A soft-voiced woman left a phone message saying she’d read my column chiding Paul Crouch and his money-grubbing evangelizing empire at Trinity Broadcasting Network.
“I prayed about you,” the woman on the phone said, “and the Lord showed me that one day soon you’ll be at TBN on TV publicly apologizing to Mr. Crouch.”
You’ll think I’m being sarcastic — I’m not — when I say I was touched to be in her prayers. That said, I guarantee her I won’t be appearing on TBN and certainly not to apologize.
It galls me that Crouch unashamedly implores poor people to contribute to an empire that has averaged surpluses of $60 million a year since 1997.
It goes without saying that lots of people disagree with me. It’s not exactly news that religious belief has divided people for as long as humans have roamed the planet. I could have filled this column many times over with letters from Crouch supporters — or detractors.
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.”
What interests me, however, about the Crouch empire and others like it is that their critics aren’t all card-carrying members of the American Atheists organization. To be sure, while many professed Christians rebuked me, others applauded and directed their displeasure at Crouch’s opulent lifestyle and his insistence to TV viewers that they should give to TBN, no matter how much it hurts.
From an Oklahoma reader: “Thanks for your column. I’m an evangelical Christian [and a charismatic, no less] but the Crouches are beyond the pale. They are truly an embarrassment. Here’s hoping The Times news stories, columns, etc., will bear fruit.”
An Orange County pastor wrote: “In my opinion, you could have hit ’em much harder and still been fair, but there was a certain kindness in your restraint.”
Referring to the “prosperity gospel” that Crouch preaches to his viewers as a reason they should give, the pastor added: “The perversion of the gospel perpetuated by the likes of TBN makes me want to puke, though I do find solace in the hope of the coming day when the record will be set straight.”
My plan today isn’t simply to open the reader mailbag and let opinions spill out.
It’s to ask why the high-rolling evangelists that dot our TV screens aren’t bothered by their Christian detractors. If I were a TV preacher, it just seems that I’d be troubled knowing that so many of my brethren considered me an embarrassment.
It’s one thing for another Christian to say, “I really admire what you’re doing, Mr. Crouch, but I’m donating my money to other causes.” It’s quite another thing to have a fellow pastor say that your interpretation of the Scriptures makes him want to puke.
Perhaps you’re saying, “They’re probably jealous.” Possibly, but mainstream Protestants seldom had harsh words for Billy Graham and his long-running evangelical campaign.
It’s all about style. Crouch could have gone humble but opted for garish.
While Christians down through the ages grew up reading about the blessedness of the meek and of Jesus’ simplicity, the “prosperity gospelers” like Crouch have turned all that on its head.
It’s that flouting of tradition, I’m sure, that accounts for the antipathy toward TBN. As the local pastor wrote, “It seems like I’m always trying to make sure any appeal for financial partnership doesn’t sound like something you’d expect from TBN.”
You’d think that kind of insult would register with TBN and its like-minded practitioners.
You’d think they’d be chastened by other pastors who blanch at the notion that God’s favor is reflected on how much money a ministry raises, rather than how many souls it enriches.
You’d think so, but they probably don’t. Not as long as those phones keep on ringing.
Oct. 17, 2004 Column