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Televangelist Paul Crouch, Who Started Trinity Network, Dies

Dec 3, 2013
Originally published on December 3, 2013 6:39 pm
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The pioneering TV evangelist Paul Crouch died this past weekend. He was 79. Crouch built the Trinity Broadcast Network, or TBN, into what his website claims is the world's largest religious broadcaster and America's most watched faith channel. TBN aired both Billy Graham crusades as well as Crouch's flagship program "Praise the Lord" with its glitzy sets and his own flamboyant personality. NPR's John Burnett reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRAISE THE LORD")

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: This is how Paul Crouch's nightly talk show began. The silver-haired Pentecostal preacher and his wife, Jan, with her gravity-defying hairdo and thick eye makeup came to personify the wealth, reach and style of American television evangelism.

Crouch built a small TV station in Tustin, California in the early '70s into a global television empire beaming religious programming to every continent but Antarctica. TBN has 84 satellite channels, more than 18,000 affiliates and a biblical theme park in Florida. When Crouch was criticized, which was often, he didn't hesitate to fight back with the Bible, as he did on this 1994 broadcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PRAISE THE LORD")

BURNETT: His network contributed generously to charities, such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Crouch was also an unapologetic believer in the gospel of prosperity, which teaches that God will bless the faithful with material fortune. As proof of their prosperity, he and his wife spent ministry revenue lavishly on themselves.

Rusty Leonard, head of a televangelist watchdog website called Ministry Watch, says Paul Crouch deserves credit for expanding Christian broadcasting, but he also embodied its excesses.

RUSTY LEONARD: Basically taking donors to the cleaners in many ways and enriching their - living out the prosperity gospel on themselves and living the high life with multiple homes, airplanes and things of that nature.

BURNETT: Last year, a granddaughter, Brittany Koper, the network's former finance director, publicly called out the Crouches for misappropriating tax-exempt donations and spending extravagantly on themselves. This includes 13 luxury parsonages and guesthouses and a $100,000 mobile home for Jan Crouch's dogs. Ms. Koper told The New York Times that her job was to label opulent personnel expenses as ministry expenses.

To add context, many popular television evangelists live large and are criticized for it. What sets Paul Crouch apart is that he helped invent the modern religious TV talk show that is now standard fare. Lee Grady, a Christian blogger and minister, says Crouch bought stations, built studios, and invested in cameras...

LEE GRADY: And he basically created the hardware for the global distribution of the Christian message. And I think that's how he'll be remembered.

BURNETT: The Trinity Broadcasting Network said on its website that Paul Crouch died of a decade-long battle with a degenerative heart disease. John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.