A massive scandal is engulfing the world’s biggest Christian broadcasting network.
California-based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has been hit by a lawsuit from members of the family of founders Paul and Jan Crouch alleging widespread embezzlement.
The suit details massive spending on private jets, mansions in California, Tennessee and Florida and a $100,000 mobile home for Jan Crouch’s dogs paid for through sham loans. It follows the termination of Brittany Koper, the granddaughter of Paul Crouch. The suit alleges Koper discovered the illegal financial activities, conveyed her concerns to ministry leaders, and was told to keep quiet.
The charges also include allegations of spending by the ministry that helped cover up sexual scandals and a discrimination lawsuit. These include the alleged “cover-up and destruction of evidence concerning a bloody sexual assault involving Trinity Broadcasting and affiliated Holy Land Experience employees; the cover-up of director Janice Crouch’s affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience; the cover-up of director Paul Crouch’s use of Trinity Broadcasting funds to pay for a legal settlement with Enoch Lonnie Ford (a former TBN employee who said he had a homosexual affair with [founder] Paul Crouch).”
TBN preaches the “prosperity gospel” which promises material rewards to those who give generously. Since it was set up in the 1970s it has become the biggest Christian TV network with a presence on every continent except the Antarctic and has 18,000 affiliates. It also owns the Holy Land Experience, a Christian amusement park in Orlando.
Their shows feature such highlights as Jan Crouch tearfully giving an account of how her pet chicken was miraculously raised from the dead. Or Benny Hinn prophesying that if TBN viewers will put their dead loved ones’ caskets in front of the television set and touch the dead person’s hand to the screen, people will “be raised from the dead…by the thousands.”
TBN took in $92 million in donations in 2010 and cleared $175 million in tax-free revenue, although the recession has dramatically hit what it rakes in from its followers.
The network has fired back by pointing out that the lawsuit comes from family members who were themselves accused of embezzlement, though those charges were dismissed, and called the allegations of excessive spending “fabrications.”
The lawsuit follows quickly from revelations that David Cerello, CEO of Inspiration Networks (INSP), was paid a salary of $2.5 million from his ministry in 2010.
Californian pastor John MacArthur writes of TBN:
If the scheme seems reminiscent of Tetzel, that’s because it is precisely the same doctrine. (Tetzel was a medieval monk whose high-pressure selling of indulgences — phony promises of forgiveness — outraged Martin Luther and touched off the Protestant Reformation.)
Like Tetzel, TBN preys on the poor and plies them with false promises. Yet what is happening daily on TBN is many times worse than the abuses that Luther decried because it is more widespread and more flagrant. The medium is more high-tech and the amounts bilked out of viewers’ pockets are astronomically higher. (By most estimates, TBN is worth more than a billion dollars and rakes in $200 million annually. Those are direct contributions to the network, not counting millions more in donations sent directly to TBN broadcasters.) Like Tetzel on steroids, the Crouches and virtually all the key broadcasters on TBN live in garish opulence, while constantly begging their needy viewers for more money. Elderly, poor, and working-class viewers constitute TBN’s primary demographic. And TBN’s fundraisers all know that. The most desperate people – “unemployed,” “even though I’m in between jobs,” “trying to make it; trying to survive,” “broke” – are baited with false promises to give what they do not even have. Jan Crouch addresses viewers as “you little people,” and suggests that they send their grocery money to TBN “to assure God’s blessing.”
Thus TBN devours the poor while making the charlatans rich. God cursed false prophets in the Old Testament for that very thing (Jeremiah 6:13-15). It’s also one of the main reasons the Pharisees incurred Jesus’ condemnation (Luke 20:46-47). It’s hard to think of any sin more evil.
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