Television Preachers Feel Pinch of Controversy With PM-PTL, Bjt
Jun. 06, 1987
Undated (AP) _ The Rev. Pat Robertson laid off nearly 500 employees and pleaded for contributions with a sense of urgency which has become common among television ministers.
After the controversy of the Rev. Oral Roberts' do or die fund-raising appeal and Jim Bakker's fall from the PTL pulpit in a sexual and financial scandal, several of the biggest names in television religion have confessed problems in raising money.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart and the Rev. Robert Schuller have all felt the pinch, and Bakker complains from his Palm Springs home that money is his most pressing problem.
They haven't been shy about blaming each other.
Robertson, founder of the ''700 Club'' and a potential Republican candidate for president, announced Friday that he was laying off 470 of the more than 2,000 employees of his Christian Broadcasting Network.
Robertson said his network has lost $12 million through May and projected losses of $28 million for the year.
He blamed his problems on Bakker - ''that scandal has hit the evangelical world like a bombshell'' - and alluded to Roberts' much-publicized message that God would ''call me home'' if he didn't raise $8 million by the end of March.
''We had nothing to do with PTL. We had nothing to do with those other statements. We had have absolutely nothing to do with any of it,'' Robertson said. ''Yet it's costing us through this year $28 million.''
Falwell, who announced Friday that his emergency appeal for $7 million for PTL in May came in $1.5 million over target, asked for contributors to give an additional $50 each.
Last week, he sent out a letter to supporters of his own ''Old Time Gospel Hour,'' asking for help to cover a deficit of $4 million.
Falwell, an independent Baptist based in Lynchburg, Va., was asked by Bakker to take over the PTL ministry in March. Bakker since has feuded with Falwell and said he wants to return, but Falwell and the new PTL board have rebuffed those overtures.
Falwell has said contributions to his ''Old Time Gospel Hour'' started dropping just before the PTL scandal, when Roberts ''climbed up into his prayer tower,'' referring to the tower in Tulsa, Olka., where Roberts prayed and fasted as his deadline approached.
Swaggart, the fire-and-brimstone evangelist from Baton Rouge, La., who had feuded publicly with Bakker, appealed to his supporters last week for more money.
''We must raise $5 million immediately or else most of the efforts of world evangelism will have to be seriously curtailed,'' he said in a letter obtained by the Lynchburg, Va., News & Advance.
''I firmly believe that Satan has engineered the PTL fiasco for one primary reason, and that is to destroy Jimmy Swaggart's ministries,'' the letter said.
In April, a month after Bakker's departure from PTL, Swaggart had said contributions to his ministry, which raised $142 million last year, had fallen by $2 million a month.
Fred Southard, vice president of finance for the Robert Schuller Ministries in Garden Grove, Calif., said PTL's problems had hurt all television ministries, but he said giving to Schuller's ''Hour of Power'' had declined slightly.
At the end of March, when the PTL and Roberts controveries hit the news, total giving was $9,451,875 versus $9,579,310 in 1986 - down 1.3 percent.
By the end of April, the total was $12,010,010 for 1987 compared to $12,401,040 in 1986, a decline of 3 percent. However, by May 19 the total had bounced back to about $13.5 million, compared to $13.9 million a year ago, or a 2.7 percent decline, Southard said.
''With God's help and the financial help of our donors, Dr. Schuller believes the 'Hour of Power' should be able to continue to bring the message of love, peace and grace of Jesus Christ into homes throughout the world,'' Southard said.
In Tulsa, Roberts was unavailable for comment on Friday. All queries were referred to spokeswoman Jan Dargatz, who was unavailable until Monday.
Arthur C. Borden, executive director of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in Washington, said the impact of the Bakker and Roberts controversies has been slight for many ministers who are not involved in national television.
''As near as I can tell from contacting a number of our members, they really don't seem to have noticed any significant difference,'' said Borden, whose group requires members to disclose audited financial statements. ''Some are up, some are down, and most are up.''
However, Borden said the controversy may have something to do with an increase in membership. The association normally signs up about 40 new members a year, but it already has 41 this year and has received five applications this month.
''People want to keep giving,'' Borden said, ''but they want some reassurance that funds will be properly used.''
A University of Virginia sociologist who has followed the evangelical movement said Roberston probably is right to blame the Bakkers and Roberts.
''These controversies or these scandals have called into question the integrity of the personalities leading these businesses, as well as raised very serious questions about the way these businesses are conducted,'' said James Davison Hunter. ''Consequently, it's going to affect everyone.''