THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
TBN's Promise: Send Money and See Riches
Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times September 20, 2004.
Trinity Foundation furnished substantial investigative data for this story.
Paul and Jan Crouch sing at a 1988 revival meeting at the Cathedral of
Light in Selma. His salary is $403,700 a year; his wife's is $361,000.
Their perks include a TBN-owned jet.
(Mark Boster / LAT)
LATimes0920b - Oral Roberts has espoused the connection between piety
Rick Johnston, who lives near Flagstaff, Ariz., organizes groups of
like-minded Christians to try to jam TBN's phone lines during
(Mark Boster / LAT)
Ole E. Anthony founded the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, a televangelist
(Neil A. France / For the Times)
Jeanne Fish of Tustin is a loyal viewer of TBN, which she says comforted
her after her husband died nearly 20 years ago. "I get so much out of
it," she said. "It's almost like getting a theology degree. It's kind of
hard to turn off, in fact."
(Mark Boster / LAT)
ON THE AIR: Jan and Paul Crouch appear on a TBN telethon in
November. In the U.S. alone, TBN is watched by more than 5 million
households each week.
(Trinity Broadcasting Network)
For believers, the ministry's material success is part of its appeal -
proving that the Crouches enjoy God's favor. Trinity Christian City
International in Costa Mesa, left, is just one of the network's
holdings. TBN owns 11 homes in the adjacent gated development as well as
residences in Texas, Tennessee and Ohio.
(Don Kelsen / LAT)
IRVING, TEXAS: One of the sets at TBN's International Production
(Mark Boster / LAT)
NASHVILLE: Trinity Music Center USA, a Christian entertainment
(Mark Boster / LAT)
JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT: Private jet owned by TBN.
(Mark Boster / LAT)
NEWPORT BEACH: A TBN-owned mansion, foreground, was recently on
the market for $8 million. The network also owns one of the houses in
(Don Kelsen / LAT)
Among Trinity Broadcasting Network's faithful followers is Olivia Foster
of Westminster, who sends the network $70 a month out of her $820
(Mark Boster / LAT)
Kelly Whitmore, who worked at TBN from 1992 to 1997, said the Crouches
indulge expensive tastes at their donors' expense.
(Mark Boster / LAT)
By William Lobdell
Times Staff Writer
September 20, 2004
Pastor Paul Crouch calls it "God's economy of giving," and here is how it
People who donate to Crouch's Trinity Broadcasting Network will reap
financial blessings from a grateful God. The more they give TBN, the more he
will give them.
Being broke or in debt is no excuse not to write a check. In fact, it's an
ideal opportunity. For God is especially generous to those who give when
they can least afford it.
"He'll give you thousands, hundreds of thousands," Crouch told his viewers
during a telethon last November. "He'll give millions and billions of
Preachers who pass the hat while praising the Lord have long been the stuff
of ridicule in film and fiction. But for Crouch and his Orange County-based
television ministry, God's economy of giving is no laughing matter. It
brings a rich bounty, year after year.
Crouch has used a doctrine called the "prosperity gospel" to underwrite a
worldwide broadcasting network and a life of luxury for himself and his
For at least a century, preachers have plied the notion that dropping money
in the collection plate will bring blessings from God material as well as
spiritual. But Crouch, through inspired salesmanship and advanced
telecommunications technology, has converted this timeworn creed into a
potent financial engine.
TBN collects more than $120 million a year from viewers of its Christian
programming more than any other TV ministry. Those donations have fueled
its rise from a rented studio in Santa Ana to a global broadcasting system
whose programs appear on thousands of channels via satellite, cable and
over-the-air broadcasts in a dozen languages.
The network's donors also help fund generous salaries for Crouch ($403,700 a
year) and his wife, Jan ($361,000), and an array of perks, including a
TBN-owned jet and 30 homes across the country, among them a pair of Newport
Beach mansions and a ranch in Texas.
The prosperity gospel is rooted in the idea that God wants Christians to
prosper and that believers have the right to ask him for financial gifts.
TBN has woven this notion into its round-the-clock programming as well as
the thousands of fund-raising letters it mails every day.
During one telethon, Crouch, 70, told viewers that if they did their part to
advance the Kingdom of God such as by donating money to TBN they should
not be shy about asking God for a reward.
"If my heart really, honestly desires a nice Cadillac
would there be
something terribly wrong with me saying, 'Lord, it is the desire of my heart
to have a nice car
and I'll use it for your glory?' " Crouch asked. "I
think I could do that and in time, as I walked in obedience with God, I
believe I'd have it."
Other preachers who appear on the network offer variations on the theme that
God appreciates wealth and likes to share it. One of them, John Avanzini,
once told viewers that Jesus, despite his humble image, was a man of means.
"John 19 tells us that Jesus wore designer clothes," Avanzini said,
referring to the purple robe that Christ's tormentors wrapped around him
before the Crucifixion. "I mean, you didn't get the stuff he wore off the
. No, this was custom stuff. It was the kind of garment that kings and
rich merchants wore."
TBN viewers are told that if they don't reap a windfall despite their
donations, they must be doing something to "block God's blessing" most
likely, not giving enough.
Crouch has particularly stern words for those who are not giving at all.
"If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN and have not
you are robbing God and will lose your reward in heaven," he
said during a 1997 telecast.
A central element of the prosperity gospel is that no one is too poor or too
indebted to donate. Bishop Clarence McClendon, a preacher whose show "Take
It By Force" appears on TBN, told viewers in March that God had asked him to
deliver a message to those in financial difficulty:
They should "sow a seed" by using their credit cards to make donations. In
return, the Lord would see to it that the balances would be paid off within
"Get Jesus on that credit card!" McClendon said.
Ask and Receive
Proponents of the prosperity gospel also known as the "name it and
claim it" gospel and the "health and wealth" gospel point to a verse in
the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Lord warns the faithful not to "rob" him
by withholding their tithes:
" 'Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw
open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will
not have room enough for it.' "
E.W. Kenyon, an evangelical pastor in the first half of the 20th century,
was an early and influential advocate of the idea that God would grant
Kenyon wrote about the "power of faith" to bring health and wealth. He
depicted an Almighty who not only protected his followers and forgave their
sins, but handed out gifts if asked. The important thing was to ask.
Kenyon's ideas inspired what came to be known as the Word of Faith movement.
Many of the phrases Kenyon coined such as "What I confess, I possess"
are still used by evangelists.
After Kenyon's death in 1948, other pastors used aspects of his teachings to
draw an even more emphatic connection between piety and prosperity.
Pentecostalists such as Oral Roberts were particularly ardent in espousing
In the 1960s, Pastor Kenneth Hagin, often described as the father of the
Word of Faith movement, raised the profile of the prosperity gospel still
further, promoting it on television and in books with titles such as
"Godliness Is Profitable" and "How to Write Your Own Ticket with God."
Hagin preached a four-part formula that he said he received in a vision from
Jesus: Say it. Do it. Receive it. Tell it.
First, believers must ask God for what they want. Next, they must
demonstrate their faith through donations. Then they will tap into the
"powerhouse of heaven" and receive their gifts. Finally, they must spread
Most of today's leading televangelists preach some version of this creed.
Paul and Jan Crouch were brought up in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal
denomination where the prosperity gospel flourishes. After working in
ministries in South Dakota and Michigan, the couple moved to Southern
California in 1961 to run an Assemblies of God TV production facility in
They launched their own network in 1973. After two nights on the air on KBSA-TV
Channel 46 in Santa Ana, they were broke. So the next night, they staged a
The phones hardly rang. Then Paul Crouch hit on an idea, he recalled in his
autobiography, "Hello World!" He told Jan to announce on the air that an
anonymous donor had promised to give $20,000 on condition that viewers
pledge the same amount that night.
The anonymous donor was Crouch, and the $20,000 was money the couple had
already lent the network. If viewers came through with $20,000, they would
forgo repayment of the loan.
By evening's end, viewers had phoned in $30,000 in pledges, enough to keep
TBN on the air.
"Without really realizing it at the time, I had put into motion one of God's
most powerful laws the law of giving and receiving, sowing and reaping,"
Crouch wrote. "Thirty-, 60- and 100-fold blessing is, indeed, a glorious
truth and blessing for those who will simply obey the word of the Lord!"
The prosperity gospel became the foundation of TBN fundraising. The Crouches
and TBN personalities such as faith healer Benny Hinn present the doctrine
with passion and a flair for the dramatic.
During fundraising "Praise-a-thons," the Crouches read testimonials from
donors whose debts supposedly were miraculously forgiven or who
inexplicably received checks in the mail. They pray over donors' pledge
In 2000, TBN televangelists told viewers that those who promised $2,000
would get the money back before the end of the year and would find that
their debts had been canceled. Later, donors were invited to send in loan
statements and other debt paperwork. The documents were burned on a stone
During another pitch, Crouch read on camera a letter he said was from a
financially strapped viewer who had pledged $4,000.
According to Crouch, the donor wrote: "Within 15 minutes of that time, I
received a check in the U.S. mail in the amount of $5,496.70. No
. I know it's not an income tax return. I don't make enough
money to file returns."
That year, in a fundraising letter to the network's "prayer partners,"
Crouch wrote: "Praise the Lord, the reports of awesome miracles of debts
canceled and God's people coming out of debt continue to come in. God's
economy of giving really works!"
Most mainstream theologians and pastors say the prosperity gospel is at
best a doctrinal error and at worst a con game. They point out that Jesus
and his disciples abandoned their possessions in order to live a spiritually
"It is difficult to fathom how anyone familiar with the abundance of
biblical teaching about the 'deceitfulness of riches' could have devised the
prosperity gospel," said William Martin, a sociology professor at Rice
University and author of a biography of Billy Graham.
"While the Bible does not condemn all wealth, it surely points to its
dangers in numerous passages."
Critics of TBN say that the promise of financial miracles besides being a
distraction from the core principles of Christianity can cause real harm.
Ole E. Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, a televangelist
watchdog, said he knew people who had given the last of their savings to TV
preachers, hoping for a windfall that never came.
"The people on TBN are living the lifestyle of fabulous wealth on the backs
of the poorest and most desperate people in our society," Anthony said.
"People have lost their faith in God because they believe they weren't
worthy after not receiving their financial blessing."
Thomas D. Horne, of Williford, Ark., a disabled Vietnam-era veteran, said
that in 1994 he was swept away by the rhetoric of TBN pastors and donated
about $6,000 in disability benefits.
Time went by and he did not receive the promised surfeit of money. Last
year, he found out that TBN had purchased a Newport Beach mansion
overlooking the Pacific. He wrote to the network, asking for his money back.
"I want to recoup my hard-earned disability money I sent to these despicable
people," said Horne. He said he has received no reply.
Philip McPeake is another donor for whom God's economy of giving did not
deliver. Out of work and out of luck in November 1998, McPeake heard the
Rev. R.W. Schambach make an impassioned plea for donations on TBN's Kansas
City television station, KTAJ.
Schambach promised that if viewers sent $200 as a down payment on a $2,000
pledge, God would give them the rest within 90 days with a bonus to
McPeake sent in his money and waited for his luck to change. When it didn't,
he complained to the Missouri state attorney general's office and the
Federal Communications Commission. TBN refunded his donation.
Carl Geisendorfer, who runs a low-power Christian television station in
Quincy, Ill., offered TBN programming for 19 years until, he said, he grew
disgusted by the televangelists' financial appeals.
He said he pulled TBN off the air in 2002 after watching a preacher tell
viewers that they should pledge $2,000 even if they didn't have it in
order to receive a financial miracle from God.
"I should have canceled TBN several years earlier, but I thought Paul Crouch
would finally see the light on how foolish and prideful that false gospel
is," said Geisendorfer, president of Believer's Broadcasting Corp., a small
media group. "I'm sorry I waited as long as I did."
Geisendorfer said donations to his station dropped 25% after he dropped
TBN's programs. He said Paul Crouch called him and, during a 90-minute
conversation, admitted to struggling over how far to go in promising
financial rewards to donors.
"He said, 'What's the difference if some believe it or not. It works for
many people. Why not?' " Geisendorfer wrote in a newsletter sent to station
supporters last year. He quoted Crouch as saying: "The money comes in and
the world is being reached by the Gospel."
Crouch declined to be interviewed for this article. His son, Paul Crouch
Jr., a TBN executive, said critics of the prosperity gospel overlook the
fact that the network has used viewers' contributions to bring God's word to
millions of people.
He said it was unfortunate that "the prosperity gospel is a lightning rod
for the Body of Christ. It's not what drives TBN."
If TBN was interested only in money, the younger Crouch said, it would sell
advertisements instead of funding its operations primarily with viewers'
"We could double our money tomorrow," he said.
He added that appeals for money make up a small part of TBN programming and
are prominent mainly during TBN's twice-yearly, weeklong "Praise-a-thons."
Those are the times when Rick Johnston, a retired pastor who lives near
Flagstaff, Ariz., swings into action.
Johnston, 56, organizes groups of like-minded Christians to try to jam TBN's
phone lines during "Praise-a-thons." The strategy is to stay on the line as
long as possible offering phony pledges.
"I feel like a little fly trying to knock down Goliath," Johnston said. "But
if I can stop somebody from being robbed of $100, I'm going to do it. There
are worse things in life I could be guilty of doing."
Not all TBN donors are looking for a financial payback. Many say they are
more interested in the promise of salvation and in helping spread the
message of Jesus.
Jeanne Fish, 87, a widow who lives in a Tustin apartment, said she took
solace from TBN when her husband died nearly 20 years ago and has been a
loyal viewer ever since.
"I get so much out of it," she said. "It's almost like getting a theology
degree. It's kind of hard to turn off, in fact."
Loyal viewers are dumbfounded that TBN generates controversy within the
"I'm just so amazed and shocked that so many people don't like [TBN] in the
Christian world," said Arthur Robbins, an artist who lives near Santa Cruz.
"It's a huge undertaking to promote the Gospel worldwide, and they're doing
On the air, Paul Crouch responds to criticism of the prosperity gospel by
"If the devil can keep all of us Christians poor, we won't have any
disposable income to build Christian television stations," Crouch said once.
Michael Giuliano, an expert in televangelism at Westmont College in Santa
Barbara, said this is an effective strategy.
"It's very, very powerful," he said. "In a world of uncertainty, you know
who the good guys in the white hats are and who the guys in the black hats
are. And giving money to TBN is a tangible way to join the fight for the
`Get Jesus on that credit card!'
|Pastor Paul Crouch and other evangelists appearing on Trinity
Broadcasting Network tell viewers that God will reward them many times
over for their donations. Examples:
'God spoke to me clearly and said, "Did I give my son Jesus on the
cross expecting nothing in return?" God bankrupted heaven and gave the
best gift he could give
. You can bring God a gift fully expecting
something in return. Get to the phone!'
'Have you got something that you have been praying about 10, 15, 20
years? You have been praying for it and haven't gotten it
. It could be
that you haven't gotten it because you are a tightwad and you haven't
given your 10%.'
'People ask me sometimes, "I have been asking from God and not
receiving anything." I have to ask them some hard questions: Are you
Pastor Rod Parsley
'You're on the brink of a miracle. Go to the phone and give $1,000,
$5,000, $10,000 and $1 million. Go to the phone
. God has a miracle
waiting on your response.'
'God gave his best at Calvary. He told me, "Don't you dare come
before me if you don't give your best!" '
'To reap a perpetual harvest you need to sow a perpetual seed. I got
a need for seed.'
Bishop Clarence McClendon
'God spoke to me that there are 1,000 people that will give no less
than $100, I got this word! Get up! Get up! Get up! Go to the phone
spirit of God promised me that he would bless your seed! Go to the phone
right now! If you're sowing $1,000, do it now! If you're sowing $100, do
'Some of you are wrestling with debt that you cannot pay off. God
told me this morning to tell you to
sow a seed on the credit card that
you want God to pay off
. Get Jesus on that credit card! Make a pledge
on that credit card!'
A Challenge to TBN Growth
The FCC once ruled that a minority-owned company was a scheme to acquire
By William Lobdell
Times Staff Writer
September 20, 2004
Televangelist Paul Crouch often blames Satan for the difficulties he
encountered building Trinity Broadcasting Network into the world's largest
But the most serious challenge TBN has faced was from an earthly source: the
Federal Communications Commission.
In 1995, the agency ruled that Crouch had created a "sham" minority company
to circumvent limits on the number of television stations his network could
Crouch told viewers that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would prevent TBN
from acquiring two new stations and, worse, would jeopardize the station
licenses it already held.
"The whole network was ultimately on the line," he wrote in his
autobiography, "Hello World!"
The controversy centered on National Minority TV, a company created by TBN
to buy television stations. TBN itself owned the maximum number then allowed
by federal rules 12.
In 1993, National Minority TV asked the FCC to renew the license of a
station it owned in Miami. Advocacy groups complained that the company was a
mere front for Crouch and asked the agency not to renew the license.
National Minority TV was run by a three-member board of directors: Crouch;
his former administrative assistant, Jane Duff, an African American; and
David Espinosa, a Latino pastor.
"So we had it a minority-controlled board, two to one!" wrote Crouch.
In 1995, an FCC judge ruled that National Minority TV was not
minority-controlled but rather was a "sham" by which Crouch had tried to
sidestep the ownership limit.
Crouch appealed to the five-member FCC board. He also began negotiating with
the advocacy groups, offering them a monetary settlement to drop their
Crouch turned to TBN viewers for money.
A five-night telethon elicited $65 million in pledges. Crouch offered that
sum as a settlement, and the advocacy groups agreed to accept it.
In 1999, however, the FCC rejected the settlement and refused to renew
National Minority TV's license for the Miami station.
It said TBN's claim that the company was minority-controlled "was at best
doubtful and at worst false."
Crouch appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit and won. The court ruled in 2000 that federal rules on minority
broadcasting companies were unclear and that TBN "may not be punished."
Congress later raised the limit on station ownership. TBN now owns 23
full-power stations around the country.
Crouch said God was responsible for the happy outcome: "He never loses a