Televangelist Paul Crouch Leaves a Dirty Legacy; Evangelical Christians Look the Other Way

[Note: Hemant and I both felt inspired to write a little remembrance of Paul Crouch. Here's his.]

Paul Crouch died of heart failure on Saturday, at 79. Forty years ago, he founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network, now the country’s most successful religious TV enterprise. In a good year, TBN takes in close to $100,000,000 in tax-exempt donations, mostly from lower-income Americans.

If you’re not familiar with Crouch and his wife Janice, they are the Jim and Tammy Faye that time forgot.

Paul and Jan Crouch

Here‘s a little flavor:

Janice Crouch, called “Mama” on the air, is known for her pink-tinged wigs, which look like huge swirls of cotton candy, and for talking emotionally about the Lord’s blessings. Mr. Crouch, or “Papa,” is relentlessly upbeat as he quotes flurries of Bible verses on signature programs like “Praise the Lord.”

The New York Times published an exposé of the Crouches’ financial tricks last year. It tells you volumes about how the darling duo spent all that revenue from donations, TV rights, and investments.

For instance:

The [couple's] lavish perquisites, described by [estranged granddaughter and former financial officer Brittany] Koper and corroborated by interviews with two other former TBN employees, include additional, often-vacant homes in Texas and on the former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt funds.

Plus:

Last year [in 2011], officials in Orange County, Fla., turned down TBN’s application to register [the Crouches'] adjacent lakefront houses as parsonages, saying they served no religious purpose, The Orlando Sentinel reported. The designation would have resulted in religious exemptions and saved TBN roughly $50,000 in taxes a year.

And:

[F]ormer TBN employees also said that dozens of staff members, including Ms. Koper, chauffeurs, sound engineers and others had been ordained as ministers by TBN. This, she said, allowed the network to avoid paying Social Security taxes on their salaries and made it easier to justify providing family members with rent-free houses, sometimes called “parsonages.”

From Wikipedia:

Crouch family members control the boards of all TBN entities, which makes TBN “ineligible to join” the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an evangelical self-regulating group.

Why would working-class Christians give so much money to a pair of greedy preachers who live high on the hog? One answer is that

On the air, Mr. and Mrs. Crouch tell viewers that they have almost no personal assets.

Which is technically true, as the assets in question, such as homes and private planes, are provided by TBN, whose board is stacked with family members. (Also, thousand-dollar dinners, and a separate luxury hotel room for Janice Crouch’s beloved Maltese lapdogs, do not count as assets.)

Courtesy of the L.A. Times, here’s another episode that St. Peter might be quizzing Pastor Crouch about right now.

In 1989, in the wake of the [Jim and Tammy Faye] Bakker scandal, the National Religious Broadcasters, a voluntary association, investigated complaints that TBN had violated ethical standards. One of the complaints came from Marvin L. Martin, a former producer of “Praise the Lord,” who said he had been fired after questioning the Crouches’ financial practices and moral fitness.

He specifically complained that at a TBN staff prayer meeting Crouch asked God to kill a man who had petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to take over the network’s flagship station in Orange County. Crouch responded that he “probably did pray that God would kill anyone or anything that was attempting to destroy the ministry.” He offered no apology and said his prayer “has not changed.”

Steve Strang, the founder and publisher of Charisma News, was one of the few in the evangelical Christian world who was willing to say moderately critical things of the Crouches, including that they sometimes embarrassed his tribe:

Though they aren’t answerable to us, they are answerable to the Christian public who donate the millions, just as public companies must be accountable to their shareholders. In some ways the Crouches know this. They gush over how they love their TBN partners. They talk about the “little grandmas” who send in their love gift every month. But what about those who feel some things on TBN make a laughing stock of all charismatics and Pentecostals? Or that with some of the questionable programming they are spreading confusion around the world at the same time they’re spreading the gospel?

Of course, that was back in March. Charisma Newscurrent remembrance of Crouch mentions not a syllable about the galling ostentatiousness of his lifestyle, nor of the barely-legal thievery and the financial scandals that he engaged in especially in the last decade of his life.

As legacies go, Crouch undoubtedly leaves a troubling one — but don’t expect most other Christians to call him on it. Per the Christian Post,

“‏We celebrate Dr. Paul Crouch’s good & faithful work on earth. May we all leave such a legacy for the Kingdom,” wrote Creflo Dollar, founder and senior pastor of World Changers Church International, on Twitter.

Crouch’s televangelist colleague Benny Hinn also weighed in:

“On this day of his glorious home-going, please reflect upon the tremendous impact of this man’s extraordinary life,” reads a tweet by Pastor Hinn from Benny Hinn Ministries.

Then it was preacher Arthur Blessitt‘s turn:

“Let’s all pray for his wife Jan and all the family. His focus was always +jesus. Tears pour from my eyes,” he continued. “I’ll miss my friend but there is joy in heaven where millions of people are thanking him for sharing Jesus with them.”

If a man with Crouch’s record goes to heaven, I actually prefer the down escalator, so I may avoid him and his ilk for all eternity.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Frank Mitchell

    Naturally the other thieves and scam artists lavish praise on one of the more successful of their number.

    Lest anyone think I’m too harsh, read up on Benny Hinn. I haven’t heard of the others, but the Wikipedia article on Creflo Dollar implies he’s not so different. Nothing on Arthur Blessitt, although Wikipedia notes that a Matthew Crouch directed a documentary about him.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Benny Hinn is all over that channel. He’s such an obvious fraud. I have to admit, that while I was raised by Fundamentalist Christians and know plenty of them, I don’t know anyone who has anything good to say about any of the people mentioned in this discussion. I suspect their audience is rural and/or elderly.

      • Mark

        and African-American. Watch the audience during the live shows.

  • quasibaka

    Here’s a good explanation for the villas and tax evasions and spending :

    JESUS

  • Jim T

    None of this is shocking at all. All of the big evangelicals bathe themselves in the riches that they swindle out of the masses. Peddling salvation through faith….what a snake oil scam. I wish I could invent something like that , that people would just send me tons of money each day so that they can feel better about what might happen to them in the future. Fortunately I have a conscience and could never do that.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I think this is all connected to the rise of the “prosperity gospel” and the partnership of Evangelicals with the 1% in one of the oddest political alignments in American history.

    • SanMarie Kirk

      Jim you hit on the head with that statement. People are paying to feel good and those preachers are offering glories upon glories if you just send in those funds to keep the show rolling. Yet, in the end of it all they are selling dreams. People have to believe that their own personal relationship with God is the thing that matters the most. There are some good preachers out there you have to have a bit of common sense in who which you trust and follow.

  • Lorne Dmitruk

    This is why faith based groups should not be exempt from paying taxes.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I think they should be able to deduct the part of their donations spend on actual charity (food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters) but not the rest.

      • baal

        And they should have to have open books.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          Many churches do. I was going to say “most” but I don’t have any numbers to back that up. It’s common, though, for churches to have a monthly or quarterly business meeting and hand out copies of the budget and an accounting of donations and expenditures. Everything is out in the open including staff salaries. I think all non-profits should be legally required to do this. Failure to do so would lead to them losing their tax exempt status. I don’t see that happening though.

          • John

            That would never happen, it’s far too fair and reasonable for many churches to accept it applying to them.

      • Peter Naus

        Ha ha, that’s funny!

        Less than a third of their extorted income goes to any kind of worthwhile services, if the Bakkers (and all the others) information is anything to go by.

        And you can imagine that their dogs would then be classed as “homeless”, so the extra rooms would be booked as “shelters”, the food would be classed as “handouts to the poor”, and so on and so forth. These types of predators truly know no desire too shameful.

        Even when they’re caught out and exposed, they rub some onion juice into their eyes and blubber about “sin” and forgiveness, and their shorn flocks lap it up as if they’d never seen a huckster in their entire lives. It’s terribly sad.

        • Jennifer Lakewood

          So true. Churches and TV churches, especially, are the biggest scams on earth.

  • 00001000_bit

    I think there’s too fine a line between “you should be careful not to give your money to preachers like this who want to rip you off” and “you should be careful not to give your money to preachers” for them to offer any meaningful criticism. If they push too hard, people might just rethink the giving altogether. Additionally, all the money that used to go to this guy has to go somewhere. Maybe by being sympathetic, they’ll get a few of those “little grandmas” to send them a check instead.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Did you really expect accurate accounting of their own from this crowd? they make excuses for them up until they can’t any more and then they demonize them. (See: Bakker, Jim and Tammy) Evangelicals are a scam artists’ wet dream and the Crouches are nothing but scam artists.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    He was a despicable con artist, who preyed upon the poor and the desperate . His life’s triumphant accomplishment was turn the last bit of hope Christianity had left to offer into a lottery tickets that had no chance of paying out. I would say that the world is better off without him, but the damage has been done. His wife will scam more wrapped in veils of her grief. His kids will continue his parasitic empire. If there were any justice; his wife, and his progeny will be conned out of their millions.

    • Don Cole

      and jailed!

  • Mark W.

    “TBN make a laughing stock of all charismatics and Pentecostals?”

    No, he bilks them of their money, they make laughing stocks of themselves.

  • Carpinions

    This is illogical, but it’s people like this that I think go a long way to blowing the whole “there’s a god!” thing out of the water. The Hinns and Crouches of the world know exactly what they are doing. If they were truly high and mighty on their religion’s morality, they wouldn’t bat an eye at rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, so to speak. But no, these guys use every single tax dodge imaginable, and their lawyers probably moonlight defending corporate billions in the Caymans on the side.

    And the trappings of wealth these people festoon themselves with cannot be denied. If Christian broadcasting as a whole walked its talk, everything would be bare bones basics in terms of sets, production, and quality. The faith is supposed to speak for itself, which is why our culture finds so much financial hypocrisy in a movement that claims to be all about helping the poor and disenfranchised, but if audited would register in the dozens to hundreds of billions of dollars in terms of good will, tax exemptions, and readily crowdsourced financing. They have multiple TV channels on free and cable TV, they have entire studios set up to propagate crap, they sit in flashy gold and white studios with king’s chairs…it’s the biggest, most obvious con of all time.

    There are few powers on this Earth as strong as the placebo effect, and televangelists are a perfect example of that power when people can see them lying to their faces and getting rich off of it.

    • survivor2011

      And we gotta pay homage to Joel Osteen. His church wasn’t big enough so he took over a former entertainment venue with seating for 17.000++!!! This guy just makes my skin crawl.

  • Elddim Eman

    Mr. Show nailed it back in the 90s:

    http://youtu.be/cku497rURF8

    • survivor2011

      Holy crap!

  • webhed38
    • http://www.steinyvision.com/ Eric Steinberg

      I was just about to post this myself. Thanks!

  • Carmen

    I lived in Orange County for years and used to drive past the TBN headquarters all the time. It’s been a while, but I recall over the Christmas season it is all lit up. The effect is like a flashy Vegas casino or a gaudy bordello. It would say “Happy Birthday Jesus” in bright lights. I always used to think that Jesus would have been appalled by the display.

    I knew a lot of people in retail sales in some of the high end OC shops and Benny Hinn used to shop there, buying the most expensive flashiest shoes and clothing he could find. They loved it when he came in, always had a giant wad of cash.

  • Mark

    I’m glad he’s dead.

    • Jennifer Lakewood

      Only problem is that his family will replace him in his scamming efforts. It never ends.

      I keep hearing the song, “Ding Dong, the witch is dead” when I see stories about this horrible person.

    • johnjones

      man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedout of the mouthof god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • cag

    On this day of his glorious home-going

    May all the other scammers also have a home-going soon.

    • johnjones

      he that be without sin or anything let him throw the first brick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • cag

        What is this “sin” that you write about? Is that some christian idiotic superstitious reference?

  • Andreas Grann-Bach

    “Paul Crouch died of heart failure on Saturday, at 79. Forty years ago, he founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network”
    Sounds to me like his heart failed at least 40 years ago.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/WetlandsRemediation Cowpox

    “Barely legal thievery” is oxymoronic.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Well, you can’t exactly expect Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn to criticize Crouch, given they exploit all of the same people in all of the same ways…

  • dsmith

    Looking at his suit and her hair and make up reminds me of the old saying…Money can’t buy you good taste or class.

  • therealcie

    My late grandmother came from a fire and brimstone Baptist family. When she died, we discovered that she had given a large portion of her savings to Jerry Falwell, whose minions sent letters saying things to the nature of “Dear Mrs. B, only through the help of good people like you can we prevent Satan from taking over the world. Please consider a donation of xxx amount.”
    If there is a hell, I certainly hope that these televangelist scum are frying in it for bilking vulnerable people out of their money. It’s beyond shameful.

    • johnjones

      you just jealouse god got treasureand it is rich

  • survivor2011

    These people rate right up there with child molestors, rapists, bullies, extortionists, etc., etc. I used to catch PTL in the middle of the night and cuss at the TV. I hated these people as a child…I pity them now. They still make my blood boil.

  • survivor2011

    Have anyone seen the new reality show about millionaire preacher and his family? Thicker than Water? The attitude is UNbelievable….and I only saw the commercials! More like thicker than thieves!

  • Yugo

    I see you are looking for an excuse to justify your godlessness mr. “Friendly Atheist”. Have fun while it lasts; say, ever heard about the similarity between the dumb goldfish in the bowl and an atheist? When asked about the existence of sharks the goldfish said “Hell, they can’t exist; I don’t believe in what I don’t see”

  • Dat Brees

    If Paul made this his business or not I can’t deny the message. Christ our hope of Glory….It was preached all over the world……I can’t condone his life, not my job…but can’t imagine living out the end of his days still working every day…he had more money than he could spend…so what was his motive……No matter what…God used it…….We can’t deny Christ or the message based on this mans life….we all will have to give an account of our own lives….All believe after the final curtain is drawn……

    • OooShiny

      Your fear of punctuation is irrational.

  • Michael A.

    “I actually prefer the down escalator, so I may avoid him and his ilk for all eternity”. Hmmm…….You just may get your wish, however, Paul Crouch aside, God is still calling all men (people) everywhere to repentace from their sinful attitudes. Paul and company’s alleged transgressions will not excuse you from your rejection of repentance and the blood sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. Mock all you want but what a harvest you shall reap if you die with “your” sins in tack, unwashed and unforgiven.

    • samiannie

      Right on. These people will answer for their sins. we each will answer for ours. We cannot use someone else as an excuse for our behavior.

  • Gracey

    You gain absolutely nothing by speaking ill of the dead. Paul Crouch was a sincere Christian and because of TBN many souls have come to know Christ.

  • Gracey

    Also when you have achieved as much as Paul did and helped as many people as he and TBN has then you may just have some room for your snarky remarks.

  • dandollars

    This article is very misleading and full of bias, Its more of an attack and does not have any form of enlightenment with it.

    The Crouches may not be perfect. They certainly have their problems but the truth is that they gave their lives to the preaching of the gospel. They were a blessing to their generation. I doubt this writer is making any of such impact other than slighting others.

    Anyway, may God have mercy on you

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Do you think you could enlighten me on one tiny thing, perhaps? How does scamming people out of their hard-earned money count as either preaching the gospel or making the world a better place?

      Thanks.

      • dandollars

        What is scam? You tell me. How did they deceive anybody?

        They told you that Jesus saves. Then they told you that He heals.

        Isn’t it interesting that while you accuse them of scam, the law holds nothing against them. Perhaps you should consider issues wholesomely before you try to abuse internet freedom of speech next time.

        With love bro.

    • OooShiny

      The author provided links to each and every quote about the Crouch’s obscene greed and financial deceit.

      You offer nothing but airy clichés, pleasant platitudes, refusal to address even one fact from the NYT investigation and an obviously insincere wish for mercy on others who disagree.

      Anyway, have a nice day.

  • OooShiny

    “Charisma News‘ current remembrance of Crouch mentions not a syllable about the galling ostentatiousness of his lifestyle, nor of the barely-legal thievery and the financial scandals that he engaged in especially in the last decade of his life.”

    From the Charisma News ‘Writer’s Guide’:

    “We do not publish sermons, poetry or fiction.”

    *tickled my LOL-bone*

  • samiannie

    All I have to say on the Crouches is, The Messiah said” Pay unto Ceasar’s what’s Ceasars and unto God what’s Gods”. If they cheated on their taxes, they were stealing from the state. God does not make a distenction among theives.


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