Book and Movie Reviews

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned by Pastor Phil Aguilar

fmfForgive Me Father For I Have Sinned is the memoir of Phil Aguilar, founder of Set Free, a biker ministry based in Southern California. Aguilar became the target of Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, after accusations were made against the pastor for running a ‘cult like’ organization.

This book is DIY (do it yourself) which is probably the only way Aguilar’s unique point of view could ever reach the average reader. He does such a masterful job portraying himself as a badass in the early part of this book. So good, in fact, that I am actually terrified to speak of repeated paragraphs and a few grammatical errors. I feel that, at any moment, his boot will kick through my computer monitor and ‘wash its bloody footprints’ on my hardwood floor before returning to cyberspace.

kkk_anaheimPhil Aguilar grew up in Anaheim, CA and experienced the brunt of racism in a city founded by Klan members who once casually paraded down Main Street. He idolized white culture and tried to fit in at Huntington Beach only to eventually realize the doors would be shut in his face. The first group he joined was The Brotherhood of Eternal Love; the group responsible for bringing LSD to the masses. Timothy Leary was their adopted guru and his honeymoon with them lasted for only a few months since stoners, ultimately, wind up not doing much of anything.

brotherhood_eternal_loveHe traveled to San Francisco to be part of the Hippie movement but wound up being a drug dealer, and not a very good one at that. He partook of his own supply and found his way to prison. He accepts Christ in prison and, when he gets out, receives help from a number of sources, and women, only to drop them like hot potatoes for a variety of reasons (heat was on, got bored, grass is greener over the other side, etc).

He drifts in and out of various prisons, eventually getting married in Vacaville and moving on to Pacific Coast Bible Baptist College. This independent Baptist Bible College eventually moved from its location in San Dimas, CA, and is now Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City, OK. He is embraced by independent fundamental Baptists and even attends pastors school at Hyles Anderson. Phil does write that Jack Hyles was his hero and he patterned his ministry on Hyles.

It shows! Aguilar rejects the strict rules regarding dress but keeps the strict rules regarding how to handle people! Set Free, his new ministry, is dedicated to helping the derelicts and rejects of society, and since they all live with him in a variety of homes purchased for the ministry, he must instill ‘tough love’ like any protective biker daddy.

His ministry is embraced by a number of respectable high profile personalities: Chuck Smith, Benny Hinn, Paul and Jan Crouch from TBN, the Los Angeles Dream Center, the Assemblies of God, and more.

Set Free helped the City of Anaheim renovate buildings. Cleaned out auditoriums and greeted visitors at churches. Helped operate cameras at TBN. But the moment those ministries start becoming successful and image conscious, they immediately get rid of the unsightly bikers! Too embarrassing! Of course, there is the matter of Phil’s inlaws who became upset after their daughter married Phil’s son, Geronimo (now known as Pastor G). Aguilar blames the inlaws for stirring up Calvary Chapel founder, Chuck Smith, against Aguilar.

chcksmithChuck Smith is known as the guru behind the Jesus People movement. He ultimately helped watered down the counter culture movement as every remaining Jesus person seemed to turn Republican or Libertarian. It was during this era when Rupert Murdoch bought out the Christian publishing house, Zondervan. If that wasn’t the final nail in the Jesus People movement, then nails don’t exist.

Set Free took off with a whirlwind of popularity and positive news coverage. Phil argues that the Jesus People movement was reborn through Set Free. It’s hard to argue with that! It did achieve much popularity. Set Free was embraced by political leaders and TBN. Chuck Smith may have got the hippies to cut their hair and join the business world, but Phil did one step better. He let them shave their heads and look how they wanted! Phil Aguilar was on the way to bringing back the ‘Jesus People’ movement in full force. Some religious leaders obviously didn’t want that.

Calvary Chapel hosted a cult awareness-type seminar regarding Set Free ministries back in the 1990s. It was done independently of Cult Awareness Network. Many of the things they would accuse Set Free of doing would eventually boomerang against Calvary Chapel. (see: Calvary Chapel Abuse)

The press dogs went rabid and, with a little help from Calvary Chapel’s Oden Fong, Set Free became the target of a relentless campaign. The ministry was driven out of Anaheim. The Set Free critics, fueled by Calvary Chapel’s emotional (if not financial) support, followed the group to every city they moved. Flyers were passed out and stapled to phone poles and bulletin boards. Set Free became divided.

(Paul Crouch names ‘Calvary Chapel’ and advises Phil Aguilar to ‘sue the bastards!’)

Pastor Phil returned to Anaheim for one more try. They were only able to meet once before getting tossed out.

Phil now rejects a key part of the IFB philosophy: numbers.

He doesn’t care about having thousands of worshippers in an auditorium. He wants a lean, mean team of biker Christians who he can depend on. He was with the best! Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, Benny Hinn, Pat and Jan Crouch. Now all he wants is to be with people he can really trust!

One of his new biker comrades happened to be a TV Producer. He successfully negotiated for Phil to have his own reality show, Saints and Sinners.

This could have been the moment for Phil to show his case to America, but he took a wrong turn into the tourist bar, Blackies, where a fight broke out with Hells Angels and a man was stabbed.

The prosecution over-reacted (are we surprised?) and tried to make it look like Phil called in the Hell’s Angeles. The judge overturned everything and the charges were dropped.

The book ends with Phil and his family living in a house in Southern California where he conducts bible study on his front lawn.

Forgive me Father is interesting in the same manner as A Clockwork Orange. It’s too easy to feel unsympathetic about his story or his ministry. But you can’t go through his journey without realizing there is another ‘gang’ out there that is both hypocritical and potentially more dangerous. That ‘gang’ is made up of the collusion of fundamentalist and evangelical mega church pastors who have covered up the abuse of children, but dress better. The truly dangerous always wear fine clothes with clean fingernails and a Dentine smile.

There are people terrified to speak about their experiences with Set Free. They are not necessarily those who went to Chuck Smith for help. Nor are they the men and women who voluntarily put themselves under the ministry of Phil Aguilar.

I am speaking of the children who, through the circumstances of fate, were born, bred, and fed by Set Free ministries. Some of them are now young adults. Their stories deserve to be told, and they will be heard.

When ABC news began documenting abuses in fundamentalist churches, there was the predictable criticism that these churches are independent. I have always maintained that if you want to find the common link with fundamentalist churches, it will be found in their missionary outreach or college affiliations. Sure enough, Set Free has worked with practically every denomination that has come under fire for collusion regarding child abuse.

(Jack Schaap praising the Aguilars)

Phil Aguilar could be Samson. He could bring the entire temple down upon the Pharisees and himself! Honesty does have a way of cleansing the soul and your reputation. Still, he chooses ‘to forgive’. That can also be interpreted as another form of cover up. He reveals Jan Crouch gave him the dirt on Chuck Smith. In fact, the Crouch’s lasted the longest with Phil Aguilar. He still has fondness toward them.

Phil Aguilar might have the last laugh. With Jack Schaap, and a number of other fundamental preachers in prison for abuse, Pastor Phil might be their last hope when they emerge from prison. The ‘gang’ that was rejected by the Pharisees might, in fact, be the very place the Pharisees will go after they serve their time. Maybe it’s time for the Pharisees to start buttering him up?

(Pastor Falwell praising the Aguilars)

Forgive Me Father, by accident, reveals an abusive subculture that is not even aware it is abusive! What child advocacy does not seem to process is the fact that for millenia, and close to the first half of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for girls of 13 years of age to be married off to adults.

Most of us can point to grandparents, or other female relatives, who had children at a very young age. This was during an era when unions of older men/younger women was not frowned upon. Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and even Moderate Christians have never truly abandoned that era. Men were in charge. Parents controlled who their children married. Parents were able to break up ‘Romeo/Juliet’ marriages by simply asserting their will over their children (in some cases, until their early twenties).

We did not even start discussing child/adult relationships until the Kinsey Report came out in 1948. What has been happening with mainstream religions, who are being scrutinized for abuse, is similar to what Phil is attempting in his book: apologize without acknowledging the reason behind the apology! Honestly, Phil, would you allow one of your alcoholic residents to stay in your place longer than a week without acknowledging the nature of his problem?

Phil is doing, in a half-assed way, what mainstream religions have not even attempted to do: name their crime, apologize for it, and then try to make amends. He had my sympathies until Chapter 28 from which I quote: “I chose not to write this chapter because I don’t want to go into details about people who made my life a living hell. I also refuse to defame anyone’s character by giving you any juicy gossip.”

In a way, it is my favorite chapter. I do hope that in future editions, in addition to correcting the grammatical errors, he includes another chapter called, “I changed my mind.”

6 thoughts on “Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned by Pastor Phil Aguilar

  1. This is by-far one of the best truthful reviews I have yet to see regarding Phil Aguilar and the traveling orgy circus of “ministries” he contributes to… Geronimo Aguilar, should be your next topic of review, the rotten apple doesn’t fall very far from the rotten tree…. dozens of stories of abuse, alleged financial misconduct, cover-ups, pay offs and much much more!

    • Yes, the fellow that Jonathon Falwell now likes? The reason I’m not trusting anything concerning abuse that eminates from Liberty University? Yes, Pastor G, his activities and the accusations, and his connections with other ministries, should be one of the next items for those concerned about abuse in a religious setting to study.

  2. The operative word is “now”. G can be very charming, and the ROC puts on a great show. That’s the problem–it’s a place driven by superficial flash and popularity, with no real substance underneath. The mask always slips eventually, and staunch supporters either run screaming from the place or slip out quietly in the hope that no one will notice they were ever there. It’s too late for Falwell to do the latter. The more public a ROC supporter is, the worse the fallout. He’ll be fine, though. He has millions to cushion the impact.

    The same cannot be said for Geronimo Aguilar, His is a house of cards, and when it falls, there won’t even be any rubble to salvage. Like a Ponzi scheme, it never existed. This is why the Teacher of Ecclesiastes warns against pursuing vain and earthly rewards. In doing so, the soul becomes bankrupt. These members of the clergy don’t even have a good relationship with God to fall back on, and will be left with nothing. It happened to Phil, and it will happen to G, and anyone who stupidly decides to link their fates with his.

    Those are the real casualties–the ones who entrusted him with their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. Those who survive the fallout will need a lot of help. The ROC WILL leave a void in a community that needs help more than most, and are often marginalized. That’s how predatory pastors gain so much power, and what the marginalized people fail to realize is that G is no different from everyone else who could have helped them but used them or tossed them in the trash instead. These are not people who deal well with being hurt.

    Never in a million years would I want to be in the shoes of an Aguilar when the time comes to give account.

  3. This man came out of the existence of nothing into something true there are many who have placed their faith in him as a man of God but, arent’ we all fragile at times don’t we all fall and who alone can pick us up but, God himself. I personally don’t put my trust or faith in any man but God Almighty. Its so easy to judge another when we ouselves have not cleaned up our own house. If this man did as what was said it happened many years ago why would anyone want to bring this up and create mistrust in this man that many have looked up to and by the way we haven’t heard his side of the story. People are already pre-judging him only accordin to what they have heard or read. As I always say leave it alone, let it go and keep on going why rehash things that happened so long ago. If Pasor Aguilar has not been the subject of such matter now why try and crucify him. I say we need to pray for Pastor Aguilar and leave it to God.. If he is guilty then it will render so if not then he will have a lot of healing to do for himself and his family. There are always cob webs around its sad that some cannot just go on with their lives instead they want to destroy someones life because of something that happened years ago what happened to forgiveness. We are suppose to help one another not hinder one another. I say the truth will show itself if he is guilty then it shall be know if not then let this man be as he was. Don’t we have enough people in jail and prison who have done far worse things in life but, yet I have the understanding that this man could face life in prison I find this really ironic considering there are those that are seving lesser time for mor worse crimes. I can only say I will pray for this man he needs it and I only hope that those that had faith in him still do if you were there for him in the best of times do not dispose yourself of him now when things are being shook up.

    • Phil set everything in motion, though. Pastor G followed Phil’s footsteps and Phil will have to realize he helped enable his son into this position. All that is past helped create the mess that is the present. There has to be accountability before anyone can truly move on.

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