With $300 Million Coming In Every Year, Televangelism Is Big Business Before It Is a “Ministry”
“S peak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. “—James 2: 12-13
A little over one year ago, I found myself sitting in Jimmy Swaggart’s church, front and center with approximately 100 other believers. We were the staff and faculty of Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, and it was our duty to sit in the high backed, crushed velvet chairs that surrounded Brother Swaggart at his 7,000-seat Family Worship Center.
Being just a small town hick from the southeast Kansas town of Chanute, I continued to be amazed by the enormity of the church four months after my arrival. Why, you could put Chanute’s City Hall, two museums and three rec centers inside the place and still have room to walk and run. As I sat in the high backed chair and looked around, a thought came to me.
“Gee,” I whispered to the brothers directly in front of me, “this kinda reminds me of the Council of the Sanhedrin.”
One brother nearly fell out of his chair laughing, the second merely turned around and glared at me. I realized I had just insulted a modern member of the Sanhedrin.
I feel compelled to write alter reading that Jimmy Swaggart will defy national recommendations from the Assemblies of God and return to his pulpit in May. I feel compelled to address this question of mercy and judgment and repentance and big money Televangelism. And I feel somewhat more qualified than most to speak about Jimmy Swaggart (and Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and Jimmy Swaggart Bible College) because I worked there.
It is important to speak first about the parameters of my opinion. I am not a “godless, Christian-bashing journalist who smokes, drinks, cusses, chews, goes out with women who do, snorts coke, jumps ropes or goes to movies” (actually, I confess to an occasional beer and a few movies now and then). I am first and foremost a believer.
It is equally important to state that I was given a one-and a-half-hour notice in July. I was fired for dating a student. The college president was worried about the reputation of JSBC and possible scandal that might be created if word got out that staff and students were dating. So I was given the left foot of fellowship.
Yet I have remained silent until now because I truly don’t harbor hatred or bitterness. I have not wished to justify myself or my position before men. God has seen fit to take care of my health and well being on his own. I also realize bitterness is like a cancer, spreading and poisoning anything it touches. I don’t wish to destroy myself in such a manner, so I, have let many things in my life fall by’ the wayside.
Of course there is a real sense of irony in noting that I was fired for “the good of the company” while the real focus should have been on the CEO. But so life goes.
To me, the central point of the recent Televangelism scandals is not sin or hypocrisy, but the fundamental distortion of Christianity which this medium has created. TV is incapable of portraying actual Christianity in a one hour segment. Even “Christian programming” which runs 24 hours a day is a pale substitute for the lifestyle of Christianity. If we recognize the shallowness of the afternoon and evening soaps, why should we close our eyes and apply a different standard to tear-stained faces pleading for our money?
I am not suggesting that people are not saved, set free and even baptized in the Holy Spirit by television ministries. Lives can be changed in 43 minutes. Yet such programming inherently skews the totality of Christian living when packaged in one-hour segments. Christianity, as I understand it, involves living and loving in a group setting. It involves support of the brethren and a sense of community. It involves interaction with, not separation from, the world. Television preaching and television churches can provide none of these things, save for the annual conventions when everyone loves everyone easily; and then only because they are on an emotional and short-lived high.
These ideas of Christian lifestyle, commitment and community are not popular in the United States. We value independence, self-reliance and an “every man for himself” philosophy above all else. Yet such values are totally anathema to the precepts of both Judaism and Christianity. The Torah and the Bible both teach that man is incapable of saving himself, and that nothing is really possible without God’s power or intervention.
Yet to many red-blooded Americans the concept of communal Christianity sounds out-and-out communistic. It goes against the time-honored notions of rewards, cream rising to the top, spoils for the victor and economic Darwinism. Heaven forbid we should think about our neighbors sharing our bounty.
But irrespective of these theological musings, there is another concept at work with Jimmy Swaggart. It has to do with reaping, sowing and being judged as he has judged. His extremely harsh judgments against Oral Roberts, Marvin Gorman, Jim and Tammy Baker and many others dictate (biblically) that he himself be judged under such a measure.
This is not Tim Erickson sitting in judgment of Brother Swaggart or bitter unbelievers demanding justice. It is a principle of God’s law found in James 2:12-13. It is a principle which in fact runs consistently from Genesis through Revelation.
And so as Jimmy Swaggart has freely lambasted and condemned fallen brethren, he must be subjected to the same fate. Anything less is pure hypocrisy.
Yet none of this will transpire because Jimmy Swaggart has created a house which he cannot stand to see fall. There is a monument to God in Baton Rouge built not by God. But by the hands of a man who will die to defend it. Unlike the apostle Paul, who used to start things and let them stand or fall by the grace of God, Jimmy Swaggart will let nothing touch his monument to God.
It is a house that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It is a house that employs over 1,000 people on a worldwide scale. It is a house that has branched out to include a Bible college and seminary. And it is a house that many would never allow to stand or fall by God’s will.
Jimmy Swaggart Ministries is not unlike General Motors or Exxon or the Santa Fe Railroad. Televangelism is big business, regardless of how offensive the idea may be to some. It is, in fact, a big, big business. And like big businesses, the primary concern becomes the preservation of the business at any and all costs. I am really amused to see captains of American industry lament the attitude of their workers. They curse and grumble about productivity while treating people like inhuman gears and robots. They concern themselves in the final analysis only with the preservation of the company. Damn the employees, damn the rules of humanity, cheat on government contracts, but don’t let the company go under.
Jimmy Swaggart Ministries has the same attitude. Gone are the altruistic platitudes about “sharing my problems with the brethren.” Gone are the statements about “cancer in the body of Christ needing to be removed.” Gone are the concerns about purity in the body of Christ and a time for repentance.
In their place are business decisions about keeping the ship afloat and keeping those dollars coming in. Damn the Assemblies of God if they try to stop Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. Damn the “godless heathen” when they speak out against hypocrisy, and damn Jimmy’s own words about repentance and cleansing and purity. This is big business, and nothing will stop the company from preserving itself.
Not even God himself.