Charles F. Parham (1873-1929) is the founder of the modern Pentecostal movement, and is the man who formulated the doctrine of speaking in tongues as evidence of being baptized by the Holy Spirit. His ideas were taught to William Seymour, who went on to initiate the Azusa Street Revival in 1906.
At the Assemblies of God’s Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center Museum you will see this historical description of Parham:
There are a number of very troubling aspects to the life of Charles Parham that the general public has been largely unaware of for many decades now. In his own lifetime, however, he was well known as a controversial character whose own dark story caused him to lose most of his following and then die in obscurity at the age of only 55.
Most shocking is the story of his brief time as the leader of a group in Zion, Illinois who violently killed people.
Letitia Greenhaulgh, a 64 year old invalid suffering with rheumatism: killed by the Parhamites.
Arms, Legs, and neck broken during a Paramite exorcism.
Frank Crowe, teenage boy with typhoid fever: killed by the Parhamites.
Refused water, fingers of the killers were thrust down his throat, his tongue slashed.
Bertha Young, 19 years old: Killed by the Parhamites.
It is possible that there may have been as many as 12 other victims, but the coroner was trying to suppress information about the Parhamites at the time.
Who Were the Parhamites?
Zion City, Illinois, the quasi-utopian city erected by John Alexander Dowie was in an upheaval. Dowie, the “great leader of Zion” had just been exposed for the fraud that he was. Allegations of mismanaged funds, the teaching of polygamy, and his many mistresses were being reported daily in newspapers around the country. The Dowieites were ripe for a new leader. Enter: Charles Fox Parham.
Parham came to town right in the middle of a struggle for the control of Zion between Wilbur Voliva (Dowie’s replacement), Dowie himself, who was in Mexico at the time, and other leaders of the town. He claimed to have a prophetic word from God to deliver the people of Zion from “the paths of commercialism.”
He also claimed to be a sort of savior to the people of Zion. One newspaper reports:
As you can see in the above quote, Parham “has followed the teachings of Dowie.” Among other strange teachings, Dowie taught that all sickness and insanity were a result of demon possession. His methods of expelling the demon from a person were often violent. The case of Millie Logan is a good example of his violent exorcisms.
Within 10 days, Parham had a following of 300. His meetings were held in the homes of his followers since Voliva had rented all of the major halls in the town in order to keep Parham from having a place to hold his assemblies. One paper reports, “The house was crowded, and the congregation covered the lawn.”
Thus, the Parhamites were born. Parham never delivered on his promise though. He left Zion only a few months after arriving when a water tower fell on the large meeting tent he was living in. Two men saw their opportunity to lead the group, and stepped up as the new “unofficial” leaders of the Parhamites. Their names were Tom Hezmalhalch, and John G. Lake.
Shortly after Parham left Zion City he was arrested for soliciting sex from a teenage boy (those charges were never proven, but Parham’s reputation was permanently harmed). The Parhamites had now seen two of their leaders fall. Frenzy ensued among the group, and the “Parhamites evidently viewed the source of their problems as being diabolical.” The exorcisms grew more and more violent until the torture and death of Letitia Greenhalgh got the attention of the local newspapers and very quickly made national news. It would soon be discovered that two other deaths occurred at the hands of the Parhamites, Frank Crowe, and Bertha Young.
Here’s an extensive video that shows the original newspaper stories of these bizarre and disturbing events:
A question needs to be asked of these gruesome stories:
What kind of spiritual leader leaves this kind of horrible mess in his wake?
Furthermore, if the “baptism of the Spirit as evidenced by tongues” was an essential component of a victorious Christian life (as Parham taught), why did he not demonstrate that victory in his own life?
After making great proclamations about healing and “overcoming the devil” Charles F. Parham appears to have been not much different than his fellow Pentecostal “pioneers,” John Alexander Dowie and John G. Lake.
Daniel Long is co-host of The Long For Truth podcast, and the Long For Truth blog.