Johnny Taylor is a Donald Trump fan and a devout, some might say fanatical, Christian.
He believes that, shortly before the former Apprentice host was elected the 45th president of the USA, God spoke to him directly and said he was destined for great things.
Johnny had regular prayer meetings with a number of like-minded friends in the backroom of a small Christian gift shop in Dalton, Georgia. One of the group was Jerry Pearce.
On the Monday after Trump was inaugurated, the meeting went on some hours longer that usual. During this extra-long meeting Jerry fell to the floor and for some 45 minutes was in a trance state that he described as “being out in the spirit.”
Jerry also noticed an oily residue on the page. No-one else had touched the Good Book, his wife assured him, so he assumed that the mysterious oil must have been sent by God.
The small smear of oil became a large stain, then more, until eventually he had to keep his Bible in a plastic container to prevent the oil oozing all over his living room. Over the next three years, says Jerry, his Bible produced some 400 gallons of this mysterious holy oil.
Word of the miraculous greasy Bible began to spread. People began to claim the oil had supernatural qualities – generating crystals, spontaneously refilling containers, and curing everything from eczema to cancer.
So many people wanted to see the bizarre phenomenon for themselves that Johnny moved his prayer meetings to the nearby 600-capacity Wink Theatre.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that the bizarre phenomenon was attracting pilgrims from far and wide. “A Bible flowing with oil—something many are calling a modern miracle—continues to gather huge crowds,” the paper reported in November 2019.
Johnny and Jerry set up a website called His Name Is Flowing Oil to help publicise their meetings.
As the Bible’s fame grew, more people made claims for its power. One said he had managed to kick an addiction after anointing himself with the Bible oil. A woman said her son had shown signs of recovering from a coma after having some poured on his head. One of the group said he planned to take some oil with him to China in hope of ending the coronavirus pandemic.
While Jerry owns the miracle book, Johnny, 63, is the de facto leader of the group and leads the prayer meetings.
The mood at the meetings was one of fervent belief. Some believers would fall to the ground and go into trances. Others claimed to have seen visions. A few spoke in unknown “biblical” languages.
Johnny himself was sent another vision by God. “President Trump was standing outside in the dark and a big spotlight was shining on him like he had broken out of prison,” he said. “He was being fired at and was taking all the shots – and being hit by bullets being fired from the dark from the prison.”
Johnny and Jerry make it clear that, unlike many high-profile US televangelists, they are not asking for money. They give vials of the oil away free to anyone who asks for one.
In total, Jerry is reported to have given away over 150,000 vials of the mysterious substance.
But one of the people who asked for a vial was Wyatt Massey, a reporter from the Times Free Press. He had it tested and it turned out to be unremarkable mineral oil of the kind easily obtained in any hardware store.
The same kind of oil, in fact, as the Ideal brand oil Jerry regularly bought in large quantities from his local tractor supply shop. Jerry was positively identified as a customer who bought “gallons” of the pool at a time.
Speaking to another group member, Johnny said: “This is like a big bomb thrown in the middle of everything.”
His wife Leslie added: “It will cause people to be more jaded or more sceptical about anything God is doing. It’s like a black eye for God.”
When the story first broke, Jerry denied it completely. The regular theatre meetings stopped at around the same time.
Matt Evans, leader of the religious group that had loaned the theatre to Johnny and Jerry, said that the Flowing Oil pair had made “mistakes.” He wrote: “The leaders of Flowing Oil ministry were not operating under the leadership of our Elders at Rock Bridge.”
He continued: “I do not condone any action that is potentially misleading, deceptive, or fails to align with the whole counsel of God as revealed in the Scriptures.”
Jerry later admitted privately that there hadn’t been enough oil coming form the Bible and so he was thinking of topping it up with the mineral oil.
“I was going to pour that oil on the Bible when the Bible quit producing oil,” he told Times Free Press. “But the Lord checked my spirit on it.”
He maintains that he did not use the mineral oil. It’s unclear where the large quantity of oil he reportedly bought is now stored.
Johnny backed him up, saying: “Everything we do is in the light. I don’t know how we could defend it other than it just comes up out of the Bible.”
A recent statement posted on Flowing Oil’s website said that Jerry’s purchase of oil at the local store “was made without the knowledge or approval of anyone else in the ministry and we are seeking the full truth of these accusations.”