Posted by: cassymuronaka | January 10, 2010

Televangelists

My sister used to watch football games on Sunday afternoon with my father when she was growing up. I watched televangelists with him on Sunday nights.

I don’t know when this odd father-daughter bonding ritual began, but I do know that when we were at loose ends on a Sunday night, one of us would start flipping the channels until landing upon someone gesturing wildly into the camera and desperately trying to bring us to JESUZZZZZZ.

My father found the Ohio evangelist Ernest Angley so engrossing and entertaining that he would drag a kitchen chair into the living room and pull it up right to the television screen, in order to to better hear and see the pitch.

Angley, who I remember wearing a ruffled powder-blue prom suit and a really terrible toupee, used to stand with his hands clasped firmly to his sides, his voice and body quivering as he wailed about “the burning bush, the burning bush.” My father literally almost fell off his chair once while watching Ernest Angley, laughing until he cried, dragging his cloth handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiping his eyes from underneath his glasses.

My mother, who was raised by a woman who changed religions the way other women change clothing, saw no humor in our past-time and would make a pointed exit from the living room on these Sunday nights, not hesitating to indicate her profound disapproval.

Kathryn Kuhlman was my evangelist of choice when I was in college. I was joined in my adoration of her by my good friend Ken, who, like me, occasionally enjoyed watching her with the sound off. Audio was not really required to appreciate the preternaturally animated Kathryn Kuhlman, although Ken often turned the television back up when Kuhlman swept an arm dramatically to introduce “Dino…. at the piano.” Kathryn Kuhlman, with her Little House on the Prairie white dresses, is no longer with us, but I see that Dino is still around. A sort of fundamentalist Liberace, he looks to have had about 12 face-lifts, judging by the photos on his website.

Indeed, fashion sense does not appear to be a defining characteristic of the average television evangelist. Tammy Faye Bakker/Messner, famous for her long artificial eyelashes and bold hand with a lip-lining brush, had nothing on my current favorite, Jan Crouch, with her baby voice, racoon eyes and riveting pink bouffant hair adorned with diamond and velvet bows.

Jan and Paul Crouch help found the Orange County-based Trinity Broadcast Network, the nation’s largest Christian television network, eventually wresting control of it away from co-founders, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The Crouches also run an amusement park dedicated to Jesus called the “Holy Land Experience,” where you can buy an annual Jerusalem Gold Pass for only $120 a year.

Orange County is home to another famous televangelist, the right Rev. Robert Schuller, who began his career preaching to his flock at a drive-in church as they sat in their cars. Schuller eventually built the Crystal Cathedral, which annually sponsors shows at Easter and Christmas, complete with flying angels suspended on wires, that rival anything the Great White Way has to offer.

The one evangelist that I am very sorry to have missed is the legendary Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the Angelus Temple, located not 25 miles away from my home.

Aimee Semple McPherson was the first woman to preach on the radio. She set the media standard for all the televangelists who followed after her, through her own private radio station, three magazines, and the crews who built the flamboyant sets for weekly services at her Los Angeles mega-church.

And like so many of today’s evangelists — Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker — McPherson’s private life ran somewhat counter to what she espoused on the pulpit. In 1926, she disappeared for more than a month after last being seen in a swimsuit at the beach in Santa Monica. A married male engineer for the radio station that aired her religious broadcasts vanished at exactly the same time.

McPherson eventually turned up in Mexican border town, where she claimed to have been kidnapped and held for ransom. But witnesses later put McPherson not in the Mexican desert but in a charming seaside Carmel cottage rented by that same radio engineer.

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Responses

  1. Praise the Lord!

  2. I had a similar experience of TV bonding with my mom during the 1967-69 seasons of “Mission: Impossible” at 10 on Sunday nights. No one else of the six other people in the house wanted to watch it.


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