Troubled SoCal religious network cancels live "Praise-a-thons"

San Jose Mercury News/October 27, 2004

Los Angeles -- The world's largest Christian broadcasting network, whose founder reportedly sought to cover up a homosexual affair with a former employee, has dropped plans for its live telethon next week and instead will show 40 hours of telethon reruns.

The twice-annual "Praise-a-thons bring in more than $90 million each in pledges for Trinity Broadcasting Network. They have been a core source of fundraising for the Orange County-based network since its creation more than three decades ago.

Network officials said the decision was made earlier this month due to concerns about the health of network co-founder Paul Crouch, 70, and his wife Jan, 66, who are its most popular on-air personalities.

But they also acknowledge the decision would take the pressure off of guest pastors concerned about the controversy.

It was reported last month that Paul Crouch secretly paid a former employee $425,000 in 1998 to keep quiet about claims of a homosexual tryst. Crouch has denied the allegations.

"To take the live broadcasting off -- I can't imagine" that, said R. Marie Griffith, a scholar at Princeton University who studies evangelical Christians and the media. "It suggests a very strong sense of the chaos they are undergoing there."

The cancellation also comes after newspaper articles detailed the Crouch's lavish lifestyle and the ministry's wealth, with its average annual surplus of $60 million.

Paul Crouch Jr., a network executive and son of its founding couple, said his mother had been slow to recover from recent gallbladder surgery and was not up to the weeklong telethon.

A "best of" format, with segments from past shows spliced together would allow for a faster-paced show, he said.

But he added, "It seems that when TBN is persecuted, so goes the whole body of Christ," and that other ministries were concerned that "they are going to be next on the hit list."

Paul Crouch reached the 1998 settlement after the former worker threatened to sue over claims he had been unjustly fired from the network.

Crouch later won a closed-door ruling against the employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford, 41, after Ford tried to violate a provision of the settlement that barred him from discussing the alleged encounter.

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