Evangelist Cerullo is welcomed warmly
Three days after being indicted by a federal grand jury in California on allegations he underreported his income by $550,000, evangelist Morris Cerullo kept on his Mission to America schedule Friday and preached to a crowd of enthusiastic Christians in Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
A huge banner in Uihlein Hall proclaimed, “There is a power so strong, it makes rulers of this world tremble” and “Come as you are, leave as you’ve always wanted to be.”
“God said to me, ‘You tell my people here in Milwaukee that the devil is not in control,’ ” Cerullo said to loud applause, adding later, “The power of God is going to hit this building tonight.”
Although his name is not a household word in Wisconsin, Cerullo is known in evangelical and Pentecostal circles. He holds crusades internationally and reaches across the United States with INSP – The Inspiration Network, a 24-hour broadcasting ministry that he grew after buying the former PTL Network in 1990 during the court-supervised bankruptcy of fallen evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker.
His San Diego-based Morris Cerullo World Evangelism reports that the network – which carries his half-hour “Victory” show of healing testimonials, speakers, and music from crusades around the world – is carried on 2,000 cable TV systems in the United States. Located in Charlotte, N.C., and run by his son, David, the broadcast ministry also uses global satellites to reach abroad.
Cerullo’s legal problems did not daunt Harry Gamm, 62, associate pastor at Metro Harvest Church in Menomonee Falls and a longtime admirer. He said he would find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe such charges about a man so respected and proven in ministry.
About 350 people were present Friday night. Gamm said Cerullo is not well-known in this area, and that he has seen Cerullo draw 3,000 to 5,000 people in other states.
Cerullo, who is in his early 70s, has not been on the level of evangelists such as Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts in the U.S., but he’s in the tier below them, said Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., a professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
Cerullo spokesman Greg Mauro said the crusade here, which runs through this morning, is a collaboration with about 30 area churches and is part of a multi-city crusade.
Citing meeting and speaking engagements today and beyond, Mauro said Cerullo did not have time for an interview on short notice.
Mauro said Cerullo could not talk about the indictment Friday, which charged him with three counts of filing false federal income tax returns. He forwarded a statement from Cerullo’s attorney, which says Cerullo was disappointed that charges were filed and believes they are without merit.
Born in New Jersey and ordained a minister in the early 1950s, Cerullo says he had a vision and received a call from God at age 15.
A speaker Friday said 80% of his ministry has been abroad.
Since the 1960s, he has held many crusades in South America and Africa, and others in Europe, Russia, Indonesia, and the Middle East, according to his Web site and news reports.
Evangelical and Pentecostal definitions overlap, but Cerullo is a Pentecostal, Robeck said.
“He teaches classic Pentecostal theology – salvation through faith, a high level of appreciation of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, even the divine healing often found in evangelical circles,” said Robeck, an Assemblies of God minister whose academic specialties include Pentecostalism. “What separates them is his call for baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, miracles, and signs and wonders.”
Some former employees of Cerullo accused him of “unethical and fraudulent fund-raising techniques” in a lawsuit in 2000 that was dismissed on constitutional religious-freedom grounds, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I am sure there are a lot of people out there for whom Morris Cerullo and his message have probably really helped and improved their lives,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
“It always is kind of strange, that a message of Christianity is attended with all these kinds of enormous issues that have to do with money and wealth, which is really so much the antithesis of what Christianity was about.”