Molestation scandal is latest setback to once-mighty Trinity Broadcasting Network

Orange County-based Trinity Broadcasting Network has for decades been one of America’s largest religious broadcasters, beaming messages of faith and Christianity to a global audience.

But the televangelism empire, which has listed in tax records assets of more than $750 million, has long faced questions about its operations and spending.

The latest scandal involved the granddaughter of TBN’s founders, who claimed that TBN co-founder Jan Crouch turned her back when she reported she was sexually abused by a network employee.

On Monday, an Orange County jury awarded Carra Crouch $2 million for her years of emotional trauma and future suffering, finding that Jan Crouch’s response caused outrageous harm.

Here’s a closer look at TBN’s vast, multimillion-dollar organization and its history through the pages of The Times.

Building an empire

Paul Crouch was a pastor in Austin, Texas, when he saw the future on TV evangelism. He began buying TV stations and created the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

TBN would become a powerhouse, and the nonprofit’s growth made Crouch and his wife, Jan, rich. He built a grand headquarters off the 405 Freeway in Costa Mesa.

TBN was not the first Christian network — televangelist Pat Robertson had launched the Christian Broadcasting Network a decade earlier — but TBN surpassed its rivals in scope and ambition, bringing the word of God to a global audience of millions.

“He has created an enormous platform for many ministries to do what he says is very important to him — that is, to spread the gospel not only in this country but around the world,” said Steve Strang, founder and chief executive of Charisma Media, a leading publisher of books and magazines for charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.

The son of a poor missionary, Crouch was known for preaching a gospel of prosperity. His twice-yearly praise-a-thons on TBN generated as much as $90 million a year in donations, mostly in small amounts from lower-income Americans. “When you give to God,” Crouch said in a typical appeal, “you’re simply loaning to the Lord, and he gives it right on back.”

Crouch channeled much of the revenue into charity, funding soup kitchens, homeless shelters and an international humanitarian organization, Smile of a Child, founded by wife Jan. In 2011, he donated more than 150 low-power TV stations to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which helps minorities, women and other underrepresented communities own and operate TV and radio stations. The company rebranded itself as the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council in 2015.

But Crouch’s main mission was to build an alternative to secular media, a dream he achieved with single-minded devotion and creativity. TBN, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013, is a 24-hour family of networks with something for nearly every evangelical Christian demographic.

Offerings have included biblical cartoons and soap operas, game shows, programs on fitness and faith healing, religious movies and late-night Christian rock videos. Prominent independent ministers such as Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Schuller bought airtime on TBN, which also broadcast Billy Graham’s crusades.

This year, TBN announced that former presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was launching a weekly news and talk show on the network, part of a lineup that includes megachurch pastors like Joel Osteen and South L.A. pastor Fred K. Price Jr.

Before the Crouches’ deaths, the center of Trinity’s programming had long been the nightly talk show “Praise the Lord,” hosted by the silver-haired Crouch and his flamboyantly coiffed wife. The show was broadcast from an Orange County studio decorated with stained-glass windows, gilded imitation antiques and plush pews for the audience.

Christian network grows along with questions

The extravagance carried over to Crouch’s personal life, provoking criticism from watchdog groups as well as members of his family. He and his wife had access to TBN’s multimillion-dollar private jets and more than two dozen ministry-owned homes, including his-and-hers mansions in Newport Beach, a mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead and a ranch in Texas.

“Over the last 31 years, Crouch and his wife, Jan, have parlayed their viewers’ small expressions of faith into a worldwide broadcasting empire — and a life of luxury,” a 2004 Times investigation reported. “Lower-income, rural Americans in the South are among TBN’s most faithful donors. The network says that 70% of its contributions are in amounts less than $50. Those small gifts underwrite a lifestyle that most of the ministry’s supporters can only dream about.” (Read more from the investigation here.)

In 1991, the FCC began to examine accusations that a minority-controlled company TBN had created to buy a Miami commercial station was a “sham front” that allowed the network to own more commercial stations than the 12 allowed by law. After a protracted legal battle, an appeals court ruled that the federal ownership rules were unclear and that the network could not be punished.

There also were a series of family squabbles. In 2004, it was revealed that Crouch had paid a former employee $425,000 to keep quiet about claims of a homosexual tryst. Crouch denied having sexual contact with the employee.

Despite scandals, the faithful remain true

While Paul Crouch was the head of the organization, many viewers had a special bond with Jan. The couple appeared together on television for decades.

Born Janice Bethany, she was the daughter of a prominent Assemblies of God minister. She met Paul Crouch — a child of missionaries who became a ham radio enthusiast — in the mid-1950s in Rapid City, S.D., where he came after seminary.

Despite the scandals, Jan Crouch enjoyed vast, loyal support from viewers of “Praise the Lord,” the show in which she appeared with her husband. Fans found inspiration in her family story, lifestyle and charity work.

Affected by the poverty she saw on a trip to Haiti, she founded a humanitarian organization called Smile of a Child, which provides food, toys and medical services around the world.

Paul died in 2013, and Jan died in 2016. Today, TBN is led by one of their sons, Matthew Crouch.

Earlier this year, the organization announced it had sold its opulent 65,000-square-foot Costa Mesa headquarters to a commercial real estate firm. In recent months, a gated Newport Beach mansion owned by a Trinity-related entity, Trinity Christian Center of San Marcos, sold for more than $5 million, the Orange County Register reported.

A sexual assault allegation rocks Trinity

Granddaughter Carra Crouch said the sexual abuse she experienced as a teen occurred when she was attending one of Trinity’s annual fundraising telethons in Georgia.

In 2006, when she was 13 years old, Carra Crouch said a 30-year-old Trinity employee sexually assaulted her in an Atlanta hotel room.

When she told her grandmother, Jan Crouch blamed her for what happened and never reported the incident to police, Carra Crouch said.

She said the Trinity employee “coerced himself” into her hotel room and ordered wine from room service. Next, he pressured her to drink and then offered a glass of water, which she contends was laced with a sedative.

When she awoke the next morning, she said blood was on the sheets and her body was sore, “which indicated she had been molested and raped,” according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after, she went to her grandmother’s Newport Beach estate and told her what had happened. The elder Crouch became enraged and upbraided her granddaughter, according to court papers.

“Why would you have that man in your room? Why would you let this happen?” her grandmother said, Carra Crouch testified.

She said her grandmother also feared a spate of negative press if details of the incident were made public, according to court papers. Trinity’s lawyers deny allegations of a cover-up attempt.

The Trinity employee soon was fired, and he was not arrested or charged with any crime.

The lawsuit said that under California’s child protection laws, an ordained minister such as Jan Crouch was required to report the suspected sexual abuse to police.

Jan and Paul Crouch had disputed their granddaughter’s allegations. An attorney for Trinity said the granddaughter’s lawsuit was painful for the family matriarch.

“You can imagine what a grandmother feels when her granddaughter sues her over something like this,” Trinity attorney Michael King said. “She always maintained her love for her granddaughter and was disappointed by the allegations.”

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