The Reverend Robert Schuller and his wife recently quit the board of the Garden Grove-based global televangelist church they recklessly drove into a massive $50 million bankruptcy and one of their daughters has announced she intends to create a new church.
Most mainstream media accounts of the developments, especially on Los Angeles television and radio stations, have struck a bereaved pose as if the end of the Schuller family era at the Crystal Cathedral is worthy of a collective sympathetic community sigh.
Schuller deserves credit for all of his lifetime achievements. He built a highly profitable, international televangelist empire. He undoubtedly inspired millions of people. Along with Disneyland, massive traffic jams and kooky politicians, his glass church was one of Orange County's best known icons for decades.
But let's not forget reality.
There was an ugly side to the Crystal Cathedral operation. Schuller hauled in as much as $25 million a month in tax-free donations with appeals mostly to dirt poor Latinos. His pitch was often shameless: "Spare a dime" for "the helpless" and Jesus "will show [you] the path of life."
As I revealed in an April 2011 column based on bankruptcy records, Schuller, his extended family and closest aides--all of whom you could fairly call helplessly rich--diverted large sums of church donations to live exceptionally well. Not many American families enjoy vacation homes in Laguna Beach, Big Bear, Hawaii and Colorado--all private retreats that gave the Schullers much needed breaks from counting all those stacks of incoming dinero. The church's top ex-businessman lives behind guards and gates in Newport Coast--Southern California's most exclusive, ocean-view residential neighborhood that has been called home by mega-millionaires Kobe Bryant and Dean Koontz.
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The bankruptcy records annihilated the deceitful, cemented facade that Schuller's every waking moment was devoted to helping the needy. For example, at one point when the ministry nabbed donations of more than $14 million, the Schuller clan directly grabbed hundreds of thousands of dollars while it spent just $22 a day to feed the poor.
It's no surprise then that the final straw in Schuller's decision to angrily leave the church board and threaten legal action involves not God, not the poor, not preaching but rather his own finances. Despite the millions and millions of dollars he, his family and closest aides have taken over the years, the reverend wants the faltering church to guarantee him payments of almost five times the local median household income: $320,000 a year.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that a recent Schuller family televised sermon was titled after the motto on American currency, "In God We Trust."