Jimmy Swaggart Losing International Television Ministry
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Jimmy Swaggart, once the nation’s most-watched televanglist, is losing his international TV ministry after encounters with prostitutes cut into his audience.
Dennis Brewer Sr., a board member for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, was quoted Saturday by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans as saying some services might be televised but ″as far as an international television ministry, we’re not going to try to keep that going at this time.″
Swaggart, found in a prostitute’s company last month and photographed with one in 1987, has taken a leave from the pulpit. He and his wife, Frances, recently resigned from the board.
Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, which had 2.1 million viewers in 1987, is arranging to sell much of its television equipment, Brewer said Friday.
It also is trying to sell undeveloped land to help cut expenses and focus on Swaggart’s Family Worship Center, Jimmy Swaggart Bible College in Baton Rouge and programs to help children in foreign countries.
Without a television ministry, potential donors ″will wonder what they are giving him the money for,″ Brandt Gustavson, executive director of National Religious Broadcasters, told the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate.
″In the past they saw the television shows, so they knew where their money was going. A lot of them may stop donating when they don’t see the shows,″ he said.
The apparent end of Swaggart’s TV empire came after a trying week for Swaggart. Several top ministry officials resigned, others were laid off, the Bible college was cut back and several television stations canceled contracts.
″I hate having to do this, but I don’t feel like at this time, and due to everything that has happened - I can’t continue carrying this show,″ said Charles Reed, station manager of KMCT-TV, a Christian station in Monroe.
Swaggart can be reached only by attending his services, said a man who answered the phone Saturday at the Swaggart ministries. He wouldn’t give his name. No service is held on Saturdays, he said.
Ministry officials didn’t answer requests for interviews about layoffs. Employees estimated the number at anywhere from dozens to 200. The Bible college eliminated four departments and its basketball program.
Brewer said the ministry will live on.
″I know the ministry is not insolvent by any means,″ he said. ″I can tell you there is not going to be any financial collapse.″
Swaggart’s television audience dwindled when he was ousted from the Assemblies of God in 1988 after being photographed with Debra Murphree, a prostitute.
About 1.9 million households in 191 markets watched in February 1988, the month Swaggart tearfully confessed to an unspecified sin. The figure was 403,000 households and 93 markets from July 10 to Aug. 6 of this year, the most recent reporting period for Arbitron Syndicated Program Analysis.
On Oct. 11, Swaggart was pulled over in a red-light district of Indio, Calif., with a prostitute in his car.
Two weeks ago, the Swaggart ministries canceled its contract with Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the largest religious broadcasting networks in the country, said Colby May, a spokesman and lawyer for the Santa Ana, Calif.- based network.
The network has 13.3 million subscribers and 1,015 stations, according to Cablevision Magazine. Two other cable networks with more than 76 million subscribers had stopped carrying Swaggart earlier.
The ministry’s television cutbacks will give Swaggart a break he needs, so he can eventually return to preaching, Brewer said.
″I just don’t think Jimmy needs that pressure at this time,″ he said. ″I personally know he’s been under just inhuman pressure for at least the last year ... trying to do too much.″
One source of pressure was evangelist Marvin Gorman’s defamation suit against Swaggart, Brewer said. Gorman claimed his own television ministry collapsed in 1986 because Swaggart and others spread lies that he had affairs with women in his congregation.
A New Orleans jury decided last month that Swaggart, his ministry, and ministry attorney and board member Bill Treeby owed Gorman and Marvin Gorman Ministries $10 million.
Treeby resigned from the board, Brewer said. Another board member, Family Worship Center co-pastor Jim Rentz, resigned from the ministry this month.
Brewer said the remaining board members are himself, Swaggart’s son, Donnie Swaggart; and Chattanooga, Tenn., trucking company owner Clyde Fuller and his wife, Elizabeth.
A young man who identified himself as the Fullers’ grandson answered their phone and said he did not know how to reach them.