Paul Crouch, 1934–2013

The televangelist who asked believers to dig deep

Paul Crouch said he began building the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network after a glowing apparition of North America appeared on his ceiling in the mid-1970s, as the word “satellite” was uttered by a heavenly voice. “I knew I had heard the voice of God,” he later said, “and I absolutely obeyed it.”

Crouch first started a campus radio station at a Bible college, said the Los Angeles Times, and continued deejaying after becoming a minister in Rapid City, S.D. He launched the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in 1973 with the $20,000 purchase of a UHF station in Tustin, Calif. Crouch and his wife, Janice, presented the network’s first show with nothing but a “folding chair and a shower curtain from Sears as a backdrop.” Their telethon raised $30,000 in a single night. “I had put into motion one of God’s most powerful laws,” Crouch later wrote. “The law of giving and receiving, sowing and reaping.”

Crouch specialized in the prosperity gospel, said the Orange County, Calif., OC Weekly—“the idea that God will give money to those who give money.” As that formula paid off, the televangelist invested in satellite technology, expanding coverage to multiple states, and before long TBN became the largest Christian broadcasting network in the world, with 84 satellite channels, 18,000 television and cable affiliates, theme parks, and more. Its glitzy Orange County headquarters proclaimed the words “Happy Birthday Jesus!” in neon lights year-round, but that “garishness” obscured Crouch’s influence; he had few peers as an evangelist and was “crucial to spreading the Gospel worldwide.”

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But Crouch wasn’t just spending money on the Gospel, said He and his wife acquired a multimillion-dollar fortune by “preying on the gullible,”as donors gave some $90 million every year. Crouch could dismiss charges of impropriety as secular media bias until 2012, when his granddaughter Brittany Koper sued TBN, claiming tax-exempt donations had been spent on extravagant dinners, luxury properties, and a $49 million private jet. The network has denied the allegations.

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