Swaggart Takes Pitch to Sal Maglie Stadium
Rev. Jimmy Lee Swaggart, 78, appeared last Friday (Aug. 9) in Niagara Falls as part of the “Field of Miracles, the Return,” a three-day Christian event in Sal Maglie Stadium.
It was sponsored by the Joshua Revolution and area churches.
Those who sponsored Rev. Swaggart seemed to know a lot about him.
“He is the perfect candidate to win a broken city to Christ because he was a broken man and has been wonderfully restored,” Pastor Jim Cassidy of Walnut Avenue Christian Church in Niagara Falls told the Buffalo News.
And Michael Chorey, director of the Joshua Revolution, who invited Swaggart to the event, compared Swaggart to the biblical David. He told the News, “I think he’s a modern-day David in many ways. What the Lord has done with Jimmy Swaggart is a great symbol of His power to restore.”
And a visitor, also quoted in the News, Rose Maldonado, who drove from Schenectady with her husband, said of Swaggart, “He humbled himself and asked for God’s forgiveness and now he’s raised again.”
A broken man restored? A modern day David?
Swaggart took the stage at 7 p.m. in the stadium to greet a modest audience of about 500 - less than half of the capacity at Maglie Stadium. By around 8 he was done.
But, more interesting than his appearance in Niagara Falls, is the question: what has this 'broken man’ who ‘rose again,’ this ‘modern day David’ been doing these last 22 years since he was last caught with a prostitute?
First, a little background.
Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, as he says, in poverty, he grew up strapping, standing over six feet tall. In time, the aspiring boxer and piano player became a preacher.
He and his wife, Frances, and son, Donnie, stayed in mobile homes and basements of churches during the 1950s, as he preached in the backwoods of Louisiana.
In 1961, Swaggart was ordained by the Assemblies of God. A year later, he began a radio ministry. In the late 1960s, Swaggart founded a small church: the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with about 40 members. In 1973, he created a television program with a large music segment, a short sermon, and plenty of fundraising.
Swaggart recorded gospel albums, too, and Christian radio stations played his recordings.
He was nominated for Grammys in 1976 and 1980. In 1977, Record World magazine honored him as Male Vocalist of the Year.
The Family Worship Center grew from 500 members in 1975 to a thousand in 1980 bolstered, by Swaggart’s hour-long, weekend telecast of his service from the church. By 1981, Swaggart's television program was aired on 160 stations throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad and he was getting millions in donations.
In fact, sometimes it came in lump sums. In 1981, a California widow named Zoe Vance died leaving almost her entire estate to the Swaggart ministries. The Vance family lawyers charged Swaggart's ministries with "preying upon her loneliness and illness for the purpose of...securing donations from her." A 1984 settlement allocated 70 percent of the estate-about $10 million-to Swaggart ministries.
By 1983, 250 television stations featured Swaggart's telecast. His 7,500 seat Family Worship Center compound now took up both sides of the block on Bluebonnet Road in Baton Rouge. Swaggart bought 200 hundred more acres adjacent to it and
The Jimmy Swaggart Hour was watched by an estimated two million families. Donations amounted to an estimated $160 million a year.
In 1983, John Camp, a reporter for Baton Rouge's WBRZ-TV, unearthed allegations that money collected for a children's aid fund was being used on buildings and furnishings for the ministry. Swaggart would show pictures of emaciated African children to raise money for a children's fund. But according to Swaggart’s director of finance, George Jernigan, the contributions were siphoned into the general account for building projects. Only pennies on the dollar were spent feeding starving children.
That same year, Dwain Johnson, the guitarist in the Swaggart gospel band, was caught having an affair with Swaggart's daughter-in-law, Debbie. When Swaggart heard about the affair, according to court records, Swaggart told Johnson if he wasn't out of town by Monday, he'd be carried out on a stretcher. In a settlement negotiated by Swaggart's lawyer, Johnson was given title to a ministry-owned home and allowed to sell it on the open market, netting a profit of $20,000.
In 1984, Swaggart opened the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (now World Evangelism Bible College, or WEBC) for the many devoted young people that wanted to follow in his footsteps.
In 1985, the ministry boasted $150 million in assets including a DC3 jet once owned by the Rockefellers. Swaggart acquired his personal homes - across from the Baton Rouge Country Club. His estate includes three houses, a gazebo, a pond, and 20 landscaped acres. Swaggart describes his 9,337 square feet house as a "modest two bedroom cottage." In one of Swaggart’s bathrooms is a four-columned Jacuzzi with a gold swan that spouts water into an eight foot long tub. All paid for with donors money.
Not bad for the preacher of him who said, "The birds have their nests and the beasts their lairs, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
In 1986, Swaggart acquired a condominium on a private golf
course about 15 miles from Palm Springs, California.
His was a religion preached in the name of luxury.
In 1986, Swaggart righteously exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman for having several affairs. Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his lucrative ministry all but ended. In 1987, when televangelist Jim Bakker of Praise the Lord ministry was exposed for having paid a former church secretary to keep quiet about a sexual encounter, Swaggart called Bakker a "cancer on the body of Christ." Swaggart told a reporter that he himself had never even kissed a woman other than his wife.
Meantime, Swaggart had a secret hobby. In disguise, he loved to troll the seedy Air Line Highway pickup strip on the outskirts of New Orleans to hire prostitutes.
This came to the attention of the defrocked Rev. Gorman and, in 1987 he hired two men to take pictures. They did -- of Swaggart at the Travel Inn on Airline Highway with Debra Murphree, a local prostitute.
After Gorman contacted the 13-man Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God and showed them the pictures, Swaggart was suspended. The story leaked out and on February 21, 1988, Swaggart gave his now infamous "I Have Sinned" speech as he tearfully spoke to his family, congregation, TV audience, and finally to God, saying, "I have sinned against You, my Lord."
Soon afterward, many stations dropped his show and donations fell off markedly. His once popular Bible College turned into a ghost town. The Assemblies of God defrocked him and Swaggart became a non-denominational Pentecostal minister.
On October 11, 1991, Swaggart, during a crusade, was again found in the company of a prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol in Indio, California, for driving his Jaguar on the wrong side of the road and his ministry was again in the headlines. This time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."
His donations dipping, Swaggart started making real estate deals on the land he had purchased from donations of lonely widows and Christ-hungry working families.
A CNN Impact investigation led by John Camp showed that from 1992-96, over half of the ministries income was gained through real estate sales and rental income; roughly $27 million out of a total of $54 million.
At one point in the early 1990s, when his ministry was reeling from scandals, Swaggart s collected $10,000 a day from developer Sam Recile, who had an option on 127.5 acres at Bluebonnet and I-10 for construction of an ill-fated retail complex. Swaggart collected $2.1 million from Recile, who later ended up in federal prison after bilking investors out of $16 million on the project.
Later in 1991, Guice Inc. donated 65 acres on Bluebonnet to the Christ-anointed Swaggart. Six months later Swaggart sold the property to Baton Rouge General for $4 million.
In 1996, Swaggart sold another 68 acres of land paid for by donors for $10 million. It is now the Mall of Louisiana. At the same time, as Swaggart was making on-air appeals for a modest church van, the ministry bought a fleet of five Mercedes costing a quarter of a million dollars. And a property at Bluebonnet and Perkins that Swaggart purchased in 1986, he sold for $1.4 million in June 2000. He sold another property on Bluebonnet for $2 million in 2004 to be used for a hotel.
He also leased a 152,000-square-foot office building in 2004 to The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper, reportedly for $1.37 million annually.
Today, Swaggart still controls 156 acres of some of the most prime land in Baton Rouge, between the Mall of Louisiana and Tommy Spinosa’s Perkins Rowe development.
And the college dormitories, once paid for by donor money, have been turned into 300 rental apartments. The building is staffed with Swaggart’s non-profit employees. The old college sports complex is open to the public as a fitness center and staffed with Swaggart non-profit employees. The ministry print shop was built with tax-free donations and produces the ministry’s printing material. They run StarCom Printing out of the same print shop and, according to former employees, use the ministry printing press to print CD covers for hard-core hip-hop bands and posters for area night clubs.
In 2009 Swaggart launched the SonLife Broadcasting Network, a 24/7 television network which features Swaggart’s preaching and calls for money. It is estimated that Swaggart pulls in more than $2 million during his monthly appeals. That does not include donations that are called in, mailed, or made online. It does not include proceeds from the books, CDs and Bibles the ministry sells or the money Swaggart receives in rental income from his real estate holdings.
Swaggart's show is seen on over 78 stations in 104 countries. He is on air somewhere asking for money as you read this and somewhere somebody is sending it to him in the hopes that God, thanks to Jimmy Swaggart, will answer his or her prayers.
Yes, Jimmy Swaggart can sing and preach and he can cry, and ask for money with the best. Is he a modern-day David, a broken man that rose again like they say here in Niagara Falls?
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com|| |
AUG 13, 2013