Trinity Broadcasting celebrates 3,249 years of evangelistic success

Charisma magazine reports on the tremendous evangelistic success of Trinity Broadcasting Network:

TBN is reporting 36 million conversions to Christ in the past 40 years. The network says those reports have come through TBN’s prayer ministry, which has been hard at work alongside founders Paul and Jan Crouch from day one.

… In February of this year alone, TBN says its prayer partners received nearly 80,000 individual prayer requests and led more than 850 people in prayer for salvation or to renew their commitments to Christ.

Let’s do the arithmetic here: 36 million conversions in 40 years comes out to 75,000 per month. So either February was a horrifically slow month for TBN — with 74,150 fewer conversions than usual. Or else February was pretty typical, and the truth is that it will take TBN more than 3,000 years* to reach 36 million conversions at its current pace.

Something seems like it doesn’t add up.

Paul and Jan Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network.

The major fudge factor in TBN’s numbers is the customary weasel wording used by almost every “evangelistic ministry” that tallies and touts its soterian statistics. TBN’s claim wasn’t actually 850 “conversions” in February, but rather 850 people who came to “salvation or to renew their commitments to Christ.” In theory, then, this could all be one guy, calling in to TBN 850 times in February to constantly “renew his commitment to Christ.”

That phrase can be employed to refer to something meaningful, but in this context that’s unlikely. Anyone who has spent more than a year in the white evangelical subculture knows what “renewing their commitments to Christ” means here. It’s what happens when nobody comes forward at the altar call.

The preacher or evangelist standing up there in the pulpit realizes he’s talking to a room filled with life-long church-going Christians and not a single soul who hasn’t already been saved. So he starts to expand the scope of his invitation. First he challenges anyone who’s been “backsliding” to come forward and rededicate their life to Christ. And then he begins to widen the definition of “backsliding” to include those who have lost their “fire” for Christ. It keeps widening like that until he includes even those whose zealous devotion has never wavered, who are invited to come forward as a chance to reconfirm that faith publicly.

If that church seats 200 people, that goes down on the scorecard as “200 decisions for Christ.” Come back and do that at the same church with the same people in the Sunday evening service and now you’ve racked up “400 decision for Christ.” Do that 50 weeks a year and you can report “20,000 decisions for Christ” in your next fundraising letter — even if you’ve never spoken to, much less converted, a single non-Christian.

I’m not kidding. The population of the United States is around 313 million, but if you tally up all the “decisions for Christ” reported over the years by the thousands of evangelistic ministries in this country, you’ll get a number a lot higher than that.

This salvation inflation is pretty sleazy when its cited in those ministries’ fundraising newsletters. And it’s even sleazier when its cited as the trump card white evangelicals use to shield themselves from all criticism and to excuse any wrongdoing: We’re saving souls from Hell — that’s proof we’re in the right!

And that is, in fact, exactly why TBN is announcing these “36 million conversions to Christ in the past 40 years.” And it is exactly why that announcement is being reported, at face value, by Charisma magazine.

The puff-piece on TBN was published on April 23 as part of the process of patching up things and making nice after a column by Charisma mogul Steve Strang earlier this year obliquely referred to some of the more sordid details of the slow-motion implosion now occurring at the thoroughly corrupt broadcasting empire.

“They now are one of the most controversial Christian ministries out there,” Strang wrote — employing “controversial” in its disciplinary, tribal sense (meaning, roughly, “keep back lest ye be tainted by the contagion of controversy — unclean! unclean!”). Discussing a potential interview with the Crouches, Strang wrote:

I didn’t know how we’d ask the questions the Christian community wants to know: about why their oldest son, Paul Jr., left the network, or the lawsuit and allegations from their granddaughter.** Readers wanted to know why they allow ministers who have had nasty divorces — and in one case is accused of fathering a child by a teen in his church — on their telethons and stations. They wanted to know about how the more than $400 million-a-year budget is spent.

I know the Crouches well enough to know they feel the last part isn’t anyone’s business, as long as they follow the law. They rebuff inquiries about their finances.

TBN — a company with an ad budget, by the way — fired off an angry, testily defensive letter in response that it demanded Strang publish. Charisma published that letter on April 4. Here’s just a short excerpt from it:

An objective Mr. Strang might have told the relatively little-known story of TBN’s miraculous growth from one small station in California to over two dozen international networks and affiliates broadcasting the good news of Jesus Christ to every inhabited continent 24 hours a day — billions of souls.

Mr. Strang might have focused in particular on TBN’s six affiliate networks in Russia, its two full-time networks broadcasting the gospel to Muslims around the world, or the 24-hour network established a couple of years ago in Jerusalem that broadcasts the good news to the millions of Russian Jews who have made Israel their home.

Mr. Strang might also have pointed out the state-of-the-art studios TBN is now building in London and Jerusalem for the production of life-changing programming in all of TBN’s international networks and affiliates.

Most importantly, Mr. Strang would have had the opportunity to highlight the more than 36 million decisions for Christ logged by TBN’s prayer partners over the past 40 years, the multiplied millions of prayers answered and lives changes, and the commitment Matt Crouch and the next generation of TBN leadership has for continuing to pursue Paul and Jan Crouch’s undeterred vision of using television to reach the world for Christ.

That’s how this trump card is played. Salvation inflation lets you pump up the numbers into some impressive-sounding huge figure that can be cited — “most importantly” — as evidence of God’s blessing of your righteous work.

TBN, you see, is “using television to reach the world for Christ … billions of souls … 36 millions decisions for Christ …” And unless you’ve reached more billions of souls than they have, and unless you’ve produced more than the “more than 36 millions of decisions for Christ” that TBN has produced, then you’ve got no right to criticize them for their occasional nasty divorce, their coddling of sexual predators or their shameless fleecing of vulnerable poor people year after year after year.

But it doesn’t actually work like that.

Those incredible statistics of evangelistic success don’t outweigh, excuse or erase the loathesome evils of which the Crouches have been accused. Not even if those statistics could be believed.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* We could calculate this at least two ways. Based on 850 conversions a month, it would take 3,529 years to reach 36 million. Or, since February is the shortest month, we could calculate it based on 30.36 conversions per day, which would take only 3,249 years to get to 36 million.

** Those allegations are very disturbing (trigger warning for that link).

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  • How can this post have 82 comments and 0 comments at the same time?

  • Sereg

    because Disqus.

  • Lori

    It always strikes me as funny when televangelists and their followers claim that the size of their media empire is a sign of God’s favor while pointing to the success of popular media as proof of the work of the devil.

  • One could make a hell of a party game out of this. Televangelists, villans from a cheap mid-90s Tarantino clone, or both? (everybody drinks in the latter case.)

  • Launcifer

    Nah, not Tarantino; I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s a still from an unreleased collaboration between John Waters and David Cronenberg.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    Good GRIEF!!! Is Jan Crouch wearing a fright wig!?!? Please, PLEASE tell me this image not for real, please tell me it was taken from a Saturday Night Live skit!

  • P J Evans

    Hasn’t anyone told to the Crouches that they look like something out of 1970s Las Vegas variety shows?

  • c2t2

    Seriously. Has anyone double-checked the EULA to see whether we’ve all agreed to be in some kind of social experiment?

    I’m thinking something along the lines of the frog in slowly-heating water. Disqus is seeing how random and shoddy the commenting system can get before we all bail.

    /easily entertained by conspiracy theories

  • Something humanity needs to happen before either man dies, now that you mention.

  • c2t2

    Needs more shiny! (The hair is spot-on though.)

  • Launcifer

    And a white tiger, for reasons of absurdity.

  • Alix_A

    They look like they’re preparing to eat souls, not save them.

  • It’s the old “every head bowed and every eye closed” trope. Then the minister always says in a really emotional voice “oh yes, I see those hands.” I must have listened to thousands (note my own inflation here) of those sermons when I was in youth group, and I’ve always regretted that I never once had the nerve to open my eyes and look around and see if there were actually any hands at all.

    Course, I think the most egregious abuse of this sort of thing I ever saw happened in my mom’s Sunday School class. She was sick one day, and so I was subbing for her. She taught the toddler class… but for a really long time had been phoning it in and letting her 13 year old “helper” pretty much run the show. So my mom tells me I really don’t have to do anything more than supervise, that this girl will handle the actual lesson.

    Her lesson went like this. She read a Bible story (kids barely paying attention and squirming). She asked how many kids wanted to ask Jesus into their hearts (kids are still barely paying attention, nobody raises their hands). She gives the instruction “raise your hands everybody” (these are fairly obedient 2 year olds, and this is an instruction they understand). All the kids raised their hands, so she made them all “certificates” saying that that was the day they became a Christian. And I’m just watching, horrified, because I was only like, 18 or 19 at the time and really had no authority to DO anything about what was going on.

    And yes, those six or seven “decisions” for Christ got reported in the church’s annual business report. Even though I told my mom what happened and she agreed it was wrong and said she’d have a talk with the girl.

  • Yeah, I was definitely getting a John Waters vibe, too.

  • P J Evans

    I’ve never seen hair that color as anything *but* a wig. And a cheap-looking wig, at that.
    The raccoon eyes and the fake lashes, too.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Why does that woman’s hair remind me The Donald’s hair? And have you seen this caterpillar?

  • I had the misfortune of the TV being on an evangelical channel this morning and woke up to the words “Satan is not a fallen angel and was not a nephilim or a giant. He was born of woman. Cain and Sargon the Magnificent were his sons.”

    I actually wanted to hear more of that, but the preacher apparently didn’t consider it worth discussing.

  • I’ve always thought, very unkindly and I’m sure I’ll go to hell for it, that Paul and Jan Crouch look like retired sex workers.

  • That reminds me of what I read the other week somewhere, that the some of the dualist French Cathari believed that Jesus was Satan’s younger brother.

    Oh, I remember where, It was in the “History of the Christian Church” by Williston Walker. I guess I’ll have to get the latest edition, as I have the 1947 printing of the 1918 edition, and it’s missing almost a century of church history and historical research.

  • I was seeing Waters AS Paul Crouch. Maybe John Travolta for Jan.

  • The only difference is in one’s interpretation of the blessed event.

  • Alix

    Oh my god that’s hilarious.

  • Alix

    …How horrible is it that my first question was just what Sargon did to make them hate him – and that I spent five minutes wondering exactly which Sargon they were talking about?

    Edit: almost every hit for “Sargon the Magnificent” goes to a really weird book, or to sites referring to it. Which leaves me … still sort of confused. Apparently it’s all about how Sargon of Akkad was the builder of Uruk (he … wasn’t), which was also written Unuk (I’ve never seen that variant, ever), and was thus the same as the biblical Cain, who according to the Bible founded a city named Enoch, which they claim must by ~linguistics~ be Unuk/Uruk?

    I’m going to spend the rest of my evening beating my head on the desk, now.

    I’ve never heard the “Satan was born of woman” thing before, but there have been at least two branches of Gnostics* who were positive that Cain was indeed the son of Eve and Satan.

    *For a loose definition of “Gnostic,” as one of those groups, from what we can tell, does not seem to quite fit the typical Gnostic theology. Though given how many people use “Gnostic” as a catch-all for “early non-mainstream Christian/quasi-Christian,” it can be damn hard to tell.

  • Ben English

    I remember they had a tagline “Celebrating 37 years of God’s miracles.”

    Which always made me think, what pretentious narcissistic bastards. God wasn’t doing miracles until TBN came into existence? Or only the last thirty-seven years worth of ‘miracles’ are worth celebrating because they’re the only ones that made Jan and Paul rich?

  • Panda Rosa

    Can’t stand most of it, but it was fun to hear Jan Crouch wax rhapsodic over her Doll Ministry. tears thrown in for free, and how she loved to give little Barbies to dirty little third-world kids with grimy hands (okay, she didn’t put it quite that way, but you get the idea). The kids and I called her “The Pink Haired Lady” and considered her a bad cross of Tammy Faye and Dolly Parton. Is she still even on? I still tune in at times, but don’t see Ms. Crouch and her overly-emotional sermons anymore. “There were 17 of us growing up in a tar-paper shack, and we all had to take turns playing with the same toy – a block of wood! (sob, cry, sniffle, sob, bawl).”

  • Launcifer

    I had the same thought, actually. I didn’t know which Sargon, plumped for what might be the obvious choice and spent the last few minutes trying to understand what he’d done to upset whichever cult of twerps came up with that idea.

    In what might be a sign of my sleep-deprived status, however, I then wanted to give whomever came up with that complete arse credit for at least picking someone who existed at about the right point in history to have crossed paths with anyone heralding from the usual whacked-out pseudo-Christian timeline.

    Damn, this is going to be crawling around in the back of mind for *ages* now.

  • Alix

    I … kind of want to write up some crazy crossover between this and the … interesting theory I once encountered, that a pissed-off Babylonian god had once been imprisoned in the Great Pyramid before essentially tunneling his way out and taking a death ray with him.

    I wonder how many people I can con into believing it…

  • Launcifer

    “There were 17 of us growing up in a tar-paper shack, and we all had to take turns playing with the same toy – a block of wood! (sob, cry, sniffle, sob, bawl).”

    Wait, that’s a slight exaggeration, right? Unless, of course, she also wrote the Four Yorkshiremen sketch…

  • Alix

    The other interesting belief I’ve found, regarding Jesus and Satan, is that Satan deceived Jesus into believing he was the Messiah and leading the world astray, when the real Messiah was John the Baptist. This is sometimes coupled with a belief that Jesus and/or his followers arranged John’s execution.

    That’s one “Christian” heresy that actually hasn’t been fully stamped out.

  • Launcifer

    Depends what kind of death ray it was, really, doesn’t it? ;)

  • arresi

    I once had a class where the tables and chairs were rearranged every week. Seriously, no repeats in almost two months. Once the tables were arranged in a herringbone pattern. A herringbone pattern. A social experiment is my least insane theory. /also easily entertained by conspiracy theories

  • Todd Sweeney

    OMG, that hair, that hair! I had to click through just for that hair.

    Hey, if these were supervillians from a 1970’s Eurospy flic, then wouldn’t Sargon the Magnificent be perfect for him?

  • Alix

    …Are you serious? That’s kind of awesome.

    I had one teacher in high school who rearranged the desks into a smiley face on a lark, but that was a one-time thing he did, apparently, just for the hell of it. (FYI, nobody sat in the eyeballs.)

  • Alix


    I am never going to hear the name “Sargon” again without breaking out into fits of giggles, am I?

  • Launcifer

    Heh. I can’t help but think that’s just Elvira’s “at home” hairpiece, myself.
    And now I’ll stop being cruel.

  • Launcifer

    To be fair, it does sound like something you’d put in a dishwasher anyway, so maybe a fit of the giggles is something of an improvement.

  • Justme

    Sargon II of Assyria was the king who’s generally credited with the final conquest of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the exile of the 10 tribes..

  • Alix

    Yeah, and that’s initially who I assumed they were on about, but “Sargon the Great” usually (but not always!) refers to Sargon of Akkad, hence my initial confusion.

    And all those pages I found on my Google search were explicitly referring to Sargon of Akkad. Even if they weren’t, their crazy theories don’t fit Sargon II any better.

  • Well, Uruk was called Unug by the Sumerians-

    I find it plausible that “Enoch” is a transliteration of “Unug”, but, as I am not a linguist, I cannot be sure of this idea. I have found almost no scholarly support for it, but no clear refutation of it. I have found that the author of thinks it plausible that “Irad” is based on “Eridu”.

  • Alix

    Interesting. Clearly, I am far more used to Akkadian. (And I’m kicking myself, ’cause I actually have a Sumerian lexicon.)

    Erech is the usual Biblical spelling of Uruk, and it would seem a bit odd, to me, for the Bible to have two versions of the name for the same city, especially when one is essentially a throwaway line in a genealogy. And none of this changes the fact that no matter how you slice it, Sargon didn’t found Uruk, so he can’t be an exiled Cain.

    …Then again, it’s been seriously proposed, for a definition of “seriously” that means “by wacky fringe theorists,” that the “Enoch” city Cain founded was really Tenochtitlan. Usually accompanied by bizarre claims about how the “mark of Cain” is some stereotypical aspect of Native American phenotypes.

    More seriously, though, I am generally skeptical of any argument that hinges on linguistic evidence alone, or mythical/legendary evidence. (This is why, by the by, I get really tetchy about the ancient matriarchy theories – they rest on mythic evidence not actually backed up by archaeology.) Language is … funny, and just ’cause things sound similar doesn’t mean they’re necessarily related. We know Erech derives from Uruk, but while Unug –> Enoch may seem plausible, I’ve never seen it seriously proposed by actual scholars, and there’s the obvious question of the transmission of that form of the name.

    I still can’t get over the Sargon thing. Brb, laughing my ass off.

  • Alix

    (putting this in another comment, because my other one’s long enough.)

    In a weird way, I do wonder if these crackpot theorists are right, or sort-of right, but not in the way they think they are. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that things like Cain’s epic bout of city-founding and his descendants’ creation of all of civilization might well be garbled versions of older Mesopotamian civilization-founding myths, and the Cain and Abel story in particular has known precursors – the clash of Shepherd vs. Farmer, which does date back to Sumer.

    So who knows, maybe they’re right with the Uruk/Enoch connection, though it’s a very garbled one, especially because Enoch was supposed to be the first city, but Uruk was not, and the Sumerians knew it. Also, well, Cain was antediluvial, and he doesn’t really match up well with any of the mythical antediluvial rulers in the King Lists. (Abel actually sort of does, though.)

    And, well, there’s the whole Sargon thing, but whatever. I’m almost over that. (Not really.)

    But if these people are right in a skewed sort of way about this connection, that doesn’t argue in favor of their views on the awesome rightness of their weird take on Genesis, but in favor of the Genesis account being a product of an epic game of telephone across thousands of years and several cultures.

    …and I really, really need to stop geeking out about all this, but, well. It’s not every day I get to natter on about my favorite topics, y’know? :P

  • Carstonio

    Occasionally, new comments will be listed as having been posted six months ago, or comments a day old will show up as new ones.

  • I’m a bit sad that all this talk of Cain and Enoch has made it this far without a Vampire: The Masquerade reference. Which makes me want to get a copy of the Book of Nod into this preacher’s hands and tell him that it’s real.

  • Carstonio

    How old is that photo? Reminds me of Tammy Faye Bakker, and not in a comical way. This particular type of patriarchal subculture seems to infantilize women. My theory is there’s a tension between the subculture’s professed values about marriage and its view of wives as trophies. Every other subculture that has the latter view condones the husbands trading in for newer models, literally and figuratively. Perhaps husbands like Paul and Jim subconsciously saw themselves as no different from actors or athletes deserving of trophies. And perhaps Jan and Tammy Faye felt pressured to keep themselves looking like trophies.

  • Cathy W

    I know I’ve seen patriarchal-Christianity quotes that explicitly said a good Christian wife should be slim and fit, in order to maintain her appeal to her husband, and other quotes saying that one of the evils of feminism is that women feel free to “let themselves go”. It’s not just the celebrity pastors who think they deserve trophy wives, I guess…

  • Yeah. I got an update yesterday that indicated it was a new comment on a thread I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was a response to a comment I made 9 months ago. The response was also from 9 months ago.

  • Jamoche

    “Sargon, take me away!”

  • JustoneK

    this has made my morning.

  • Carstonio

    When Swaggart, Bakker and Gorman were wrapped up in scandals, I imagined Falwell and Robertson rubbing their hands in glee, eager to throw those B-listers to the wolves. These two might have been thinking, “Heh heh, let Saturday Night Live and the talk shows have their little jokes. They’ll be two busy to notice us chipping away at that pesky First Amendment.”

  • Vermic

    The dominant figure in any righteous Christian marriage is the hair. When two hairstyles love each other very much, God in His wisdom joins them into an unbreakable family unit. The husband and wife are created to be the hair’s helpmeets and to be equal-yet-subordinate to the hair’s authority, providing emotional support and the occasional rinse.