By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
When Allen was a young man, he moved to Phoenix. And one night during a bar brawl, he broke his neck. The doctors said he'd be a quadriplegic.
It was Neal Frisby who rushed to the hospital to pray over his son. And, Allen believes, it was his father's prayers that led to a miraculous healing: The next day, the doctors were amazed to see the bones no longer broken. Within days, Allen was walking again.
Allen Frisby weeps as he tells the story now. But what seems to touch him the most isn't the miracle although he's clearly amazed, 20 years later but the idea of his reclusive father, rushing to the hospital.
"This was my father, who wouldn't go out in public for anything," he says. "And he came to the hospital and prayed for me. At this point, I was very much a nonbeliever, and I was thinking he was close to Satan because of the way I grew up.
"And there he was. Even my closest family members were amazed that he'd come."
Neal Frisby's meteoric rise would have been impossible in most mainline Protestant denominations, to say nothing of the Roman Catholics.
Those churches have a hierarchy. Pastors are trained; assistants are promoted; theology is studied and debated, each new insight weighed with hundreds of years of tradition.
In those denominations, a guy can't just quit cutting hair and open a church.
But Frisby was Pentecostal, and Pentecostals take their cue from the early church described in the New Testament book of Acts.
Acts describes the time just after Christ's resurrection and return to Heaven. And if the Bible is to be trusted, believing in Jesus at that time was a far more passionate activity than it is for many Christians today. The early believers, the Bible says, spoke in tongues. And made prophecies. And healed the sick.
Those things are treated as relics of a naive time by Christians in many mainline denominations. But Pentecostals believe that God still gives such gifts to His true followers.
And if that's the case, and if God speaks directly to and through some Christians, a top-down structure is worthless. Instead, the church's task is to inspire individuals who can answer the call and use the gifts that God has granted them.
The lack of structure gives great opportunity for charismatic leaders to rise to the top. It's one reason that Pentecostals are often great speakers while mainline churches are sometimes stuck with bloodless academics. (After all, Jesus himself probably wouldn't have stuck around for seminary.)
But freedom always has a dark side, and that's just as true in religion as anything else.
Without solid training, questionable theology can flourish. And without a hierarchy in place, a good man who thinks he's following God can get drunk on power. From Jim Bakker to Jimmy Swaggart, there's a long line of powerful preachers who took terrible falls.
(Obviously, hierarchical churches have their own problems. See: the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandals. But that's another story.)
Neal Frisby, by all accounts, didn't fall prey to any of the usual vices. Never looked at a woman other than his wife; wouldn't tolerate anyone in his inner circle who did. He stayed away from liquor.
And there's never been a suggestion that he was accumulating wealth at the expense of his congregation. Zan Pauley, a member of his board, notes that Frisby's house still had the same carpet, 30 years after he moved in. He didn't eat out for decades.
But Frisby had always been something of a recluse. "He was always strange, as long as I knew him," says the evangelist Leroy Jenkins, who counted himself as one of Frisby's only friends.
As Frisby got older, his life took on an increasingly hermetic quality. He seemed to talk to no one but his family and one or two confidants, ever. Jenkins recalls, during a later visit, taking Frisby around to meet parishioners; even some who'd attended the cathedral for years had never met the guy outside of church.
"He kept his distance," his son Curtis recalls. Even Curtis' wife, the daughter of "partners" who moved to Arizona to be near Neal Frisby, only met the man three or four times.
Frisby's beliefs, which had always been outside the mainstream, only grew more bizarre in isolation.
For years, he was consumed with prophecies about the End Times. He'd work long into the night, recording insights that he believed God had granted him onto a series of "scrolls." (By the end of his life, he'd written 320.) His brother Gerald helped to mail the prophecies in newsletter form to his followers.
In the early '70s, Frisby's team compiled the first 60 scrolls in a book, The Revelation of the Written Scrolls and The Word of God, as given to Neal Vincent Frisby.
Anyone expecting enlightenment today, however, is likely to put the book down, disappointed. It's hopelessly dated, about as helpful as the predictions of most celebrity astrologers.
Instead of offering insights into God's character or living a good life, Frisby was obsessed with making predictions. The world would end in the late '60s, he wrote. Then, in the late '60s, he predicted that "the '70s will tell the complete story of the end." (He also thought flying saucers were evil spirits "traveling in cosmic light," according to the book.)