Auth: Jon Trott Srce: CORNERSTONE magazine, vol. 21, iss. 100, pp. 18, 37, 41-42. Date: 19
Auth: Jon Trott
Srce: CORNERSTONE magazine, vol. 21, iss. 100, pp. 18, 37, 41-42.
Titl: Bob Larson's Ministry Under Scrutiny
Note: Italics indicated by guillemets
BOB LARSON'S MINISTRY UNDER SCRUTINY
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
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 underground
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
Elements of the sensational reached a new high in 1992 with the
publication of Larson's novel ®Dead Air¯. One donor letter from BLM
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:
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
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
®Cornerstone¯ reached Abbott, who declined comment on the matter.
Apparently, however, Larson did not take Abbott's advice regarding
the ®Dead Air¯ sequel, ®Abaddon¯, due out in late spring of 1993
through Thomas Nelson Publishers. "I wrote the first hundred pages of
the book before he fired me," Boespflug told ®Cornerstone.¯ She
provided us with a copy of her agreement with Bob regarding ®Abaddon¯,
which outlines her duties and is dated April 7, 1992:
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
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
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
continues 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
®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 gathering the information
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
"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.'"
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
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.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank