Akron, Ohio -- Akron Beacon Journal reporter Bob Dyer said he has received an outpouring of support from other former members of Ernest Angley's Grace Cathedral after the newspaper published allegations that the televangelist coerced members into getting abortions and vasectomies.
Dyer interviewed 21 former church members for the series, which launched Sunday. The investigation began when Angley lambasted former Associate Pastor Brock Miller in July.
Dyer said Miller told friends and family after he left the church that Angley had sexually abused him. When Angley learned of the accusations he railed against Miller in a two-hour sermon.
Angley's July 13 sermon was recorded and delivered to Dyer; in it the 93-year-old pastor said he had told church members to get undressed so he could examine them before and after vasectomies, but never touched them.
The church has denied that it pushed members into receiving vasectomies and abortions, and flat out denied any sexual abuse. Angley refused a request from Northeast Ohio Media Group to comment.
Dyer, a 30-year veteran at the Akron newspaper, spoke to NEOMG in a 30-minute interview about the series. Here are answers to some of our questions.
NEOMG: At what point did you realize that this was a significant story?
Bob Dyer: The thing that got me really fired up about doing this is so many people were willing to go on the record. So many people said yeah you can put my name on it and you can take my picture. That, to me, gave it a lot of credibility.
NEOMG: Was it difficult to get Angley to agree to do an interview?
BD: He has been really inaccessible. Our photo department said they haven't been able to photograph him for 15 years.
We did not ambush him. I called up and said here's what I have, I had that tape and all these other allegations -- covering up sexual abuse. He knew it was going to be a pretty big deal. I was expecting him to send out an associate, but he agreed to an interview in his office. It was 90 minutes.
NEOMG: Did the former members you talk to communicate with one another? Were they part of a group?
BD: I think all of them... the more people I talk to the more people came in from other places. There was a private internet site where they were consoling each other. There were also people who caught wind that I was working on it.
NEOMG: Why didn't any of these former members come forward earlier?
BD: People are scared. People who left five, 10, 15 years ago cower at his name. They are just afraid to blow the whistle on him. I think that's part of the reason. I don't know that other people here haven't been contacted over the years. I have been here 30 years next month and nobody has.
I think they had sort of a group that had started to gather online and reinforced each other, pumped each other up, gave each other courage. If enough of them came forward, I think people individually are reluctant.
NEOMG: How do you think Angley maintained such tight control over the congregation for so long?
BD: I think there's two things going on here. An awful lot of these people were born into the church. If that's the only thing you've ever known it tends to be what you expect.
The other thing is that they were there so much. He would tell them what TV shows to watch and not watch. He has services on Friday evenings for example, many people speculate that was done to keep teenagers from going to high school football games.
Part of it is being around him so much. If you here enough and you hear the same things over and over again... one guy who was 21, he told me he hadn't had a clue what was going on in the world.
I think the idea is that he is one inch away from God. If they hang with him they are going to heaven. Honestly I think that's the major attraction for people. One former member said its like the Holy Trinity there. It's Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Angley. He just paints God's prophet.
NEOMG: What is the biggest thing you have taken away from reporting this story?
BD: To me the headline is that this guy had so much influence over these people that they were willing to make serious life decisions based on his recommendations. The vasectomies and particularly the abortions, you do it because they tell you to, that to me is unfortunate. I've never heard of a pastor urging his congregation not to reproduce.
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