Apologetics Index

Tony Alamo – Background

This 1993 article from the Los Angeles Times provides background information regarding the controversies surrounding Tony Alamo:

From their Las Vegas marriage in 1966 until Susan’s death from cancer in 1982, critics say, the Alamos used street smarts and conceit to build a religious following that numbered in the hundreds and a string of businesses that earned millions.

Internal Revenue Service officials have determined that the Alamos used their church to become rich and allegedly stiffed the IRS for about $10 million. He is free on $50,000 bail, which his followers paid in cash.

A federal grand jury in Memphis, Tenn., charged Alamo with filing a false income tax return in 1985 and failing to file returns the following three years.

The labor of church members helped the Susan and Tony Alamo Foundation and its affiliated church organizations grow from a dingy Hollywood crash pad in the 1960s to a self-supporting enterprise with residential housing in California, Arkansas and Tennessee on properties worth an estimated $20 million. In time, the arrangement prompted a Department of Labor civil complaint.

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These days, some ex-members describe a path to salvation that was harsh and narrow.

The Alamos, who were born Jewish, used the threat of hell to keep a tight rein on their Christian community, holding power over matters large and small, from approving clothes to selecting jobs and marriage partners. Followers believed that the couple got their orders from God. Any disobedience chanced eternal suffering. Church members were told that thoughts critical of the Alamos were planted by the devil.

Fasting was a common remedy for slackers and backsliders. Single men and women were not allowed to be alone together or even to engage in conversation. Television was for years forbidden, and the only reliable interpretation of the Bible, as well as current events, came from the Alamos.

Tony Alamo told followers that the U.S. government staged the Persian Gulf War as a diversion so the world would not notice the seizure of Alamo church properties to satisfy a court judgment.

While preaching a message of austere fundamentalism, Tony and Susan Alamo amassed for themselves a host of earthly treasures: Cadillac and Lincoln limousines, property, jewelry, antiques, furs, silver and gold.

Tony Alamo–a big Elvis Presley fan–could afford to indulge in his dream of being a pop singing star, hiring some of Nashville’s best musicians to play on records he financed and then advertised in music trade magazines. Susan Alamo could enjoy shopping sprees.

The Alamos told the congregation that their material rewards reflected their exemplary spiritual condition, ex-members said.

But their blessings could hardly be called providential. The Alamos had persuaded followers to work at church-owned enterprises for years in exchange for room, board and a few dollars a week.

Members were told they were doing God’s work. But IRS and Department of Labor officials say they were serving the Alamos. Disgruntled former members began reporting church operations to authorities in the late 1970s. Federal law requires that workers be paid and paychecks taxed.

“He could have made a ton of money if he had paid his taxes, paid minimum wage and had those in the church turn over their checks, which they were willing to do,” said Peter N. Georgiades, a Pittsburgh, Pa., attorney who successfully sued Alamo on behalf of six former followers.

“Instead, he has lost everything. I think it was greed, and part of it was stupidity.”

As Alamo tells it, he is a modern-day Job–an innocent man being stripped of material comforts in a test of faith. He is charming and funny during interviews, a gifted salesman who apologizes for having to wear dark glasses indoors because of his glaucoma, which also prevents him from driving.

Alamo is probably best known nationally for having followers distribute leaflets on car windshields blaming many of the world’s problems on the Roman Catholic Church, saying, for example, that the Pope controls the U.S. government. Alamo remains highly critical of other Christian churches.

“They’re busy worshiping this plastic, fake, loving Jesus that doesn’t exist,” said Alamo, who uses the title World Pastor but has no denominational affiliation or formal religious training. “The Jesus of the Bible is rough and tough, telling people to shape up or else. Repent or perish.”

That message has stirred the forces of evil, Alamo said.

The Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network said Alamo in his heyday was a member of the group’s Top 10. But now the network, which once warned people about joining the Alamo organization, says its numbers have dwindled, largely because of repeated legal setbacks.

U.S. Tax Court authorities ruled last year that all Alamo church organizations were operated to benefit Tony and Susan Alamo.

After a protracted appeal process, the tax-exempt status of the existing Alamo organization was stripped for good in a Tax Court ruling last year.
– Source: Tony Alamo Blames Woes on Satan in Government Garb, Los Angeles Times, USA, July 13, 1993

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Category: A, A-Z Index, Tony Alamo, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries
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First published (or major update) on Saturday, December 23, 2006.
Last updated on September 21, 2008.

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