Trinity Broadcasting celebrates 3,249 years of evangelistic success

Trinity Broadcasting celebrates 3,249 years of evangelistic success May 2, 2013

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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  • Wednesday

    Given that for two solid weeks Disqus just didn’t load for me on any computer I tried (and I tried Linux, Windows, and Mac machines), I’m going with social experiment.

  • The sharing button problem may be due to the fact that Patheos as a whole seemed to totally drive off the road for a couple hours this morning.

  • How *dare* you imply Elvira looks like Jan Crouch!

  • (I was going to say this even before I realized there was a bandwagon to jump on)


  • What she was teaching those kids was something alone the lines of, “When someone says ‘Jesus’ you say ‘Yay!’ Don’t think, just do it.”

    Unfortunately a lifetime of lessons like that are why some people can celebrate the messenger so passionately while missing the message so completely.

  • …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

    By all means, keep geeking. I find it both refreshing and enlightening to hear from the perspective of someone who actually knows a few things about ancient-era Mesopotamian myths and languages. They had a huge influence on the Abrahamic religions which had in turn a huge influence on western culture in general, and a lot of people seem to ignore that connection.

  • I find it ironic that there was such a furor over Dungeons & Dragons being satanic, while at much of the same time there was a different RPG going on where the characters themselves were literally damned by God (though not necessarily by fault of their own) and trace their linage back to Cain from the Bible, and the Satan-panickers almost completely ignored it.

  • “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).”

    To prevent the glurge-reflex, such a statement should only ever be made as intentional hyperbole for encouragement:

    “When I joined the corp, we didn’t have any fancy-shmancy tanks. We had sticks! Two sticks and a rock for the whole platoon. And we had to share the rock!”

  • Panda Rosa

    Actually I read than Jan Crouch, for all her Good Xian Wife thing, refused to tone down her famous hair or her clothes. She’s the most entertaining of the whole sorry crew and I suspect Paul knows it and resents it.

  • Panda Rosa

    Well, one of them has got to be the Evil Twin! Trouble is, I’m not sure which one…

  • Alix

    Thanks. :) I’m working towards a history degree, with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, and I’m just a little obsessed with mythology and, yeah. Not often I get to ramble on about either, really, except to myself.

    Also, crazy conspiracy theories are so much fun. Which is why I totally watch Ancient Aliens religiously, which is probably something I shouldn’t readily admit to in public.

    Probably not quite the best way to break out of lurker-dom, but it works. XD

  • Alix

    And see, here I thought Jesus was the first vampire. Either that, or his crucifixion triggered the world’s first zombie apocalypse.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Curse you for beating me to that; that was the first thing I thought of as well.

  • Ancient Aliens is entertaining, provided you take it with a just a small pinch of salt. Here’s my pinch:

  • A small pinch?? Three tons!

    So the commentators here will not yet again falsely accuse me of supporting religious fundamentalism, I ask them to read my reviews of the above-linked-to film:

  • That is extraordinarily unfair and cruel to retired sex workers. I’m not joking.

  • It’s funny. Somehow the Vatican and other religious groups are accused of covering up for or “coddling” sexual predators. The wording distances. Who are they covering up for? People high in their ranks who ARE sexual predators. Married male religious leaders saying rape is good if the women being raped are married to the men raping them are called rape apologists, as if they’re just saying this is something good and not practicing it themselves.

    This wording, repeated everywhere, makes it look like the sexual predators are made of smoke. It’s like saying someone “supports meat eating” when they just ate a hamburger, or that they’re “coddling bank robbers” when they just held a gun to a bank clerk’s head. They ARE sexual predators. They ARE rapists.

  • Alix

    A small pinch?? Three tons!

    Yeah, no kidding. That’s the fun of it. :P

    I swear, you can judge the craziness of any given ep. by the craziness of that one guy’s hair. (I never remember his name, but anyone who’s seen even clips of the show remembers that hair!)

  • banancat

    I’ve already mostly bailed. Except for the Left Behind posts, I visit each post pretty much exactly once. I rarely bother to check for new comments anymore, and there are some posts that I don’t bother reading at all anymore. Commenting is half the experience of reading blogs, and if the comments aren’t as good as they used to be, sometimes I don’t feel like reading a post at all. And I rarely read it on my phone anymore like I used to. Disqus has managed to cut blog traffic pretty drastically because I know I’m not the only to feel this way. I completely gave up on a blog that had the screwy nesting early, like several months ago. I hope I don’t just completely lose interest in Slacktivist too.

  • I’m really confused. Isn’t Sargon the glowing sphere thing that possessed Captain Kirk and then later got chopped and welded onto Nomad to make the Romulan Cloaking device?

  • If it weren’t for the option to subscribe, I know I wouldn’t be here nearly as much either. Traffic definitely seems to have diminished since the “update.” The only threads that go on for more than one page seem to be the ones with trolls and the Left Behind threads (which definitely don’t get as much traffic as they used to either).

    I just try and nip in and subscribe to every post early, so I can actually see the replies in chronological order. Watch, the next update will take that away. -_-

  • P J Evans

    I noticed that. It looked like the servers were down.

  • P J Evans

    True, I really doubt that retired sex workers would bother with the wig and the makeup. (They probably look like everyone else.)

  • Valancy Jane

    I really thought that photo of the Crouches was a still from a SNL sketch. They’re caricatures–him of the weasel conjob, her of that oddly asexual overblown trophy wife. It’s pathetic that they seem to be taking all the responsibility for these “miracles” themselves, anyway. I thought Christians gave their god the glory and considered themselves conduits, not the stars of the show.

  • A quick google makes it appear that “Sargon the Magnificent” is one particular person’s (I won’t say ‘scholar’) bete noire, so just google for that and have at.

  • Do they wear necklaces with severed heads on platters? I’ve always wanted there to be a John the Baptist cult just for that.

  • The NWod’s take on theology is somewhat more involved and coherent, IMO. Try the Testament of Longinus.
    (I really prefer oWod for most things, but nWod’s background info is often ace. I still think they entirely munged Vampire rituals and Mage as a whole in the new version tho; the Mage 20th Anniversary looks very good.)

  • Mark Z.

    Nah, once you get to a certain level of celebrity you’re allowed to take credit for miracles. You have to frame it as “God has blessed our ministry by doing X” rather than actually saying “We did X”, but what’s important is that you’re on God’s VIP list.

  • Valancy Jane

    I was once married to an abusive, manipulative, lying narcissist of a preacher who was like that. At some point they begin believing their own press. It didn’t help that he was reallllly good at acting all sanctified, so people literally said he had “he red bat-phone to God.” The more righteous the person acts, the less I believe it, nowadays. Being that puffed up is not restricted to Christianity, obvs. I’ve seen pagans do the same thing even though they’re not under the same restriction to pretend whatever the event was had nothing to do with them personally. People are people, and we do love attention.

  • reynard61

    “Also, crazy conspiracy theories are so much fun.”

    At least until believers in them start getting elected into National office and start turning them into laws and policy.

  • Alix

    Yeah. Like most things, it’s only fun so long as nobody’s getting hurt.

  • Also, crazy conspiracy theories are so much fun.

    I agree, it is fun. It is why I like things like Deus Ex (which is a kind of conspiracy kitchen sink.) But at least we know that these are just fun. Sadly, some people take them way too seriously.

  • I got it! DC Comics used to have a character called Sargon the Sorcerer. This has been bothering me for two days now. I finally remembered the rest of the name just as I was going to sleep last night.

  • This. I really wish Disqus would reinstate the old, simple, easy, flat system because as it is, it’s annoying as hell.

  • VMink

    Reminds me of the RPG I ran once* where Yeshua, son of El Shaddai, was the brother of Baal Hadad, and Hadad had been suborned into being the War Horseman of the Apocalypse. For all of Heaven’s a stage, and a god may play many parts. Or something.

    * – The most dangerous words in the role-player’s grammar: “My game, let me tell you about it forever.”

  • VMink

    Indeed, I’m finding this thread fascinating!

  • VMink

    Darnit, I will not laugh my kiester off at work, not when we’ve lost all the cubicles….

  • Be glad you aren’t here. I just about knocked myself over giggling a second ago. I “ACK ACK ACK”ed at the picture (because, you know, I’m silly that way) and a bird outside the window started peeping at me in a panic.

  • GDwarf

    Do they wear necklaces with severed heads on platters? I’ve always wanted there to be a John the Baptist cult just for that.

    My dad knows someone who was from…gah, mind’s left me, somewhere in the Middle East, who said he was a Baptist. This confused my dad a bit, and he asked if there were many Baptists, and was told no, not too many, it’s a very old group that was largely displaced by Christians. Now very confused my dad tried to clear things up, and found out that the man meant that he and his family were followers of John the Baptist.

    So they certainly exist.

  • Alix

    (Way late, but) I know one group is the Mandaeans in Iraq*, who were devastated by the aftermath of the US invasion.

    *And other places, but Iraq used to be their heartland.