- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

He may go down in history as the toughest television evangelist.
Since founding Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in 1973, and making it the largest Christian network in the world, the Rev. Paul Crouch of Orange County, Calif., has faced lawsuit after lawsuit.
None of these disputes over broadcasting, ministry, defamation or employment, however, has amounted to a defeat or reversal for the Pentecostal minister's far-flung network.
"It's not for want of trying," said TBN's Washington attorney, Colby May. "What keeps him going is his love of spreading the Gospel."
In April, Mr. Crouch, 66, won a decadelong legal battle with the Federal Communications Commission, which accused him of irregularities in opening a Florida station. A three-member federal appellate court disagreed.
"The FCC case was life-threatening," Mr. May said, because a ruling against TBN might jeopardize all its licenses.
He said the FCC has been looking for errant television evangelists since it failed to avert the scandals of the 1980s.
"With that memory, the commission is thinking, 'The next time we get one of these religious guys, we're not going to let him go,' " he said.
That battle won, however, the complaints keep coming.
Last week, a minister sued TBN for $40 million, claiming that a ministry movie, "The Omega Code," made that much money after it stole the story idea from her novel, "Omega Syndrome."
Said Mr. May, "Trinity denies all the allegations."
Over the years, friends of Paul and Jan Crouch have called these "nuisance" lawsuits, aimed at a ministry with deep pockets.
The most recent annual budget was $170 million, mostly generated by contributions from viewers of Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Litigants claim to have suffered from abuses by a powerful ministry controlled totally by a family.
"Paul Crouch views criticism of any kind as an attack from Satan," said J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a monthly magazine covering Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
Mr. Grady gained rare access to Mr. Crouch in 1998 for a profile of the ministry in its 25th year.
"He's always been a renegade who didn't fit into groups like the National Religious Broadcasters," Mr. Grady said.
The association, known as NRB, represents most of the nation's evangelical religious broadcasters and has recognized Mr. Crouch for TBN's accomplishments.
In 1990, he dropped his membership. "He withdrew because, first, he would not qualify because of his family-controlled board," NRB President Brandt Gustavson said.
Based on past abuses, such as the family control of the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker ministries, NRB ethics guidelines require that half the board be non-family members.
TBN telethons, moreover, typically do not show dollar amounts raised on the screen.
"This seem to be an unusual practice compared to most appeals for money," Mr. Gustavson said.
"We get frequent calls about them," said Paul D. Nelson, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). "For all their cloistered confidentiality, they still reach a large number of people."
The TBN network is carried on 536 broadcast stations, many of them owned by the ministry, and the network is a primary carrier for other ministries wanting to reach millions of households.
The network centerpiece, however, is the "Praise the Lord" show hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Crouch, a two-hour program that fills the midafternoon and midevening prime-time weekdays.
To celebrate its 25th year, the ministry put tens of millions of dollars into new facilities in Orange County, prompting stories on interiors with expensive woodwork and gold plating.
Mr. May said people give to the Crouches knowing their style of ministry.
"The finances have been transparent for years," he said.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy lists TBN as the nation's 48th largest "public charity," and the ministry files a nonprofit organization report with the IRS.
In recent years, TBN has paid Mr. Crouch $159,000 and Mrs. Crouch $165,1000 in annual salaries, according IRS data reported by the Orange County Register in 1998.
When Mr. Crouch incorporated the station in 1973, one of his two partners was Mr. Bakker, a fellow Assemblies of God minister. After a falling out, Mr. Bakker and his wife, Tammy, went to North Carolina to found the "PTL Club."
He ended up serving five years in federal prison after a 1989 conviction for bilking viewers of millions of dollars.
When Charisma magazine published its profile of the Crouch family in 1998, it touched on all the controversies: financial excess, charges of adultery, criticism of the parents by son Matt, and Jan Crouch's odd personality. "Jan will be Jan," that headline read.
"The Crouches weren't really thrilled with my story," Mr. Grady said. "But I give credit to Paul Crouch because he built the station from nothing. For many people it's their spiritual lifeline."

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