Friday, June 17, 2016

Prosperity Gospel made TBN very rich, $800 million

Prosperity Gospel made TBN very rich, $800 million

Janice Crouch, who founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network with her husband Paul and preached a "gospel of prosperity" with him on TBN programs, reaching millions of viewers around the world, has died aged 78. Her death was announced in a family statement on TBN's website. At her death the network and members of her family were fighting in court over multiple lawsuits, including one involving an accusation of a rape and another claiming financial improprieties.

Crouch was a convivial and colourful presence on screen, typically appearing in a bouffant frosted pink or champagne. Speaking with a singsong lilt, she referred to herself as Mama as she delivered an uplifting version of scripture that included personal encounters with the divine and linked spirituality to material success.

A donation to their church, the Crouches said, would be repaid with divinely ordained riches.

Crouch and her husband were the hosts of TBN's talk show Praise the Lord. She was also TBN vice-president and director of network programming, helping to develop many of its popular shows.

The Crouches started their network as a single station, now called KTBN-TV 40, in Santa Ana, California, in 1973 with the help of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who went on to found their own hugely popular televised ministry in South Carolina.

TBN, which calls itself the world's most watched religious broadcaster, today has programming 24 hours a day, providing Bible study, religious movies and soap operas and Christian rock videos. Evangelists such as Pat Robertson, Billy Graham and Robert Schuller have appeared on the network.

The network says its shows are translated into many languages and appear on more than 80 satellite channels and more than 5000 television stations. TBN's parent company listed $800 million in total assets and received $53 million in contributions and grants in its tax filings for 2014, the most recent year available.

Twice a year, the Crouches held "Praise-a-thons", fundraising drives in which they appealed for donations to keep programs like Praise the Lord on the air. They were criticised for using the donations to finance a luxurious lifestyle, including the use of private jets. The family was reported to have multiple homes, among them his-and-hers mansions in Newport Beach, California.

In 2007, TBN purchased Holy Land Experience, a religious theme park in Orlando, Florida, for $37 million. Janice Crouch became Holy Land's president and creative director and began a major remodelling of the park, renting adjacent rooms in a luxury hotel for nearly two years.

One was used to house clothing and her two Maltese dogs, which otherwise occupied a motor home.

The family controversies made headlines in 2004, when the Los Angeles Times reported that Paul Crouch paid a former employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford, $425,000 in 1998 after Ford threatened to sue TBN for unjustly firing him. As part of the settlement, the newspaper said, Ford agreed not to publicise his claim that he had had a sexual encounter with Paul Crouch. But Ford later threatened to publish a manuscript that discussed the matter. Paul Crouch denied Ford's claims, and the case was settled by arbitration.

In 2012, the Orange County Register reported that a granddaughter, Carra Crouch, had sued the network that year, alleging that she was raped by a TBN employee in 2006, when she was 13, and that the Crouch family had covered up the assault. The suit contended that when Carra Crouch told her grandmother about the assault, Janice Crouch "became furious" and screamed at her granddaughter, saying: "It is your fault." That suit has not yet been resolved.

In another lawsuit filed around the same time, another granddaughter, Brittany Koper, who was TBN's finance director, accused the network of misusing donated money. Koper and her husband Michael were fired and accused by the network of stealing $1.3 million.

TBN has since filed multiple suits against the Kopers. Paul Crouch jnr, Janice Crouch's son and Brittany Koper's father, was forced off TBN's staff and board.

Janice Wendell Bethany was born in New Brockton, Alabama and grew up in Columbus, Georgia, as a pastor's daughter raised in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination.

She graduated from high school and attended Evangel College (now Evangel University) in Springfield, Missouri, before she met Paul Crouch in 1956. They married a year later and began to preach. Paul Crouch also worked in radio and television, and in 1965, they moved to California to pursue their career in religious television. Paul Crouch died in 2013.

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