Watchdog Group Wants TBN Leaders to Step Aside

Televangelists reject the request. Wall Watchers seeks reforms and an inquiry into finances

Los Angeles Times/September 29, 2004
By William Lobdell

A church watchdog group recommended Tuesday that Jan and Paul Crouch step aside as leaders of Orange County-based Trinity Broadcasting Network while a panel of Christian leaders investigates its finances.

An executive for TBN, the world's largest Christian network, rejected the idea but said he would meet with critics and review audited financial statements and other related documents with them. "We will turn over to them whatever we need to turn over," said Paul Crouch Jr., a network executive.

Wall Watchers, a North Carolina group tha monitors the finances of more than 500 Christian nonprofits, proposed the series of reforms in response to recent stories in The Times that detailed the Crouches' luxury lifestyle.

The stories have reported that the network takes in far more moeny than it spends and provided a $425,000 settlement to a former employee who said he had had a homosexual encounter with Paul Crouch. The televangelist has denied the accuser's claim.

Wall Watchers, a nonprofit organization founded in 1998, provides donors with independent financial analyses of ministries. In addition to ranking ministries for financial stability and openness, Wall Watchers officials warn donors about some Christian nonprofits.

Last year, for instance, Wall Watchers and news reports raised concerns about the finances of Joyce Meyer Ministries, which then released its 2002 audited financial statement.

Wall Watchers officials recommended that TBN revamp its board of directors, which consists of Jan and Paul Crouch and his sister, Ruth Brown, to be independent of the Crouch family. The group also proposed that the network stop relying on the "prosperity gospel" - a religious principle that donors will receive financial rewards from God by giving money to TBN - for fundraising.

"The new board should & complete a thorough overhaul of the ministry to put it on a path to teaching authentic Christian theology and operating in a manner that rejects self-serving financial transactions and embraces sound management practices," the organization said in a statement scheduled to be released today.

Crouch, who has run the network for 31 years, has maintained tight control over TBN since the 1970s, when he survived a series of attempted board takeovers.

TBN officials said the ministry already had extensive independent oversight. Its tax records and executive salaries are public record. And TBN's finances are audited annually by accounting firms and available to the public, officials said.

"Trinity has more accountability and oversight than virtually any other organization, regardless of size," according to a TBN statement.

Howard "Rusty" Leonard, chief executive of Wall Watchers, praised TBN for offering to share financial information with his group.

"We've called TBN many times asking for information" without success, he said. "It's a wonderful turn of events."

But Wall Watcher officials said that if TBN didn't adequately address their concerns involving donor money, they would ask the IRS and relevant state attorneys general to investigate whether "the ministry's charitable purpose, rather than the Crouches' reported lavish lifestyle, is being diligently pursued."

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