Jimmy Swaggart

When you open the home page of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (or at least when I opened them in late 2004 doing research for this article), the first thing that hits you is a picture of Jimmy today, standing at a microphone, preaching, with lots of pictures of him over the years in the background. Right beside the picture are, in order from top to bottom, a link for "all television offers" (ie, things you can buy that make Jimmy's ministry money), then a link for all JSM products (ie, more things that you can buy to make Jimmy's ministry money), then a third link which is an appeal to help our troops overseas (it opens a page so you can send JSM money and they'll send Bibles overseas to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their goal is to put one in the hands of EVERY soldier— regardless of whether they're Christian or not, I suppose), the next link is for "What's New" (it too opens a link to more things you can buy from JSM to make the ministry money), and the final link is about JSM shopping affiliate programs. The five most prominent links on the page— and all of them about marketing and making money for JSM ministries and not about spreading the message of Jesus. That says a lot to me. But unfortunately, it doesn't seem to say a lot to the millions of people who still see Swaggart as an upstanding and steadfast "man of God".

Jimmy Swaggart, like so many of the big name televangelists, was born in the decade following the great Depression. (The other era for the birth of big name evangelists seems to have been in the decade following WWI— for example, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts were both born in 1918. I'm of the opinion that these traumatic events and the living conditions they created in American families is a large part of why these men believe what they do and are as driven as they are.) Swaggart, a cousin to both Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, "started out dirt poor and could have made plenty of money playing honky-tonk piano like Jerry. But he was genuinely committed to serving God and instead of going for money, he traveled for over a decade in a car, with his wife and son." Somewhere along the line, that apparently changed since donations to Swaggart's ministries at one time were up to about $500,000 a day! [Ann Seaman, author of the unauthorized biography of Swaggart, in an interview.] Before Swaggart's fall from grace, his ministry was bringing in an estimated $150 million every year and Swaggart himself was one of the most respected of the televangelists. Seaman said, "He appeared to be an intelligent man, a straight-shooter, with a very balanced and healthy take on his craft. He didn't back down from hard questions or wrap himself in scripture and he was one of the few televangelists who released an audited financial statement to the press. He was well respected by broadcasters like Ted Koppel and Larry King." [Ann Seaman.]

Swaggart's fall from grace came about after his association with a prostitute named Debra Murphree. It was a fall made all the harder by Swaggart's own scathing castigations of two other televangelists within the previous year or so. Marvin Gorman was defrocked by the Assemblies of God when Swaggart revealed that Gorman had engaged in an extramarital affair with a parishioner. In 1987, it was learned the Jim Bakker had engaged in an affair with Jessica Hahn and Swaggart went on record in an interview with Larry King saying that Bakker was a "cancer on the Body of Christ." Both ministers lost very lucrative careers after their "indiscretions" were revealed. And Gorman, it seems, wanted revenge. It was he who hired the private detective to follow Swaggart and ultimately snapped the photographs of Swaggart going into a seedy motel with Debra Murphree.

In 1989, there were further allegations from a woman named Catherine Campen regarding an extramarital affair with Swaggart. But that wasn't the end: a routine stop for speeding in 1991 led to the discovery that Mr. Swaggart was with another prostitute named Rosemary Garcia. But what most probably remember about Mr. Swaggart was his tearful "confession" (although he never specified his "sin") before millions of television viewers when he asked forgiveness of God and his wife. Swaggart was eventually defrocked by the Assemblies of God church after he refused to accept a two-year ban from televangelism, stating that, "'If I do not return to the pulpit this weekend, millions of people will go to hell.'" [Source (Note: This source contains crude language and sexually explicit descriptions from an interview in Penthouse magazine with Ms. Murphree. Reader discretion is advised.)] (As an aside, Pat Robertson is said to have stated that the Swaggart sex scandal was arranged by Robertson's rival for the presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush, but a week later retracted that accusation. [Source]

Swaggart had another "day in court" with respect to his objection to paying sales tax on religious merchandise sold in the state of California. The courts ruled against him all the way to and through the US Supreme Court, which ruled such tax was not in violation of the first amendment. [Source] Ironically, Swaggart received support from such diverse organizations as The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) and International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, Inc. (Hare Krishnas) This ruling led to many churches offering their tracts and pamphlets on a "donation" basis, rather than setting a set price since a donation could not be taxed.

The latest controversy to put the spotlight on Jimmy Swaggart happened just this past September (2004). In a televised broadcast of a sermon from his church in Louisianna, Swaggart went on a rant against gay marriage. In the course of his sermon, his voice got serious and he said, "And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one [a gay man] ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died." His comments brought cheers, applause and laughter from his audience. The entire thing might have gone unnoticed if it were not for a Canadian viewer who was channel surfing early Sunday morning. Hate speech like Swaggart's comments is illegal in Canada and the cable company who rebroadcast Swaggart's September 12th sermon issued an apology. Canadian officials have said that both Swaggart and the cable company might be facing criminal charges.[Source]

The diatribe brought a flurry of reaction from gay rights groups as well as many Christian organizations and spokespersons condemning Swaggart's comments. What was noticably absent were reactions from other radical right preachers and organizations. That comes as no surprise to those who have experienced or witnessed the hatred, intolerance, bigotry and discrimination of these kinds of groups. Swaggart did eventually apologize— sort of. He said, "If it's an insult, I certainly didn't think it was, but if they are offended, then I certainly offer an apology." [Source]

How did he think it was not an insult? Swaggart's comments were comparable to the grand poobah of the KKK saying, "If any black woman looked at me that way, I'd kill her and tell God she died." (I assumed that grand poobah of the KKK was male and straight since the KKK is anti-gay as well and has always had male grand poobahs. I apologize if my assumption is incorrect.) And his apology is a conditional one. Doubly conditional. IF it's an insult (and he didn't think it was) and IF "they" took offense, then his apology was given. Now THAT sounds like a sincere apology. He's essentially saying, "I don't think I did anything wrong, but if you do, then I'll say I'm sorry just to shut you up and get you off my back."

Before I wrap this up, there is another quote attributed to Swaggart that I find rather humorous in its irony, given his career as a televangelist. "The Media is ruled by Satan. But yet I wonder if many Christians fully understand that. Also, will they believe what the Media says, considering that its aim is to steal, kill, and destroy?" [Source] What saddens me is that he probably doesn't see the irony in his comment....

Why do so many people still listen to Jimmy Swaggart? What are they hearing that appeals to them? For answers to those questions, please read my thoughts on the matter.

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Click on any of the links below to read more articles about Jimmy Swaggart.
A blog discussion about Swaggart's comments A Christian Responds to Swaggart
Synopsis: A blog discussion about Swaggart's comments regarding killing a gay man who looked at him wrong.
Jimmy Swaggart Ministries Jimmy Swaggart Ministries
Synopsis: This is Jimmy Swaggart Ministries home page. You can find out a lot about the man and what he believes.
More comments from Christians More Comments from Christians
Synopsis: Two editorials from Christians regarding Swaggart's comments this past September.

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