Across Pacific & Asia



The incredible story of the radical turn-around for broadcaster, Charlie Butts

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TAMIL NADU, INDIA (ANS) -- Charlie Butts has a story to tell that you couldn’t make up. For he spent several years booking atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair on radio talk shows in American so she could spread her vitriolic message of hatred against God (who she didn’t believe in) and now he’s the religion editor for USA Radio Network in Dallas, Texas, and a born-again Christian.

Charlie Butts

I discovered this extraordinary story recently during a bumpy bus journey in Tamil Nadu, India, where we were traveling with a team of journalists to report on the Tsunami-relief work of Gospel for Asia, and so I asked him to share his incredible story.

Butts was born in Nebraska, but only spent about two years there. “I actually grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, where I graduated from high school and went on from there,” he said. “A lot of people ask me how I became an atheist to begin with and, of course, we’re all born as non-believers; we have to learn to become Christians. But I was a victim of some very severe child abuse and, for that reason, I grew up with a total disrespect for anyone; or a lack of trust for anyone that said that they loved you.”

When I asked Butts if it was sexual or violent abuse or violent abuse, he said, “It was a full gamut of abuse,” he said. “The earliest memory I had was of being grabbed by my ankles, swung around, around, around, and then thrown up against a living room wall, and I was never allowed to ever go to a doctor.

“But, of course, as we know, Christ can take something like that and make a mountain of a human being out of it. But in those days, I had such a total lack of respect for authority, and also had a lack of respect for the Word of God and preachers.

“The one church that I did go to a few times was basically had hellfire-and-damnation type of preaching where if you had the slightest flaw in you, you were going to burn in Hell for an eternity. I had absolutely no use for that kind of authority or that kind of love. So I made up my mind at an extremely early age that God did not exist, that anybody that believed in Him would have to be a fool, some weak-minded fool.


Madelyn Murray O'Hair

“And that’s the kind of atmosphere in which I grew up. I met Madelyn Murray O’Hair by mail first when I lived in El Paso. I corresponded with her and her office. And, when I moved to San Antonio, I struck up a relationship with her family. (Pictured: Madelyn Murray O'Hair).

“Madelyn Murray O’Hair was the type of person I wanted to be around, because not did she deny God but she did it loudly, and utilized every means possible to cram her belief down everybody’s throats. Madelyn could be a very warm and cordial kind of person, but the closer you got to her, the more she started pushing you away. I never encountered an individual who could rip a person into a million pieces as easily as Madelyn did, just strictly with her tongue.

“She had an amazing capability of cutting right straight to your heart and making you feel like you were two inches tall. Madelyn knew the Bible very well. She could quote from the Bible, and we had many frequent discussions where she would use the Bible against Christians to try to defeat their own arguments.


“She was my kind of gal there for awhile because of all the lawsuits and the damage that had been done I felt like when she was in the public eye that she was a little bit too aggressive, too much of an acid-mouth person who would easily turn people against her, but she seemed to kind of enjoy it. The family lived a very isolated sort of life there in Austin, Texas. (Pictured: O'Hair protesting at the White House).

“I don’t know that they ever had any security there, but they generally would go to the office, come back home, and they lived behind closed doors to a large extent. They had a small group of friends, all of them atheists.”

Butts said that at the time he was working as a volunteer for the American Atheist Association, he had been working as a broadcaster since 1961 at the time he was helping O’Hair, he was staffer at an AM/FM combination station in San Antonio, Texas.

“My role as a volunteer for the American Atheist Association was to help arrange radio talk shows for Madelyn,” he said. “And it was kind of strange that I would call, very enthusiastic about what I was doing for her, trying to arrange a show for her, and she’d come on the line and immediately rip me into a million pieces. And then when she was through I would ask her, ‘Do you want to go on the show or not?’ And she’d give me an answer and I’d set it up.

“What would send her out of control was when she felt like she was losing control. In her family situation, she got along very well with her children as long as they toed the line and did exactly what she wanted and the way in which she wanted it done. If they got out of line with that, they’d had it.

“Most of it was done by phone, but occasionally I’d drive to Austin when she wanted to have a meeting and needed to do some fundraising, things like that.”

He said that it was her battle to get prayer out of schools that first attracted him to her cause.


O'Hair protesting at the White House

He said for the near seven years he worked for O’Hair, he was totally committed to her cause.

“I was the kind of person that Sunday mornings I’d make sure and be outside my apartment and any Christian walking along going to church I’d kick a beer can in front of them,” said Butts.

So, I asked, what was the turning point for him?

“The turning point for me was when I started thinking, instead of letting somebody else do my thinking for me,” he said. “I reached a stage in my life where I realized that atheism did not provide a life, in fact it provided absolutely no sense of hope whatsoever, and no comfort. You’re born, you live and you die.

“And so I decided to start examining the enemy. And the enemy is God. Now that’s kind of strange for an atheist to start examining God, because then you’ve admitted that He exists.”

Charlie Butts said he started his examination by watching Christian television.

“I turned on TBN and I would take notes and everything that was being said,” he stated. “I didn’t own a Bible, so I had a birthday coming up and a brother sent some money to spend on my birthday, so I decided I’d go to a Christian bookstore, and walked in the bookstore to select a Bible, and good grief! What with the variety of Bibles that were there, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, what do you do? Call Madelyn for advice? So I found one that was $14.95, and I had some change and that’s how I chose my first Bible.

“I read the Old Testament first because I’m kind of a history nut. I’m not very good at it, but I just enjoy history. And that set the pace for it, examining how the world originated and so forth. As I progressed through the Bible, I saw so much validity to it; so much truth, so then I started into the New Testament. And for me, that was the right approach to do it. And I began to understand that so many of the old atheist arguments, when you put it under a microscope, are nothing but opinions and theory. There is no fact to it. If want any facts, go to the Bible.

“If you take a look at some of the scientific arguments, Ray Comfort came out with a Bible specifically for that kind of thing, and so when that came out I certainly examined that, and I just became more comfortable in the accuracy of the Bible. I still have a lot of questions. It took me a long time before I realized there are certain mysteries that you will never answer as a human being. There are certain things you simply accept on the basis of faith.”

He said that it was then that he made his commitment to Jesus Christ.

“I finished reading the Bible and had decided that all the questions that could be answered had been answered, and I’d watched T.V. enough that I knew the sinner’s prayer and I knelt in the living room of my home and accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I have never, ever regretted it. That was some thirteen years ago.”

When asked if he told Madelyn that he was resigning from working with her, he said, “No, I didn’t say anything to her. I was afraid of her. A lot of people were. And then [in 1995] she was kidnapped and murdered.”

Charlie said he didn’t at first begin going to church. “At first, I turned on TBN again, and left it on long enough to understand that I better shut it off and get to church, because you need the instruction, you need the fellowship, you need accountability, and you’ll find that within most churches.

“I started going to a mega-church in Irving, Texas, but it wasn’t my kind of thing, because the first prayer that I prayed was that God would use me, and I kept praying that prayer and God until answered it, and I decided to change churches.

“The first time I went to an Assemblies of God church at the church that I’m currently with and have been for a number of years, there was a drunk passed out on the front steps of the church and I knew that was a church for me. I soon discovered that the leaders of the top two gangs in Irving lived in apartment complexes on either side of the church. You talk about a mission field; I’m going to have work cut out for me until the end of my life.”


He recounted the day when a bullet actually came through the wall of the church while he was attending a service.

“This is one thing, the gangs, generally speaking, have a motto that they will leave churches alone, but that doesn’t stop them from accidentally firing a gun outside,” he said. “But, yeah, a bullet during the service did fire through the wall of the church, through the sanctuary into the wall.”

Shortly after he started attending this church, he lost his job. “I worked for a local station, and a new owner came through and decided they could do things cheaper, so they fired 38 people and I was number 38,” he said. “I had absolutely no knowledge of the existence of USA Radio Network, but apparently they had heard about me by reputation, and a week and a half after I was fired they called me. And I was hired on the spot.

“I’m the religion editor, which means I handle all Christian-interest news ranging from abortion to homosexuality, religious liberty issues, and so forth and so on. And this is God’s way of using whatever skills I’ve got, which I asked Him to do.”

I asked Charlie if Madelyn Murray O’Hair was alive today, what would he says, to her. He smiled briefly, and then said, “Shove off, lady. I believe in God now. Can we have a little talk?”

Would she have gone berserk at him for saying this?

“I don’t think so, because towards the end of her life, she did warm up to a pastor -- I don’t know the pastor’s name -- but he used to come out to her house for dinner and she would listen intently to what he was saying. I don’t know that that was an indication of a change in her thinking at all. I don’t believe that it was, but at least she was listening.”

I then asked him what he would say to atheists today who possibly had reasons to be angry like he was.

“I would say that if you have a justification for being angry in your life, to deal with it,” he said. “You will not solve any problems in life in carrying that anger with you. You must deal with it. If you’ll take a look at what Christ has to offer, He can carry you through everything, and that includes anger.”

And what would he say to people who have been victims of abuse?

“People who have been abused use that abuse as an excuse for the way they are,” he said. “And the truth of the matter is there is not excuse. What I’m trying to say is you can use those excuses if you want to, but you reach a certain point in your life where you have to accept the responsibility for the way you think and the way you act. There are no excuses.”

Note: According to the Who2 website, Madelyn Murray O'Hair was one of the litigants in the case of Murray vs. Curlett, which led the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1963 decision, to ban organized prayer in public schools. The decision made O'Hair the country's most famous atheist and such a controversial figure that in 1964 Life magazine called her “the most hated woman in America.”

O'Hair founded the group American Atheists in 1963 and remained its leading spokesperson until 1995, when she and two of her adult children vanished after leaving a note saying they would be away temporarily. The trio appeared to have taken with them at least $500,000 in American Atheist funds; one private investigator concluded that they had fled to New Zealand. Eventually suspicion turned to David Roland Waters, an ex-convict who had worked at the American Atheist offices. Police concluded that he and accomplices had kidnapped the O'Hairs, forced them to withdraw the missing funds, and then murdered them. Waters eventually pled guilty to reduced charges and in January 2001 he led police to three bodies buried on a remote Texas ranch, which proved to be O'Hair and her children.

Extra credit: The children who disappeared with O'Hair were Jon Garth Murray, her son, and Robin Murray O'Hair, her granddaughter by another son, William. O'Hair also had adopted Robin Murray, making her both her daughter and her grandchild... O'Hair's son William announced his conversion to Christianity on Mother's Day in 1980 and became an outspoken evangelist for his new faith... A rumor continues to circulate online that the FCC is planning to ban religious broadcasting based on a petition by O'Hair; that rumor is not true.

Note: I would like to thank Shirley Hunt for transcribing this interview.

Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). Wooding is the co-host of the weekly radio show, "Window on the World" and was, for ten years a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He also co-hosts three days a week a live phone-in show called "Pastor's Perspective" with Brian Brodersen which is carried on KWVE, Santa Ana, California, and other radio stations across the USA. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to

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