I've ranted and raved against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) for years for the prosperity gospel teachings (and general horrible taste in furniture). However, it looks like the mainstream media is waking up and finding that this behemoth of a network smells fishy.
TBN's founder, Paul Crouch, is involved in a sex scandal. Now,The Los Angeles Times (free registration required) has an excellent investigative piece over at their site called Pastor's Empire Built on Acts of Faith, and Cash. Check it out, it's well worth your time.
Lower-income, rural Americans in the South are among TBN's most faithful donors. The network says that 70% of its contributions are in amounts less than $50.
Those small gifts underwrite a lifestyle that most of the ministry's supporters can only dream about.
Paul, 70, collects a $403,700 salary as TBN's chairman and president. Jan, 67, is paid $361,000 as vice president and director of programming. Those are the highest salaries paid by any of the 12 major religious nonprofits whose finances are tracked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
TBN's "prayer partners" pay for a variety of perquisites as well.
The Crouches travel the world in a $7.2-million, 19-seat Canadair Turbojet owned by TBN. They drive luxury cars. They have charged expensive dinners and furniture to TBN credit cards.
Thirty ministry-owned homes are at their disposal including a pair of Newport Beach mansions, a mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead and a ranch in Texas.
The Crouches' family members share in the benefits. Their oldest son, Paul Jr., earns $90,800 a year as TBN's vice president for administration. Another son, Matthew, has received $32 million from the network since 1999 to produce Christian-themed movies such as "The Omega Code."
Are my native people in the South always suckers for these hucksters? (Think Jim and Tammie Faye in North Carolina) :-(
Speaking of the people who watch and give, there are two fine examples in the story.
Many of these viewers worship in their living rooms. TBN preachers are their pastors.
"I don't go to church -- I turn the TV on and it's right there," said Sherry Peters, a bookkeeper in Mississippi. "Sometimes I will watch it for weeks on end, every day."
Olivia Foster, 52, of Westminster, sends the network $70 a month out of her $820 disability check.
"Without TBN, I wouldn't be here," said Foster, who lives alone and suffers from AIDS. "That's the Gospel truth. It gave me purpose that God could use me. I watch it 18 hours a day."
God's really using her while she sits in front of the idiot box 18 hours a day!
Does God talk to people? If so, Mr. Crouch must have God in hi-def.
One evening in 1975, he was inspired to embrace a new technology. Crouch wrote that he was sitting in the den of his Newport Beach home when God projected a map of the U.S. on the ceiling. Beams of light struck major population centers, then spread throughout the country.
"I sat there transfixed by what I was seeing as I cried out to God to show me what all this meant," Crouch wrote. "As I waited upon the Lord, He spoke a ringing, resounding word to my spirit -- 'Satellite!' "
Do the Crouches really care to see people's lives changed for Christ or do they see more potential donors to their kingdom?
But the network's toll-free "prayer line" is always visible at the bottom of the TV screen, bringing a steady stream of calls from people troubled by debts, illnesses and other problems.I know I may be overly cynical about TBN and their ilk, but I believe this is what my co-workers (and the 'world' in general) think Christianity is all about. I do everything I can to combat this, but these are powerful images.
The calls are answered by paid and volunteer "prayer warriors" in a cluster of drab two-story buildings in a Tustin office park.
The workers, Bibles at the ready, write down callers' requests -- for healings, financial relief, mended marriages, jobs -- and pray with them on the phone. TBN officials say the prayer requests are then taken to a chapel on the premises and prayed over.
While they have callers on the phone, the volunteers ask for their names and addresses. Later, the information is entered into a direct-mail database, one of Trinity's most powerful fundraising tools
What think ye?