Preach of trust

Since 1968, the followers of the Reverend Roger Rudin had let him run their lives. But after his sudden death last month, the stunned congregation discovered they'd been pawns in a cruel game of deceit, hypocrisy and kinky sex.

Only after some debate do they realize what the devices all add up to: a masturbatory suction machine.

"Oh my God," Stevens exclaims.
If to his congregation he was known as Roger Rudin, towering biblical figure and revelator of the endtimes, to Phoenix's gay community he was "Roger Rudino," flashy man about town with a seemingly endless supply of money, leather outfits and limousine rides.

At the same time, in 1985, that he railed against the sin of homosexuality in his church, only blocks away Rudin ran a gay bar called the Paradise Lounge.

At the same time, in 1993, that he asked his worshipers to put off mortgage payments to save a financially troubled church, he had convinced gay community leaders that he planned to establish a gay mecca, complete with country-and-western bar and leather dungeon.

At the same time, in 1995, that members of his flock were asked to write letters on his behalf for, they were told, a part-time job, the letters actually went to support Rudin's plea for probation after his criminal conviction for cocaine possession.

At the same time that the gay community knew Rudin was living in Oregon avoiding court judgments and financial ruin, he somehow managed to show up each week to preach to his flock and maintain the fiction that he still lived in the Valley.

All but one member of the gay community contacted for this story say they had no idea Rudino was a Pentecostal minister with a church, an endtime message, a wife.

His former followers, meanwhile, say that from the beginning there were rumors about Rudin's sexual orientation, but they had no idea the extent of his activities in the gay community or that their money had been spent lavishly in gay bars.

About 30 adults remain in Roger Rudin's Upper Room Fellowship. Most are related to Ruth Stevens and her sister, and refuse to speak to them. The church members grieve for Rudin, and say they are struggling with the prospect of substituting the man they still consider to be a prophet.

He seems irreplaceable.

A day after the wedding, when they had started on their short honeymoon, Brother Rudin became very weak in body as the enemy tried to oppress him. They immediately returned to Jeffersonville so that Brother Branham could pray for Brother Rudin.

---from a Rudin booklet

Roger Rudin was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1938, but to understand how he came near to godhood, it's important to start instead in the farms of Indiana following World War II. There, as in many parts of America's heartland, the end of the epic conflict had left a void that was quickly being filled with a yearning for miracles.

A generation of evangelists exploded in popularity in postwar America, including an uneducated, simple Indiana man with a limited vocabulary but an uncommon power for faith healing. Raised in utter poverty, William Marrion Branham had begun preaching in the 1930s, but it was after 1946 that his ministry caught fire. Through the 1950s, his legend grew; Branham was said to have raised the dead, could read minds, and could diagnose afflictions with a touch of his vibrating left hand. He gained huge popularity with Pentecostals. After 1960, however, he began to make truly astounding claims about himself which caused some churches to turn away from him; Branham proclaimed himself Elijah, the prophet which the Bible predicts will precede the second coming of Christ.

Branham said he had decoded the seven seals of the Book of Revelations (a feat that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh would make years later), and laid out many prophecies through the year 1995. What he didn't foresee, apparently, was the Texas drunken driver who slammed into his car in 1965; Branham died several days later. His followers waited months to bury him, hoping in vain that he would come back to life.

While he was still alive, Branham was an inspiration to many aspiring evangelists, including a young Iowa preacher named Roger Rudin who in 1959 had begun traveling the revival circuit. Like Branham, Rudin claimed to have received divinely inspired visions portending the future; Rudin considered it a great honor when Branham performed the ceremony uniting Rudin with his wife, Patricia Brown, in 1963. As church literature indicates, however, Rudin's wedding night was not a blissful one. Several versions circulate among Rudin's former believers: One story has him panicked about sleeping with a woman; another describes him running through a motel parking lot until he's tackled by a friend. The official version promoted by the church claimed that the Rudins' wedding night was ruined by a "cloud of oppression" sent by Satan.

Branham was recalled to counsel the shaken-up Rudin.
Two years later, when Branham lay dying in a Texas hospital bed, away in Iowa Rudin claimed that he was overtaken with a sense of foreboding. He excused himself from a Christmas dinner and retreated to a bedroom. There, Patricia found him "beside himself." Later, they realized that at that precise moment, the spirit had left William Branham.

For Rudin's followers, the message was clear: Rudin had replaced Branham as the true endtime prophet. In his sermons, carefully transcribed and still preserved along with his many papers, Rudin would spend hours hammering away at the parallels between himself and Branham, cementing this relationship in their minds.

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