'Entertaining Lucifer'

Illustration by Bob Aul

For the past couple of years, Paul Crouch has turned his well-tanned face to the heavens, seeking out the face of his God. And he has seen . . . nothing.

God has not smiled on the pater familias of Costa Mesa-based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Crouch paid a former employee $425,000 to stay quiet about an alleged 1996 homosexual tryst in Lake Arrowhead. Rick Warren's Saddleback Church continues to gnaw away at TBN's long-held position as Orange County's most powerful evangelical organization. Crouch and TBN have had to fend off allegations of plagiarism, fleecing poor viewers out of hundreds of millions of dollars while living extravagant lifestyles, and annoying the broadcaster's Costa Mesa neighbors with all-night concerts and a perpetually lit "Happy Birthday Jesus" sign that's brighter than four suns.

But now Crouch must deal with the worst slur of 21st-century Christendom: his network, critics say, is soft on Islam.

The charge followed TBN's recent decision to drop the half-hour Zola Levitt Presents from its broadcast schedule. Network officials told the show's producers they were no longer interested in running the show after its longtime host, Zola Levitt, passed away this spring from lung cancer. Levitt's ministry says that's crap: in their September newsletter, they say their ministry faced an "armaggeddon [sic] of sorts . . . TBN, you see, is modifying its programming to be suitable for broadcast in Arab nations." Zola Levitt Ministries offered no elaboration but added it would "join the good company of Hal Lindsey in dusting our feet."

"Dusting" refers to Jesus' admonition to his apostles: if people don't want to hear the Good News, "when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet" (Matthew 10:14). Leave, in other words. Scram. Beat it.

But the inclusion of Lindsey, author of the influential 1970 evangelical tract The Late, Great Planet Earth, was intended to inflame evangelicals. This January, Lindsey announced to followers that his The International Intelligence Briefing would no longer air on TBN after the network asked him to temper his statements on Islam. He cited no examples. TBN originally denied Lindsey's claim, but network spokesperson John Casoria eventually retracted that statement, telling the conservative website WorldNetDaily that TBN was concerned Lindsey "placed Arabs in a negative light." The resulting uproar landed Lindsey on Hannity and Colmes and other conservative outlets.

TBN's decision to ax Zola Levitt Presents outraged the same Christian critics all over again. One poster on the program's website wrote that TBN is "way too much into the P.C. garbage," while another charged Crouch "is in the process of repainting the world religion of Islam." Christianblog.com simply stated Crouch was "entertaining Lucifer" with his decision.

This isn't the first time TBN has faced the charge that it coddles Muslims. In January 2002, Crouch published an open letter to disgruntled TBN programmers explaining his fire-and-brimstone-free approach to proselytizing among Muslims.

"Let's be careful how we treat the Arabs and Islam," Crouch wrote. "Let's not slam Mohammed and Islam. Let's reach out to them in love." Similarly, TBN released a statement after canning Zola Levitt Presents that read, "As to TBN being accused of reaching out to the Muslim world with the love of God, TBN must plead guilty. When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he said, go into 'ALL nations,' not just the non-Muslim ones."


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