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 of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.

  • Shirley Johnson

    These atheists seem to not understand the Blessings of GOD. Jan and Paul Crouch have given their entire lives to HIM. And HE has Greatly Blessed them. And it is because of these Loyal Obedient Servants of GOD that THE LORD GOD’s message is being broadcast throughout the whole earth. And only because of these Faithful Loyal Servants that this has even been possible. When we give to THE LORD GOD, HE Blesses us 100 percent. And whatever they do with that 100% Blessing is up to them. How do we know these houses are not being used? Maybe they are being used to house people from other countries while they are here visiting in our country. It is so Sad to me, how a true Proven Saint of GOD dies, and instead of honoring him, some choose to Crucify him, But then isn’t that also what they did to Jesus Christ, GOD’s own son? So is any Saint less than GOD’s own son, his LORD and SAVIOR? Peter, Paul, Steven and the rest of Christ’s Disciples died an unhonored death. But they , along with Paul didn’t live to be Honored. They lived to Honor their Lord and Savior, JESUS CHRIST. And by Honoring HIM they are Greatly Blessed by HIM, whom they have Honored.

  • Shirley Johnson

    These atheists seem to not understand the Blessings of GOD. Jan and
    Paul Crouch have given their entire lives to HIM. And HE has Greatly
    Blessed them. And it is because of these Loyal Obedient Servants of GOD
    that THE LORD GOD’s message is being broadcast throughout the whole
    earth. And only because of these Faithful Loyal Servants that this has
    even been possible. When we give to THE LORD GOD, HE Blesses us 100
    percent. And whatever they do with that 100% Blessing is up to them.
    How do we know these houses are not being used? Maybe they are being
    used to house people from other countries while they are here visiting
    in our country. It is so Sad to me, how a true Proven Saint of GOD
    dies, and instead of honoring him choose to Crucify him, But then isn’t
    that also what they did to Jesus Christ, GOD’s own son? So is any
    Saint less than GOD’s own son. Yes. Peter, Paul, Steven and the rest
    of Christ’s Disciples died an unhonored death. But Paul didn’t live to be Honored. He lived to Honor his Lord and Savior, JESUS CHRIST.

  • Spuddie

    You are a fucking idiot. If you gave one penny to that thief, you deserve whatever ridicule can be heaped upon you.

    The only way you can possibly outdo yourself in the stupidity in the name of faith department is if you give an excuse for clergy sex abuse. You come close to that level.

  • Jennifer Starr

    These people are nothing but scam artists, bilking gullible and lonely people out of money in the name of God. But the only God that a televangelist worships is the almighty dollar.

  • Mark

    If an immoral man teaches truth-does the truth become immoral?

  • Spuddie

    If an immoral man robs millions from people who can’t afford it, he is the lowest form of scum on the planet.

  • Mark

    I encourage you to listen / watch Yuri Bezmenov’s YOU TUBE videos. Bezmenov, a former KGB disinformation officer who defected to Canada in the 1980’s exposed the subversion of the Christian faith that led to the nightmare the Communists and Socialist brought to Western Civilization. I’ll take mercy, compassion, justice, equity, freedom and tolerance over the intolerance and persecution secular humanism administered by Socialist societies offer.

  • Spuddie

    Damn Canadians with their Labatts, Francophones, clean streets and well run health care system!

  • Joe Bob

    why would an atheist even care about Paul Crouch or Dave Ramsey

  • Spuddie

    Because they are examples of how religious types are parasites upon the wallets of poor naive believers. A great case study in support of atheism if ever there was one.

  • Jennifer Starr

    Because they are con artists bilking people out of their money?

  • Spuddie

    The law didn’t have a chance to hold much against them. They were closing in on them.

    Swindling money in the name of religion is a time honored tradition. It does not make it worthy of the kind of dishonest, ridiculous excuse making coming out from his former supporters.

    My guess is they have no choice but to put a brave face on their past stupidity. To admit they were dumb enough to send this guy money would be too embarrassing. So to save face they keep up the charade.

  • Spuddie

    So building an empire on the backs of the poor, naive and stupid is something to be proud of? Paul helped himself to the money of many people who should have known better.

    I admire his skill in fleecing the public. Anyone who continues to speak well of him has to be suffering some major brain damage in light of how he spent all that money.

  • Kewlcat

    That’s not why people support their ministry. Maybe some do but there are many who support the ministry because they have been blessed by TBN at some point of their life. It could have been a day when they needed encouragement and This channel amongst thousands on TV uplifted them by preaching the love of Christ. You don’t accept Jesus, you do so at your own peril. But TBN has been a blessing for many. No one saying they’re perfect but then again neither are you or I for that matter. God will deal with their sin. You don’t need to worry about it. But of course you’d have to believe in God to understand that. I feel like you harbor a lot of bitterness. Let it go. Give it to Jesus.

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

    Hey, no one’s perfect, but I don’t run a multi-billion dollar scam bilking poor people out of their hard-earned cash by promising magical rewards, either. Have some perspective, here!

    Using the “we’re all sinners” trope to excuse wrongdoing is super weaksauce.

  • Kewlcat

    Again, you don’t believe in God so your perspective is somewhat narrow. I can see the point you are making but you can’t see mine – so I won’t try to convince you. I just gave you a reason why people contribute to ministries such as TBN. You can accept it or not. I’m not judging the Crouches and I’m not judging you.

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

    I used to believe in God. Even then, I would have called them clear scammers. Just because I no longer think there’s anything supernatural out there doesn’t mean I don’t know how that worldview looks and feels. I get your point, but it doesn’t excuse deliberately lying to people to get money from them, nor does it excuse targeting those who can least afford to lose that money.

    That’s nice that you’re not judging me. I’m not judging you either, but I damned well am judging the Crouches. They were thieves, scammers, conmen. It isn’t unfairly judging them to call it like it is, and it isn’t being arrogant to say that I am a better person than they are. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but what they do is wrong, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

  • Cake

    Thinking that there is a god does not expand your perspective.

  • Cake

    The we are all sinners trope is a pretty damn vile one. It elevates the scum of the earth to heights they don’t deserve while simultaneously dragging down the most altruistic heroes of the world.

    I am not a sinner and how dare they think that there’s something wrong with me because I’m alive.

  • Jennifer Starr

    No matter how supposedly good the message may be, at the end of the day what it boils down to is ‘give me your $$$’. I remember one time in the ’80s when I was a teenager and feeling kind of desperate regarding a family issue and I called the 700 Club’s ‘Prayer’ line, only to be told by the ‘counselor’ at the other end that if I couldn’t give them money, she wouldn’t pray with me. It’s all about dollars with these people.

  • Cake

    Evidence needed.

  • Cake

    I am without sin. How many bricks do you want me to throw?

  • Guest

    They are still talking about the actor Paul Walker, (a large prayer virgil was held for him by his devoted fans). It is tragic this actor, whom his fans and friends described as generous to the poor with charities to help the poor, died like he did but Paul Walker made two or three hit movies. However, he was not a household name because me and my friends never heard of before now. He died around the same time as Paul Crouch Sr. but television news on Paul Crouch Sr’s passing was as little as a tiny footnote. The news of Paul Crouch death does not come close to the attention Paul Walker received. No one outside of TBN fans seemed to care that CEO and Founder of TBN left this world. TBN clones are in denial that this network is impacting society.

    it is still surprising with how much the world worships billionaires, mammon and success stories that there was so little recognition for Paul Crouch Sr, a man who took a few dollars and ended up running and owning a billion dollar television empire for 40 yrs. The lack of attention and concern about Paul Crouch Sr’s passing says it all about the effectiveness of TBN on the world and our society as a whole. I hope Billy Graham is given more attention honor when he passes!