The other day a person on Facebook posted a video of the Pentecostal revivalist A. A. Allen healing a boy at a tent revival meeting. The boy had a rare disease that caused him to be born without bones in his legs. The video claims he healed the boy and he could walk. I watched the video. I’m not so sure.
The video made me sad and curious. Sad because it sparked a nostalgia in me. Memories. Curious because of a few things: he seemed to really care; the congregation and leadership was of mixed race, and I thought that was interesting considering the time and place of his ministry.
I had heard of Allen because he was famous in the area around where I went to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. I attended such tent revivals. Oh my, I’ve got stories.
So I did some research.
Allen (1911-1970) was very controversial because he did claim to heal people, but his ministry always published disclaimers that they would not and could not verify the miracles. His ministry raised a lot of money. Millions! And he did embrace all races in his ministry and in his gatherings… in a day when segregation was the norm.
As I continued my research… because the deeper I got the more magnetic it became… I became even more sad. He and his ministry was constantly embroiled in scandal… over money, taxes, property, denominational affiliations, legal investigations, harassment, and even shootouts, extra-marital affairs, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Allen was found dead in a seedy hotel in San Francisco, CA, on June 11, 1970, at the age of just 59. He died after a heavy drinking binge… the hotel room strewn with empty liquor bottles and pills. The coroner’s report said he died of liver failure brought on by acute alcoholism.
When I finished all my reading, I concluded yet again that even though religion can benefit us, it can also really fuck us up.
I suspect Allen was at heart a good man who really cared about people, who was more open minded than the society he found himself in could tolerate, but who got caught in the game. Perhaps his conscience could not tolerate the dissonance between what he really, deeply cared about, and the way his life actually was. I wonder if he could no longer abide the contrast between just wanting to love and help people, and the chaotic charade his ministry inevitably became.
I don’t know. I don’t wish to judge.
But the story emphasized to me the tragic outcomes religion may induce.