A central figure in the ISU Bible Study hierarchy is 33-year-old Jim McCotter, an organizer of the group four years ago. McCotter, who came to Ames from Lawrence, Kan., in January, 1972, is referred to by members as an "elder" in the organization.
Married and the father of four children, McCotter has no salaried job. He says he depends on anonymous donations provided by his supporters. He declines to reveal the amount of donations he receives annually, but says, "It would definitely be hundreds of donations - mostly small, averaging around $10 to $15."
According to him, most of the donations come from "people who are interested in what I'm doing in communicating the Christian message."
Last summer, McCotter traveled around the world with three companions to "witness for the Lord." His expenses for that trip amounted to $3,000, he says, and were also paid for from anonymous donations.
McCotter, a frequent speaker at Bible Study functions, also is president of The Higher Education Opportunities Service (THEOS), a not-for-profit organization that runs a bookstore and owns a printing press in Ames. All profits go back into the businesses, McCotter says.
Internal Revenue Service records (those of not-for-profit organizations are available to the public) show a jump in THEOS income from $1,518 in 1974 to $74,247 in 1976. In 1976, tax returns showed $23,000 in itemized costs and $54,951 unitemized.
According to THEOS bookkeeper Paul Rath, two-thirds of the $54,951 was used to support the Life Herald, a religious newspaper THEOS helped start three years ago. The paper folded last spring. The rest of the money was used for bookstore expenses, Rath said.
"I'm really embarrassed about it. I simply forgot to itemize those expenses at the time," Rath says.
The THEOS-owned press prints Today's Student, a religious newspaper that its editors say is circulated on 110 college and university campuses.
Profits from the newspaper are used to increase circulation, THEOS leaders say.
McCotter's sermons often are tape recorded and sold at the THEOS owned bookstore. The theories in one tape dealing with child rearing practices drew criticism from ISU child development professor Sedahlia Crase.
Crase says, "A student asked me to invite McCotter to speak to the class because she felt I wasn't presenting the Christian perspective on child-rearing. The student said McCotter was a nationally known authority on children, but I had never heard of him. That's when I learned of the tape. I was shocked when I heard it. He actually advocates bruising children."
Part of the taped sermon was based on Proverbs 20:30, which McCotter translates as, "Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts."
On the tape, McCotter says, "When you discipline, this verse indicates, as others do, that you want to do it so it wounds. Now, when you say 'wounds,' it doesn't mean that you have a bloody mess on your hands necessarily. It doesn't mean that you have a child 'wounding' like he has a broken leg."
McCotter added in his taped sermon that this means you have been severe enough that the child's attitude at that point has been reversed.
"And he may, and often will be, black and blue," McCotter continued. "My children have been many times. And it cleans evil from them."
Says Crase, "What he advocates on this tape is just poor child-rearing practice in every sense of what we know now. Besides that, it's illegal to injure a child and bruising is injuring them. I'm upset that he goes around preaching these kinds of things."
Of Crase's comments, McCotter says, "She might have taken what I said out of context, but I would stand by the idea that the Bible very strongly advocates spanking children. Of course, they also need to be loved and played with."
McCotter, who travels to college campuses around the country evangelizing, believes the Bible "definitely" has a place in the classroom.
"The Bible does not knock getting smart and learning," he says. "In fact, it's the very foundation for our whole educational system. Ninety-nine out of the first 100 universities in the United States were founded for the purpose of developing and understanding the Bible."