The Macauleys were alarmed. Mick, a psychologist, watched for hours trying to figure out what they saw in Davidson. Though Davidson used much of the jargon of charismatic Christianity, he also laced his teaching with tirades at people in the audience. On one tape, Davidson hears a baby crying and barks, "Shut that brat up." He said outrageous things, once stopping in the middle of a sermon to complain that he didn't have their attention. "I guess if I took my gun and shot every third person in this front row I bet I'd get your attention."
Macauley realized that what drew Dena was Davidson's certainty, his grip on truth with a capital T. "With Doyle, there's no ambiguity. He's very concrete. He said to her [Dena], 'I don't interpret the Bible, it's the absolute truth.'"
A few years earlier, the truth according to Davidson had gotten him in hot water with the Daystar network for speaking negatively about other ministers, including Billy Graham. In May 1999, Davidson opined on camera that if Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, two Christian girls gunned down in the Columbine massacre, had had more faith, they wouldn't have been killed.
Even though Davidson did something almost unheard of--paying for airtime in advance--Daystar pulled the plug on him. Within weeks Water of Life was back on the air. He now broadcasts every night at 9 p.m. on KLDT-Channel 55, a Lewisville-based independent that mostly runs infomercials. Water of Life also appears once a week on a CBS affiliate in Indiana and an ABC affiliate in Joplin, Missouri; Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. on a Fox affiliate in Springfield, Missouri; and twice each Monday through Friday on UPN in Tulsa. People around the world also can plug into the programs on the Internet at www.doyledavidson.com, where he's posted his numerous "Messages to Lisa."
Subject: continue my emails to you
...I need to remind us, and those that will read this, that our walk together was mostly praying together. We would pray for hours at a time, fervently. It was such joy to pray with you, and there was liberty to touch you if I desired and you demonstrated that same liberty...I love you dear, Doyle.
If any place could be called Eden on earth, it was Sarcoxie, Missouri, in the early 20th century. East of Joplin, its rich farmland the color of cocoa, the hamlet was both the strawberry and peony "capital of the world." Kids made money by picking berries during the summer. Tourists came for the blaze of color, and weddings took place in halls decorated with peonies. Hybrids were named after townsfolk.
The strawberry market dried up long ago, but a local nursery still ships crates of high-priced bulbs for peonies and irises around the world. Dairy cows and horses graze in rolling green fields. Named after an Indian chief, Sarcoxie has maintained a population of about 1,300 for decades. Downtown is deserted, but new houses dot the countryside where people have claimed a few acres of heaven for their own.
It's a conservative heaven. Here and there on the roads around town are admonitions from God. Says one billboard: "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery! Luke 16:18."
Lyle Davidson was a carpenter and farmer, well-known in Sarcoxie because he remodeled houses. But Alba Davidson was an enigma. On the rare occasions that Alba came into town from their little house in the country, she didn't say much.
Born in 1932, Doyle was the second of their four children and the only boy. Popular in high school, Davidson played sports, joined 4-H and dated a pretty girl with dark eyes named Patti Tinkle. The caption under his senior photo reads: "That certain air...confident...fascinated with sports...that special smile for Patti...eye catching walk."
Davidson often says that he came from a Methodist background. But people in Sarcoxie remember the Davidsons attending a tiny church not far from their farm called the Redwood Holiness Church. Doyle's father and grandfather, in fact, built it themselves. In Sarcoxie, the church was considered extreme. Says one former resident, "A lot of people didn't think too much of the holy rollers."
Lyle knew his Bible, says one resident who hired the carpenter to remodel his house, but "he took it the way he wanted to take it." One of Lyle's core beliefs was that the Ten Commandments didn't apply to believers.
As a young man, Doyle cussed, drank and smoked. Though smart and a hard worker, former classmates say he affected a superior attitude. His father believed he was destined to be a great minister. It was a call he ignored for many years.