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Growth of a dynasty

The Orange County Register, USA
June 1, 1998
Kim Christensen and Carol McGraw, The Orange County Register
www.ocregister.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday June 1, 1998

They are among the most influential of modern-day evangelists, photographed with presidents and queens, traveling the world by private jet, a channel to God for 8 million saved souls.

But to their legion of faithful viewers they are just everyday folks, Jan and Paul, ever welcome in the living rooms of America.

“You have loved us and supported us even when the TV screen was snowy and the set was a Sears shower curtain with two folding chairs!” Paul Crouch writes in a 25th anniversary photo album sent to viewers who make fund pledges.

“The world laughed even some of the Church laughed but with 768 stations on the air worldwide, well … they’re not laughing anymore.”

TBN: The Gospel of Prosperity

PART 1: A worldwide television ministry prospers

Television has built TBN into a power
The Orange County-based network has grown in 25 years from one station to 750, largely thanks to gifts from viewers.

PART 2: The theology behind Trinity Broadcasting

TBN anything but traditional
The Costa Mesa-based ministry stands apart, even from its often-dramatic Pentecostal cousins.

Growth of a dynasty
They are among the most influential of modern-day evangelists, photographed with presidents and queens, traveling the world by private jet, a channel to God for 8 million saved souls.

PART 3: Millions for a new world headquarters

TBN’s headquarters built on grand scale
Supporters say the heavenly make- over is a tribute to a higher power. But it carries a lofty price.

Private suite is a sight to behold, carpenters say
But the public won’t see it. A TBN official describes it as ‘standard executive offices.’

TBN was born in 1973, but its roots reach back to a hot summer day in 1956, when Paul Franklin Crouch first laid eyes on Janice Wendell at a religious “camp meeting” in Rapid City, S.D.

Heads turned as a “98-pound angel” in a bright red dress glided toward the front of the room, Crouch wrote in his 1993 memoir, “I Had No Father But God: A Personal Letter to My Two Sons.”

The son of Christian missionaries, Crouch found the courage after the services to introduce himself to the blue-eyed 18-year-old, whose parents also were evangelists. The two struck up a friendship and were married a year later.

“Call me prejudiced if you will, but the veiled vision that once glided down that aisle was the most beautiful, the most stunning, the most gorgeous, the most glorious … well, adjectives finally run out,” Crouch wrote.

As a kid, he was an avid ham radio operator and dreamed of being an FBI agent. Later, at Central Bible Institute in Missouri, he and some others started a tiny radio station, opening their first broadcast with “Hello, world,” a greeting he still uses.

Ever since then, the Crouches have been conquering the airwaves for Christ, extolling the virtues of satellites in the same breath as Scripture. They now oversee a $100-million-a-year enterprise.

“They just push and push and push and push and push,” said Jeffrey K. Hadden, a University of Virginia sociologist who has written extensively about televangelism.

“They have this sense that they are God’s agents on Earth,” he added. “There are ‘minions of Satan’ who attempt to stand in their way, but through the blessings of God, and the hard work of the people that God has delivered to Paul to help him, they will overcome everything.”

For years the Crouches have shunned what they call the “secular press.” They refused requests to be interviewed for this series.

To millions who tune in to their folksy “Praise the Lord” shows, they are simply Jan and Paul, she of the big hair and Little Bo Peep dresses, he of the trademark blazers bearing the distinctive TBN crest.

At 64, he favors cowboy-cut suits and reptile-skinned boots, technicolor silk shirts and jackets adorned with TBN’s lion of Judea logo. He has silver hair and a graying mustache, and walks with a bent gait, as if lugging a carton of Bibles across a just-plowed cornfield.

In the world of Pentecostals, where lack of emotional showmanship is a death sentence, he can shout hallelujah at the devil with the best of them. But it is his quieter moments, when he gathers misty-eyed at the piano to sing old hymns with his “Praise the Lord” guests, that he is at his most effective, a vulnerable man searching out his God.

Jan, 60, is more flamboyant.

Her brown eyes are rimmed by large false eyelashes and kohl liner. Her eyebrows are penciled into peaks. Her big hair is in a constant state of evolution curling this way one day, cascading that way the next, in shades of light pink to deep champagne.

Her attire is just as eye-catching, though her favored many-tiered taffetas and electric-blue boots in recent months have been augmented by sleeker, form-fitting gowns.

She giggles and coos and sings and speaks in tongues and sobs and clutches white hankies. She often talks in that high-pitched voice many save for cute puppies, addressing her viewers as “you precious little people.”

She speaks candidly of her own trials and tribulations, including a bout of numbing depression years ago when her two sons were young.

“I didn’t want to do anything but die,” she said in a TBN video, blaming her condition on the devil: “Satan was after Trinity.”

Paul, too, has had his Pentecostal moments. In 1975, when TBN was poised on the frontier of television technology, he had what he calls a “classical vision” while praying.

“All of a sudden it was as though the ceiling of my den literally became a giant television screen,” he recalls in a TBN video, in which he describes seeing an outline of North America, with brilliant streams of connecting light.

“God spoke as clearly to my spirit as I’ve ever heard him speak. One resounding, ringing word satellite.”

For the newlyweds 42 years ago, home was a little duplex in Springfield, Mo., where Paul earned $50 a week in the film department at the Gospel Publishing House of the Assemblies of God.

That was followed by a stint as assistant pastor at a church in Rapid City, where he also worked as a disc jockey at a 250-watt radio station and later as an announcer and director for a TV station.

The Crouches also spent a couple of years in Michigan before making the big move to Southern California for a job with the Assemblies of God film studios. With their two young sons in the back seat and their earthly possessions in a rented U-Haul trailer, they set out for Burbank on Thanksgiving Day 1961.

“We felt a little like ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ as we rolled west toward the Golden State,” Paul wrote.

TBN: The Blasphemy Network

Trintiy Broadcasting Network (TBN), led by founders Paul and Jan Crouch, is the world’s largest religious TV network. It claims to be a Christian ministry.

However, while some legitimate ministries and teachers (those who adhere to the orthodox teachings and practices of historical Christianity) appear on TBN, the network promotes such an incredible amount of heretical material – including extremist Word-Faith teachings – that it is often referred to as “The Blasphemy Network.”

In March 1973, as the Crouches were headed home from an event in Hollywood, God told Paul it was all right to start his own TV ministry. Paul knew he was on the right path a few days later, during a prayer service.

“Suddenly, without warning, our pastor, Syvelle Phillips, moved by divine revelation, leaped to his feet and decared: ‘A new television ministry is being born!’ ” he wrote. “It felt like a mighty bolt of electricity crackled through the air as wave after wave of glory swept through the room and into our very souls!”

The Crouches made a deal to broadcast on KBSA-TV/46, and rented studio space at 111 W. Dyer Road in Santa Ana. Three months after God told the Crouches to start their own TV ministry, TBN signed on the air May 28, 1973.

The original directors also included the Rev. Ralph Wilkerson, founder of Melodyland Christian Center, near Disneyland; and Jim Bakker, who later spent five years in prison for fleecing his PTL Club flock of $158 million.

Crouch had known Bakker from their days together at a church in Michigan. In California, Bakker concentrated on creative and artistic issues and Crouch took care of the business side. But after only a few months, the two had major disagreements about which direction the ministry should take.

In his book, Crouch contends that Bakker tried to wrest control of the ministry from him. Shortly after the ministry bought a new station, KTBN-TV/40, Bakker left TBN in a huff, Crouch wrote.

Bakker and his ex-wife, Tammy Faye, did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.

Tammy Faye, in her book “Telling it My Way,” offers a different version of events, writing that Jan Crouch goaded Paul to take control so he could be in front of the camera at all times. She said her husband told her Paul Crouch had stacked the board of directors against them to force them out.

“I was angry. I was hurt and felt terribly betrayed by Jan, my good friend,” Tammy Faye wrote. “We had lived together, raised our children together, we had prayed and cried together.”

Despite the falling out, she still expressed a fondness for TBN.

“I am so glad that something we helped to build so many years ago is still going strong for the glory of God.”

Read The Orange County Register online

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