Auth: Jon Trott
Srce: CORNERSTONE magazine, vol. 21, iss. 100, pp. 18, 37, 41-42.
This January, World magazine published an investigation into the background and ministry of Bob Larson, whose radio show "Talk-Back" airs on over 175 stations in the U.S. Reporters Jay Grelen and Doug LeBlanc interviewed thirteen individuals who have known Bob Larson or were employees of Bob Larson Ministries (BLM). World's criticisms included Larson's income ($403,310 between Bob and his then wife in 1990), and the allegations by ex-employees that pretaped radio programs are presented as live and that phone lines run by the ministry are mainly devices for gathering funds. The magazine also found evidence that Larson's novel Dead Air was not written primarily by Larson. Bob's response has generated further controversy.
Cornerstone contacted some of World's interviewees, plus others not previously interviewed. Sharla Turman Logan, who was keyboardist for Bob Larson's high school rock trio, the Rebels, was interviewed by World. Logan, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, listened as Cornerstone read her this 1974 quote from a Bob Larson book, Hell on Earth:
Bob Larson achieved fame at the age of thirteen when his first hit song was published. He had his own rock'n'roll band at fifteen, and performed on radio and television over the next years until his career took him to Convention Hall in Atlantic City.Logan's reaction is swift. "What?! I knew him at thirteen, and I never heard of any hit song." What about Atlantic City? "Convention Hall? Yes, we played there," Logan says. "But it was a Lions Club Convention, one song. We did a parody of `Charlie Brown.' You know, `He's a clown / Charlie Brown.'"
This is Bob Larson's account of the Rebels' effect upon their listeners, from his 1972 book, The Day the Music Died:
On Sunday morning it was a church, but on Saturday night the pews were removed, our musical equipment was placed on the platform, and beer was dispensed in the basement as teenagers danced in the sanctuary. It was especially popular because cars could be parked surrounding the building. This provided a convenient bed of immorality during intermission for the release of sex tensions stimulated by the dancing.Sharla Logan heard the same story years before Bob first published it. "I saw him preach in 1965 or 1966, when I was in college at Greeley, Colorado." Logan couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I was offended. I was hurt. None of us ever did anything sexually or even drank. My father went with us to the concerts as a chaperon, and he would have picked up on any sexual stuff. We played at pizza parlors, rodeos, and churches. Everyone came, from little knee-high kids to grandpas and grandmas. But Bob talked about us like we were a bunch of sluts, if you'll excuse me. I was crying, sitting there hoping people wouldn't look at me. At the next intermission, I left."
An antirock crusader in the sixties and seventies, Bob switched in the early eighties to fighting cults. Next came talk-show radio; first as a guest on Marlin Maddux's "Point of View," then as host of his own "Talk-Back" program. In 1985, Larson expanded his ministry offices from five thousand to fifteen thousand feet. 1989 was a banner year for Larson. He published five books that year, among them Straight Answers about the New Age and, more significantly, Satanism: The Seduction of America's Youth. Larson increasingly focused on Satanism and, as Geraldo and others discovered, Satanism and "satanic ritual abuse" made for great media drama.
Randy Johnson joined BLM in 1989 as a part-time shipping staffer. "After about a month in shipping, they switched me to the Communicator Club, 1-800-223-CLUB," Johnson told Cornerstone. "Those lines are open all day for people wanting to call in donations to BLM. In September of '89, they launched Compassion Connection and the Hope Line. I was the original person on the Compassion Connection, which does follow-up with `Talk-Back' callers. On the Hope Line, we accessed the computer and gave people in crisis a referral to a ministry in their area." Johnson felt that World was too harsh in its criticism of the referral lines and that many people received help through them.
Johnson left BLM on June 10, 1992. "I found myself having increasing philosophical differences with Bob. Bob tends to like the sensational. He promised people, for instance, that no matter what the Satanists were doing to them, the Hope Line could get them into the underground. Well, that was the last straw for me. What underground was he talking about? Sure, we had a few numbers for people who might be able to get someone connected. But there was no under ground I knew about for those abused by Satanists. I'm the guy who's supposed to know and tell these callers! So I wrote a memo to my supervisor that recounted Bob's claims. Then I wrote, `If there's an underground, maybe we should give Bob's number to these people so he can put them in the underground.' The supervisor got angry with that, and I said, `That's it.' And I left."
Bill Achilles, another phone-line staffer until recently, told Cornerstone, "I thought the on-the-air fundraising was very manipulative. It was `Send money or this ministry won't be able to run, and we won't keep your radio station [as an affiliate].'"
"Re-airs," old radio programs whose high points are recycled and patched together as fresh shows, troubled a number of BLM employees. Cornerstone spoke to Alan Hergert, who worked for BLM during a six-year period ending in October 1992.
"When I first started in the production department, it was all pretty straightforward," Hergert says. "Bob would say, `You're listening to a taped program. Sit back and enjoy it; these are some of our best callers.' Then there was this sudden inspiration--`You know, we're losing a lot of money telling everyone we're taped.' So instead of warning the listeners at every commercial break not to call in, they just started the tape with `Live! "Talk-Back" with Bob Larson.' At the end it would say, `The preceding program was prerecorded.' In between was an hour's worth of show." What about people who called in, thinking the show was live? "We activated all the Compassion Connection phone circuits so everyone got a busy signal." The 800 number set aside for donors was left open.
Over the years, Hergert maintains, the re-airs evolved from sounding canned into a sophisticated blend of old and new. Old calls were cataloged according to topic and dated; after six months the best calls were recycled, Hergert says. "All we did was take out comments that dated them. After we'd spliced a bunch of these calls, we'd write a script for Bob to follow. Now, during a normal live show, Bob has a computer line that gives him the information on where people are calling from, their sex, their age. We pulled that from the computer files for the re-airs, and he'd say it as though the person was there." One slight difference. "When live, Larson said, `I need a five hundred dollar champion to send money for Shane.' When recorded, Larson said, `I need a champion to donate for kids like Shane.' That way, if a pesky journalist called and asked us if the show was live, we could say, `Hey, we didn't say it was live.'"
Hergert feels responsible for designing what to him seemed an elaborate deception. He viewed his best programs as those that evoked the most emotion. "I called them three-hankie shows. And three-hankie shows brought in a lot of money. A decent re-air brought in ten thousand dollars. To me it was almost like a game, or that's how I rationalized it. If my re-airs did real well bringing in donations, it was like scoring fifty points in basketball. You're like, Wow! I did really good! In my heart I knew it wasn't right, but the boss was telling me it was right."
In the summer of 1992, Alan attended "Promise-Keepers," a men's retreat led by University of Colorado coach Bill McCartney. "Speakers said, `This is what a man is, what he needs to do. Part of being God's man is integrity.' And it hit home. I thought, `I'm saying these words, but am I living it?'" Soon afterward, Hergert says, he left BLM.
Elements of the sensational reached a new high in 1992 with the publication of Larson's novel Dead Air. One donor letter from BLM read:
I watched them rip apart a newborn baby and take the heart while it was still beating. I can't forget the screams. I still hear them every night!"World magazine's star whistle-blower, Lori Boespflug, says she authored this ad, and--more significantly --she, not Larson, wrote the vast majority of Dead Air. Boespflug began at BLM as a secretary, but within a year became a vice president before Larson fired her in June 1992. In his contract with publisher Thomas Nelson, Larson claims sole authorship of Dead Air. Who is telling the truth?
Central to Boespflug's claims of authorship is a July 8, 1991, letter addressed to Bob Larson from his lawyer, William T. Abbott:
Dear Bob,Cornerstone reached Abbott, who declined comment on the matter.
With the passing of each day, I become more and more concerned about your potential liability to Lori in connection with Dead Air and its sequels.
The time table is immediate. You will soon know if Dead Air is to be a publishing success and, quite possibly, if theatrical rights are to be optioned. Assuming success, and knowing the role Lori has played, it would amaze me if she is not sufficiently astute to use this opportunity to both secure her financial future and to launch her own literary career. More specifically, she will demand recognition and/or profit participation in connection with sequels and possibly Dear [sic] Air itself. I know how I would advise her in this regard, and it is unrealistic to think that my insights are unique. Her delay in contacting me, of course, increases my concern.
What should you be doing now to anticipate her? I will first address a legalistic solution which I know is doomed --allowing her to write sequels but contractually establishing that they are works for hire. Even if she agreed to this and signed a confidentiality agreement, her liability for breach could never equal the value of public recognition of her authorship. Even beyond that financial consideration, her ego, like that of most creative people, could not be satisfied with anonymity after the risk of Dead Air's failure had passed.
Instead, I believe that you have two more realistic choices. First, truly and simply use Lori as a researcher and document that as her role. You will be required to write more, but after all, it is you who will enjoy the benefits. Second, if you want Lori to write, give her credit, (ideally under a pen name because of past gossip) and a negotiated percentage of profits, but not copyright ownership, in any sequels. This is not an unusual solution and has the benefit of obviating any question of who wrote how much of either Dead Air or the sequel. Also under such an arrangement, where her profits are tied to yours, she has no interest in embarrassing you regarding the authorship of Dead Air.
Please call me regarding this matter at your convenience.
Hear Bob's public explanation of the "Abbott letter" (RealAudio 2.0, 167K).
You hereby agree to provide me on or before May 1, 1992 an outline of the first two hundred (200) pages of the sequel; and on or before July 1, 1992, an outline of the remaining two hundred (200) pages of the sequel. If so requested by me, said outlines shall contain or be accompanied by character sketches, narratives, fact research and sample dialogue, all collectively referred to herein as ("the creative material"). Also, if so requested, you shall assist me in any and all editing of the sequel that may be necessary before its final acceptance by a publisher.Dead Air is an allegedly fact-based account of the satanic ritual abuse of a small girl. Boespflug says that Larson allowed her to make up the story but inserted chunks of his radio callers' stories into the mix. She notes that no evidence existed to back the stories Larson inserted into the text.
Lori told Cornerstone: "How does Bob know if the person telling him about seeing a cat eaten alive, then regurgitated, and themselves being sewn up inside a dead horse, maybe dropped acid in the sixties and is having a bad flashback? Or maybe they saw a scary movie and fell asleep and woke up after a nightmare, thinking `Hey, this must have happened.'"
We asked Lori Boespflug how she feels about her work on Dead Air and Abaddon. "I don't feel good about it," she says slowly. "I've gone to [Catholic] confession, and I know one day I'm going to answer for what I did." Boespflug also admits that, as Larson charged on his radio program, she was living with someone for a time before being fired by Larson. "That individual is now my husband."
Larson responded to the World article January 29 on "Talk-Back" and on a local Denver program called "Prepare for War." Both broadcasts centered on Larson's claim that "a group of people, both of non-Christians and of Christians, has banded together across the country with the stated purpose of destroying me and this ministry." Larson added, "They recently sent me a large color photograph of several people who are part of this group standing on the front steps of my private property on which they had trespassed . . . holding a flaming Molotov cocktail threatening to burn the house down, with obscene language printed on the photograph."
Larson continued, stating that upon arriving at a "Satanism Uncensored" presentation in another city, "the [hotel] desk clerk was ashen. She said to me, `Mr. Larson, you need to call the sheriff's department of Jefferson County, Colorado. Your home has been burglarized and burned to the ground.'" One would naturally assume Larson's house had burned down, since Larson did not indicate otherwise during the broadcast. But according to Lori Boespflug, "That incident was a hoax."
Larson's broadcast went on, "It has gotten to the point where I can't even let my dog out at night. I don't venture out after dark. I have to pull the blinds when I walk inside the house. This is serious stuff. This is scary stuff. It is threatening to my life, limb, and property . . . .
"There has been at least one attempt to break into my home. There has been unlawful entry, theft of corporate ministry documents. Why?" Bob Larson then spells out what seems to be an elaborate conspiracy theory. "First of all, one of the people heading this up is an avowed atheist who has harassed other ministries such as Christian Research Institute, Campus Crusade for Christ, Josh McDowell. I am now his latest target."
The unnamed "atheist" is Ken Smith, a local law student who has repeatedly attempted to confront Larson with information Smith gleaned from divorce records and other documents.
Is Larson's charge that Smith harassed Christian Research Institute true? "It is not true," says CRI's Kenneth Samples, a senior research consultant with the group. "Smith is a skeptic who has corresponded significantly with Rob Bowman, who was a researcher with us [until early 1992]." When reached, Bowman elaborated to Cornerstone: "It is absolutely untrue that Ken harassed anyone at CRI, either myself or others. He is a very intelligent individual who has a complex set of questions concerning Christ's Resurrection. I only wish there were more apologists willing to deal with people such as Ken Smith." Bowman con tinues a dialogue with Smith via mail.
Larson's accusations went much further than just the "atheist," however. In his broadcast, Bob went on to claim, "He [the atheist] has linked up with some other people in the Christian community whose names I have mentioned in the past, such as Mr. John Stewart, a Christian talk-show host, such as Bob and Gretchen Passantino, and a reporter by the name of Jay Grelen."
We contacted each of the alleged conspirators. "I only wish that Bob would deal with those things having to do with fact," John Stewart told Cornerstone. "Only then will the air be cleared. To fling about character assassination and unfounded allegations is untenable as a Christian minister."
Bob and Gretchen Passantino, contributing editors to Cornerstone and joint founders of Answers in Action, an apologetics ministry, responded strongly. "Bob Larson should be ashamed of himself for deceiving and exploiting his listeners. For him to slander us by associating us with some unprovable, outlandish conspiracy to destroy his ministry or cause him bodily harm is unchristian and unethical. To link us with an alleged atheist `hit man' we've never talked to, never met, never had any contact with defames our long-standing integrity as Christians wholeheartedly dedicated to combating unbelief, the cults, and the occult. Larson has presented no evidence, and he will never be able to do more than call names and condemn us by false association and innuendo."
Cornerstone tried to reach Bob Larson for an interview, but he was unwilling to meet with us until February 14 at the National Religious Broadcasters' Convention for a one-on-one interview. BLM did provide Cornerstone with a written statement on February 4:
We take great exception and offense to the tone and tenor set in the WORLD MAGAZINE article regarding Bob Larson and the work of Bob Larson Ministries. We feel the facts stated in the article are incorrect and misleading, and the procedures used in gather ing the information journalistically unethical."What Mr. Larson has chosen not to say," World reporter Jay Grelen told Cornerstone, "is that I have made repeated attempts to meet with him for an interview. He had ample opportunity to sit down with me and hear what the charges were. He was unwilling under any circumstances to meet with me." Grelen says that he even offered Larson the opportunity to be interviewed with others--Larson's lawyers or CPAs--present. Larson refused. "If he could refute the charges we laid out in the article, there would have been no story. None of the charges have been refuted. Instead, it's been ad hominem attacks. His responses to date have been to `kill the messenger.'"
Furthermore, we are greatly disappointed in the editorial by WORLD MAGAZINE publisher Joel Belz, who has never visited Bob Larson Ministries nor met Bob Larson, yet felt no hesitation in comparing Mr. Larson to Jim Bakker who was charged with several felonious crimes and exhibited patently outrageous behavior.
Bob Larson has been in active ministry 27 years, and Bob Larson Ministries has played a leading role in Christian broadcasting for over ten years. The vision of this ministry remains to "reach the needy at the point of their need, giving hope to the hurting and help to the helpless." It is disappointing that some are willing to attack a ministry doing God's work without just cause or accurate information.
Grelen was particularly indignant over Larson's treatment of Lori Boespflug. "On his radio program castigating me, he said that Lori was just a secretary, a mother of three kids that's living with someone who isn't her husband. But his tax records from the IRS, which I've got a copy of, list her as the vice president of Bob Larson Ministries! Either he lied to the IRS, or he lied on the program."
Joel Belz of World objects to Larson's complaint regarding comparison to Jim Bakker. "We did not compare him to Jim Bakker. We would agree that Mr. Larson is not guilty, to the best of our knowledge, of any felonies. The editorial concerned our right as a Christian magazine to expose unchristian behavior in the body of Christ. If we'd done that with Bakker, think of the shame we'd have avoided!"
Belz worries about the powerful reasons many Christian publications have for not doing stories about prominent ministers. "You know as well as I do the incredible interlocking interests that are at stake here. This story did not make Thomas Nelson look terrific, and by implication you've got Word in there as well, since Nelson recently acquired them. If you knock out Thomas Nelson and Word from your advertisers list, you're not going the direction the business department wants you to go. It's easy to see why people back off. But I feel the Christian media cannot back down."
1. "Affidavit with Respect to Financial Affairs of Bobby E. Larson," case no. 91DR226, Division 9, District Court, Jefferson County, Colo., p. 2. Also according to court transcripts of divorce proceedings, p. 272. Copy on file.
2. Bob Larson, Hell on Earth (Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, 1974), author biography on dust jacket.
3. Bob Larson, The Day the Music Died (Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, 1972), 186.
4. Bob Larson, donor letter, 14 Oct. 1991. Copy on file.
5. William T. Abbot, letter to Bob Larson, 8 July 1991. Copy on file.
6. Bob Larson, letter to Lori Boespflug, 7 Apr. 1992. Copy on file.
[Editor's note: This article appears exactly as downloaded from the JPUSA
bulletin board. I have, however, added hypertext as appropriate to enhance
the article's general appearance.
Hear Larson's public reaction at the Sounds of Bob page.]