Paul F. Crouch, Who Built Evangelical TV Network, Dies at 79
Mark Boster/The Los Angeles Times
By EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS
Published: December 1, 2013
Paul F. Crouch, a television evangelist who founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his wife and turned it into the world’s largest Christian television network, died on Saturday. He was 79.
His death was confirmed by the network, which said he had suffered from degenerative heart disease for a decade.
Mr. Crouch served as the face of Trinity Broadcasting, along with his wife, Janice, expanding it from one station in Southern California to thousands of stations across the world. He often appeared on camera, microphone in hand, quoting from the Bible and delivering his upbeat brand of Christianity.
But he also faced criticism over lavish spending of the millions of dollars in donations collected through the network. Last year, his granddaughter accused the network of financial improprieties, and her father, Paul Crouch Jr., was forced off the staff.
Paul Franklin Crouch was born in St. Joseph, Mo., on March 30, 1934. His parents were Pentecostal missionaries who had lived in Egypt. He took an interest in ham radio as a boy and was a licensed operator at 15.
He graduated from the Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Mo., where he worked with other students to build the campus radio station. After graduating, he managed the television and film unit for the Assemblies of God church.
He and his wife, who met in 1956, founded Trinity Broadcasting Network in 1973 and bought their first station, now called KTBN-TV 40, in Santa Ana. They embraced satellite technology, broadcasting to other states and eventually overseas.
In a video tribute by the network on Saturday, Mr. Crouch could be seen on camera celebrating the network’s expansion to new cities. “All over the country, they’re coming to know Jesus,” he said. “Church, I think we ought to rejoice because the whole world is getting saved.”
TBN now runs on 84 satellite channels and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates, according to the company. Mr. Crouch was the host of a show called “Behind the Scenes” that aired until recently.
The network runs sermons from prominent preachers like Joel Osteen and aired a special this month featuring the Rev. Billy Graham. This year, Mr. Crouch interviewed Rick Santorum, a former Republican presidential candidate, on his show.
The network also owns the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Fla.
Some Christian leaders have criticized the Crouches for preaching the “prosperity gospel” — the message that if you have faith in God and donate generously, you will profit in return. In 2010, donations to TBN totaled $93 million. The Crouches had multiple homes, including his-and-hers mansions in Newport Beach, Calif., and used corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each. In 2010, Mr. Crouch’s salary as president of Trinity Broadcasting was $400,000; Mrs. Crouch’s as first vice president was $365,000.
In 2012, Mr. Crouch’s granddaughter Brittany Koper went public with the accusations of financial improprieties. Ms. Koper told The New York Times that her job had been to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses. But a lawyer for the network said Ms. Koper and her husband had been fired by TBN and accused them of stealing $1.3 million.
The dispute took a toll on the family. Her father left the network, where he had served on the board, saying that getting caught in the middle of the dispute was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure.”
Mr. Crouch is survived by his wife; two sons, Paul Jr. and Matthew; and several grandchildren.
Mr. Crouch often traveled overseas with the network and filmed episodes of his “Behind the Scenes” show in London and Rome. In one episode this year, he reminisced about how the network found an audience in Africa, noting that one time when he arrived at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, immigration officials recognized him. They “praised the Lord” and patted him on the back, he said.
“That’s God,” he said. “He’s opening these doors, and we’re going through them.”