Why Jimmy Swaggart Still Needs To Repent
By Rev. Rafael Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
When thinking about the current state of the church when confronted with the moral failures of its leadership and the dire need for a legitimate response to it, one question continually comes up. It is piteously asked by many who look at the sad career of Pentecostal evangelist Jimmy Swaggart as an example of how the church has "shot our wounded" and generally been legalistic, unforgiving and unchristian. In their rush to define how Christian mercy has been withheld from the fallen, they overlook several important matters about Swaggart's life example and ministry that always seem to escape their notice, things this article will strive to underscore. These issues reveal that the subject is often riddled with emotional argumentation that often entirely obscures real consideration of the matter.
One individual's comments perfectly capture the sentiments of these well-meaning, yet deluded Christians:
.. How many have taken the time to pray for him and the lives he and Donnie touch? We are quick to throw stones, yet, not quick to administer love and forgiveness. ..
What this person is referring to is the all too painfully public deconstruction of the ministry and life of the one-time Assemblies of God (AoG) evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, whose decidedly unclerical visitations with prostitute Debra Murphree and others in the red light districts of Baton Rouge, Louisiana became public knowledge in the winter of 1988. The sordid details of Swaggart's secret trysts with Murphree were supplied by a public revelation of surveillance conducted on him by the private investigators of another fallen AoG evangelist, Marvin Gorman, whom Swaggart - in utterly hypocritical fashion - had personally helped to oust from the denomination for similar reasons.
During the time period between 1987 to 1996, when litigation Gorman brought against Swaggart for slander began to work its way through the courts, far more disturbing details about Swaggart's indiscretions emerged that further revealed a profound depth of serious moral failure on Swaggart's part during the 1980's. The local Louisiana AoG presbytery's official disciplinary "action" in essence simply compelled Swaggart to step down from his pulpit for three months. This gesture was superceded by the national AoG leadership in Springfield, Missouri with an aim on more thorough disciplinary action, (a year's suspension of pulpit ministry and two years of rehabilitation program oversight) although this effort's objectives hardly seemed much more "punitive" than the Louisiana AoG presbytery.
But Swaggart's determination to put his fall behind him initiated a needlessly messy and equally public clash with AoG executive leadership over his "period of restoration." Refusing to submit to their inexplicably lenient probationary period and citing the need for his personal presence at the helm of his evangelistic association to prevent it from a collapse, Swaggart chose to leave the AoG and pursue an independent course. But after another dalliance in 1991 with a Chicana prostitute in California, what support he was able to rally after his initial bolt from the AoG mostly evaporated, leaving him high and dry with only a few fanatical supporters to supply him moral and financial help.
The "Jimmy Swaggart Telecast," at one time one of the most watched television programs in Christian circles in the 1980's alongside the "PTL Club" and the "700 Club" still manages to get aired through Swaggart's SonLife Broadcasting Network. SonLife is an ad hoc media outreach of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (JSM), ever engaged in an arduous and expensive struggle to reestablish his syndicated "Telecast" programming around the world as his flagship ministry presence. JSM seeks to accomplish this by using Internet webcasts, a selective use of secular and Christian cable and satellite broadcasting, and radio station feeds that feature the teaching and preaching of Swaggart, his wife Francis, son Donny and grandson Gabriel. JSM's budget, however, can barely field them and fundraises continually through the broadcasts to pay for their media presence. To this day Swaggart presides over the wobbling remnants of his once vast ministry at his Baton Rouge headquarters, having sold off much of its property, closed much of his Bible School, and virtually ceasing all of the world missions support work he once did.
But the Swaggart ministry presence shows no reinvention of the evangelist's Pentecostal conservatism: indeed, it is a reiteration of the same kind of homespun, down-home revivalism that helped create his preacher's persona. Banking heavily on Internet and radio networking, a mouse click or a radio dial twist can bring one to a website-archived worship services at the Family Worship Center church Swaggart founded or a flow of his gospel piano music. Much of Swaggart's "Evangelist" periodical, as on SonLife, is used to market his music CD's and tapes and self-published Bible commentaries, and provide for him a monthly platform where his take on current events and religion can be heard. Loyalists have kept his ministry afloat for the past decade or so, and a slow trickle of new converts and idealistic Christians, many too young (or undiscerning) to have been aware of his troubles in the 1980's, have provided for him some measure of assurance that he is not what he realistically has become, an increasingly shrill and marginalized maverick preacher on the fringe of the evangelical Pentecostal and Charismatic cultures he reckons apostate.
But it is Jimmy Swaggart's clash with the Assembly of God's executive presbytery, resulting in his leaving the denomination, that has left the most unpleasantly enduring mark on the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds. Scores of people whose eyes were not as fixed upon Christ as they should have been (Hebrews 12:1-3) but instead placed their trust in Swaggart's compelling personal example and charisma had their faith shaken seriously in the 1980's. Many turned away from God as a result and have never darkened the door of a church since then. Still reeling from the PTL scandal, the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds began to polarize again into pro- and con- camps, with supporters of the AoG and Swaggart circling their wagons once again to contentiously grapple with the ethical and spiritual controversies that underlay the whole affair.
To this day, the perception is perpetuated by many Christians that Swaggart's subsequent fall from the ministry of the AoG was in part engineered by jealous, harsh, and judgmental church bureaucrats who refused him any forgiveness and restoration. In turn, they supposedly then revealed themselves for what they supposedly really were: petty, jealous and Pharisaical (as well as anyone else who might demand an accounting of Swaggart's doings) who "touched the anointed" and are in the bullseye of God's judgment.
This dubious position continues to be pressed into the defense of Swaggart, even today as we have seen, and one 1988 pro-Swaggart book, authored by Charles and Lynda Fontaine (who cite the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit for prompting them to write it) leaves no doubt as to their perceived and divinely inspired mission:
The whole reason for the book is to bring about the changes the Holy Spirit told us to write about:
The Assemblies of God disciplinary policy: the Holy Spirit wants it changed from a punitive one to one based on love.
The criticism of Jimmy Swaggart: the Holy Spirit wants it stopped.
The financial support for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries: the Holy Spirit wants Christians to support it. (1)
Incredibly, the Fontaines went on in their book - circulated barely a year after Swaggart's decision to part ways from the AoG - to actually urge credentialed AoG ministers, executive leaders, Christian broadcasters and newsmen to arise and mount a mass movement of protest against the "unconstitutional actions", "unscriptural discipline" and "undeserved criticism" that Swaggart was receiving, in the ultimately futile hope that he would ride a grass roots ground swell of populist sentiment that would once again install him to his pre-scandal preeminence. It never really had a chance to materialize, primarily due to certain unflattering reasons such as his 1991 encounter with a Californian prostitute, and the subsequent emergence of exceedingly ugly details regarding his sexual and social exploits as a result of Gorman's legal team investigation.
But the Fontaine's emotional closing thrust of the book is a classic study in the kind of evangelical credulity many Christians will stoop to when rallying around fallen heroes.
It quotes from a letter written by a well known and respected Assemblies missionary Mark Buntain (and printed in Swaggart's ministry magazine, The Evangelist of June, 1988) containing a dark confession of his own. What was this revelation? It was Buntain's confession to not praying for Swaggart's "life to be protected from the onslaught of Satan's power. I am guilty. The whole Christian community is guilty, and we need first to ask you to forgive us. .. You are God's special man." (2) This bizarre letter in effect went on to assert that there was actually plenty of blame to go around for Swaggart's fall, and that it was the Christian community's fault for it to have happened!
This guilty-turned-victim position continues to enjoy recycling by the apologists - and more importantly, the lawyers of - those who are caught in some compromising position, both saints and sinners. Swaggart's personal example so completely scandalized the Christian ministry as he continued in it's motions, further cheapening the cost of God's grace in his life. His defiance of discipline stems from his impudent reckoning that he was indeed above reproach (in his inflated imagination), and was merely the victim of conspiracy and powerful allegiances working to turn the Church against him. This equally bizarre position has become the defense of choice by many fallen preachers in the Charismatic and Pentecostal cultures (and beyond them).
If someone sinned, so their argument goes, it was because their fellow Christians didn't pray for them, or spoke hostile words that called down curses upon them that somehow became a first strike of Satanic power. Personal responsibility - and therefore, accountability - is no longer the issue (indeed, it is easily sidestepped) but the demand for an immediate cessation of sanction and even speech against the guilty becomes their paramount concern. Indeed, these same "victims" go on to castigate the local church for failing them, and that it must speedily repent for failing the sinner-now-victim in his hour of demonic temptation and attack and beg their forgiveness!
Biblical Discipline And A "Special Man" Behaving Badly
The problem with this bizarre spin on the issue is that it is completely out of touch with the Biblical view of Christian discipline, choosing to confuse issues with emotional rhetoric and avoiding the core issues at hand. This obfuscation of Scriptural mandate with emotional pleas is the one singular error that fatally flaws every single heart-tugging, passionate argument that tries to make Swaggart and other fallen Christian leaders as poster-children for the need for grace.
It unintentionally sounds more like the product of postmodern self-justification and neat rationalizing to explain away the clear need for serious, intentional and binding Christian discipline, as Biblically mandated, to be applied and adhered to by the Christian Church. One might expect this kind of talk to be coming from secular entertainers and comedians seeking a good knowing laugh at the expense of the Church.
Biblical discipline is not an arbitrary form of mean-spirited vindictiveness at all, but it is rather a genuine expression of divine love both for the offender and the offended as well as an affirmation of the cause of Biblical truth. It refuses to lightly brush over the open sin that often surfaces among Christians and their church leaders and treats all the same. Paul's counsel to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 concerning the need for disciplining an incestuous member of their church shows just how serious such correction must be taken, especially when the church's pride in their "spirituality" and "integrity" is so clearly and brashly expressed:
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Both sincerity of heart and the objective standard of truth are to be operative in this kind of admonition. In a humble yet firm spirit, we as Christians are enjoined to reach out to those who have fallen and lift them up again by counsel and admonition.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Galatians 6:1
When properly and promptly administered, Christian discipline is a perfect example of Christian love that seeks to restore and heal the fallen who have stumbled due to moral and spiritual lapses that led to open sin. The process is one that involves Christian admonition by both leaders and other members of the community of faith who counsel the fallen who are submitted to their leadership and pastoral care - processes that minister love and forgiveness tempered by accountability and the rebuilding of trustworthy faithfulness:
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. 1 Thess. 5:12
What does Biblical discipline such as this have to do with Jimmy Swaggart? It has everything to do with it.
Swaggart's exalted status in the mid-1980's was that of one of the most well-known Christian evangelists on the planet, a minister whose name and ministry were globally recognized, respected and heeded. He was a traveling crusade-oriented Pentecostal preacher whose old-time conservatism and fiery Jesus-or-hell preaching struck a compelling chord with literally tens of millions of people worldwide. If he was any kind of "special man" as Buntain asserted it was due only to the unimaginably powerful influence and stature over millions he wielded, which at one time was on the par of religious figures such as Billy Graham or Pope John Paul II. In the eyes of those same millions, he could do no wrong.
Yet, according to 1 Timothy 5:20, those who openly sin must receive "rebuke before all, that others also may fear", and Swaggart's duplicitous behavior in covering and minimizing his moral failure made it all the more necessary that he be disciplined. Sadly, it was only when Marvin Gorman's exposure of Swaggart's secretive lifestyle in 1988 became a media circus in the post-PTL world that any official denominational attempt to make him accountable actually began. His preemptive and abortive attempts to publicly put it behind him were doomed to failure from the start. But as pathetically ineffectual as they was, they at least served to show us that Swaggart, and any other "special man" who has fallen into and covered sin, is not above the kind of Biblical discipline as we have briefly discussed.
And Jimmy Swaggart does not seem to ever have been disciplined in a meaningful, Biblical manner since his self-destruction began. Proof of a verifiable process doesn't exist, despite whatever may be shared among Christians by starry-eyed believers who take his teary-eyed pulpiteering and self-effacing manner as the fruit of his repentance. Reports have surfaced that he'd received counseling from a group of Foursquare ministers, from a group of close preacher friends, etc. but if this is the case, he's been terribly silent on who they are and where this had taken place.
His only public references to the devastation his moral failure wrought upon the church are to refer to them as "particular situations which transpired years ago" and to move hastily on. There are no references to a single shred or vestige of the "restoration" he supposedly experienced in those three months when he was "off the air" in 1988 in any Swaggart publications or sermons I've had a chance to hear.
And Swaggart's inner circle is dedicated to maintaining the distance he himself has chosen to try to place between himself and accountability. "We don't discuss the past because we don't live in the past," said Donnie Swaggart, the heir apparent to JSM, in a 1998 interview, flatly stating "we've moved past that" (3). All that is really known of Swaggart's "rehabilitation" is that Jimmy laid low out of the public eye, was visited and consoled by the most financially faithful of his supporters, and returned to his church pulpit and the airwaves in May, 1988, in full defiance of the AoG executive presbytery's mandate that he enter into rehab in April of that same year. That same month, they withdrew his AoG credentials, even though Gorman's lawyer, Hunter Lundy, recounts that Swaggart had been announcing his resignation from the denomination earlier, in a preemptive P.R.-tinged strike, as having been in either December of 1987, or sometime during January or February of 1988 (4).
Lundy's book, Let Us Prey, lays out in stark and factual manner the web of deceit and treachery that Swaggart engineered in the 1980's during his Louisiana heyday to strengthen his own authority and powerbase there. It showed to what extent Swaggart abused the enormous power he once had. These abominable doings alone showed him to be an unethical and hard-fisted church politician doing what he needed to do to consolidate his position at the expense of others. While the preaching of the Gospel may be the ultimate purpose behind it all, it was hardly served by the past he wishes to avoid scrutiny for. This and his present example today shows that, in Jimmy's eyes, the ends justify the means. The dreadful dross of carnal religious jealousy, megalomania and exploitation of the blind faith of Christian followers that he exerts today is without question a gross and hideous thing to behold. But what is worse is the utter lack of discernment Swaggart's followers show in their enthusiastic support of his tainted ministry.
In the midst of this strident ecclesiastical debacle, I have heard many Christians, weary of being reminded of these painful facts and believing themselves to be advancing a higher Christian compassion and mercy cry out "Isn't it enough? Can't we just let this go?"
Such cries may give one pause for a moment to consider what Swaggart has suffered already. He has been publicly dissected by Christian and nonchristian pundits and commentators. His name isn't mentioned with the respect it once had, and is used mostly in ferociously stark contrast to the far more honorable name of Billy Graham. He's lost hundreds of millions of dollars in offerings and and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of supporters and "partners," and one may be tempted to feel as if such a loss of Christian stature is more than enough. After all, didn't we see the terrible rehearsal on Nightline of his fall through art renderings? Haven't we seen him crying out "I have sinned against you, my Lord!" so tearfully and earnestly on February 21, 1988 before the world? He's been "savaged" at the hands of the media and the lawyers representing Marvin Gorman, et al. Shouldn't that be enough?? we hear the Christians cry, pleading godly love and mercy .. and again, it is tempting to feel that it indeed IS enough.
But it isn't.
And it can not be until Jimmy Swaggart submits himself to an intentional, credible and impartial body of mature believers who will hold him accountable to real discipline, admonishment and no-bull counseling (and I'm not holding my breath that he ever will, either), to begin a real process of Biblical restoration that seeks to truly help him. Such a discussion now would appear to be a moot point, but still needs to be at least voiced aloud.
As we have stated, details on just how Swaggart was "restored" are hard to come by, and we have heard of no seasoned, senior minister stepping forward to actually go on record that he had oversight of any such process at all. The Biblical process of restoration we briefly reviewed begins first with submission to visible church authority, but in light of the historical record of Jimmy's rejection of the Assemblies of God leadership that attempted to begin such a process, we doubt it will ever happen. His elitist attitudes clearly show that he considers himself accountable to no one but God, thus completely ignoring the Biblical principles of accountability we've shown.
In light of these, he has revealed his course of action as that of a stubborn man who refuses any meaningful admonition, inflated with a vastly egotistical belief in his own self-importance. And this reprehensible character flaw colors his preaching: dedicated to promoting his messages as the only true spiritual lifeline for the struggling Christians lost in the modern spiritual wilderness, Swaggart's ministry still is able to beckon to many of them, including this Texan grandmother:
"Your Radio Station is more than I can put in words, to my mind and emotions. You're right on in everything you say. It is my only touch with real spiritual teaching, as I know it from the Word and what I feel in my heart. I went from Church to Church, trying to find this teaching, but I never found it. I've been looking for someone that knows the Truth, and when I found SonLife Radio, I found what I had been searching for these 31 years. .." (5)
Indeed, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries is pretty much a law unto itself, continually focusing its energies not only on Swaggart's "Message of the Cross" but on a mighty laboring for survival at the expense of local churches across the world. The clearest evidence of this is seen in the relentless marketing of JSM's "Expositor's Bible", a King James Version of the Bible done with Swaggart's own intrusive commentary injected directly into the verses themselves in red lettering. In virtually every broadcast, Swaggart or his on-air cronies constantly compel viewers to buy them or any of the other "Cross" product line.
Another example lies within the creation of the ministry's fledgling ministerial association, generically called the World Evangelism Fellowship, which is functionally an organization that has an undeniably denominational orientation. Despite it's ad print that vehemently denies that "this is not a Denomination, and we pray it never will be" (6), it ordains ministers, seeks to train them in Swaggart's Bible School, and calls on churches to affiliate with them in supposedly perfect Christian unity as "uniquely equipped" to reach the world with the Gospel. And of course, it is no secret in the Fellowship as to just what kind of role it is to play, according to the ministry's website: "With television you can reach more people per dollar spent than by any other means. The television efforts of World Evangelism Fellowship are directed toward having the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast aired regularly all across the face of the globe."
JSM's internet outreach created the "Home Church" subscription that provides recordings of live and unedited Family Worship Center worship services. At one time, for $100.00 a month. those subscribing to the Home Church program were edified by monthly mailings of "four or five Videos of these Services", which was "the same as bringing Family Worship Center right into your home each and every week. .. If you do not have a good Church to attend, I would urge you strongly to avail yourself of this opportunity. Even if you do have a good Church, this would make an excellent supplement." This has now morphed into the "Media Church" service, where tithes and offerings are to be given by viewers where ever they are and a real "responsibility" to the Family Worship Center of Baton Rouge is expected of them.
This is further evidence of just what the energies of Swaggart's ministerial allies and his flock are meant to be devoted to, that being the financial and material support of his media ministry as it struggles to stay solvent and ahead of its' creditors. Thinly veiled proselytizing of members from existing churches was never far behind.
The Legacy Of Lechery: Jimmy's Rebellious Refusal
Swaggart very publicly and intentionally set himself against the admonishment and discipline of the very fellowship he had pledged in covenant to be submissive to at the worst possible time for such a presumptuously self-willed act to occur. The fireworks began on February 18, 1988 when Swaggart flew to the Assembly of God's international headquarters in Springfield, Missouri three days before he finally making his famous public confession on February 21. The Fountains' account of this meeting certainly makes Swaggart sound far more self-effacing and submissive, stating flatly on page 6 of their forementioned book that he simply "met with members of the Executive Presbytery and confessed to moral failure." Lyn Wilson, on the now defunct Contemporary Pentecostal Issues EDG-list in 1999 related an entirely different story:
"my family knows an evangelist who used to be in Swaggart's organization. In fact, (he) was on Swaggart's private jet for the trip to Springfield. He was in the room when Swaggart faced off with the top AofG leaders, and said that Swaggart was VERY contemptuous of them. At one point, apparently, he stood up and wagged his finger in their faces and said, "You're too dumb and too stupid to. . ." (I can't remember the quote exactly; I don't remember how it ended.) The essence of Swaggart's message to them was that Swaggart spoke for God, and the AofG did not." (7)
In the midst of his contemptuous rejection of the AoG executive leadership, Jimmy's purely carnal attitude ran away with him, and he completely lost sight of the forest for the trees. Anyone who remembers this sad time in the 1980's also remembers the reproach Swaggart helped to heap upon the Body of Christ due to his pride. It could not have been greater. A Sanballat like the Saturday Night Live Church Lady back then couldn't begin to pile the kind of slander, insult, and blasphemy against the church as Swaggart contributed to.
Why do we say this? Remember that in 1988, the entire sordid spectacle of televangelist glitterati feeding upon and feuding with each other was nightly news. Beginning with Jim and Tammy Bakker's unreal PTL Ministry extravagances, infidelities and dissolution, the reproach that steam rollered its way across the nation was unrelenting. Christians, particularly Evangelical Pentecostals, were now the punch-lines for late-night monologues, jokes at the office and factory, and general scorn. Multitudes among us can never forget that terrible time. It certainly did not make the sharing of my faith to my Roman Catholic father and relatives any easier at all. And then, suddenly, long before the wounds of the PTL fiasco had hardly even begun to be stitched up then Swaggart was caught in a sin no less onerous and yet far more damning for all of the hypocrisy that it clearly had been flimsily cloaked with. The media frenzy went into maximum warp and it became open season all that year and then some upon the Pentecostal movement itself. Satire, insult and ridicule redoubled and became the comedic rage everywhere. And real shockwaves from Swaggart's moral failure terribly impacted outright many a Christian mission work: one distressing report in the Latin America Mission magazine Evangelist for July/September 1988 can be seen here.
I don't mind telling you that I prayed and held my breath when the news first came to me while a student at Lee College. In 1986 I had started out towards actually applying to go to Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (JSBC), but God intervened and directed me towards Lee College, now Lee University. That was indeed providential. I was spared the agonizing chaos that rent JSBC after Swaggart decided to turn his back upon the AoG. A recollection by Art Johnson, a member of the student body of JSBC at the time is a brutally honest account that is both tragic and revealing :
I was a student at JSBC at the time of the initial expose. The day he walked out of JSM offices to a crowd of waiting reporters and announced his voluntary withdrawal from the AOG I was standing close enough to him to hear everything he said without the aid of a microphone. He was unequivocal - he was resigning in protest of the requirements of the rehabilitation procedure. .. The place was a madhouse of emotional upheaval. Some were so overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal they left immediately. Others were just crushed and didn't know what to do. By the end of the semester the majority of students had made arrangements to move on to other schools - myself included. It was not only students who left either. A major portion of the staff and faculty also moved on. This included Bro. Ray Trask who was president of the college at the time. Did Swaggart talk to the students? Not much except to say "Please forgive me." and "If you talk to any news people we'll have you on a bus home before sunset." (8)
The split in the JSBC student body was a horrible thing to behold, and all accounts I've heard are some of the most painful narratives to hear recounted by those who were there. There were occasions in which students almost came to blows and had to be restrained. During a devotional, one seemingly mild and inoffensive student chosen to lead it suddenly delivered a nearly hysterical harangue against Swaggart and had to be pulled out of the pulpit before a shocked, numbed student body. Indeed, every earnest young man and woman who had given their lives to the preparation and pursuit of the Gospel ministry under the auspices of JSBC had to endure a shaking in their lives that many never recovered from. This number certainly includes members of the faculty and staff who also labored there: I personally know of two tenured language professors at Lee College who, perceiving a Bible college's conservatism as preferable to the liberalizing climate at Lee, resigned to take positions there in Baton Rouge in the fall of 1987, only to find themselves caught in the crosshairs of administrative controversy barely a few months later. Their attempts to return to Lee, sadly and yet somewhat predictably, were fruitless efforts. I never did find out what happened to them.
One Pentecostal pastor I spoke with who had been at JSBC in preparation for the ministry recalls how, just a few months prior to Swaggart's implosion, a case study on the issue of clergy moral failure came up in one of his pastoral ministry classes there and how adamant his professor's position was on the necessity for a fallen minister to step completely away from any public ministry and to not return, if ever, until a restoration process had been fully complete. And then came the fall of Swaggart, and the inevitable pressure on the faculty he placed upon them to publicly support his actions - obviously to keep their jobs. The pastor recalled how this hapless professor - a former pastor himself - had to go before that same class of young ministers to support his boss, and was subjected to a blistering firestorm of questions concerning the public defense he'd made of Swaggart's decision in light of his previous position that completely contradicted it. One can only wonder what this man was thinking as he looked into the faces of young preachers he'd been charged to prepare for the ministry who now challenged what he'd been standing for .. and how he could look himself in the mirror the next morning.
The issue was not that Jimmy Swaggart had fallen into sin. This is something too many who read this article miss entirely. The issue was and yet is how Jimmy Swaggart, an international Christian leader with global influence and reputation, came to act when being brought to accountability for his infidelity and hypocritical sin. His rejection of the Assemblies of God leadership was a smiting of the face of the Body of Christ as far as I was concerned for they were the ones whom God had set over him to answer to, and who in his madness, instead attacked and harangued. Swaggart's actions spoke volumes about the true lack of commitment to discipline and ministerial integrity he actually had in relationship with the larger Christian fellowship he supposedly was to have been a leader among. Swaggart and his allies had no problem with using the Assemblies bylaws and district leadership system to ensure Marvin Gorman's presence - a perceived threat to his ecclesial aspirations - was removed, but when he was called to task for his sinful behavior, the system suddenly became a leaden weight tied to his neck as he stood awaiting it's disappearance into a deep body of water. There is much that could be said about the way this system was so easily subverted, about the lack of checks and balances within it, and certainly the Carlson administration did not handle the situation well as a result, but at least they did try to deal with it. They were those who, in the sovereignty of God's Lordship over all creation, were appointed to be over him in the Lord - and they were delivered a bad situation .. and even if they didn't do all they could, they made the effort.
During the days in which everyone watched and waited to see what the Assemblies leadership would do and what Swaggart was going to do, I continued my Lee education. I went to Christian Ethics class. Naturally, you can just imagine what topic occupied several of the sessions. Dr. Robert Herron kept the sensationalism shut well out and kept us peering up at the High Ground, to the Moral of the Story, and took good advantage of the teachable moment. During one class, when asked to comment on what effect this latest televangelist implosion might mean to the church, everyone had been pretty negative.
But I responded by saying "hey, wait a second! We need to pray that this truly go right! This could be the greatest moment for the Church - the Body of Christ - to once again gain credibility of some sort since the PTL fiasco. Should brother Swaggart agree to true discipline, this could be the GREATEST opportunity - while the whole unbelieving world is watching - for the church to model ACCOUNTABILITY!" I was hopeful, hopeful, hopeful of seeing all parties come out of this to the glory of God. To see brother Swaggart properly restored through firm discipline .. to see him be an example to the church and the world; well, nothing would have pleased me more than to see him once again doing crusades, preaching the Gospel and winning souls -- a lot more wiser and more humbler perhaps, but it would have been wonderful.
Now, to those of you who pen your venemous feedback to us about how "unforgiving" this article seems, does that sound like a judgmental, stone-em, shoot-our-wounded perspective? I don't think so. I truly was hoping, praying, longing for the best. I wanted to see the Body of Christ (and maybe Pentecostals .. maybe) come out of this latest skid with some visible sign of true grace at work. And I am certain that hoping beyond hope many, many other believers have felt the same. I was never judgmental, but prayerful .. hopeful .. Maybe the Church really could arise! ..
Click here to listen to a RealAudio clip featuring evangelical news columnist Cal Thomas' commentary on a spring, 1988 ABC "Nightline" program on Swaggart's need to submit to the AoG restorative process, however flawed - and what he correctly perceived Swaggart would actually do ..
We all know what happened. Brother Swaggart contemptuously swept aside national Assemblies of God discipline, considering himself more important to "the ministry" than what was at stake. He instead opted to accept his Louisiana regional leadership's admonishment to not preach for three months, starting the day of his teary confession on February 21. Three months later, on May 22, 1988, Swaggart took to the pulpit again, understandably focusing his preaching upon grace and forgiveness for the packed house of faithful (click link to watch a May 23, 1988 BBC News report by Real Video). For all of how much "good" he does now one plain fact must not be ignored. He rejected the admonishment of those over him in the Lord. No matter how well rearranged the window dressing, that is what happened. Defiance of Godly authority is nothing that God will honor, and the post-fall Jimmy Swaggart Ministries that emerged stands under that terrible shadow to this day.
He then struck out on the maverick trail, thinking he could out run the problem with a new burst of revivalism but Marvin Gorman's lawyers made that impossible, filing a $90 million dollar lawsuit against Swaggart for his role in bringing to light his own sexual infidelities that resulted in his own defrocking. Throughout 1990 and 1991, the head-down and arms-flailing approach of Swaggart's legal defense and counteraction proved to me that he had absolutely no other interest in mind than doing pretty much what HE felt was right; the greater issues, the deeper ethical dilemmas his example wrought in the hearts and minds of millions of Christians seemed of no consequence to him. To this day, it seems that how the scandalous example his blatant disregard presented before an unbelieving world has impacted it never has entered his mind long enough to register and possibly change his behavior.
Perhaps the determination by jurors in the lawsuit on September 13, 1991 finally gave Swaggart something to think about. After finding him guilty of defaming Gorman, $10 million in damages were awarded to Gorman and his insurance companies. One thing sadly became very apparent not long afterwards - whatever sober reflection that Jimmy may have been compelled to make by his court defeat was apparently lost on him. It soon became apparent that there were still other things on his mind and it wasn't his "preaching" of the Cross.
On October 11, 1991, in a police stop in Indio, California, far from the bayou country of Louisiana, the officer involved discovered that his nervous driver was riding with a known local prostitute. And that driver was none other than Jimmy Swaggart, who had been driving with one Rosemary Garcia, a Latina lady of the night. Swaggart's remarks to the numbed remnants of his Family Worship Center congregation in Baton Rouge a few days later on October 13th were forever etched into my mind, burnt into memory by their utter arrogance: "The Lord told me that's flat NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS." That was a verbatim quote I read in the local paper that stunned me to my core with all of its baldly self-righteous evasion. The article then went on to say that a host of die-hard loyalists rushed up to the pulpit to shake his hand. When I heard that, I knew that the game was over. My weary sorrow now turned into outrage, and I knew I wasn't alone. The head had lost it's chicken and hadn't yet stopped kicking and flopping around.
So the reaction of Swaggart's ministry, as detailed in an AP report from Tuesday, October 15, was most revealing:
Donnie Swaggart told ministry employees at the Swaggart Family Worship Center that he will temporarily be head administrator of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries while his father undergoes professional counseling and medical care. After "a time of healing and counseling.... Dad will once again assume the pulpit at Family Worship Center," he said in a statement a ministry spokesman later gave to reporters kept outside the 7,000-seat assembly center. He said all crusades would be cancelled and that his father and mother, Frances, were near exhaustion. The statement said the evangelical empire's board of directors will be restructured and a business board will be established, but Jimmy and Frances Swaggart won't be on it. "They will serve in an advisory role," Donnie Swaggart said.
Donnie Swaggart met with ministry employees for 20 minutes. He asked them to pray for his father's "speedy recovery that Dad may continue to do what the Lord called him to do and to not give any information to the media." Reporters didn't see his parents at the worship center.
True to a form already well-documented, the Swaggart organization engaged in frantic damage control: an intentional evasion of hard questions from the press by third-party spokesmen issuing a statement, a hasty rebuilding of its internal leadership with the appearance of "accountability", a firm lockdown of information control among its staff to avoid any leaks to the media, and an affirmation of an ill-defined, vague process of "healing and counselling" that included a loss of ministry activity for the good of Swaggart. And of course, details on who the "professional counselors" and medics weren't issued. In other words, a spiritual shell game was again set in motion in a woefully clumsy attempt at encouraging Swaggart supporters to stay the course with them. But after that round, it was clear that confidence in Swaggart's testimony had been poisoned, twisted, and skewed to the point by his continued carnality that no one was sticking around to see where the pea would end up at.
From that day onward, the troubles and tribulations that Jimmy Swaggart Ministries faced began to mount to an extent almost as equal in magnitude as the then freshly-slaughtered PTL Club. The multimillion dollar lawsuit award process would drag on for 3 years until both parties agreed to settle it in February 1994 for a mere 1.4 million - six years after Swaggart's abandonment of the Assemblies of God.A 1998 CNN report on the ghost-town status of Swaggart's Baton Rouge ministry revealed unfinished buildings, vast, curtained-off sections of his church, and hasty sales and rental of properties once purchased to support ministry growth. The were documented reports on Swaggart's financial improprieties, lavish lifestyle and police-observed behavior in local red-light districts. What kind of drug or delusion did the Swaggarts imbibe so they could tearfully beg or cajole former supporters to keep his ministry "work" going, all the while making use of a fleet of Mercedes Benz sedans without a pang of apparent conscience?
There is so much more that could be said on this and other subjects, but it wearies me to even think of it anymore. I must state categorically however, that those who still cling to the treasured illusion that Swaggart has "suffered" for the Gospel of Christ are out of touch with the far more harsher reality of how he has brought the foulest reproach upon it. I do not speak out of bitterness - but out of a frank assessment of a fallen minister, who is still as fallen as ever, is a law unto himself, and who answers to no one, all the while convincing himself that he "preaches the Gospel" and is the sole safeguard of the "Message of the Cross."
From Him To Us: Looking At The Fruit Of The "New Jimmy Swaggart"
Ben Wilson, in a April 21, 1999 post to the same CPI e-mail list, used excerpts from several of Swaggart's magazine articles which show just how thoroughly Swaggart is committed to maintaining the perception that he walks with God in a way few others can match:
I am reprinting remarks made by Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart in the past year. These were published in the "From Me To You" section of his monthly magazine, "The Evangelist."
This Ministry (Jimmy Swaggart Ministries) is of God. I am of God. I have been called by God. And furthermore, I do every single thing within my power to live what I preach. . . Millions are presently involved in large Pentecostal denominations. I speak not only of America, but also of the entire world. In some remote cases, the leadership of these denominations is godly, but not often. In the far greater majority of the cases, the government of these denominations is not scriptural, which means that the Holy Spirit has little sway in their efforts, whatever they may be. In other words, they are man-led, man-instituted, and man-directed. ......
In fact, I will boast somewhat in the Lord: I doubt there are many people living today who have seen more people brought to Christ than we have. We give the Lord all the praise and glory for that.
So what I am saying is this: I am saying that church leaders around the world with some few exceptions do not want or desire the Spirit of God. They may claim otherwise, but their actions prove the opposite. In other words, Israel could not oppose Christ and at the same time be of God, irrespective of how religious they were or what type of claims they made.
5. What I am about to say is strong but I know it to be true. Anyone who has supported this Ministry in the past has done so because of being led by the Lord. When they stopped supporting this Ministry, it was not at the leading of the Lord but because of listening to Satan. I realize that is strong, but I know it to be true. Please let me say it again: Any Believer who has supported this Ministry in the past, and has stopped, at least because of these adversaries, they have not stopped because the Lord has told them to do so, but because Satan has told them to do so and regrettably, they listened to him. Consequently, the Work of God has been hurt greatly. The Truth is, you can listen to men or you can listen to the Lord. You cannot listen to both.
Our School is accredited with the Lord, which is evidenced by the Moving and Operation of the Holy Spirit. It is not accredited with the world, and to be sure, if it were so, something would be wrong.
In other words, the far greater majority of that which refers to itself as "Church," is already in apostasy and will get worse. But at the same time, there will be a Remnant who will believe God as they've never believed before, and will see great and mighty things. This is the "glorious Church" of which the Lord speaks (Eph. 5:27).
Along with others, I believe the Lord has called me to hold up the Standard of Righteousness, to proclaim the Sound Doctrine of the Word of God. I believe He is helping me to say, "this is the way, walk therein." No! I'm not the only one, of course not! However, to be sure, there aren't many who are "contending for the Faith which was once delivered unto the Saints" (Jude vs. 3).
Regrettably and sadly, at least for the most part, the major Pentecostal Denominations have forsaken the Word of God, have forsaken the Moving and Operation of the Holy Spirit, and are thereby presently serving very little purpose in any capacity. I do not say that with joy but rather with a heaviness of heart, but it is true. The Truth is, those who look to these Denominations, which means they are not looking to the Word of God, are going to be led, with in fact millions already having been led, into apostasy. I am not saying for people to leave these Churches, that being between them and the Lord. But I am saying, that all need to look at the situation as it presently is, and compare it with the Word of God.
Fifteen years ago, I was one of the few voices crying out against this religion of humanism that has presently taken over almost the entirety of the Church. It is far more deadly than people realize, with actually almost the entirety of the Church being psychologized. That means that all of our basic tenants of Faith are being redefined. Without going into greater detail, this is what is happening in your major Pentecostal Organizations. Their Preachers turned out from their Bible Colleges and Seminaries are being taught that the thruway to help is the field of psychology, in other words, and despite what they say, leading people away from Jesus, instead of to Jesus.
There are two barometers by which one can judge the modern Church. The first is "music." Such either portrays its spirituality, or else it portrays the opposite. Music in the Church (or any type of music for that matter) pertains to worship. This is so irrespective if it's music in the world or the Church. Worship is generated in any capacity. With some exceptions, what is presently being seen in most of the Church is worship alright, but not worship of God. It is worship of "ways of the world," worship of "money," worship of the "flesh." In many modern Churches, songs concerning the "Blood" or the "Cross" are all eliminated, thought of as "past miseries."
No, I'm not speaking of modernistic Churches, but those who claim to be Spirit-filled. The truth is, they are filled alright, but not with God.
Most of the Church world thinks that so-called Church Leaders took their stand against me because of particular situations which transpired years ago; however, that was just an excuse. They did not like what I preached, considering that I had the ear of much of the Church World. That was and is the reason for their actions, the reason for their terrible opposition. However, irrespective of what people say, I walk close to the Lord. My life is hidden in Christ. In fact, I believe I can say without fear of exaggeration, that due to His Love, Mercy, and Grace, that I'm closer to the Lord today than I've ever been in my life. To be sure, it is my intention to grow ever closer, for the simple reason that there is no other way.
As well, these same individuals join in the chorus, that I am not qualified to be a leader; however, I remind one and all, that it's not men who call Leaders, but God. In fact, men do not have anything to say about it. They can recognize those whom God calls, which they seldom do, or they can reject them, but they have nothing else to say in the matter.
Wilson's summarization of Swaggart's written positions in the post is both cogent and on target:
To summarize Swaggart the elder's claims:
1. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries is of God. Jimmy Swaggart is of God, has been called by God, and does everything within his power to fulfill his commission.
2. The large Pentecostal denominations, on the other hand, are "man-led, man-instituted, and man-directed." Furthermore, the Holy Spirit has little sway with what happens in the large Pentecostal denominations, which include the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, and the Foursquare Churches. The leaders of these churches do not want the Spirit of the Lord, and they are leading millions of people to hell.
3. Jimmy Swaggart himself has brought more people to the Lord then most anybody in the world.
4. If you have ever given money to Jimmy Swaggart and no longer do so, then it because you are listening to Satan and not following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
5. The Lord has called Jimmy Swaggart to hold up the "Standard of Righteousness," and he's doing a pretty darn good job of it.
6. Preachers turned out from the major Pentecostal Bible Colleges and Seminaries are being taught that the thruway to help is the field of psychology. They lead people away from Jesus and not to him. On the other hand, Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, is accredited by the Lord himself and they don't teach any of the psychology stuff.
7. Much of the music in the Church today is not Jimmy Swaggart approved.
8. The "so-called" Church leaders in the Assemblies of God who attempted to discipline Swaggart eleven years ago were not doing it because he was caught in a seedy motel room with an ugly prostitute. They did not like what he was teaching and were upset because he had the ear of much of the Church world. Swaggart was preaching against "psychologising" the Church, which apparently the Assembly's leadership were quite intent on carrying out. The fact that Swaggart was driving 50 miles to frolic with harlots didn't really have much to do with their "terrible opposition." It was not going along with "psychologising."
9. As opposed to the "so-called" Pentecostal Church leaders, Swaggart is a real Church leader because he has been commissioned a leader by God himself.
I may be missing something here, but I don't detect a huge spirit of repentence or humility at work here. If there was one I'm not sure he would be hurling such vituperation at the men who confronted him about being a whoremonger. (9)
Indeed, from these recent remarks made by Swaggart himself, there doesn't seem to be much evidence for the kind of servant-mindedness one would expect out of a "God's servant" candidate. There is however, plenty of alarming rhetoric that suggests that brother Swaggart continues his "God's special man" posturing that is bordering dangerously on cultic megalomania or at least an egocentric and self-centered pride, reckoning his testimony above scrutiny. His supporting cast, however sincere and godly they may be, ultimately have placed themselves in the position of a captive amen corner, listening to the Swaggarts criticize, lambast and demonize the church as a blinded, naked Laodicean abomination of religiosity. It's a disgusting spectacle that can be heard over the radio airwaves across the nation. Check your local listings and listen to Donnie, Francis or Jimmy for just 15 minutes to hear them "speak the truth in love."
The Findings Of Fruit Inspection: Jimmy, Repent!
Inevitably, the diehard loyalist will wave the tired old slogan "Look at the fruit! If Swaggart wasn't of God, there wouldn't have been all the salvations and healings under his ministry!" This protest is easily the most fleeting of smokescreens floated up to supply some semblance of "anointing" upon his ministry. People who make such foolish claims miss so throughly a critical point that must be made here. If men and women are saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost, healed, or even "delivered" at a Jimmy Swaggart meeting under "his ministry", it is because they responded to the Word of God with faith in His power, and He answered their requests. They respond to God's promise, and He does the work. Therefore, no man should presume to ascribe to some preacher's ministerial presence any kind of glory that rightfully belongs only to God.
It is the Gospel of Christ that is the power of God unto salvation. It is the Gospel of Christ that supplies to us all we need for a sanctified life. It is the Gospel of Christ that shows us how the grace of healing may be sought. All that is then required is a man, woman or child who will believe what He says. That's all.
That's why Christians have been able to receive genuine blessings from God while they are "under the ministry" of individuals given to experiential extremism, false prophecy, false teaching and even heresy (such as Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and Rick Joyner). That is why most of those who came to faith "under the ministry" of a wide variety of "ministries" based upon sham or fluff (from Mike Warnke Ministries to the PTL Club) to this day undeniably still serve the Lord. In the midst of their "ministry", these questionable teachers and preachers somehow delivered a promise from God that people put their faith in, and His Spirit of life touched them in response. But simply because they somehow communicated the Gospel through their outrageous behavior in NO WAY sanctifies it. The great problem today is that the hero-worship of the more credulous among these evangelical masses automatically provides that kind of cloak. But no gospel-piano plunking evangelist, fire breathing prophet full of "rhema", or Brazilian nut manifesting gold and oil deserves the faintest praise for anything God's amazing and awesome power alone will do among their audiences and in their meetings. The fact that thousands of personality cult-driven believers who hang on the words of "God's servant X" or "Handmaiden of the Lord Y" actually do so doesn't mean it is right!
How DARE anyone uphold such a notion that they should? I would hate to stand before that inescapable Presence of the Almighty in the Day of Judgment and answer for how I could DARE to take the Glory that is rightfully his and attribute it to some perceived "anointing" of someone else. The Bible says that no flesh must glory in His Presence (1 Cor. 1:29). No one. If the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, (Ps. 24:1) He is Lord over all that goes on here. How dare we trifle now on this planet with His power and reign and claim for some preacher's public image the glory that is even now His and His alone? Plenty of ignorant Christians, blinded by their hero-worship of man may follow these roadshows, even fund them and buy their tickets. But plenty more do not.
In closing, it is vital to reemphasize that Jimmy Swaggart is a misguided minister of the Gospel whose public record of sin and folly today is certainly nothing the Lord Jesus he professes to serve cannot forgive or restore him from. Despite my hard words, I and others still do long to see him perfected in the love of God to the extent that his testimony be again restored, beginning with his need to submit to the discipline of respected Christian leaders in the Body of Christ who can help him through the twistedness of his soul. The Lord Jesus Christ's precious sacrifice at the cruel Cross of Calvary was the unspeakably powerful focus of God's ability to reclaim and restore the darkest heart from itself. That is brother Swaggart's only real hope. Truly, Jesus today can save "to the uttermost" any and all who will submit to His glorious power. And the Bible goes on to say that the repentant will exhibit the fruit of it in their lives, through changed behavior, thinking, and words. But Jimmy, sadly, shows no sign of this ..
Now I have no way of knowing whether or not he walks in the redemptive grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that he seems to preach much about. That is ultimately God's determination, and indeed, I leave ultimate judgment to God, as any of us should. I have my mirrors in my own life to look into, and my own salvation to "work out" in fear and trembling. But Scripture does mandate that we rightly discern and rebuke in a public and intentional way those in the Body of Christ that live hypocritically in sin, whether the rebuked receive this admonition or not. Swaggart's gross sexual immorality hardly began and ended with one case of "afternoon delight," but was only the tip of a far greater defilement in his life that his personal history indicates he's only glossed over and never really dealt with. It would seem that the saving and sanctifying graces he makes much of in his preaching have yet to fully touch and revitalize his own life. How unspeakably saddening a sight to behold!
I have taken no pleasure or joy in rehearsing a dark chapter such as this or making any of the observations I've made, either. But the utter silence on the matter in the Pentecostal and Charismatic world (aside from his shrill apologists and the deafening silence of Christian leaders) and Jimmy Swaggart's continued march of self-justification and self-righteousness compel me to take the stand I have taken in this article.
I do pity brother Swaggart and wish him well. I do pray for him .. that he repent. And nothing else. That is his greatest need.
1) Jimmy Swaggart: To Obey God Rather Than Men, p. 149
2) ibid, p. 153
3) Seattle Times, December 28, 1998
4) Let Us Prey, p. 155
5) The Evangelist, December 2002, p. 9
6) ibid, p. 17
7) CPI post - Re: Credentialed? Date: 99-04-17 21:09:24 EDT
8) CPI post - Re: Credentialed? Date: 99-04-14 21:46:48 EDT and 99-04-19 21:52:48 EDT
9) CPI post - A Cybervisit to the Swaggster Date: 99-04-21 21:32:28 EDT
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