BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Paul Crouch, once one of the most powerful men in the world of televangelism, has died at 79 after a ten-year battle with degenerative heart disease. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his wife Janice, was a master at pitching the "prosperity gospel," and prosperity surely came his way. Crouch and Janice had "matching his-and-her mansions in Newport Beach, Calif., and used multimillion dollar corporate jets," entertainment.time.com pointed out.
Crouch's wealth not only grew out of the power of his own preaching and fundraising solicitations, it also came from selling time on his network to many of the world's best known preachers. And, the Crouches were ultimate survivors, having, as Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner recently pointed out, "survived many a media exposé."
The Trinity Broadcasting Network, founded in 1973 -- well before the rise of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a decade after Pat Robertson founded his Christian Broadcasting Network -- has been called the world's largest Christian broadcasting network. According to the Associated Press, the Costa Mesa, California-based TBN has "84 satellite channels and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates as well as a Christian amusement park in Orlando."
AP reported that "Crouch began his broadcasting career while studying theology at Central Bible Institute and Seminary in his native Missouri by helping build the campus' radio station. He moved to California in the early 1960s to manage the movie and television unit of the Assemblies of God before founding Trinity Broadcast Network in 1973 with his wife."
As Sarah Posner pointed out in her 2008 book, God's Profits: Faith, fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, on any given day, a "stable of televangelists -- Rod Parsley, John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Hagin, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, and many others – pay TBN to peddle their prosperity gospel through its airwaves." Posner pointed out that these preachers often "plead for money on the grounds that airtime is very expensive, raising the question: if TBN's purported goal is spreading the Gospel throughout the world, why wouldn't it let these anointed ones is the airwaves at cost?"
It should also be noted that several of the Posner-named televangelists, who have been raking in boatloads money for many years, have been involved in an assortment of financial and sexual scandals of their own.
For years, Crouch was the face of TBN, appearing "on camera, microphone in hand, quoting from the Bible and delivering his upbeat brand of Christianity," The New York Times noted. "But he also faced criticism over lavish spending of the millions of dollars in donations collected through the network. Last year, his granddaughter accused the network of financial improprieties, and her father, Paul Crouch Jr., was forced off the staff."
Paul and Janice Crouch turned fleecing the flock into an empire of mansions, private jets, and an assortment of moneymaking enterprises. Last year, the New York Times reported that they "have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community [in Newport Beach], provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, ... 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." Her husband had "an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch's chauffeur."
God's Profits pointed out that George W. Bush's team, spearheaded by Doug Wead, head of evangelical outreach, and Karl Rove, cozied up to Crouch and he eventually became a big-time supporter. Posner reported that Crouch had invited Al Gore to appear on the network but later withdrew the invitation and moved into the Bush camp, and Bush did not have to appear on the network.
Crouch was elated that Bush chose his friend John Ashcroft as Attorney General, saying: "Christians finally have an opportunity to BLESS America!" TBN supported "Bush and the Republicans during Bush's first term," as Crouch often had conservative e Republicans as featured guests.
"Just before the 2004 election, Crouch pulled out more ammunition in support of Bush. In one program in which he expressed support for the war in Iraq, he griped about the "liberal left-wing media['s]" coverage of it," Posner pointed out. While Crouch professed that he wasn't telling people how to vote, he urged viewers to "check the voting records of those candidates you're voting on and see where they stand and how they line up with the holy word of God."
In a recent column at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner noted that "In 2004, the conservative Christian financial watchdog Ministry Watch issued a scathing report on the network, charging that its 'huge cash stockpile' should be spent on charitable works, rather than on the Crouches' personal luxuries. That same year, the Los Angeles Times ran a damning three-part exposé of the family's mansions, luxury cars, and private airplane. But perhaps the most damaging revelation was the claim by Crouch's former chauffeur, Lonnie Ford, that Crouch had paid him $425,000 in hush money to keep silent, Ford claimed, about how he was forced to have sex with Crouch to keep his job. On the air, Crouch called the story a 'pack of lies right out of the pit of hell.' Other prosperity televangelists closed ranks around Crouch; the enemy, after all, was the secular media."
Paul Crouch is dead. His wife Janice and the non-disaffected members of his family will soldier, especially considering that the Crouch family has a high metabolism for fleecing the flock.
(Photo: David Joyce)