Thursday, December 27, 2012

Smith & Cain

In its article on Chuck Smith, the Wikipedia makes the odd claim that "In the late 1950s, Smith was the campaign manager and worship director for healing evangelist Paul Cain." Now this "factoid" gets cut and pasted, often verbatim, into many other places on the Internet. The discernment bloggers have especially latched onto it for the purpose of blackwashing pastor Chuck Smith through guilt by association, since Paul Cain is a very disreputable person, in their view.

However, Wikipedia provides no citation as to the source of this information, which may or may not be true. Smith says absolutely nothing about it is his autobiography, nor does it seem to fit into the timeline of events. So I have long suspected the connection might be just another one of those non-factual "factoids" which the Internet has propagated everywhere, far and wide.

I have often wondered about who exactly originated this story about a supposed connection between Chuck Smith and Paul Cain, so recently I did a little investigating. As far as I can track it down, the ultimate source for this story is none other than Paul Cain himself. But this brings up an interesting question. The discernment bloggers fancy themselves to be very discerning, and they disesteem Paul Cain as tainted and unsavory. So why do they believe everything he says?

One source I have been able to find is a sermon supposedly preached by Paul Cain on Sep 26th, 2004, at Rick Joyner's Morningstar Church, and later transcribed by Pam Clark. In this sermon, Cain apparently talks about the Jesus Movement, which occurred roughly from 1967 to 1972, and he says, "I remember at the height of it, I was ministering with Chuck Smith in San Bernardino, where thousands, maybe a million people got baptized in the Pacific Ocean." What he says here is entirely nonsensical. For one thing, San Bernardino is an inland city and is nowhere near the Pacific Ocean, and the city was definitely not the focal point of what was happening then. Furthermore, it puts Smith and Cain together during the height of the Jesus Movement, which almost certainly cannot be the case. It also puts Chuck Smith in San Bernardino, which is wrong since his church is located in Costa Mesa, in Orange county. Was Cain lying? Or could it be that mental deterioration has garbled and confused things? I really don't know. But his account here simply cannot be correct.

The second source is a short video on YouTube where Cain is being interviewed by a person off camera. This video is cut off mid-sentence at about 2 minutes and 33 seconds, and apparently it was excerpted from a longer recording.¹ The sound quality is not that good, and Cain talks in a rambling manner, and seldom looks directly at the camera. It is difficult to make out what he is saying, so I am giving this my best shot. In the video, Cain asserts that Smith was the "supply pastor"² for the First Foursquare Church in Phoenix, Arizona; and around that time, Cain started holding revivalist services in a sports arena in Phoenix. It was during those services that Smith served as his "worship leader" and then later became his "campaign manager." Cain says about Smith that "he even owns up to this and talks about this on tape," although Cain provides no details about this tape recording, such as when or where it was made. At the very least, Cain might be confused about the location. For according to Smith's own autobiography, he pastored a Foursquare church in Prescott for a short time, and then later another one in Tucson for about two and a half years. After that, Smith returned to California. He says nothing about ever residing or pastoring in Phoenix,³ nor does he ever mention anything about Paul Cain or working for him as his "campaign manager and worship director" during services in an arena in Phoenix. It does seem pretty clear to me that Cain is not saying that Smith ever worked on some kind of a permanent basis as someone traveling with him on the revivalist circuit. Cain does mention that he and Smith would go fishing together on Lake Roosevelt — "He's a wonderful fishing buddy." Yes, there is a lake Roosevelt lying about 50 miles east of Phoenix. But who knows if the tape that Cain mentions actually exists?

At this point in my investigation, all I can say is that Cain's account here looks doubtful to me, particularly since I haven't been able to locate any corroborating evidence that ties him to Smith. It would be decisive if a tape turned up in which Smith talks about working with Cain in Arizona, or if some of the people who went to those services in Phoenix came forward and testified. So far the one possible piece of evidence I have dug up comes from the newspaper archive of the Phoenix Arizona Republic, dated May 19th, 1956, where Paul Cain is advertised as returning to conduct revival meetings on May 20th through 23rd at Sciot's Auditorium on 3720 N. Central in Phoenix. (The auditorium is no longer there.) The newspaper advertisement gives no indication that Chuck Smith was involved, but it is also possible that this may not be the event that Cain had in mind during the YouTube interview. The article does show that Cain had been operating in Phoenix on at least one occasion. That much is true. Another instance of Cain ministering in Arizona occurs in Tucson, which was advertised in the Tucson Daily Citizen on July 4th in 1953. It was a "city wide salvation & healing campaign" at the "Big Gospel Tent" located on "South Sixth at Benson Highway." This event was sponsored by "The First Assembly of God, pastor L.G. Gilmore." Again, nowhere is Smith mentioned. However, the biggest problem with all of this is that by 1953, as best as I can make out, Smith had already returned to California with his family.

It's hard to say what's going on here. It's entirely possible that Cain is engaging in name-dropping, with the purpose of using Smith's glamorous reputation as wax to burnish his own faded stock. It is also possible that he might be remembering an actual acquaintanceship he once had with Chuck Smith, which occurred many years ago somewhere in Arizona. But as we have seen in the sermon above, Cain's memory regarding these matters may not be reliable. Whatever the reason, age or numerous health problems and so forth, his recollections might have gotten jumbled and blurred. Let every matter be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Therefore, I think the supposed connection between Smith and Cain rests on very shaky grounds, especially when it all boils down to just the testimony of one person.

But no matter, thanks to the Wikipedia, this tenuous tale is now indelible and will be accepted as gospel-truth by thousands and thousands of people without the least hesitation.

¹ This video has been posted in numerous places at different times, apparently by different people, and it is not entirely clear to me where it actually originated. The YouTube URL that I had was to an upload by a discernment blogger, who was probably bubbling over with glee that he had found what he considered to be culpatory and damning evidence against Smith. That URL recently became inaccessible. However, a different person apparently has reposted the same video to a different URL on YouTube, which I have substituted here. The video was filmed in a darkened room, and the scene suggests to me that Cain might have been sitting in a restaurant where the lighting is kept dim, located in the interior of a shopping mall. This is a somewhat odd setting for conducting an interview, and there remains the possibility that it might have been filmed stealthily without Cain's knowledge. It cuts off just as Cain was about to say something about Chuck Smith Jr., the son of pastor Smith. So evidently this video has been excerpted from something longer, which I haven't yet been able to locate. Besides the answering the question of who created it to begin with, it would have been interesting to track down the original full length video to find out what else Cain talked about. In any case, the video remains problematic because of the lack of supporting evidence, especially since it cannot be taken for granted that Cain's recollections are entirely accurate. Notice that while he is talking, somebody walks by in the hallway in the background at the 2:26 mark.

² As far as I can determine, the term "supply pastor" refers to someone on an approved roster who can be called upon to serve as a locum minister, filling in temporarily for someone else.

³ Smith does say that his sister-in-law, Louise Webster, had moved to Phoenix in the 1930s and founded the First Foursquare Church of Phoenix, where she continued to serve for more than thirty-five years.