CFCMI's founder was a very complicated individual. On the surface, he appeared to be every bit the fiery Pentecostal minister: preaching hard on the Bible, speaking out against sin, promoting positive changes through the power of Jesus Christ, the Lord Almighty. However, Davis lived a complex double life that was carefully guarded by his closest associates along with family members. This double life, sadly, is too commonly published by a media that is as quick to jump on fallen preachers as buzzards are to fresh roadkill; this same double life led to the ruin of what could have been a powerful ministry reaching souls around the world.
Where did this begin? According to CFCMI's biography page on their founder, it reads like this:
Pastor L. R. Davis was born in August of 1935, and went home to be with the Lord April 19, 1999. During his youth, he gained extensive exposure to Southern Pentecostal Churches. In 1954, he married his childhood sweetheart, Hazel Beck, and shortly afterward, answered a call to ministry. In 1955, Pastor Davis and his wife pastored their first church and have continued pastoring since that time. In the early 1970's, Pastor and Mrs. Davis' desire to see ministry reach outside the church buildings lead them to leave the traditional pastorate and begin street evangelism. That effort was the beginning of what is known today as Christian Fellowship Church Ministries, Intl. (CFCMI).
Pastor Davis has continually lived and preached as an opponent to political and racial prejudice. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP and has been extremely active in fund-raising banquets, marches, and other special events to spread the message of equality. In addition, Pastor Davis has sponsored college scholarships for poor and minority students, publicly recognized Black History Month, formally celebrated the birthday of Pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and ardently supported other humanitarian and civil rights organizations, including Operation Push, the NAACP, and the Lake County Urban League.
Christian Fellowship Church was established in 1974 under the direction of its General and Founding Pastor, L.R. Davis. Though today it is an international ministry with a complete host of outreach programs and community functions, this ministry was actually born on the streets.
All of the history and details of Pastor Davis and his family would possess little or no value without knowing and understanding the many stances they have taken. However, because of their dedication and unceasing desire to share the gospel with people of every race, color, creed, wealth, background, age, and whatever other category imaginable, the history of their ministry possesses much more importance.
Former Illinois Appellate Court Justice R. Eugene Pincham once wisely said, "If we don't know where we've come from, we certainly don't know where we're going." It is important for us to know the history of Christian Fellowship and the roots of this body of believers. And its roots trace back much further than the early 1970's.
It was during the height of the Civil Rights movement that Pastor Davis and his family lived in Arkansas. There were members of the United Pentecostal Church, a relatively large organization that believed in water baptism in Jesus' name. Pastor Davis had been the senior pastor for several churches over the years beginning in 1955, a practice common that organization, especially in the less populous areas of the state. He was also the youth director of nineteen churches throughout Arkansas. His employment ranged from work in a hospital as an orderly, administration director in a shoe factory, and as a salesman in a furniture store.
It was at this time that Pastor Davis began to work in street evangelism and civil rights. He invited people of all races to church. He also invited drug users, drug dealers, alcoholics, and prostitutes. He reached out to the homeless, runaways, and the less fortunate in hope of winning souls to Christ. Pastor Davis has shared many times that it was a very challenging time for him and his family because there were many who did not see the importance of reaching out to everybody. In fact, it was this opposition that drove him to work independently of a church organization, so he could be free to preach his convictions on equality.
In 1971 Pastor Davis and his family moved to southern Wisconsin and began to focus solely on street evangelism. Undaunted by the lack of support from a church affiliation, Pastor Davis continued in his efforts to see the gospel message preached. He and his family, however, made tremendous sacrifices in order to see the ministry prosper. They lived in small apartments, oftentimes slept on the floor, and drove whatever they could afford. Mrs. Davis worked at Abbott Laboratories for many years in support of her husband's efforts. Though many on the streets were responsive and respectful, it was eight months before anyone accepted Jesus Christ and was baptized. In time, however, many more began to come to the knowledge of the truth and accept Jesus as their Savior.
Many of those Pastor Davis had met on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, who had accepted Jesus Christ were sailors who had come from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in North Chicago, Illinois. Therefore, in 1973, Pastor Davis and his family moved for the last time, to Waukegan, Illinois, a city lying approximately thirty miles north of Chicago, and five miles from the Naval Training Center. Thus began the street evangelism of an area in North Chicago located directly across from the Naval Training Center known formerly as "The Strip." On these streets, prostitution thrived and drugs were rampant. Night clubs and strip bars silhouetted the setting. It was an area that was a literal cesspool of corrupt living and immorality, but it was an area to which God had led Pastor Davis, because it was an area where souls needed to be saved.
Pastor Davis knew that it would not be an easy undertaking, but he continued to maintain his conviction that all people were created equal and that the gospel message is for everyone, not only those who have come from religious backgrounds or have lived by socially acceptable standards.
In March 1974, Christian Fellowship Ministries was established. It was not, however, a traditional church by most standards. There was no building, no parsonage, and no choir. There were no church buses, no church vehicles, and the worship services were held in a rented building. Nonetheless, the church began to reach more and more with the gospel. Soon a singing group known as "L.R. Davis and the Good News Singers" was formed of those whom God had miraculously redeemed from lives of sin. The group traveled extensively throughout the United States over the next several years. They went to the White House by special invitation, as part of the Nation's bicentennial celebration. They sang at Disney Land in Anaheim, California, and at Soldier and Wrigley Field in Chicago before crowds of over fifty thousand people. The group also appeared on all three major televisions networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Then Pastor Davis was given the opportunity to be interviewed on "Larry King Live." Meanwhile, the singing group continued ministering to small churches and before crowds of only a few, always looking for that lost soul. Pastor Davis always taught that preaching the gospel is not about seeing how large the crowd is or who you can impress. It is all about seeing souls saved and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of those in the church and in the singing group were young men and women with testimonies of deliverance from various habits of life. The came from all cultures and religious upbringings and became united into one ministry by the Holy Spirit.
In 1978, the Christian Fellowship Service Center opened. It was an outreach of Christian Fellowship Church located across the street from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the same area where Pastor Davis had been evangelizing. The purpose of the Service Center was to have a recreational facility where visitors were welcome to freely play the many types of games available, but also have a place for Bible studies and worship services. Hundreds poured through the doors on a daily basis, creating an explosion of growth in the ministry. It was also the beginning of the fulfillment of the type of outreach Pastor Davis had envisioned for many years.
Proverbs 29:18 - Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
"Steps to Reality," the church radio program, was soon a part of the church outreach. "Steps to Reality" broadcast on a weekly basis and was transmitted to over forty countries around the world. It lasted for a number of years, only to be superseded by the church television program, "Focus on Reality," several years later. The time had come for the ministry to branch out, as many Navy sailors who had met the church at Great Lakes received orders to Norfolk, Virginia. Edward J. Thomas Jr. and his wife, Pamela Thomas, a daughter of Pastor and Mrs. Davis, were sent to Norfolk, and First Christian Fellowship of Norfolk, Virginia was born in October of 1978.
Christian Fellowship began growing rapidly. In 1983, Christian Fellowship Church of San Diego was established. In 1985, Pastor Davis and an evangelic group traveled to the island nation of Sri Lanka, baptized forty people in Jesus' name, and established several churches there. A mission in Grenada was started in 1986, and a number of churches were established in Mexico over the next several years.
The vision Pastor Davis had when he was thirteen years of age, to preach to gospel to Mexico and the West Indies, was beginning to transpire. Not only were churches and fellowship groups getting started, but the congregations grew quickly also, especially in countries where the hunger for the truth of Jesus Christ was so great. In early 1990, the Lord spoke in prophecy about a great gathering of dark-skinned people on a mountainside waiting to hear the word of salvation. Then in 1995, the prophecy came to pass as the Associate General Pastor, Peter F. Paine, and the Director of Foreign Missions, Edward J. Thomas Jr., traveled to the small island nation of Haiti. Located in the West Indies, Haiti is a country whose people are predominantly of African descent. Nearly one hundred souls were saved during their brief visit, and the ministries in Haiti continue to grow today.
The next step for the ministry was television. It was clear that television would open the doors of opportunity to share the gospel which had never existed for this ministry before. At first titled "Focus on the Future," the name of the program was later changed to "Focus on Reality." The program aired on a weekly basis on a local public access station. Ultimately, the show was seen in all of Lake County, Illinois, in parts of the Tidewater region in Norfolk, Virginia, and in much of the San Diego and Los Angeles area. The program was based on teaching biblical doctrine, featured music from the church singing group, and showed individuals giving personal testimony of God's deliverance in their lives. Community activists and leaders were also interviewed as guests on a regular basis. It became in integral aspect of the ministry and helped reach an audience that could not otherwise be reached.
Where does the ministry go from here? The Great Commission Jesus spoke tells us to go and preach the gospel to every nation. The Great Commission continues, according to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, by stating, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." The success of Christian Fellowship Church Ministries, International, is due to its stand on biblical doctrine. Our humble beginnings show us that nothing can replace sincere dedication to the Lord. Whatever opportunities arise to share the gospel message, whether through television, radio, newspaper, or sharing Bible studies, the humble beginnings of this ministry is remain to remind us that the purpose of the ministry is always to share that gospel message. If that remains our focus, there will continue to be no limits to what God can do through the simple ministry of Christian Fellowship.
Davis was born on August 8, 1935, in Arkansas. He was the fifth of six children, and had a twin sister. As a boy, his mother attended a Pentecostal church in Arkansas, where she was baptized in Jesus' name and filled with the Holy Ghost. Davis and his sister were blessed with the New Birth Experience during their childhood years. Davis left school at the eighth grade to help support his family; according to his own accounts from the pulpit, his mother grew deathly ill from cancer and died when he was 17. His father is a mystery. Depending on the source, there are two differing stories: the pulpit version paints a portrait of a man who was a drunkard and abusive to Davis when he was a boy, but the court records of the trial paint an entirely different picture. In private conversation, Davis was quoted as having said more positive comments about his dad, especially his spiritual life. This is one of the many areas where the story gets cloudy.
In 1952, the same year his mother died, Davis claimed he suffered a nervous breakdown. He often said from the pulpit that the reason for his condition was because of his backing out of ministry to support his mother. However, in Trumann, Arkansas - where Davis lived and attended church - a man appeared on the scene who would change the young man's life forever. Russell Hamm took over the pastorship of the First Pentecostal Church of Trumann in 1948, the same year Davis received the Holy Ghost. Rumors circulated for years concerning what type of relationship Hamm and Davis actually had with each other. Stories from old-timers in Arkansas hinted there was an alleged sodomite relationship between the two men, though it was never fully made public. Hamm and Davis would continue to correspond for years well into the 1990s; Hamm was even invited to preach and sing at the CFCMI events and conferences.
Davis would preach that his reason for leaving the UPCI was because of his stand against racism in the church. At his trial in 1992, the former superintendent of the UPCI's Arkansas District, E.F. Canon, said nothing about Davis' position on racism. In fact, the racism debate wasn't even brought up. The only comments the retired pastor made on the record concerned an investigation by the UPCI of Davis' alleged sodomy involving male college students and an alleged child molestation incident. In the early 1970s, Davis left the UPCI to avoid being brought in for accountability over his actions; Hamm had also resigned his pastorate in Trumann over similar accusations. Does this mean Davis' story about race problems in the church was fabricated? Given the history of the southern states at that time, it was a very real issue. Davis most likely used the racism stand to draw attention away from the other accusations. Davis strategically supported numerous African-American candidates in Illinois including former Senator Carol Mosley Braun; all of the politicians backed off following Davis' conviction. Davis was also a life member of the NAACP.
Another story that circulated concerning Davis involved his son-in-law, Edward J. Thomas (who is the senior pastor in Norfolk). In 1979, according to court records, Thomas opened the door to Davis' room at the Karcher Hotel in Waukegan, Illinois where Davis would often stay with the single men. Thomas supposedly caught Davis committing sodomy with one of the men and threatened to leave the church; Davis threatened Thomas with "the death angel" and claimed his daughter (Thomas's wife) would not leave with Thomas. Thomas, when confronted with this matter, has repeatedly denied the confrontation took place.
Davis was known for changing biblical teachings and church standards, claiming all of them were revelations from the Almighty. The two most serious ones were the following: CFCMI's teaching on the Holy Ghost, and Eunuchship. The Biblical teaching on the New Birth is that one is to repent, be baptized by full immersion in Jesus' name, and receive the infilling of the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues; Davis changed the teaching in 1979 to claim the Holy Ghost automatically enters a person at baptism, thereby the doctrine of "speaking in tongues isn't necessary" was birthed. Many people who left CFCMI and attended Pentecostal churches have wrestled over the validity of Davis' teaching on the subject.
Davis stepped up his long-running stand on Eunuchship in 1987 following a CFCMI event in Virginia. Davis claimed he received a prophecy from God that if CFCMI would give God 200 young men that don't mind what they eat, where they sleep or where they work, and He will give you the world with the Gospel. Davis also encouraged many of the single men to make vows of "eunuchship" (not marrying) so they would be "available" for this purpose. However, frequent complaints from former members have inidicated the reasons for keeping so many single men around were for (1) a pool of men to perform sodomite acts with Davis, and (2) free labor for the church.
Davis also claimed to have numerous prophecies during his ministry. Some focused on individuals, others on the church. However, more of his claims were never fulfilled than actually came to pass, so this would make Davis' validity as a true prophet questionable. A written record was kept in the International Headquarters but is not readily available for the public, nor the average parishioner who is curious. One revelation that Davis had before his death in 1999 concerned "grievious wolves devouring the flock" after he went to his reward. Numbers do not lie: CFCMI attendance and numbers of new converts have been in steady decline since Davis' passing.
Why were so many details of Davis' sins kept quiet for so many years? Like many leaders in abusive organizations, Davis picked and chose those whom he felt would be most loyal to him. These people - his inner circle - would defend everything Davis and his fellow ministers did, and blocked any challenges to his credibility. However, through certain ex-members having access to court records and improved technology, secrets are more difficult to keep.
In conclusion, Davis started out as a good Christian leader. However, he got in with the wrong crowd and thus made decisions which would not only ruin his life and ministry, but all those who came in contact with him. His tainted legacy continues to plague CFCMI.