Billy James Hargis (August 3, 1925, Texarkana, Arkansas – November 27, 2004, Tulsa, Oklahoma) was a fundamentalist Protestant Christian evangelist. At the height of his popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, his Christian Crusade ministry was broadcast on more than 500 radio stations and 250 television stations.
In 1974, when Hargis was nearly 50, he was forced to resign from the presidency of American Christian College, and many of his activities due to a sexual scandal. Several students at the American Christian College, of which Hargis was president, claimed that Hargis had had sex with them over a period of three years: four males and one female. One couple, whom he had married, claimed to have discovered on their wedding night that each lost virginity with him. These events had taken place at the college, his farm in the Ozarks, and while the “All American Kids” were touring. Time Magazine covered the scandal in early 1976. The local newspapers, the Tulsa Daily World and the Tulsa Tribune, declined to publish the accusations. The Tulsa district attorney investigated but never brought charges against Hargis.
Hargis stepped down as president of American Christian College, where he was succeeded by former vice-president David Noebel. In February 1975, Hargis tried to regain control of the college, but was rejected by its board. By September he returned to his other ministries. They were said to welcome him after he repented, and because his name was an irreplaceable money-raising asset. As Jess Pedigo, president of the David Livingstone Society said, “There was a danger of bankruptcy.” Hargis did not give the deed to the property to the college for months after leaving, which prevented it from gaining regional accreditation. In addition, he withheld the fundraising lists, which previously all the organizations had shared. With declining enrollment after the scandal became public, the college closed in 1977.
Hargis denied the sexual allegations until his death, both publicly and in his autobiography, My Great Mistake (1985). After his book was published, in 1985 he told a Tulsa reporter, “I was guilty of sin, but not the sin I was accused of.” He eventually retreated to his farm in Neosho, Missouri, where he continued to work, issuing daily and weekly radio broadcasts. He continued to publish the monthly newspaper, The Christian Crusade Newspaper, and wrote numerous books.
In his final years, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and died in 2004 at the age of seventy-nine in Tulsa.