TV Preacher Uses Ministry Assets For High Living, Says Paper
A California TV preacher whose network airs some of the most prominent figures on the Religious Right has been accused of using donations from supporters to finance a lavish lifestyle that includes 30 homes, fancy cars and a private jet.
Paul Crouch, founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), became the focus of a Los Angeles Times investigation in September after a former employee accused him of sexual misconduct.
Enoch Lonnie Ford says he met Crouch at a TBN drug rehabilitation facility in 1991 and later went to work for the ministry. He alleges that in 1996 he had a sexual encounter with Crouch at a TBN-owned cabin.
Crouch denies the charges. In 1998, Ford threatened to sue TBN, and Crouch agreed to pay him $425,000 as part of a settlement.
In the course of examining Ford’s allegations, the Times took an in-depth look at TBN and the lifestyles of Paul Crouch and his wife, Jan, who run the ministry.
Although the Crouches’ Pentecostal ministry is not as political as some religious broadcasts, TBN has become a distdtribution point for much Religious Right propaganda. Due to the network’s phenomenal popularity – it claims 5 million viewers daily – other, more politically active TV preachers and far-right leaders pay TBN to air their programs.
TBN’s current roster includes Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” Jay Sekulow’s “ACLJ This Week,” D. James Kennedy’s “Coral Ridge Hour,” Joyce Meyer’s “Enjoying Everyday Life,” and John Hagee’s “John Hagee Today.” In addition, a number of Southern Baptist clergy who are deeply involved in conservative politics air programs on TBN, among them Charles Stanley and Adrian Rogers.
The Times pieces, written by William Lobdell, outlined Crouch’s use of the “prosperity gospel” – the assertion that donating to TBN will cause God to bless the donor and bring untold riches.
Observed Lobdell, “Crouch has used a doctrine called the ‘prosperity gospel’ to underwrite a worldwide broadcasting network and a life of luxury for himself and his wife.”
TBN, the story notes, pays Paul Crouch $403,700 a year and Jan Crouch $361,000. The ministry owns 30 homes around the country that are at the disposal of the Crouches. They travel around the nation in their own $7.2-million jet.
TBN homes include two mansions in Newport Beach, Calif., overlooking the ocean. One of the houses was put on the market recently for $8 million. The ministry also owns 11 homes in a gated community near Trinity City International in Costa Mesa, Calif., as well as a four-bedroom, five-bath house in a resort in the San Bcrnardino Forest and nine houses on 66 acres of property near a ranch in Colleyville, Texas.
The Times reported that TBN officials claim that a Christian drug treatment program uses the Texas property, but local officials say there is no permit for such an operation, and former employees report that it left town years ago.
Ex-employees say the Crouches have expensive tastes and decorate their homes with rare antiques. Ministry credit card receipts from 1994 show that TBN purchased 40 items from an antique store in Brentwood, Tenn., in a single day, among them a $10,000 wine cabinet and a seven-piece bedroom suite for $3,995. In 1995, TBN purchased nearly $33,000 in antiques at a store in Fort Worth in one day.
Despite the Crouches’ constant appeals for money, TBN is, in fact, flush with cash. Its surpluses average $60 million per year, and its 2002 financial report shows assets of $583 million.
The Times profiled several low-income viewers who regularly send money to TBN. While some became disillusioned with the ministry after failing to receive financial windfalls, other still support TBN. One California woman told the paper she sends TBN $70 per month from an $820 disability check.
“They have more money than they need,” Howard “Rusty” Leonard of the group Wall Watchers, a Christian ministry based in Charlotte, N.C., that helps believers make decisions about donating funds, told the Times. “There’s nothing like this. It’s over the top.”
Ole E. Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, a Christian group that is often critical of the excesses of TV preachers, concurred.
“The people on TBN are living the lifestyle of fabulous wealth on the backs of the poorest and most desperate people in our society,” Anthony said. “People have lost faith in God because they believe they weren’t worthy after not receiving their financial blessing.”
Copyright Americans United for Separation of Church and State Nov 2004
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