Paul Crouch is the founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. This past Saturday he died. In the absence of Christopher Hitchens to give a fitting eulogy for such an obscene con man, I’ll do my damndest.
The Crouches collected donations from the faithful to do the work of god, who apparently wanted the them to use money taken from people living paycheck to paycheck to live a life of opulence unparalleled by any dreams of heaven:
Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.
Just recently Crouch’s own grand-daughter, previously the director of finances for TBN, was fired for insisting on ethical spending policies. After her termination she came forward with even more ways the Crouch’s were spending the money that was donated to their “ministry”:
Ms. Koper described company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on “excess compensation” by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.
The lavish perquisites, corroborated by 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 money.
In the lawsuits and interviews, Ms. Koper, 26, also charges that TBN has spent millions of dollars in sweetheart deals with a commercial film company owned until recently by a son of the Crouches, Matthew, including poorly monitored investments made after he joined the TBN board in 2007.
“My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses,” Ms. Koper said. This is one way, she said, the company avoids probing questions from the I.R.S. She said that the absence of outsiders on TBN’s governing board — currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch — had led to a serious lack of accountability for spending.
Ms. Koper and the two other former 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 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,” she said.
The company did not always succeed. Last year, officials in Orange County, Fla., turned down TBN’s application to register the adjacent lakefront houses in Windermere 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 getting tax exemptions for their business because they are a religion. Another former employee talked about what it was like working around Mrs. Crouch:
Mr. Clements, a former executive at Holy Land Experience, said that when employees questioned decisions like remodeling the cafe three times in six weeks, Mrs. Crouch said, “No one has told me ‘no’ for 30 years, and you’re not going to start now.”
Mr. Clements, who was sales and then personnel director at Holy Land, said that he resigned in frustration in 2008 and that working for Mrs. Crouch had often been “surreal.”
In 2008 and 2009, as Mrs. Crouch began remodeling Holy Land Experience, she rented adjacent rooms in the deluxe Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando — one for herself and one for her two beloved Maltese dogs and clothes, according to Mr. Clements and Ms. Koper. Mrs. Crouch rented the rooms for close to two years, they said.
What really gets me is wondering what the TBN viewers can possibly be thinking. They are told by the Crouch’s that if they give generously that god will repay it tenfold. They hold themselves up as examples, for look at how good god has been to the Crouch’s. Do none of them think, even for a moment, that the reason the Crouch’s are doing so well is because the TBN viewers keep sending them money?
Do they think the Crouch’s are doing god’s work, and it was god, not the TBN viewers, who provided them with their embarrassment of luxuries?
There’s the idea that we should never celebrate the death of another human being. But all of us can acknowledge that there are people out there who are just bad people, who are so bereft of empathy that they’ll harm others to elevate themselves. Many of the most unscrupulous members of this species have found out just how eagerly prey will deliver itself once you don a clerical collar and claim to have god’s ear. For cruel hucksters of this nature I have no remorse asserting that the world is a better place without them – without men like Paul Crouch. The cross around his neck did not unmake his misdeeds. In all actuality, it enabled him to perpetrate them. If asked who loves humanity more, the man who took money from people of low-to-normal income to spread the word of god but who instead used it to buy mansions, or the person who cares about the conned enough to rejoice that they are free of the predator, I think the answer is obvious.
Sadly, Crouch created a monster that will continue to siphon funds from the poor and middle class to finance a life of excess long after his demise. I am happy he left us with a grand-daughter who conquered Crouch’s genetics by developing a conscience.
Religious people will read this article and conclude that I loathe religious leaders. No, I just loathe the ones without any moral impulse toward their fellow human beings. I loathe bad people, and that includes the bad people quoting scripture.