited romantic interest in a colleague. So he murdered her. The eatery was comprised of volunteer employees even though it was operating as a for-profit business. This is a no-no with the IRS. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Labor Department or the IRS didn’t start poking around,” said Dyer. “But I’m not in a position to initiate and it’s not my role.”
Sitting in the newspaper’s dingy, windowless conference room in downtown Akron a few weeks ago was Dyer, a grizzled, old-school journalist who refused to join Facebook until this summer and who has all his tweets automated so he doesn’t have to deal with it. He has worked at the paper for the last 30 years because “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” He explained how he uncovered such a behemoth of a story, what the reaction has been and if he has regrets.
“Until this summer, I thought he was relatively harmless,” Dyer said of Angley. “I didn’t realize all this other stuff was going on.”
He first became aware of Angley’s shenanigans this summer when someone sent him a two and a half hour video of a service Angley gave about inspecting men before and after vasectomies. During the service, they trashed an associate pastor who had resigned because he said Angley had touched him inappropriately for seven years and he just couldn’t take it anymore. “They held that service to trash that guy,” said Dyer, explaining that they called the associate pastor a “drug addict” and an “adulterer” and anything else they could pile on to discredit him.
At the time, Dyer thought, “This is odd, this is just bizarre. Why get up and rip someone?”
Angley talked to Dyer directly for his explosive series. “I thought he’d trot out an associate pastor,” he said. “He’d been very inaccessible in the past — we hadn’t had access to him in 15 years. He was savvy enough to know that ‘no comment’ wouldn’t look good.”
After interviewing former church members who had come forward with allegations, Dyer had four-five pages of questions for Angley, who he interviewed for 90 minutes face-to-face at the church. “I called him up and said here’s what I got. I got a tape recording of this service,” he explained. “I had former members saying he had covered up sexual abuse. I think he knew it was serious enough that he needed to address it himself.”
Sitting in on the interview were two males: an associate pastor and a male usher. One kept interrupting whenever Dyer asked Angley a question. “I kind of had to choke him off a few times,” said Dyer. “That was a little frustrating.” Dyer is quick to say the annoying church male was also helpful and he was able to use some of his quotes in his stories.
Angley, on the other hand, was an angel from the reporting Gods. “I thought he was incredibly helpful because he confirmed some of the things that were alleged,” said Dyer. Asked if the reverend was angry, he said, “Not mad, he was very measured. He knew what he was getting into. It wasn’t like I had blindsided him.”
The church naturally denied the allegations. “They said everybody I talked to was a liar,” Dyer said with a grand pause: “All 21 of them.”
Reporting came in waves. Once the word got out, calls came flooding in. Dyer said the story was a “badly kept secret” and congregants, former and otherwise, had stories they were desperate to share.
When he went missing for a few months, readers wondered, “Did you quit? Were you fired?”
At his request, editors permitted Dyer to take a few months off his regular duties — three columns a week — to work on his Angley series. “I didn’t write a thing for two months,” he said.
Asked how congregants could fall for some of the reverend’s weirder requests, Dyers says Angely’s church operates like a cult. “I think in a lot of these cases, these people had grown up in the church,” he said. “Some services are as long as five hours. It was a textbook cult. One woman told me she first went to church when she was 2-days-old. It was all they ever knew. To them, he was an inch away from God.”
Dyer said he wouldn’t have written the stories if sources had refused to let him use their names.
“I think the thing that really got me into it early on was that people were willing to let me use their names and in some cases their photographs,” he said. “Some are still afraid of the guy. If I wrote it with anonymous sources I don’t know if I would have believed it. It wouldn’t have worked.”
He said he spent a lot of time convincing sources to let him use their names. “To me, again, the key to making it work was these people putting their names on it,” he said. “It gives it so much more credibility to put your name on it. If you feel strongly enough about it, you should be strong enough to put your name on it.”
But he knew it didn’t come easy for them: “It’s tough to do something this personal and have people put their names on it, so I give them a lot of credit.”
Reaction to his series has been so huge Dyer has had to ask his IT department to expand his voicemail twice.
Several people have phoned in quoting Bible verses. “A lot of them say ‘you’re going to pay for this someday.'”
Another piece of hate mail accused Dyer of only wanting to boost his name at the paper.
All you have done, Bob Dyer, is found such people that do not like ‘Grace Cathedral’ for whatever reason, and exploited them as you as a reporter are trained to do, to achieve ratings and intrigue readers to the ‘Akron Beacon Journal’. I would think that you, as journalist, would have more class than this, and especially that the ‘Akron Beacon Journal’ would not allow such controversial mutton to go across their pages, but these are the ‘signs of the times’ and ‘true’ journalism is hard to find, and you, and the Akron Beacon Journal have now ‘fallen’ out of good reporting and stooped low into the mire of daytime TV ‘shock’ media to get a read.
What scandal is next, Bob, for the Akron Beacon Journal??? And using a comment about ‘homosexuality’ beside Earnest Angley’s picture?? You wouldn’t be trying to incite the gay community against Earnest Angley would you?? No, you wouldn’t degrade journalism to the lowest level of sympathetic ‘biasing’ would you?? Really???
There has also been high praise.
“You have balls like church bells for doing that series. I congratulate you,” a reader wrote in over the weekend.
Speaking of balls, Dyer suspects that ABC’s “Good Morning America” wavered on an interview with him because they feared he might bring up the more x-rated aspects of the story. Was it too grotesque? They told him they were still debating whether this was suitable for morning television. They ultimately declined. In one of his stories, Angley had insisted that a male congregant’s ball fell out during his examination. At the time, Dyer recalled asking the reverend incredulously, “You mean actually fell out? Wouldn’t he be screaming in agony?”
In one of Dyer’s stories, Angley describes the genitals he checked pre and post-op: “Another one was constipated. It was awful. And he was just dying deaths. And another one, one of his testicles fell out, absolutely fell out. ‘It’s dangerous, you should have a nurse.’ But I knew they wouldn’t get one.”
Dyer more or less understands ABC’s decision. “This country is fine with murder, they’re not fine with weird, twisted sexual stuff,” he said.
Asked if he felt his sources were believable, Dyer said, “Probably twice as many people have written me since.” He said they had similar tales to tell about what they’d experienced in Angley’s church. “That’s probably the most common reaction,” he said. “There may be some follow-ups. We’re talking about it.”
He recalled one woman who left a voicemail saying she’s a member of the church. She told Dyer there was “always a voice in the back of her head saying there’s something not right here.”
Another asked, “Did you feel the need for a shower after hearing those stories? This is worse than any trashy novel I have ever read. Scumbag is way too nice a term, but I’ll call him that anyway. Maybe he redeems himself by the sixth chapter? Nah, not possible.”
Dyer gets that some people may want to kill him for what he’s written on Angley. His life has been threatened for far less. “Some are just opinion pieces,” he said. “People are so outraged that I have a certain opinion that they want to kill me. One of the first years I was here I did an exposé on a chain of health clubs that was doing some bad things. Shortly after, I had a pipe bomb blow up in my driveway.”
Asked if that frightened him, Dyer replied, “Yeah, that didn’t make me feel real calm.”
Among the pieces of mail that meant most to Dyer was this one. It’s why, looking back, he says he has no regrets.
“I had the thought a year ago that I should go to the media about this and what was happening in the church, but I had no idea that others had been going through the same thing. Thank you so much for telling the stories. It makes me feel like I am less alone.”