Live TBN Fund Drive Axed
Costa Mesa-based Christian broadcaster will use reruns for its 'Praise-a-thon' after a sex allegation settlement was revealed last month.
Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times October 27, 2004.
Trinity Foundation furnished substantial investigative data for this story.
By William Lobdell and Stuart Pfeifer
Trinity Broadcasting Network,
a Christian television ministry shaken last month by allegations that its
founder had engaged in a homosexual tryst, has dropped plans for its annual
live fall telethon next week and instead will show 40 hours of reruns of
The twice-annual "Praise-a-thons" have been a fund-raising mainstay of the
Orange County-based network since its birth 31 years ago and now brings in
more than $90 million in pledges each fall and spring.
said the decision was made weeks ago and was prompted largely by concerns
about the health of network co-founder Paul Crouch, 70, and his wife Jan,
66, who remain the most popular on-air personalities for the world's largest
But observers were quick to suggest that
TBN was reacting to news reports last month revealing that Paul Crouch secretly
paid an accuser $425,000 in 1998 to keep quiet about claims of a homosexual
encounter with the televangelist. Crouch has denied the allegations.
"To take the live broadcasting off — I can't imagine [that]," said R. Marie
Griffith, a scholar at Princeton University who studies evangelical Christians
and the media. "It suggests a very strong sense of the chaos they are undergoing
Griffith and others also said it would be unseemly for the
Crouches to ask for money after articles in The Times detailed the robust
financial health of TBN, which averages annual surpluses of $60 million,
and the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the Crouches.
Jr., a network executive and son of its founding couple, acknowledged that
TBN's decision to go with reruns would take pressure off the guest pastors
scheduled to appear on the "Praise-a-thon."
"It seems that when
TBN is persecuted, so goes the whole body of Christ," Crouch said. "Other
ministries get concerned that they are going to be next on the hit list.
Everyone goes into the alert mode."
But other factors were more
important in deciding to cancel the live telethon, he said. Among them: Jan
Crouch had been slow to recover from recent gall bladder surgery.
And a "best of" format, with segments from past shows edited down to small
chunks, will allow for a faster-paced telethon, he said.
Perhaps more important, he said, Paul and Jan Crouch may no longer be up to appearing on fund-raisers twice a year.
"We're already resigned to the fact that we may only do one live telethon
a year from now on," Crouch said. "With my parents in the sunset of their
lives, it's much easier on them physically, spiritually and emotionally."
A TBN "Praise-a-thon" works like a religious version of a Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Assn. fund-raiser. The show, which
runs for a week, features 24 hours a day of preaching, singing, Bible teaching
and video highlights of the network's work activities around the world.
Pastors plead with viewers to make a pledge so TBN can expand and spread
the Gospel message throughout the world. They also preach heavily on the
"prosperity gospel," a controversial doctrine that says a donation — in this
case, specifically to TBN — will result in blessings from God, material as
well as spiritual. About 200 operators are available to answer the viewers'
Jackie Alnor, a Texas-based Christian writer and longtime
TBN critic who has monitored the "Praise-a-thons" for 20 years, said she
was surprised by the news that the telethon wouldn't be aired live.
"They know that with this 'Praise-a-thon,' [if] they were doing it live,
they would receive a lot of calls questioning the recent articles," she said.
TBN has known adversity before, but it has never altered the Praise-a-thon
routine. In previous years, TBN continued with its live telethons despite
attacks from critics, legal battles with the FCC and, last year, Jan Crouch's
successful battle against colon cancer.
Alnor said TBN preachers
often use such setbacks as leverage for their cause, calling them evidence
that money is needed to combat satanic attacks.
"They say [the adversity]
is a sign that God is about to take TBN to the next level, and the devil
is trying to stop it," Alnor said.
The younger Crouch, who has led
efforts to modernize TBN programming, acknowledged that the network could
have used the recent controversy to spur its fund-raising. Instead, he said,
it chose to try a new approach, one that he hopes will make the telethon
more successful than ever.
"I predict this will be a record 'Praise-a-thon' for us," he said.