The Cult of Personality Is Crumbling

20 02 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – February 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 2 – The Cult of Personality Is Crumbing – by Rev. Bob Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Cult of Personality Is Crumbling

By Rev. Bob Liichow

The following article is written by Gillian Flaccus – Associated Press Writer on 2/1/2009. The highlighting italics and underlining were added by DMI for emphasis.

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. The shimmering, glass-walled mega church 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 debts. 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 donation 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 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 mega church 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 since instituted a rotating roaster of high-profile guest preachers, including Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago-area mega church, and evangelist Luis Palau.

Schuller Sr.’s daughter 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.”

(End of Article)

For years, even when I was a raving charismatic one thing I always disagreed with was the practice of naming ministries, later I learned were really SINistries ) after the people who started them. When you put your name on something it points to you and if you are in ministry my advice is for you to always point to Jesus Christ the One who are supposed to be serving.

So the article by Flaccus should not come as any surprise. When various so-called works of God that are built upon fallen men or women will begin to crumble and fall when their founders begin to die off. I can promise you that any work that is bearing the name of a man will bear some of the marks of a cult of personality. I am referring to works men name after themselves, not names given by others posthumously.

For example, Oral Roberts reported that no less than God Himself told him never to touch the “three G’s.” The three g’s are (1) the gold, (2) the glory and (3) the girls. Well Oral seems to have been obedient with number 3, he is the husband of one wife with no hint of adultery. He failed with number one, he is phenomenally wealthy and number two he did name his university after himself, i.e. “Oral Roberts University,” and his SINistry is called “Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.” So is it any wonder with Oral and his deathbed that his son Richard is having trouble keeping the ORU ship afloat not to mention the television aspect of the work? After all, these things bear Oral’s name and not Richard’s. At best he stands in the shadow of his allegedly anointed father, a shadow Richard never could nor will outgrow.

Benny Hinn Media Ministries, is one of the “official” names of Mr. Hinn’s moneymaking machine. When he dies it will not continue. Why not? Because it is built around Mr. Hinn there is no “ministry.” The same can be said of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Jerry Savelle Ministries, Jesse Duplantis Ministries, Ed Dufresne Ministries, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, ad nauseam.

None of the above were created to live any longer than their flawed founders, apart from their specious books and tapes. None of them has any plans to really continue after the deaths of their namesakes. These leaders are not interested in raising up disciples because their operations are one-man shows. NEVER FORGET THIS FACT! It is all about Benny Hinn, Kenny Copeland, Joyce and Jesse.

Perhaps the one exception to the rule might be Marilyn Hickey Ministries. Marilyn is getting pretty long in the tooth so to speak and is not in the best of health. So a couple of years back she brought her daughter Sarah along side her. However, Sarah lacks the abilities her first-grade teacher mom has in communicating to audiences. She does try to use the same aphorisms and gestures as Marilyn but she ain’t Marilyn and when Marilyn dies that work will decrease to infecting people on a local church level as opposed to the current global level of infection.

I suppose in retrospect it is somewhat of a good thing that these SINisters thought only of themselves when they got started out. Because they have a built in self-destruct button in the form of their death (and I do not care how much faith you have, there is still one death per person).

In closing, I find it interesting that I cannot find one biblically sound television ministry that is named after a living person, man or woman. Names have meaning names indicate things and point people in certain directions. Biblically, names are important and often have prophetic meaning. Thus, I think the very act of consciously naming of a work (that is supposed to be about Jesus) after oneself speaks volumes abut the direction that work will take. Jesus’ words are as true today as they will be forever when He says “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” 

Copyright © 2009 Robert S. Liichow

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