By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Photo by Johan VogelWhat the hell is going on with the Crouches? I usually don't pay much attention to the Trinity Broadcasting Network's star couple, Jan and Paul Crouch. Having chanced across the Reverend Gene Scott 20 years ago significantly raised the bar for what I expect from a televangelist.
Scott is a true genius. Along with being an insightful, original Bible scholar (he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr at Stanford), he rants like an Archie Shepp solo and often has ranted at other televangelists, referring on-air to Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart as "those assholes!" When one female televangelist asked why Scott surrounded himself with beautiful young women, he replied, "It's to keep the horny old ones offa me!" He once kept on his set a band of wind-up monkeys, representing government agencies that were after him, and he'd swipe at them with a baseball bat. When officials complained he was misusing church funds, he simply told followers to donate money directly to him, to use as he wanted. On his broadcasts, he shows off the racehorses and other fine things he's bought.
Now that's a televangelist. Then you have the Crouches. Though they sell TBN airtime to the genial hatemonger Pat Robertson (and to the marvelously entertaining Creflo Dollar, the Chris Rock of televangelists), the Crouches' own "teaching" is essentially Christianity for Smurfs, where, if you'll tithe sufficiently to them, ebbything gonna be hunky dunky down im lil' Smurfland. Great bounty will come to you, your money worries will be over, and you will have great abs. It's in the Bible!
Boy, do they and their godly buddies gush: "We're living in End Time!" "Zechariah knew the exact dimensions of the space shuttle!" "What we're going to reveal to you now will blow your mind right out the back of your head!" "We're in the last days!"
They are not your average power couple. Much like some devout Catholics exhibit Christ's bleeding stigmata, Jan Crouch seems to ooze Tammy Faye Bakker's old makeup from her every pore. Regarding Paul Crouch, the man with the silver Crayola hair, you just sit there wondering, "Is she too much woman for him?" He seems like the guy on your block who'd be driving the beige station wagon with the fake wood paneling peeling off, instead of the guy who lords over the world's largest Christian broadcast network (not to mention a sham "minority" network that got him in hot water with the FCC a few years ago).
The web abounds with sites thronged by Christians who revile the Crouches, calling them heretics and worse. I typically just call them boring: too preposterous to satirize and too tedious to watch for fun.
But maybe there's something to this End Days stuff (the prophesied time when the sole thing standing between mankind and its final judgment is Arnold Schwarzenegger) because the Crouches and their buddies are on a crazy roll.
I was switching channels recently, and I found Paul Crouch, a fellow named Brother Shamrock and others standing around a fire pit, tossing documents into the leaping flames. What I gathered after watching for a while is that individuals sunk in hopeless debt were urged to send in $3,000 (or at least a down payment of $300) along with copies of their outstanding bills, which, said B'rer Shamrock, "we're gonna burn on the altar and let him know, 'I need a miracle!'"
Hey, how about some Dead tickets while you're at it?
As guys are wont to do around a fire, they all started peeing in it. No, they didn't. That would have made sense. Instead, they started one-upping one another with wacky-weed-worthy pronouncements.
"You've got $3 million in debts? God'll wipe 'em out in two minutes!"
"That's right, we're flinging 'em right into Satan's fiery nostril!"
"And the smoke and your prayers will carry right up to God's nostrils."
I have heard religious men discuss most aspects of God, but never his nostrils. These are just the people to whom I would want to send my sensitive financial papers, not to mention $3,000.
Can this be legal? Can you have open trash fires in your yard? If you're in Costa Mesa, as the Crouches are, you can. (According to one TBN person I spoke with, some of the burning is done at TBN's bastion in Irving, Texas, where you can probably burn jet planes in your yard if you want.) I called the city of Costa Mesa, and a very helpful person in the fire-prevention department checked the code and said open fire pits are still legal; they'd only be breaking the law if they were creating a nuisance for their neighbors, and the burning of papers may well fall under the heading of a "recreational fire." I'd have to agree: if tossing reams of financial records into Satan's fiery nostril isn't recreation, I don't know what is.
It's play that pays, however. In 1998, the Crouches showed a combined income of nearly $600,000, while the network they control pulls in I don't know how many millions per year. On the air, they say they need the money to spread their ministry through the world, but the message of that ministry chiefly seems to be that people should send them money, which should make tings veddy hunky dunky im lil' Smurfland, imdeed. (Sorry, you've gotta hear their co-evangelist Benny Hinn sometime.)