[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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.”
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.)
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 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.
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.