Reality Television: The Beginning of the End at TBN?

Commentary

Not again. With alleged homosexual trysts and lifestyles of the rich and famous, genuine reality programming has once again brought Christian television onto the headlines. With much-rumored evidence concerning sexual favors for hire and financial excesses beyond imagination at the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) now being reported in the Los Angeles Times and beyond, the end of another religious empire seems likely.

The exposes on TBN over the last month are likely the prelude of an ugly, tragic drama that—although it may go on for some time–will eventually bring down the bloated communications empire.

Since the collapse of PTL and the sell-off of parts of the CBN conglomerate, Trinity Broadcasting (TBN) has been the Protestant community’s most visible communications entity, broadcast via 43 satellites and more than 10,000 television and cable affiliates worldwide.

A bastion of rudderless programming full of hyper-emotionalism and spiritual pabulum, TBN has been embarrassing for most American Christians and apparently a scandal waiting to happen.

Many of us active in communications in the Christian non-profit sector for some time have a clear memory of the PTL and Swaggart scandals and the decline of televangelism (which one Christian commentator called bad television and ineffective evangelism), because they had a dampening effect on fundraising among Christian charities for a number of years. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that the excesses of TBN could once again decrease public confidence in charities.

I not only dread the impact on many who are doing worthy work, but also the picture those outside the church will once again see of the Christian faith—not of authentic, faithful followers of Christ, but of those caught up in the trappings of the unique pomp and popularity of religious television.

While much of the mainstream evangelical community has privately eschewed the overindulgences of Paul and Jan Crouch and TBN, many have nonetheless been unable to resist the temptation to use the network to extend their reach and increase the funding of their own missions. I’ve observed this close-up among leading Christian figures I’ve had close contact with over the years. The slimy means have been tolerated to accomplish laudatory ends.

TBN’s press release in response to the Times articles calls the claims “full of inaccuracies, condescension and mischaracterizations,” and adds that “Dr. Crouch will continue to respond to God’s call on his life as president of TBN. … This storm will pass.”

In a strongly worded alert, Ministry Watch, an independent watchdog that polices Christian ministries, called for Paul and Jan Crouch to step aside from leadership positions until a review is completed, the establishment of a commission of respected Christian leaders, composed of experts in counseling, theology, and financial affairs, and the selection of a new board of directors.

It is highly unlikely that TBN will do any of this. If history is a guide, the Crouches will circle the wagons as they are consumed by the fires that have been fed by overindulgence over many years, just now fanned by media winds.

–James Jewell
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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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