By Lewis Willis
Well, the great one came to Northeast Ohio. I guess he saw Northeast Ohio. And I suppose he is probably persuaded he conquered Northeast Ohio. What did Northeast Ohio get out of it? After all of the prancing, preaching and designed-for-television hysteria which he carefully created, he left his audiences poorer. They were still in the pauperism of darkness, the destitution of sin and the poverty of ignorance. Oh, lest I forget, he left with something else. He left with his treasury bulging and some wallets in Northeast Ohio depleted. With “the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14), he professionally picked the pockets of his audiences with a skill far surpassing the old time huckster of medicine show days. Some of you will remember the fellows to whom I refer – the purveyors of magic elixirs. I recall hearing about one as a kid. He said before he started taking Hadacol, he could hardly spit over his chin. Now after taking only 186 bottles of Hadacol, he could spit all over his chin. This fellow who came to Ohio has become so professional in his act that one would scarcely realize the two came from a common background.
The modem carnival man to whom I refer is Jimmy Swaggart. Newsweek Magazine (5/30/83) called him a “show biz professional.” At age 48 he “surpassed the other electronic apostles” and has “become king of the television evangelists.” The Newsweek article was entitled “King of Honky-Tonk Heaven.” As long as the Lord has friends like Jimmy, He doesn’t need any enemies. Can you imagine the Apostle Peter’s actions producing such a headline. The Akron Beacon Journal (10/23/83) referred to him as “the No. I preacher in the land,” according to the latest ratings charts. Newsweek quoted him as saying, “It takes business sense and many of the tactics used by the Fortune 500” to achieve the success he has realized. In 1982 his revenues topped $60 million. It is indeed big business! A Baton Rouge, LA television station, WBRZ, reported on the family corporation he had formed for his ministry. They said 10 members of his family received more than $400,000 in annual salaries. Swaggart took out a rebuttal ad saying it ain’t so. He has 14 members of his family making less than $350,000! Sure glad we got that straightened out. WBRZ reported that in 1981, Jimmy made $68,000, his wife made $50,526, his son made $58,000, and a brother-in-law made $50,000. That was two years ago. Who knows what he is making now. The son is the kid on his television program who announces upcoming crusades. He has all the personality and skill of Deputy Dawg, the cartoon character.
Some of the members of his staff severed their association with him over the family’s extravagance. Newsweek reported that his wife had an $11,000 desk in her office. As more and more of this information became public, Swaggart realized he could not continue to make himself available for interviews. Stuart Warner, of the Beacon Journal staff quoted a spokesman as saying “we just got burned too many times … so we’ve made it a policy (of not talking to media people).” The spokesman, referring to the Newsweek article, said, “the whole thing was a mess.” The reason the article was a mess is because the operation is a mess. It is a shyster operation from the word go. You know, you can’t make a pig-pen look like a rose garden. So any report on a mess has to be a mess.
The three day campaign at the Coliseum was expected to draw over 50,000 people. I suspect they succeeded since over 14,000 people were present the first night. One is led to believe that the organization pays all of the expense for these campaigns. Not so. Mr. Warner reported that local churches involved in the Crusade contributed $10,000 for advertising and recruited more than 1200 volunteers. Mr. Warner told me in a telephone conversation that Swaggart told the crowd he expected to raise at least $50,000 Friday night, and Warner was persuaded he exceeded that. Swaggart’s budget is $350,000 a day and “we’re in the red every day. I need your help. If I were to tell you how much, it would scare you.” Jimmy, maybe you need to lower some family salaries.
Naturally he taped the event for broadcast on his television program where additional appeals would be made for funds. On hand at the rally were staff people who could tell the audience how to use life insurance policies, wills, and savings plans to contribute to the ministry. Books and records were sold. He has sold more than 12 million albums. One lady from Cleveland was asked about his money oriented activities. She responded, “I don’t care how much money he makes … not as long as he continues to preach the word.” And this is precisely where the rub comes in. These people are not capable of distinguishing between the word of God and the word of Jimmy Swaggart. If he’d ever start preaching the truth, his entire approach would have to be changed. This would require that he repent of his sins. But, having watched him for a number of years, I see no evidence that he is likely to do that. He is the charismatic movement’s reigning star at this time, having replaced Oral Roberts, Rex Humbard and Jim Bakker. But he is headed for a fall. The crest of public favor he now enjoys will soon dissipate as his self-enriching exploits are exposed. By the time the media catches up with him, he’ll be so rich that he won’t care what they say as he falls. Oh, you’ll hear the usual Humbard type appeals to save his ministry but others will soon take his place. He is just like all the rest. He now needs to be ushered around by security guards. But the time is coming when he will be forgotten. I always wonder from whom those guards are protecting him. Is it his faithful audience? The security he needs cannot be bought with money. It is the security that comes only when men have obeyed the Gospel and been saved from their sins. Maybe they protect his gold Rolex watch, his Lincoln Continental or Frances’ $11,000 desk.
At the Coliseum he said God “is so sick of dead preachers preaching dead sermons to dead congregations.” “I was just thinkin’,” God must at least be nauseated with these television boys who use false doctrine to effectively steal money from their audiences in the name of God. The Wall Street tactics of such men are a far cry from that of the apostles. “And 1, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of Power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9, pp. 265-266
May 3, 1984