On July 16, 1986, when Marvin Gorman chose resignation by giving up his credentials to Cecil Janway, Louisiana District Superintendent, he elected not to pursue a rehabilitation program with the church or to seek reinstatement. By doing so, he effectively cut himself off from any possibility of appeal or justice within the Assemblies of God’s structure. It was Gorman’s belief -and for good reason- that Jimmy Swaggart and a group of men and women loyal to the Swaggart Ministries would be able to exert such pressure on both the Louisiana District Council and on the General Council itself that there was no possibility of a fair hearing within the ecclesiastical confines of the Assemblies of God. Like Paul facing the Pharisees, Gorman determined that he would have to be heard by an objective judge; hence he took his fight out of the cloistered confines of the General Council of the denomination and, as he saw it, its Swaggart-influenced membership. Gorman now sought the justice and judgement of a secular court.
Gorman, who was an Executive Presbyter for many years and held many offices in the Louisiana District Council as well as in Arkansas, had been a General Presbyter, an Executive Presbyter, and had nearly been elected as General Superintendent. He was as familiar as anyone with the internal workings of the church’s governing body, and he was also aware of the unique circumstances surrounding his treatment, both before and after his resignation. And yet in all his years as an Assembly of God minister and high church official, he had never heard of a condemning statement such as the July 20 and September 2 statements being written and read to the congregation of a church repeatedly. He certainly he had never heard of such a statement being mailed to ministers throughout the nation and abroad, as was now the case with his own resignation. It was, therefore, both logical and sensible for Gorman to seek a redress of his grievances in a secular court. Only there could he be certain that objectivity would be applied. Also, only there could he be certain that his judge and his jury would be completely free of direct influence of Jimmy Swaggart.
How had it come to this?
In July 1986, Swaggart summoned Gorman to a makeshift tribunal at Swaggart’s First Assembly headquarters in Baton Rouge, where Gorman was then confronted with charges of adultery and pressured into resigning his ministry immediately. There was truth to some of the accusations. Gorman had, he confessed, had an affair but it was nothing like what he was being accused of by Swaggart.
Among the charges Gorman says the Swaggart camp falsely spread: that Gorman had more than 100 adulterous affairs over decades…; that he had “multiple immoral incidents… with women who came to him for counseling”; that he sired illegitimate children; that he stole church funds; that he had Mafia connections; that he emenated an “evil spirit,” which entered a woman and spoke in Gorman’s voice as it was exorcised by Assembly of God preacher Tom Miller (Henry, 3-4).
Gorman admitted that before he became a Christian, he had had sexual relationships with two women whose names he would never reveal. Given the remarkably young age at which he converted and received “the call” to the ministry, this may be both surprising and remarkably credible. But after becoming a Christian, he maintained, the only woman with whom he had ever engaged in sexual relations was his wife. Except for Lynda Savage, of course (Lundy, 110-111).
In 1978, I made a tragic mistake. I turned my back on principles that had been the guiding force of my life. I committed an act of adultery. A minister’s wife, whom I was counseling, called my office and led me to believe that her emotional situation was so desperate that she was contemplating suicide. I foolishly abandoned my ministerial protocols and hurriedly went by myself to her hotel room (Gorman, 3-4).
Gorman stated he began counseling Lynda Savage in 1978 at the request of her husband, David, the pastor of the nearby Kenner Assembly of God Church. Gorman has been friends with Savage for some time, had helped him begin his ministry, and had been concerned for the couple’s marriage. He did not reveal the exact nature of their marital problems, only that they were “unhappy,” and that David was concerned that their future as a married couple was in jeopardy. During the counseling sessions, Lynda Savage confessed multiple extramarital relations to Gorman. She was extremely depressed as the wife of a man whose professional identity hinged on their reputation for holiness. It was a masquerade, she claimed. They were both living a lie and she felt she couldn’t go on.
It was on December 28, 1978, that Lynda called Gorman at his office. She said she was alone in a motel room and thinking about committing suicide. He asked her for the name and address of the motel and immediately rushed to her. When he arrived, he found the door unlocked and slightly open. He stepped into the room and saw Lynda sitting on the edge of the bed with a robe over her shoulders. Across the room on a desk was a bottle of spilled pills. He claims that he rushed to her and sat down. She pulled back the robe, revealing that she was naked underneath. She turned to him and they began to hug, then kiss. Soon they were reclining on the bed. According to Gorman, he never disrobed but merely unzipped his pants and began to have sexual intercourse with her. During the act, he was suddenly overcome with guilt, lost his erection, stood up, zipped his pants, and begged Savage’s forgiveness. He told her that what they were doing was wrong and stated that he was leaving. So he did.
Gorman indicated that he never experienced a climax during his physical contact with Lynda Savage or while he was in the motel room. He left the room shaken and shocked by his behavior, and bore this sin and guilt for a long time. According to Gorman, he immediately asked God for forgiveness and the sin, in his opinion, was “under the blood of Jesus” and did not have to be confessed to anyone else. But like many egregious mistakes, it wasn’t that simple.
That transgression became a dark, ominous cloud hanging over my life and ministry. During the months and years that followed, I repented daily. Only the Lord knows the tears I shed. Yet there was a heavy haze of fear that hovered over me like a menacing giant (Gorman 4).
But was it ever as clear as Gorman claimed, the defined story of single sin and overwhelming forgiveness so well known to Evangelicals? Following the incident at the end of 1978 (itself a bit cloudy or “hazy”), Gorman said he received numerous other phone calls from Lynda Savage demanding that he meet her and have sex with her. She also asked him to meet her on the pretext of counseling her against killing herself. Unlike his printed account in The Road to Redemption (1996), it was under sworn testimony that Gorman stated he met Savage two more times, again at motels, for the purpose of counseling. In each instance, she greeted him while dressed in sparse clothing, attempting to entice him into a sexual encounter. Each time, Gorman said that he rebuked her and asked her to forget what happened, to repent, and go on with her life with her husband. It was only after the third time he met her that he told her he would never come to her call again, and as far as her threats of suicide or threats of revealing the incident to anyone, she could do so according to her own conscience. This, Gorman’s lawyer would claim, was his “story, and he was sticking to it” (Lundy 111-112).
At this same time, “through God’s grace” Gorman’s ministry boomed and was experiencing almost a decade of solid growth. The church, First Assembly of God, blossomed to 6,000 members. While meager by today’s megachurch standards, this was astounding for a decade when Pentecostal churches were small, family-oriented communities of neighbors who prided themselves on exclusivity – all of this in a city that was bathed in Catholicism, no less, which was antagonistic and suspicious of Protestants in the shadow of Vatican II. As Gorman tells it in The New Orleans Story (1979), “In this new age of church programs and gimmicks, we found a simple way to attract people to church – to preach the Word and minister in the Spirit. Most of the new people accepting Christ [at First Assembly] were of Catholic background. Many of them suffered severe persecution and criticism from their family, sometimes even to the point of disowning them” (59).
My father and mother had recently married and moved from the Catholic community of Erwinville, in central Louisiana. My father’s family was securely Catholic and, he recalls, he did not tell his family he had begun attending a Protestant church because “you have to understand, Catholics were taught if they stepped foot inside of a Protestant church, they would have to go to confession and ask for forgiveness. It was a sin for a Catholic to go to a Protestant church – even though it was a church. That was just how it was then. In fact, when your mother and I got married, I told my grandmother and she didn’t ask whether your mother was White, Black, Latino, blind, in a wheelchair, whatever. Her first and only question was whether we would be married in a Catholic church. That’s just how it was then. Catholics did not go to a Protestant church, period.”
Gorman sheds light on how this played out in the formative years of First Assembly in New Orleans.
A Catholic person may respond to the altar call one service, but due to severe persecution at home, he may not return to church for several weeks. But, little by little, they began to attend and become established in the congregation. This gave us great confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit. The majority of these Catholics had never read the Bible. Unlike a convert from an evangelical background, the average Roman Catholic would accept Jesus solely on the faith of what we had spoken. They had no biblical knowledge to sustain them or give them a foundation upon which to stand.
This created several problems. When the attendance of Catholic people became increasingly popular at First Assembly, some of the area Catholic heirarchy decided to try to put a stop to it. They circulated a teaching that it was heresy for their own people to attend a church other than the Catholic Church. While this hurt deeply and did stop some people from attending, we never spoke against the Catholic Church. Rather, we continued to preach the Word and eventually the Catholic people were drawn by the Spirit of God. The Catholic hierarchal decree had no more effect than the Sanhedrin’s decree had in stopping the apostles from preaching in the New Testament church. the people chose to believe God rather than man.
Actually, about the same time the Catholic leaders sent out this teaching (which we knew nothing about), the Lord led us to do something that circumvented it… We went ahead and pitched a tent that would seat 2,000 people in our large back parking lot. The people in faith rallied behind me and we circulated publicity that a revival would begin on a certain date in October, 1974, and that I would be the evangelist. The Roman Catholics, who never dared to enter a church building other than theirs, came by the hundreds. During the two-week crusade, over 400 people came forward to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Some 300 were baptized in the Holy Spirit. As they came and were filled with the Holy Spirit, they also became freed from their traditional bondages. Many began to attend our church. When they came, their spirits were teachable and they bore much fruit for God” (The New Orleans Story, 59-60).
Church membership kept growing and, even after moving into a much larger facility on Airline Highway, First Assembly tried to find ways to accommodate the swelling crowds. They held another service, then another, until they were hosting five church services each Sunday, a “miracle rally” on Monday night, mid-week services on Wednesday, a day school, elementary and high school, sporting activities, and special services throughout the year. Their 1,200 seat auditorium was at max capacity regularly and each service was attended by a fire marshall who would not allow another person inside the sanctuary. Those who attended past capacity were directed to overflow rooms, where the service was broadcast over speakers, but even these rooms maxed out as well. As the church continued to grow, the church began a television ministry including a live program where Gorman would answer questions from callers around the nation – much like his friends Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were doing. At the start of 1985, Gorman had already been elected to the national Executive Board of the Assemblies of God (a senior leadership position responsible for doctrinal, denominational, and disciplinary matters) and was trying to finalize the purchase of two television stations, a satellite, and enter into a new building project at a property further down Airline Highway. And then he received a phonecall.
At what seemed like the apex of my ministry, I received a phone call at my office that would change my life forever. It was July 15, 1986. “Marvin, do you have time for me to stop by and see you today?” the minister asked.
Over the years, the caller had met with me on several occasions on a variety of topics, but this seemed urgent. “Sure,” I told him, “but the earliest I can see you is at four o’clock this afternoon.” He was on time. Just a few seconds after he closed the door, the man spoke with words I never expected to hear. He looked at me and said, “We know about you and my wife.” My greatest fear became a shocking reality. Seated before me was the husband of the woman with whom I had the failure many years earlier.
David Savage now confronted Marvin Gorman on the events that had transpired in December of 1978.
I asked, “You know what?”
He replied, “Brother Gorman, she told me that she confessed everything to another minister and right now he is waiting on a phone call from you.” Then the concerned man said, “I’m so sorry she felt it necessary to bring someone else into this. If she had told only me, I know the three of us could have worked this thing out.” Immediately, I called the minister and arranged for a meeting with him, the husband, and me.
I didn’t realize what I was walking into. The meeting was a disaster. Whether because of jealousy, anger, or indignation, the pastor showed little compassion and railed against me without mercy. The minister threatened that if I didn’t go to Jimmy Swaggart immediately, he would call my family and the members of my board. The husband of the woman involved passively watched the proceedings. I commented, “I don’t know where Jimmy is. Besides, I believe this is a matter that should be taken to the District Superintendent of the denomination.”
“I don’t trust the superintendent,” the pastor countered. “I think Jimmy Swaggart is the only man who can handle it.”
“I’m not sure I can get in touch with him,” I repeated.
Without pause, he said, “I can get hold of him in three minutes.” The moment he spoke those words, I knew I had been lured into a trap. I later learned that Jimmy knew everything that was going on and was waiting for the call (Road to Redemption, 6-7).
- Gorman, Marvin. The New Orleans Story: The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail. Who Cares Ministries, 1979.
- Gorman, Marvin. The Road to Repentance: The Story of a Televangelist, from Ruin to Restoration. Marvin Gorman Ministries, 1996.
- Lundy, Hunter. Let Us Prey: The Public Trial of Jimmy Swaggart. Genesis Press, Inc. Columbus, MS. 1999.
- Henry, William A. III, “God and money part 9”. TIME. July 22, 1991.