The World's Largest Christian TV Network Has a Lot to Hide
Trinity Broadcasting Network (or TBN) is the largest Christian TV network in the world. Its shows are currently available in 95 percent of American homes.
TBN has its headquarters in Costa Mesa, California, in the modest building you see above. The network offers free tours to the public, so I headed down to check it out.
This guy (above, right) was the tour guide for my group, which was made up of me and a visiting Boy Scout troop. I'm not sure if he was new or something, but he left A LOT of the company's history out of his tour, so I'll be filling in some gaps for him as I go.
Our tour began in the grand entrance hall. As we walked through, the tour guide explained to us that TBN was started in the early 70s by married couple Jan and Paul Crouch in an effort to spread Christianity to as many people as they could.
What he failed to mention is the church's reliance on what's known as "prosperity gospel."
If you're not familiar, prosperity gospel is a system in which you're told that the more money you give to the Lord, the more blessings the Lord will give to you in return. In this instance, "the Lord" refers to "Trinity Broadcasting Network."
They gather these donations by holding telethons in which they promise viewers miracles in exchange for donating money to TBN. And being poor isn't a problem: The network tells viewers that God especially likes it when people who are poor or in debt donate money they can't afford. "He'll give you thousands, hundreds of thousands; he'll give millions and billions of dollars," Paul Crouch once told his viewers, according to the LA Times.
The company is reported to bring in tens of millions of dollars in tax-free donations annually. It is unclear if God held up his end of the bargain to those who donated.
Next, we were taken around a small museum area that featured various old copies of the Bible, some of which were more than 100 years old.
Curiously absent from the tour guide's spiel was any mention of allegations made against the company by Carra Crouch, granddaughter of the founders of TBN.
Back in June of 2012, Carra filed a suit against Jan Crouch and TBN's attorney. In the suit, Carra Crouch alleged that she was drugged and sexually assaulted while staying at an Atlanta hotel during the filming of one of the network's telethons. She was 13 years old at the time of the alleged attack.
She claims that she went to Jan and TBN's attorneys to tell them about the rape, and they blamed her for the incident. "Jan (Crouch) became furious and began screaming at Ms. Crouch, a 13-year-old girl, and began telling her 'it is your fault,'" the suit reads.
Carra says that, though the network fired the employee who attacked her, they did not report the incident to the police. Beyond the obvious moral issues that arise from failing to go to the police when your teenage granddaughter is raped, this becomes even more problematic as Jan is an ordained minister and therefore legally obligated to report sexual assaults.
TBN has refuted the allegations. The case is scheduled to go to trial on July 21.
Next, we were given an opportunity to take a look around the office of Paul Crouch, the co-founder of TBN. Our tour guide explained that Paul had died in 2013, after spending almost 40 years with the network. His office is being kept open for visitors to honor his memory.
Maybe the tour guide was in a hurry, because he completely failed to mention that Paul was accused of doing quite a few shitty things over the course of his career.
For instance, back in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Paul had paid a former TBN employee named Enoch Lonnie Ford $425,000 to end a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Enoch's lawsuit, he claimed that he and Paul had been involved in a gay relationship, and that Paul had sexually harassed him before firing him.
TBN claims that it only paid the settlement to "avoid a lengthy and expensive lawsuit."
In 2005, Enoch took a polygraph test about the accusations as part of a TV taping, but the results were never released to the public.
In Paul's office, there was also a photo of his cotton-candy-haired wife, Jan, who, our tour guide explained, helped Paul establish TBN back in the 70s.
He totally forgot to mention that Jan and Paul faced a fair bit of criticism over their handling of money donated to TBN as a result of their prosperity-gospel promises.
Brittany Koper, the former director of finance for TBN, claims she was fired in September of 2011 after discovering "illegal finance schemes" being run by the network. In a lawsuit she filed against the ministry, Brittany claims that TBN illegally distributed $50 million of donated money among its directors, to be spent on a variety of super unnecessary luxury items.
Speaking to the New York Times, Brittany claimed, "My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses."
According to the suit, Paul and Jan made multiple lavish purchases for themselves using money that their viewers thought was going to God.
These purchases included rarely used his-and-hers mansions in Florida and California, private jets, personal chauffeurs, gold-plated bathrooms, and offices fitted with saunas and wet bars.
Jan has also been accused of using company money to purchase a $100,000 air-conditioned mobile home to be used exclusively by her two pet dogs—which is actually kinda awesome.
The mishandling of finances is so extensive that Wall Watchers, a group that monitors the transparency of how ministries spend donated money, has given TBN an "F" rating, and added the network to its list of "30 worst ministries."
TBN denies the accusations.
Next on the agenda was TBN's TV studio space, where, our guide explained, TBN's popular Praise the Lord show is recorded.
Maybe our guide was in a hurry, because he totally skipped over the fact that the hosts of TBN's shows regularly make claims that are, to put it lightly, completely fucking insane.
Like the time John Hagee claimed that 9/11 was God's judgment on America for not being Christian enough.
Or the time Lance Wallnau claimed that God had given the cure for diabetes to Christians, but they were going to keep it secret in order to gain favor with China.
Or the time that Robert Jeffress claimed that gay sex is like plugging a TV into the wrong outlet and watching it blow "into smithereens."
Or the time Benny Hinn claimed that the dead would one day be raised by watching TBN from inside their coffins.
Or there was the time that Paul Crouch said on air that God kills anyone who tries to get in the way of TBN.
Speaking on the network's Behind the Scenes show in 2012, Paul said, "God help anyone who would try to get in the way of TBN."
He went on to imply that God had already taken out some of the network's enemies. "I have attended the funeral of at least two people who have tried," he said.
Our tour led us past the station's gift shop, which offers "a tempting array of items for every budget, including music, tapes, Bibles, gifts, and a complete selection of TBN souvenirs." There was even a health section, which included books on how to cure everything from yeast infections to cancer using the Bible and prayer.
Our tour guide forgot to mention that treating cancer with prayer is fucking INSANE. Please don't do this; get chemo or something instead, K?
Next, our tour guide walked us down a recreation of a street from Old Jerusalem. Complete with animatronic Jesuses and a recreation of the Shroud of Turin.
He totally forgot to mention the super shady way the church has been accused of abusing a tax loophole to save money.
According to TBN's former accountant, dozens of staff members—from chauffeurs to sound engineers and accountants—have been ordained as ministers by TBN. This is apparently done because ordained ministers are able to opt out of paying Social Security, saving the company a whole bunch of money.
Our tour concluded in this theater, which TBN's website refers to as a "virtual reality theater," capable of "putting you virtually in the picture."
Our tour guide neglected to mention that the theater isn't actually a virtual reality theater at all. It's just a regular theater that shows crappy Christian movies from 15 years ago. Presumably they added "virtual reality" to the title to trick kids into getting excited about visiting. I asked the tour guide what qualified the theater as "virtual reality," and he told me, "We used to have the sound up so loud that you could feel it, but a group of visitors from Japan thought it was an earthquake and ran out of the building so we had to turn it off."
"Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways."
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