DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Billy Graham, Tony Alamo, and the Dark Side of Leadership

Written by: on February 28, 2018

Working in my office today, I stumbled across a live feed from the U.S. Capitol Building.  The deceased Billy Graham, the most well-known preacher in the modern world, was given the privilege have having his body “lie in honor” in the Rotunda.  I had already read that Graham’s coffin was handmade by inmates in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison (some of these craftsmen were serving time for murder).  It was an impressive sight as the room packed with dignitaries and world leaders to honor this country preacher from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Billy Graham was criticized by conservative evangelicals for cooperating with Mainline Protestant denominations. He was criticized by some civil rights leaders as being soft on desegregation (while his organization lifts him up as a friend to Martin Luther King, Jr.)  Some conservatives labeled his theology as “universalist” while some progressives claim his beliefs were “homophobic.”  Yet, there is one thing that Billy Graham is almost universally known for… integrity.

In 1948, a young Billy Graham, whose rise to popularity was being attributed in the press as being due to his good looks and magnetism, met with his team in Modesto, California and came up with a list of rules that they would follow for the rest of their lives. Seventy years later, the “Billy Graham Rule” of avoiding private time with members of the opposite sex has been criticized, especially if adopted by political or business leaders. Yet, Billy Graham passed away with the admiration and respect of millions of Americans.

Contrast that to the life of Charismatic evangelist Tony Alamo. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. As a teen, I remember seeing the neon sign of Alamo Western Store on Music Row. This store, which provided outfits for Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson (including the jacket worn on the “Bad” album cover), sold clothes made at Alamo’s religious compound.

Miley Cyrus wearing a vintage Tony Alamo Jacket

Alamo’s church was filled with ex-hippies and former drug users who now professed Christ through Alamo’s ministry. They worked to design this clothing that made this preacher a millionaire. Yet, after the death of Alamo’s wife, Susan, Tony Alamo was obsessed with using his spiritual gifts to raise her from the dead. This went on for months. Years later, stories were being told of Alamo’s physical and sexual abuse of children who were a part of his ministry. In 2009 Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in jail for the sexual trafficking of children.

What makes one young preacher become “America’s preacher” and another a hated felon? That is the subject of the book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima.1 This book looks at leaders ranging for John F. Kennedy to King Solomon in order to help the reader avoid common pitfalls that can ruin careers, families, and reputations.

McIntosh and Rima characterize five types of dysfunctional leadership personas: the compulsive leader, the narcissistic leader, the paranoid leader, the codependent leader, and the passive-aggressive leader. These archetypes helped illustrate how unhealthy behaviors, left unchecked, can spell disaster for the leader.

At first, glance, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership might seem like a simple book of cautionary tales. Yet, the authors make it clear that the moral failures of Christian leaders are of critical importance when they write:

The constant flow of failures among Christian leaders today in every denomination threatens the fabric of the church of Jesus Christ. Our credibility is being eroded among the people we have been called to reach because scores of failures among Christian leaders have created a cynicism toward the church within our culture.

Our mission in jeopardy if we cannot stem the tide of fallen leaders. It is crucial that the church address this issue before irreparable harm is done to the cause of Christ in this generation.

What makes one leader a Bill Hybels and another a Jim Bakker? A Rick Warren or a Jimmy Swaggart? According to McIntosh and Rima, it is probably not one choice or event. It is the feeding of a “dark side” that grows and grows until it causes disaster.




1 Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007)


2 McIntosh and Rima, 222.

About the Author

Stu Cocanougher

14 responses to “Billy Graham, Tony Alamo, and the Dark Side of Leadership”

  1. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Well I had to look up Tony Alamo because I’d never heard of him. Guess I need to go sell my vintage Alamo jacket now. 🙂

    Like all of us, Billy Graham was flawed. When someone is in a visible position like he was, it becomes easy to criticize– like the Goldilocks syndrome, it’s easy to label a celebrity as “too”– (soft, hard, conservative, liberal, etc. etc.). Graham’s motives were primarily good and pure, I assume, desiring to draw people to God. I still have a hard time with the unintentional consequences of his “Billy Graham rule” though, as it very literally affected the way I’ve been limited in ministry (thankfully not at my current church). Here’s a response that I’ve found helpful:

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Katy, I found this an interesting read.

    There were actually several “Billy Graham rules” that were set up in 1948. I am sure that these young men had no idea that 70 years later the consequences of their “manifesto” would still be debated.

  3. Mary says:

    What a colorful way to unpack this book, Stu!!
    I never heard of Tony Alamo, and thanks to your commentary I guess I won’t go look him up.
    So what do we do though with all of those people who came to Christ through this flawed man? But some would say Billy Graham was flawed too. So am I and so are you. Thanks be to God that he doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before he uses us or as the authors point out he wouldn’t have anybody to use!

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    Stu, thanks for a really great post! In reference to Tony Almao, why is it that we send money? Why do we write the letters to get the album and think that we are participating in the work of God? Why do we send prayer requests with a check enclosed, when our church community is right there in front of us? After all these years, sometimes I think I get it and then I see something that makes me wonder again.

    You asked what makes the difference between those who serve in integrity and those who don’t. I think one significant difference is those who serve with integrity have people around them who can honestly challenge them. Those who are above challenge have already set themselves up for, as you say, disaster. Thanks, Stu.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      Right you are, Jim, I am glad that I have those in authority over me. Whenever leaders surround themselves with “Yes Men” (or “yes women”) they are bound for a fall.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      These are such great questions, Jim! I had a great aunt who gave so much to televangelists but rarely gave aid to local churches or charities. She said she trusted the big names to have a bigger impact. She lived in a community with a very percentage of drug abuse and I often wonder what might have happened if she opened her heart (and her checkbook) to a church or non-profit to help address this.

  5. Lynda Gittens says:

    Stu, your statement “This book looks at leaders ranging for John F. Kennedy to King Solomon in order to help the reader avoid common pitfalls that can ruin careers, families, and reputations” is one that drew my interest.
    In my bible camp, I use the people God chose as an example to the youth that regardless of your issues, God has a purpose for you.
    Moses definitely had anger issues but God used him for His purpose. David, Lord knows he is a problem child, but he was a favorite. Even though they ruin their reputation, God used them in a powerful way.

  6. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Frightening yet true thought Stu. “It is the feeding of a “dark side” that grows and grows until it causes disaster.” How many times have we seen this trainwreck? I never heard of Tony Alamo. Interesting story.

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I remember following the Alamo story, Stu. What an absolutely heart-breaking disaster! Yet people around him continued to help him feed the darkness, possibly because of their own issues. Last week I read an article to my husband about a pastor who publicly said some hurtful, stupid things about women even though he has been a big champion of women in ministry in the past. My husband said, “Why didn’t anyone stop him or at least make him apologize?” Your comment to Jim about “yes people” is spot on.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      At least SOMEONE has heard of Tony and Susan Alamo. The story would make probably make an interesting (yet tragic) film.

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        It would, Stu. I think it’s a pretty good cautionary tale…only maybe we have too many of those right now.

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    I definitely share my classmates sentiments on having to look up Tony Alamo. Reading your post my heart went out to him. All leaders have flaws. I believe that is what the book was talking about but it is how we deal with the dark side that differentiates one leader from another. Interesting post! 🙂

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