I’m aware that it is thought to be in bad taste to speak ill of the dead, but there are some people for whom I am willing to make an exception. One of them died over the weekend: Paul Crouch, the founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and perhaps the widest disseminator of heresy in the history of Christianity. According to the Los Angeles Times:
In the mid-1970s a vision came to Paul Crouch, but it wasn’t what a man of the cloth might have expected.If it had been “plastics,” the world would have been better off.
A map of North America had appeared on his ceiling, glowing with pencil-thin beams of light that shot in every direction. “Lord,” asked Crouch, a Pentecostal minister, “what does this mean?”
God, according to Crouch, had just one word for him: “Satellite.”
The controversial pioneer of televangelism, whose broadcast empire was called “one of evangelicalism’s most successful and far-reaching media enterprises” by the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, died Saturday, said his grandson, Brandon Crouch. He was 79.I’m not sure why he was in the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, since he was anything but.
The son of a poor missionary, Crouch was known for preaching a gospel of prosperity. His twice-yearly Praise-a-Thons on TBN generated as much as $90 million a year in donations, mostly in small amounts from lower-income Americans. “When you give to God,” Crouch said in a typical appeal, “you’re simply loaning to the Lord and he gives it right on back.”Not only was Crouch one of the sleaziest of the Word of Faith preachers, he also provided many of them a platform from which to spout their nonsense.
Crouch’s main mission was to build an alternative to secular media, a dream he achieved with single-minded devotion and creativity. TBN, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is a 24-hour family of networks with something for nearly every evangelical Christian demographic. Offerings have included Biblical cartoons and soap operas, game shows, programs on fitness and faith healing, religious movies and late-night Christian rock videos. Prominent independent ministers such as Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Schuller bought airtime on TBN, which also broadcast Billy Graham’s crusades.He also gave air time to such notables as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Frederick Price, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and a host of other Word of Faith charlatans.
The center of Trinity’s lineup has long been the nightly talk show “Praise the Lord.” Hosted by the silver-haired Crouch and his flamboyantly coiffed wife, it emanates from an Orange County studio decorated with stained-glass windows, gilded imitation antiques and plush pews for the audience.This was the spoiled, rotten fruit of the Word of Faith idiocy that was the one consistent product of this cultic enterprise.
The extravagance carried over to Crouch’s personal life, provoking criticism from watchdog groups as well as members of his family. He and his wife had access to TBN’s multimillion-dollar private jets and more than two dozen ministry-owned homes, including his-and-her mansions in Newport Beach, a mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead and a ranch in Texas.
In 2012, granddaughter Brittany Koper, who had been the network’s finance director, went public with detailed allegations of fiscal improprieties, including excessive salaries, four-figure expense-account meals and a $100,000 mobile home for Jan Crouch’s dogs paid with tax-exempt donations.
Koper’s accusations were widely covered by the mainstream press, as was a charge by her sister, Carra Crouch, who said she was raped by a TBN employee and forced by her family to cover up the crime.
Amid the flurry of negative headlines, their father, Paul Jr., quit TBN, where he had held staff and board positions, leaving his younger brother, Matthew, as heir apparent.
The family disputes were the latest in a series of embarrassing events over recent years, including news reports in 2004 that Crouch had paid a former employee $425,000 to keep quiet about claims of a homosexual tryst. Crouch denied having sexual contact with the employee.
Crouch “has a mixed legacy,” said Kurt Fredrickson, associate dean of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary, the evangelical graduate school in Pasadena.I have no doubt that God can use all manner of bad people to bring forth good, but that doesn’t make those people righteous. Nor is there any honor in hiding or diminishing the truth about the damage a person has done to the gospel. Paul Crouch and his Word of Faith buddies have spread some of the most ridiculous as well as some of the most anti-biblical drivel imaginable over the last forty years, in the process warping the faith and damaging the psyches of an incalculable number of people, and bringing the gospel into disrepute with many more. World-wide, there are few men who claimed to be Christian who have done more harm to the cause of Christ than Paul Crouch, and if saying so means I am guilty of bad taste, sue me.
“He has had a wonderful and profound influence on people’s lives individually. His pioneering work with a new technology has been extremely influential. But that gets tarnished by some of the negative issues that damaged his reputation and hurt what I would call the cause of Christ,” Fredrickson said. “I know too many people who turn on TBN because it’s as good as ‘Saturday Night Live’ sometimes. They say, ‘Wow, this is just so outlandish’ or ‘I wish I had a gold throne.’ They’re intrigued by the side-showness of it.”
At the same time, the television ministry molded the spiritual habits of masses of people, leading to “the conversion, healing, and baptism of thousands who have reported their experiences in letters to the Crouches,” J. Gordon Melton and Jon R. Stone wrote in “Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting.”
Said Pastor Jack Hayford, whose services at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys were broadcast on TBN for more than 30 years: “It is no exaggeration of terms to describe Dr. Paul Crouch’s contribution to global Christianity as incalculably broad.”