Evangelist Lester Roloff, a Texas fundamentalist minister who made headlines for refusing to knuckle under to state licensing authorities, is dead at the age of 68. Roloff and four others associated with his Corpus Christi-based ministry were killed in a plane crash on November 2 when the Cessna 210 Roloff was piloting crashed in east central Texas.
A Baptist minister and an experienced pilot, Roloff encountered heavy thunderstorms en route to a speaking engagement in Kansas City and went down over a Texas cattle ranch. The others, all women between the ages of 20 and 30, were to sing at the engagement.
Constitutional lawyer William Bentley Ball described Roloff as “an extremely courageous defender of religious liberty” and a “beacon light for American fundamentalism.” Ball defended Roloff in a court case that resulted in the legal vindication of Roloff’s refusal to allow the state of Texas to license his homes for troubled youth. In 1979, his three Texas homes were closed as a result of a suit filed by the state attorney general. The homes were reopened after Roloff reorganized his ministry, placing the homes under his People’s Baptist Church, instead of under Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises.
The homes have been in the public eye since 1973. Since then, accusations of beatings and other questionable forms of punishment, including withholding of meals, have consistently been leveled against Roloff’s operations (CT, Sept. 7, 1979, p. 60). In addition, Roloff was criticized for denouncing psychiatrists and the use of psychiatric treatment at his homes.
Greg Dixon, a prominent Indianapolis fundamentalist pastor, said, “From a human standpoint, the tragic death of Brother Roloff is one of the greatest blows to the cause of Christianity ...1
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