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Televangelism Empire In Chaos Over Family Split

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2009
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      TELEVANGELISM EMPIRE IN CHAOS OVER FAMILY SPLIT
      By Gillian Flaccus
      Associated
      January 31, 2009

      http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/R/REL_TELEVANGELIST_WOES?SITE=SCFLO&SEC
      TION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

      GARDEN GROVE, CALIF. - Once one of the nation's most popular televangelists,
      the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is watching his life's work crumble.

      His son and recent successor, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, has abruptly
      resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral
      <http://www.crystalcathedral.org/>. The shimmering, glass-walled megachurch
      is home to the "Hour of Power" broadcast, an evangelism staple that's been
      on the air for more than three decades.

      The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million
      worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt. Revenue dropped by
      nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder
      Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle's
      Club members - who supply 30 percent of the church's revenue - for donations
      and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support.

      "The final months of 2008 were devastating for our ministry," the
      82-year-old pastor wrote.

      The Crystal Cathedral blames the recession for its woes. But it's clear that
      the elder Schuller's carefully orchestrated leadership transition, planned
      over a decade, has stumbled badly.

      It's a problem common to personality driven ministries. Most have collapsed
      or been greatly diminished after their founders left the pulpit or died.

      Members often tie their donations to the pastor, not the institution, said
      Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University. Schuller,
      with a style that blends pop psychology and theology, has a particularly
      devoted following, she said.

      "Viewers are probably much less likely to give when it's not their preacher
      they're giving to," she said. "There's something about these televised
      programs where people develop a certain loyalty."

      Today's increasingly fragmented media landscape is also to blame, said
      Quentin Schultze, a Calvin College professor who specializes in Christian
      media.

      Church-based televangelism led by powerful personalities filled TV in the
      1980s, but now only a handful of shows remain, he said. Among the struggling
      ministries are those of Oral Roberts and the late D. James Kennedy of "The
      Coral Ridge Hour" TV show.

      "I don't see a scenario for maintaining a TV-based megachurch anymore. The
      days of doing that in the models of Schuller and Jimmy Swaggart and Oral
      Roberts are over," Schultze said. "It's amazing to me that the 'Hour of
      Power' was able to keep going as long as it did."

      Through a spokesman, Schuller Sr., his family members and other cathedral
      officials declined to comment. The younger Schuller, 54, did not respond to
      an e-mail requesting an interview.

      The elder Schuller, who called his weekly show "America's Television
      Church," founded his ministry in a drive-in theater after moving to Southern
      California in 1955.

      He studied marketing strategies to attract worshippers and preached a
      feel-good Christianity, describing himself as a "possibility thinker" and
      spinning his upbeat style into a 10,000-member church and a broadcast
      watched by millions worldwide.

      The church's main sanctuary, the Crystal Cathedral, is a landmark designed
      by renowned architect Philip Johnson, with a spire visible from afar amid
      Orange County's suburban sprawl. Thousands make the pilgrimage to see where
      the broadcast is filmed before a live congregation.

      The Schullers consider the church a family business and the younger
      Schuller's 2006 appointment was sanctioned by the Crystal Cathedral's parent
      denomination, the Reformed Church in America.

      But the church announced on Nov. 29 that Schuller Jr. had resigned as senior
      pastor, just a month after he was removed from the church's syndicated
      broadcasts. In a news release, Schuller Sr. said: "Robert and I have been
      struggling as we each have different ideas as to the direction and the
      vision for this ministry."

      The church has since instituted a rotating roster of high-profile guest
      preachers, including Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, the
      Chicago-area megachurch, and evangelist Luis Palau.

      Schuller Sr.'s daughters and sons-in-law remain involved in the church, some
      in key roles. But Juan Carlos Ortiz, the interim senior pastor, hopes to
      appoint a senior pastor with no ties to the Schuller family within two
      years.

      On the church Web site, concerned members and TV fans have posted hundreds
      of comments protesting the upheaval, with some indicating they have stopped
      giving or will leave altogether.

      Several angry viewers have launched petitions to get the younger Schuller
      back.

      Melody Mook, a 58-year-old medical transcriptionist from El Paso, Texas,
      said she stopped her $25 monthly donation and is looking elsewhere for her
      spiritual needs. She said she dislikes the guest pastors.

      "I feel hurt and confused and I'm not sure that I want to sit and watch when
      I know there's problems beneath the surface," she said. "You feel like
      you're in somebody else's church every Sunday."

      Others said they felt betrayed that the Schullers couldn't put God before
      their family spat.

      "They have not been forthcoming at all," said John Dewart, an insurance
      agent from New Jersey who's watched for 30 years. "Why can't a father and
      son work together for the glory of God? That's my big question."

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      Published by David Sunfellow
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