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A Twist of Fate : Swaggart May Have Been Preaching Against His Own Impulses

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Times Religion Writer

In a book published last October that now takes on an ironic cast, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart advised Christians against going to movie theaters or engaging in any kind of dancing, even aerobics, because the activities might arouse their sexual passion and lust.

In “Straight Answers to Tough Questions,” the fallen preacher also said that Scripture gives at least four definitions of “fornication,” one of them being “consorting with prostitutes.”

As fate would have it, the 316-page book was published in October, a sad month for the Swaggart family. According to church executives who later heard him confess to a recurring fascination with pornography, October was when Swaggart told his wife and son that he was photographed visiting a prostitute at a motel, reportedly for pornographic titillation.

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Reportedly Caught by Minister

News reports using anonymous sources have said that Swaggart frequented cheap motels outside New Orleans and was caught in October by rival evangelist Marvin Gorman, who said Swaggart had unjustly accused him of having multiple sexual affairs.

A Gorman confidant reportedly said that Gorman made Swaggart promise then to tell church authorities. But when months went by with no action, Gorman showed the photographs to Assemblies of God leaders, who listened to Swaggart’s confession Feb. 18.

The Swaggart book provides a window into the strait-laced admonitions of the television preacher and how understandably shocked his followers were when Swaggart announced Feb. 21 that he had sinned and was stepping down from his Baton Rouge, La., pulpit. Here are examples from the book:

- Dancing. It “has been proved, again and again, to arouse lust and sexual passion,” Swaggart wrote. “Even ballroom dancing where men hold women in their arms with their bodies touching (even lightly) as they glide along cheek-to-cheek is harmful.”

He then cited words attributed to Jesus to the effect that a man who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.

“Even when dancing is not mixed, the bodily contortions are such as to arouse sexual passions in those who observe,” he wrote, criticizing even ballroom dancing and ballet lessons for children. Aerobic dancing is no different. It is “totally licentious,” he said.

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- Mixed swimming. Though public swimming is permissible among friends and kin, Christian females should not wear “skimpy bathing attire,” Swaggart said. “Whenever my wife and I go swimming or to a beach we always go to a secluded spot where there are few, if any, people. Otherwise, I will not go,” he said.

Repeatedly, Swaggart said believers “must never forget their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).”

- Movies. “The majority of films today are filled with profanity, obscenity, nudity, vulgarity, and the like,” Swaggart wrote. To the objection that some “clean” movies are also shown, Swaggart argued that the coming previews might not be and that it was a waste of money to support jaded actors and actresses.

The human sex drive is God-given, he said. “There are sexual needs, wants, and desires built into the human body that are perfectly legitimate. It’s just that God intended that these desires to be satisfied between husband and wife,” he said.

But he also counseled against certain sex acts between husband and wife as “unclean or a kind of perversion,” he said. He said masturbation is wrong. “For this act to be carried out to satisfaction, male or female, the mind has to dwell on sordid and filthy imagery,” Swaggart declared. “Masturbation is one of the reasons pornography is so successful.”

Psychologists have said that when someone fumes against certain aberrations, it may really be a way of fighting to control one’s own impulses.

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‘Inner Conflicts’

Asked about the now-apparent contradictions in Swaggart’s life, psychologist Bruce Narramore said, “I would have to conclude that for years he has been struggling with his own lust and impulses. It’s all theory, but my hunch is that people who preach angrily and repeatedly are trying to work out their inner conflicts.”

Narramore is dean of the School of Psychology at Biola University, an evangelical school in La Mirada.

“It’s a defense mechanism--’I’ll attribute my own problems to someone else, and because I never face them, I cave in,’ ” Narramore said in an interview.

In order to return to good graces in the Assemblies of God, Swaggart must undergo a 2-year period of counseling, regardless of how long the denomination decides his suspension from preaching must be.

Narramore said Swaggart, however, evidently needs “long-term therapy” to overcome his reported pornographic addiction.

“But he is in a bind because he has always condemned psychology,” Narramore said. In general, Swaggart has preached that salvation through Jesus and reliance on the Bible are sufficient for a proper Christian life.

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A psychologist who addressed the Religious Alliance Against Pornography in Washington on Wednesday also said that Swaggart needs more than counseling. “No matter how much he prays to God, no matter how sincere, it won’t change him unless he seeks more extensive therapy,” said Victor Cline, a professor at the University of Utah.

News Called Astonishing

Psychology professor Newton Malony at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena said the news of Swaggart’s actions was astonishing. “Consorting with prostitutes is so far afield from running away with the choir director,” Malony said, citing the stereotypical sin attributed to pastors.

Considering the risk run by Swaggart of being discovered, Malony thought Swaggart’s lapses were deep-seated and that becoming a preacher was one way to deal with it.

“Just like a lot of us psychologists go into our business to heal ourselves, maybe many preachers go into that business to get control over themselves. Both healing and control are never full healing and control, however,” he said.

Unbeknown to his followers at the time, Swaggart may have been trying to prepare them late last year for the bad news to come.

Swaggart started “putting himself down, making self-deprecatory remarks” in his sermons, according to a communications professor who monitors television evangelists.

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“I noticed a marked change in December,” said Stephen M. Winzenburg of Florida Southern College. Swaggart described himself as “a poor, pitiful, flawed preacher” in the Dec. 13 program, he said.

In the Dec. 20 program, instead of a Christmas sermon, Swaggart identified himself throughout the service with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus in the Gospels. “He kept saying that Christ is the only one who is perfect,” Winzenburg recalled.

Also in December, Swaggart blamed the pervasiveness of pornography on what he considered the U.S. Supreme Court’s lenient rulings on obscenity--a frequent theme of Swaggart’s preaching over the years.

Last June, Winzenburg noted, Swaggart confessed to a fear that his followers might not have taken seriously then: “I’m scared to death of money and scared to death of women. Those two things have caused more preachers’ downfall than any other.”

Ability to Resist Sin

In his book, Swaggart maintained that becoming saved, and better yet, becoming “filled with the Holy Spirit,” as Pentecostals believe they are, granted believers a special ability to resist sin.

Swaggart wrote that he had found, with only a few exceptions, that Pentecostal Christians were able to quit the “sinful habit” of smoking whereas non-Pentecostal Christians often still smoke.

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In discussing the sin of fornication, Swaggart said, “A marriage of two Christians should never have to face this issue.” He said the word has several different meanings in Scripture:

“First of all, it can mean incest or another perversion, running the whole gamut of abnormal psychology through homosexuality and lesbianism. Second, it means repeated adultery. Third, it is used symbolically in a number of places to refer to idol worship. Fourth, it means consorting with prostitutes.”

But in the last analysis, all fornicators are adulterers, he said.

“To the Christian wife, discovery that her husband is having an adulterous affair would be demoralizing and shocking. He would be guilty of defiling his marriage and sinning against God. But his actions would not be grounds for a divorce,” he said. “Every effort would have to be made to reconcile the problem and restore the marriage. . . .”

If the offender has been forgiven and returns to his sinful ways, efforts should continue to “forgive, again and again,” he said.

On the other hand, for “those who keep dabbling in sin . . . Satan will set a trap for them and eventually destroy them.”

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