Biography: Marvin Gorman, part 5

by Randall S. Frederick

“Billy” walked to the tan Lincoln in the parking lot at the Travel Inn, opened the door, and slid into the seat. He started the engine and began backing out when he realized he had a flat tire. He pulled back in, in front of Room 6. As he changed the tire, Debra sat on the curb and watched her John. If he was stopped, it might go badly. Lots of girls had been busted this week and she didn’t need the heat. As he worked, perspiring in his sweat suit and headband, she entreated him not to tell the cops anything. Across the highway was a billboard that showed an open Bible. In large letters was a verse from the gospel of John: “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God! Your eternity is at stake!” It was ironic. Debra smirked, her eyes roving until they rested in the window of Room 12. She froze. There, in the window, was a telephoto lens draped with a black cloth. She bolted back into her room and watched through a crack in the door as, only a moment later, a blue car pulled into the lot. A man in a baseball cap got out, but Debra didn’t recognize him. He barked “Billy’s” real name as he approached the Lincoln, but Billy didn’t look up. Before she closed the door of her room, she heard the stranger ask her crouching man, “Jimmy, just what do you think you’re doing?”

Gorman had caught Swaggart frequenting a prostitute in New Orleans. “Billy” was a notorious John – he never tipped, he often sermonized, he regularly asked women to bring their daughters (or at least naked photos of their daughters if they were initially shocked by his request), and never wanted to touch the women. He was a hysterical germaphobe, demanding, and judgmental. He barely tried to hide his identity – a sweatsuit and headband his only disguise. Debra “Debbie” Murphee admitted she had even watched his crusades on television and laughed – if America only knew the hypocrisy of Jimmy’s frequent visits to Travel Inn, they would laugh right along with her. Without exaggeration, “Billy” was the most famous John in the New Orleans area. And so it took exceptionally little effort to photograph him and possess evidence of what was openly known by sex workers and law enforcement alike in the parish.

Randy Gorman, who Marvin adopted when he married Virginia, was a sheriff’s deputy for Jefferson Parish at the time. When he called his father, Randy already had several photos of “Billy” but Marvin wanted to personally confront Jimmy. After all, hadn’t Jimmy spread malicious lies about him? Hadn’t he taken it upon himself to run several ministers out of the Assemblies of God – including Gorman’s friends, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Gorman wanted to let Jimmy know he had been caught. He wanted to give Jimmy the opportunity denied to so many others – the opportunity to repent and make things right.

Although he was furious with Swaggart, Gorman knew this man well enough to understand Jimmy wasn’t really behind all of the venom and hostility. “There were strangers, even, who would say Frances was the driving force behind Gorman’s removal,” says Larry Thomas, who worked for the Swaggarts at the height of their ministry. “People have created a persona for Frances like she was the devil behind Jimmy. She’s behind anything he does. She’s just a very, very strong individual who knew what she wanted and she was very strong willed.” Threats against Jimmy were known to push her over the edge, and no one would encroach on the ratings and profits she felt were being “stolen” from her husband’s ministry.

More, Gorman understood that the Assemblies of God was in the middle of an identity crisis. As an Executive Presbyter, Gorman had seen “how the sausage was made” and refused to get in the middle of the political rivalries seeking control of the denomination. One camp, like Jimmy Swaggart, wanted to stay true to their Pentecostal roots of resisting popular culture, poverty as evidence of godliness, and the demand for expressive and loud miracles at seasonal revivals or “camp meetings.” Theologically, their focus was on God’s anger and wrath. Another camp, like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, wanted to celebrate God’s goodness and provision through wealth, booming Americana, and a sense of comfort in suburbia. Theologically, their focus was on the lighter side of scripture – God’s promises for excess and abundance (though, as Bakker would admit in his autobiography I Was Wrong, progressive Pentecostals picked and chose their theology at will). Whatever animosity existed within the denomination, Gorman felt, was because transitions were difficult. Christianity had suffered worse over centuries, and would certainly survive this decade. Patience was needed to weather the course.

As Gorman and Swaggart sat in a car together, still being photographed by Gorman’s son from an adjacent hotel room at the Travel Inn, they cried together over the loss of their friendship and how their situation had gone horribly off track. These men had been friends and shared many meals together, after all. They loved one another. Swaggart apologized, repented, asked Marvin to pray with him, and they left one another calm and confident that they could work all this out between them. Jimmy promised he would recant, admit to the lies he had told about Gorman and use his power within the denomination to restore the minister. The photographs were not a threat. There would be no more attacks. No, Gorman had the photographs taken because if Swaggart did not finally tell the truth to the denomination (and, ultimately, the world) about all the lies he had told about Gorman, then Gorman would move forward on exposing Swaggart.

Months went by. Gorman sat on the photos. He contacted Jimmy multiple times, asking whether he had confessed to the denomination. No. Gorman asked whether Jimmy had filmed an episode of his television or radio ministries admitting the lies he had told. No. Was he going to do any of the things he had promised? No.

Finally, Gorman flew to Springfield, Missouri, and showed the executive leadership of the Assemblies what everyone in Louisiana already knew – Swaggart was a liar. A hypocrite. Guilty of the very sins he had accused Gorman of committing. Unlike Swaggart, whose rumors and lies had no substance (except for the one instance Gorman had already confessed to), Gorman had evidence – photographs. Witnesses. Proof. When the denominational leaders refused to discipline Swaggart, Gorman pursued justice by other means. He exposed Swaggart to the world. He sued Swaggart for defamation. And, in the end, he vindicated himself and all of the ministers Swaggart has denounced, derailed, defamed, and disgraced – Jim Bakker included. When the jury awarded him $10 million in damages, Gorman walked out of the courtroom in a daze. It had been such an empty victory. He had told the truth, but at what cost? The most well known ministries in the world had collapsed on themselves. In a desperate bid for shrinking donations, the aging Oral Roberts had gone on television and demanded people give him $10 million dollars or “God will take me home.” Newspapers, already tired with the cartoonish buffoonery of televangelists, spun the story as though God was a terrorist threatening to kill Roberts. Jim Bakker, humiliated and far outside of his realm of understanding, had been photographed in the middle of a mental breakdown walking out of a courtroom, tears streaming down his face, mouth agape in sobs. Bakker had been found guilty of financial mismanagement at PTL but, perhaps more importantly was seen as an example of how far away public ministries had gotten from the commands of Jesus in scripture. Swaggart had finally confessed, to an audience of millions, to an un-named sin and saw his ministry collapse underneath him as students left his Bible college in a mass exodus and donors immediately stopped sending money. One month after the verdict against him, Swaggart was found with yet another prostitute in Indio, California.

But as Gorman left the courthouse that day, he was met by several newspaper reporters beneath a large oak tree in front of the court house on Loyola Avenue. He spoke of continuing his ministry and said he had no intention of leaving New Orleans. He would not “be run out of town.” He said his intention was no different now from what it had ever been: He was going to serve God. He was going to continue breaking up the darkness in the city and win souls for Christ, to speak of the power of God’s presence in the life of believers. The reporters turned to the question of money – after all, each of the ministries scandalized that year had fallen because of money. Gorman was now being painted with the same brush. He answered that he had no idea if he, personally, would ever receive any money from the trial. It was his goal, he said, to see his creditors paid. That was all. He didn’t enter into litigation for money, wasn’t seeking financial gain for himself, truly not even for his ministry. What he wanted was the satisfaction of justice, of revealing the truth and setting things right.

During the course of the interview, a car drove by with the window down, and the driver yelled, “God bless you, Marvin.” A few moments later, another car drove by with the window open and somebody screamed, “You’re wasting the taxpayers’ money!” The contrast was funny, because both sides of the story were still on the street, but Gorman answered both with nothing more than a slight smile (Lundy 273-74).

In the end, Swaggart’s lawyers claimed that he had lost so much money in the preceding years that he would never be able to pay what the jury awarded Gorman. As anyone who has been awarded a judgment in a civil case knows, having the judgment is one thing. Collecting is another.

Marvin Gorman never received the $10 million. In fact, he filed for bankruptcy and, exhausted, gave up pursuing the judgement in his favor. He spent the next decade traveling to the few churches across America who would still have him and eventually paid off creditors with his own money. His daughter, Beverly, married and became a singer with her husband, also a pastor in New Orleans. His youngest son, Mark, became a motivational speaker. The Gormans, so instrumental in changing the spiritual climate of New Orleans were forgotten.

Twelve years after his resignation as pastor of the First Assembly of God of New Orleans, his confession of adultery, his loss of credentials from the Assemblies of God and ultimate bankruptcy, Marvin Gorman has returned to the basics of his original ministerial calling. He pastored a church called the Temple of Praise, housed in the same building on Elysian Fields Avenue where he first preached when he moved to New Orleans in 1965. He has also returned to the old-fashioned tent revivals, acknowledging that his sin of temptation was not so much the temptation of the flesh, but in fact was the temptation of power and greed associated with his desire to become a high-ranking church official. He settled into a quiet life, content to drive a Toyota Camry instead of his big Buick, and lost the desire to own a Lincoln or Cadillac. He and Virginia lived in a more modest home, enjoyed a less lavish lifestyle from that they had before.
But he was no less charismatic, no less effective in the pulpit.

On November 20, 1994, the Times Picayune published an extensive story on him and the chronology of events surrounding his ordeal. It turned out to be a most positive front-page story for the Sunday Metro Section. Entitled, “Survival and Revival,” the reporter states, “Marvin Gorman says his troubles with temptation put his head straight.” In more than a manner of speaking, that is accurate.

At the Temple of Praise, Marvin preached to a congregation of all colors and nationalities. He has also begun a special Hispanic ministry by hiring a pastor who is affluent in Spanish to hold special services. Rising to ministry at a time of civil and racial intensity, he never stopped working for racial understanding and acceptance. As before, Gorman extended his ministry beyond the boundaries of The Temple of Praise. He went out into the street, seeking people in need of help, both spiritual and otherwise. He got a radio program once again and frequently purchased television air time, his focus directed to his church’s immediate ministry in Orleans Parish. There is no talk of satellite dishes or international church politics, no private jet, no deals with convicted criminals for millions of sequestered dollars. Gorman’s “restored” ministry was joined by his son, Randy; his daughter, Beverly, son-in-law, Garland and their children; and many of the other people who have been with him over the years, who stood by him in his hour of crisis. His other, younger son, Mark, became a popular evangelist in his own right and had his own “worldwide ministry” speaking to businesses and preaching primarily in independent Full Gospel churches around the world and has no apparent ambitions to “pander” to the Assemblies of God.

In the Times Picayune article, Gorman was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing motivating me today except the call of God to reach out to hurting, and I’m not angry at anybody or mad at anybody.” He also acknowledged that at one time he was a renowned personality in the great city of New Orleans. If he wasn’t, the Times Picayune wouldn’t have been at his doorstep trying to get a front page story. Marvin also points out, ironically, that when he dies, the obituary in the paper probably will not read that a man devoted to God and the children of God died, but that a man who fell from grace and was at the center of a religious scandal had finally passed on.

Which is exactly what happened.

Marvin Gorman died on 4 January,2017. The Times Picayune was sure to point out Gorman’s “fall from grace” but missed the lead story. Gorman’s life after he walked away from the scandals of the Eighties kept going and, in a sense, did more with his life after the tragic events than his colleagues. He welcomed Tammy Faye to the Temple of Praise after she divorced Jim Bakker. At that time, Tammy Faye was openly and publicly embracing homosexuals and demanding that be welcomed in Evangelical churches. Gorman,as he had done for years at First Assembly, implicitly showed where he stood on the matter by who he associated with. “Nobody ever got saved waving a picket sign.”

When Jim Bakker left prison, Gorman was quick to “restore” Bakker to “fellowship” (welcome him to the Temple of Praise with friendship and allowing him to preach). Following a 16-month Federal grand jury probe, Bakker had been indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy (racketeering). In 1989, after a five-week trial which began on August 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina, the jury found him guilty on all 24 counts, and Judge Robert Daniel Potter sentenced him to 45 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine. He served time in the Federal Medical Center, Rochester, in Rochester, Minnesota, when,in February 1991, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Bakker’s conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, but voided Bakker’s 45-year sentence, as well as the $500,000 fine, and ordered that a new sentencing hearing be held. The court held that Potter’s statement at sentencing that Bakker’s actions resulted in “those of us who do have a religion” being lampooned as “saps from money-grubbing preachers or priests” was evidence that he had injected his own religious beliefs into considering Bakker’s sentence. When few knew and only became public knowledge years later with the publication of Son of a Preacher Man in 2001 (by Bakker’s son, Jay) was that Gorman rallied support for Jim Bakker among their old “friends” and Assemblies of God ministers (who were first told to distance themselves from Gorman after his “fall” and, later after Gorman had cleared his name, told to distance themselves once again when he brought Swaggart to court – despite the denomination also denouncing and distancing themselves from Swaggart also). Gorman called ministers, friends, and donors to write letters on behalf of Bakker for a sentence that better reflected his crimes. Even in the midst of the scandals, he worked tirelessly to help friends – even when he knew it could further mar his own reputation. Welcoming the Bakker’s back into ministry was a bold step. Tammy Faye and her son, Jay, both supported gays in the Church when that debate was first starting to simmer in the Nineties. As Gorman had said decades previously, everyone – especially sinners – were welcome in the Church. “Jesus asked us to be fishers of men – he didn’t ask us to clean them. Trust me, they probably know far better than you do all the things they’ve done wrong. You have to let God deal with them if [God] thinks it is a problem. What we need to do instead is share the Gospel and power of the Spirit.” When he welcomed Jim Bakker to the church in 1996, he was welcoming the most hated man in Evangelicalism – but one who now admitted his mistakes and wanted the Church to learn from his misconduct.

Curiously, Gorman continued to minimize Swaggart’s offenses, insisting that Jimmy was a good man at heart. Even in the midst of a very public courtroom battle, Gorman maintained that theirs was a personal disagreement based on misinformation. If it was, in fact, true that Frances Swaggart – and not Jimmy – had been behind the lies and rumors about him, perhaps he sought to “rescue” Jimmy as well. In any event, Gorman refused to publicly denounce Swaggart outside of the matters before the Court.

And he never stopped rallying support for Africa, who suffered numerous civil wars, droughts, AIDS and Malaria and Ebola epidemics, and political restructuring eventually leading to the rise of ISIS. Gorman travelled to Africa regularly to hold conferences for pastors and, curiously, to advocate for thicker theology in support of the Pentecostal experience. In 2001, Charisma Magazine released an article about a revival Gorman was a part of which, at the time, some felt was evidence that his ministry had finally been restored.

Two years ago (1999), sensing a “broader scope of ministry” unfolding, Gorman handed over the leadership of his Temple of Praise church to his son-in-law. The first taste of what that “broader scope” might be came early last year when Gorman held some meetings at Christ Cathedral of Praise in Ville Platte, a small community northwest of New Orleans.

The resulting revival ran 3-1/2 months and was “a tremendous breakthrough,” according to pastor Jerry Fitch. “We recorded over 300 people filled with the Holy Spirit, and 200 got saved. There were a number of healings.”

When Gorman visited Abundant Life–located at a converted country club–in January, it was to be for just four nights. But pastor Jonas Robertson “began to realize that this was very possibly something like Pensacola.” Within weeks the church and Gorman had committed to continuing meetings through the end of the year, holding them Friday through Monday to better accommodate out-of-towners. “The power of God just came down in a new way,” Robertson said. “This revival has all the elements of the book of Acts. It’s being filled with the Holy Spirit, being saved, being delivered, being healed from just every kind of disease. It’s creative miracles.”

Church member Paul Eymard told Charisma his life had been dramatically impacted by the revival. After one service he began to feel sensation returning to the fingers of his left hand, which had been almost severed in a nasty barge accident more than 20 years ago. He also was freed from troubled dreams about the accident. “There’s so much more joy in my life,” he said. “I have never been able to feel my wife’s hair or my kids’ faces or pet my dog–the kind of things which may seem little, but are enormous to me. It’s made me much more outgoing; there’s a complete personality change.”

Worship leader Steve Kinchin said he had been healed of tendinitis in his hands and Crohn’s Disease that had plagued him since a child. “It’s incredible. I have never before in my life witnessed people so hungry after the things of God, people coming with such a high level of expectancy. It’s not church as usual,” Kinchin said.

The church’s youth group quadrupled a few weeks after the revival began. To meet the growing need, the congregation launched into an ambitious 30-day project that transformed one of its buildings into a new youth and family center complete with basketball cages, video games, pool tables and a 1950s’ style diner.

Now 67, Gorman said he believes the move of God was the fulfillment of a promise that his latter days would be more fruitful than his former. “I believe with all my heart these meetings are the beginning of something that God is going to do that will be phenomenal in this city and reach out to many parts of the world… I just want to be used in whatever way I can. My real burden is for leadership. I feel that He has brought me through enough that I can relate to any of their hurts or challenges.”

Robertson points to what has been happening at his church as part of the fulfillment of a widely circulated prophecy by Cindy Jacobs in 1998 that foresaw a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in southern Louisiana that would spread up the Mississippi and across the United States.

Robertson, a one-time drug addict saved under Gorman’s First Assembly ministry, said he saw a greater tenderness and compassion in his former mentor. “The argument is, God can’t use him anymore, but when we have the miracles and healings and salvations, how can you argue with that?” he said. “What God is doing now is giving people an opportunity to do what they didn’t 15 years ago. And the church will either fail or pass the test. They will forgive and love mercy or will continue to hold bitterness and judgmentalism.”

For the preceding decade, Gorman had been forbidden from preaching or teaching in any Assemblies of God church. Given the loose leadership of the denomination, many ministers – especially in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana – ignored the excommunication order from “headquarters” and quietly welcomed him as a “guest speaker.” With the publication of that article, the Assemblies of God was asked to revisit the issue. Shortly thereafter, Gorman was quietly reinstated as an Assemblies of God minister, the excommunication was lifted, and he was asked to teach at their seminaries. Churches, some who may have forgotten his name by now, began to remember Gorman differently as a senior member of the household of God who had “weathered the storm” and had the scars to prove it. But Gorman, apart from the revivals which seemed to bloom wherever he went, had been no shrinking violet. He taught at Christian Life School of Theology in Columbus, Ga., and spread the Gospel in sermons and missions trips in the United States, Mexico, India, Central America, and of course Africa. Jerrell Miller of Remnant International claims that Gorman, who had already established a respected annual school for pastors in Nigeria, began to experience miracles all around him that were worth noting. Gorman, Miller records, had become a trusted liaison between America and Nigeria to verify stories of the miraculous. Gorman had been asked to verify an article about “false miracles” by Charisma Magazine. He also discussed a vision he had years prior in 1983 which had guided his ministry.

“In 1983 I had a vision of the last days revival and it was marked by holiness and worship. The power of God will come through holiness and the praise of the one who will send it on the wings of the Holy Spirit. I heard a man say that Jesus left the church to 12 men to run and I said Jesus didn’t leave it to these men but he told them to go and wait for the Holy Ghost in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost great miracles were done and Jerusalem was turned upside down. You could name the twelve on that day but in that upper room were people with no names who had the same power bestowed on them as the twelve. Believe me once again the no names are going to have the same power as those who have walked in ministry for years. These individuals are going to be raised up for this particular time. They will have never been churched and they will have great faith to accomplish very much in a short period of time. There will be a new generation of believers who will understand the power of God but will separate themselves from religious form. I see a day when the supernatural of God will separate itself from the traditional church. It was like that in the days of Jesus, tradition could not handle the raising of the dead by Jesus, and new wine will never be able to be captured by old bottles.”

One of the most amazing things Marvin Gorman had to share during his time at River of Life Church in Mobile, Alabama was the tremendous healing revival that is going on in Lagos, Nigeria right now. “Last year Charisma Magazine labeled the move of God in Nigeria as a cult and something that was not valid. We were asked to go as observers to see if what was going on there was the real thing. We flew KLM all the way to the Ivory Coastand got there on a Tuesday – the next morning I got up and looked across the compound of where we were staying to see people lining up for the Wednesday evening service. All day long we watched people gather on the outside of the church. What started as a crowd of 125,000 would be swelled to almost 250,000 during the night. I walked with Brother Joshua as we saw miracle after miracle happen right before our eyes. The place was as large as a football field and the whole church had closed circuit television so when Brother Joshua was moving everyone could see what was going on. An entire section of people infected with HIV positive were in the huge building. They stood with a sign that named their illness and also the sins they were repenting of, you could see fornication, adultery, lying and many other sins written out on the signs. The claims made by Charisma were that they were not a real church but what we saw was different from what their article claimed. As I walked with Brother Joshua he led me to a women who’s belly was swollen as if she was in her ninth month of being pregnant. She was infected in the belly and as I layed my hands upon her water began to gush out of her belly as her stomach went as flat as a 16-year-old girl. It was amazing. The night we were there we saw in the gallery of the healed a Medical Doctor from Botswanna with his wife. He was infected by the HIV virus along with his wife. They had come to the meeting in November of 2001 and had returned in February. She was a computer analysis. They had two sheets of paper that showed they were HIV positive and one in January revealed that HIV was not in the blood system anymore. They still had their signs that listed their sins but this time they had the written medical evidence from a medical hospital showing that they were completely free of HIV. It just was these two who had come from just a few months back, but we saw more than 30 other individuals who had the same testimony of the before and after.”

“We saw cancer of the rectum healed, we saw the before and after video tapes of when they had been their before. We saw a journalist who hadn’t been able to walk for 12 years get up out of a car and start walking. Lagos, Nigeria is a city of 16 million people and this man had worked for the leading newspaper there. In a documented video tape of before and after with validated medical records, we could see that the story that was printed in the Charisma Magazine was not valid at all. They didn’t even send a reporter to the church. We saw true repentance at the Church of All Nations – The Synagogue was a place of healing and testimony. We prayed for people until 12 midnight and then we rested for a short period of time and then we went back out again. Around 3 A.M. I told Brother Joshua I was tired and was suffering from jet lag, I returned to the compound to sleep. The service that had begun at 5 P.M. ended Thursday morning at 5 A.M. – by the end of the service more than 250,000 people had come to seek God in healing. Some were instantly healed and some will come back to tell the story later but what we saw was true repentance and the power of God right out of the Book of Acts.”

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