Demos Shakarian; Founded Religious Group
Demos Shakarian, founder and president of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International--which he started in a downtown Los Angeles cafeteria in 1952--has died. He was 80.
Shakarian died last Friday of heart failure in Downey Community Hospital, the now Costa Mesa-based organization announced this week.
The interdenominational male-only group of businessmen, which enjoyed its greatest success in the 1960s and 1970s, spearheaded a movement toward charismatic, Pentecostal-based Christianity distinguished by speaking in tongues, visions and miracles of healing.
“All of a sudden,” Shakarian said in 1970 at a regional meeting of the group in New York, “the highway to God has opened, and the Holy Spirit is pouring on all flesh. We’re seeing a miracle in our time. It’s multiplying all over the country.”
At its peak, the organization sponsored an international television show called “Good News” featuring Shakarian, which was broadcast in about 150 cities. Its magazine, the Voice, reached a circulation of 800,000. The group still claims to be the world’s largest Christian layman’s fellowship, with chapters in more than 100 countries.
The son of Armenian immigrants, Shakarian helped his father, Isaac, build the Reliance Dairy in Downey, once the largest independently owned dairy in the world.
Shakarian developed hearing trouble at 9 but was “healed” at 13 when he was baptized into the Armenian Pentecostal Church and spoke in tongues. His Pentecostal Christian teaching was that uttering the seemingly unintelligible syllables signified having received the baptism.
In 1951, the successful dairyman organized a Los Angeles campaign for televangelist Oral Roberts and won Roberts’ friendship and support for his proposed businessmen’s fellowship.
Fueled by a vision of the group’s purpose, Shakarian organized the first lunch of about 20 businessmen in Los Angeles the next year, and soon founded his magazine and a second chapter in Sioux Falls, S.D. Members would meet for breakfast or lunch at restaurants or hotel ballrooms to diminish any stigma about sharing religious experiences that had benefited their business and professional careers.
Shakarian traveled indefatigably, organizing chapters, touting charismatic Christianity and praising such conservative politicians as Richard Nixon, whom he thanked for his “determination to lead this nation away from the movement toward drugs, defeat and pornography, which threaten to destroy us.”
Shakarian’s activities were curtailed by a stroke in 1984, but he continued to head the worldwide organization. In 1989, he was absolved of internal accusations that he illegally received $276,000 for benefits on which he should have paid taxes. He accounted for the funds as travel expenses and pointed out that he had donated money to the organization and never taken a penny in salary for his four decades of service.
Shakarian is survived by his wife of 60 years, Rose; three children, Richard and Stephen Shakarian and Geri Scalf; two sisters, Roxanne Vahan and Grace Carlisle; nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
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