Parham's Arrest

As early as January of 1907, rumors about immorality began to circulate around Parham. Local newspapers suggested that his "sudden northeastern tour had been prompted by the arrival of 'mysterious men' said to be detectives, [who] were ready to arrest him on some equally mysterious charge" (Goff 136). By that summer his name had become anathema and he had been officially "disfellowshipped" by a large segment of the Texas branch of the ministry. These rumors reached widespread public knowledge on July 19, when the San Antonio Light broke a story on the first real scandal in Pentecostal history.


Parham believed Wilbur Voliva his former

rival from Zion City was responsible for

the allegations against him.

The Charges

Parham, along with J. J Jordan, was arrested on charges of sodomy, a felony under Texas statute 524. Two Houston friends  J. Ed Cabaniss and F. Cullen paid the $1000 bail. Parham declared he was the victim of an elaborate scheme by his old rival Wilbur Voliva. While newspapers covered Parham's release from jail, they were conspicuously silent about the fate of J. J. Jordan. Initially, Parham viewed any press as helping to spread the Apostolic Faith. However, as news stories began appearing nationally condemning his behavior and questioning his leadership, Parham became increasingly concerned.

After July 24, press coverage of the matter simply stopped. Goff describes how "Parham passed from the San Antonio public page just as mysteriously as he had appeared on it five days earlier" (Goff 137). No formal indictment was ever filed, presumably due to lack of evidence or people willing to testify. While Parham and his supporters saw this as vindication, he was never officially declared innocent. 

The Fallout

The lack of a clear acquittal combined with the earlier rumors of impropriety created the public impression of Parham's guilt. Homosexuality was a serious charge and Parham's reputation never recovered. Following these accusations, many Pentecostal churches began to actively distance themselves from Parham and his ministry. This disassociation helped to popularize the idea of Pentecostalism as "a movement without a man," thus directly controlled by the Holy Spirit. Others focused on linking the foundations of Pentecostalism solely with Azusa Street.

Articles printed in the religious press were even more detailed and inflammatory than the Texas newspapers. Goff argues these religious papers were less reliable "and undoubtedly more guilty of rumor and innuendo" (Goff 139). One such paper was The Zion Herald, the official publication of Wilbur Voliva's church. While there is no evidence he was conclusively involved in the initial accusations, he did capitalize on the situation to discredit Parham. 

Throughout the ordeal, Parham remained adamant he was the victim of attacks from Voliva and others who desired leadership for themselves and were angry at Parhams "refusal to organize Pentecostalism into a denomination with all the trappings of wealth and fame (Goff 140). However, Parham refused to name his accusers and portrayed his persecution as following in the model of Christ's suffering.

The accusations also transformed Parham. Although his theology remained the same, his rhetoric became harsher and less optimistic. Attacks on other Pentecostals became a common theme in his sermons. The message of a Christianity united by end time signs faded from the forefront of Parham's teachings.  

Goff, James R. Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.
The Fall of Parham
Parham's Arrest