Paul Crouch, 79, died earlier this week. Co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and a leading proponent of the prosperity gospel long before Joel Osteen was a household name, he was the son of Pentecostal missionaries to Egypt and an Assembly of God adherent with a knack for radio and television evangelism, preaching the gospel and making money.
I didn’t even know who Mr. Crouch was until I read his obituary. How could I not have heard of him? His obituary was carried by the Washington Post, New York Times, Fox News, the Salt Lake Tribune in the heart of Mormon country and even Al Jazeera.
I knew him not because he fell well outside the landscape of my faith. He preached and espoused the gospel with a spin I couldn’t stomach and so I never watched him or any of his Christian cronies who broadcast from his network. I didn’t know about his successes, his passions, his lavish lifestyle, the lawsuits he endured, the innuendos that followed in his wake and the story of his rise to fame and power in the Christian world. You can read it all from fawning admiration to vehement vilification on the Internet.
Persons of faith express their spirituality – or their lack of it – in myriad ways, and part of our choosing involves dismissing those whose faith understanding most radically diverges from ours. The biggest challenge we will have in our faith journey is to acknowledge that God is larger than we are, that our reading of the Bible is imperfect and that graciousness is therefore imperative.
Just this morning, a self-described “Christian believer” writes the editor of a local paper to belittle the tattooed Denver, Colo., pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, whose faith expression was outside that writer’s orthodoxy. He wrote with perfect clarity that her faith, “… is false doctrine and not in accordance with the word of God … (and) leads to destruction.”
Really? Sez who? There are far too many Stand-Your-Ground Christians shooting at anybody trespassing on their sacred understanding of holiness. At one time or another most of have been caught in this murderous crossfire, either as the assailant firing the first shot or as victim.
Every faith group separates the sheep from the goats. Roman Catholics have one method, Southern Baptists another. We United Methodists fight with relish over which Methodists are “biblical.” The more religious one becomes the greater the temptation to cull the heretics; we have 20/20 vision when it comes to identifying rogues, unbelievers and apostates.
I’m reminded again of early American heroes Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams, who refused to knuckle under to the 17th century colonial version of the Taliban. Williams correctly called such efforts “soule rape.”
So here’s to Paul Crouch, prosperity gospel, religious empire, excess and all. He was as far away as one can get from Mother Teresa’s humble poverty and quiet evangelism. Even so, in that multicolored rainbow of faith, Mr. Crouch was one of the hues that make faith interesting and thought provoking.
Creede Hinshaw of Macon is a retired Methodist minister.