I almost feel sorry for…

Robert Schuller. Almost…but not quite:

Once one of the nation’s most popular televangelists, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller is watching his life’s work crumble.

His son and recent successor, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, has abruptly resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. The shimmering, glass-walled megachurch is home to the “Hour of Power” broadcast, an evangelism staple that’s been on the air for more than three decades.

The church is in financial turmoil: It plans to sell more than $65 million worth of its Orange County property to pay off debt. Revenue dropped by nearly $5 million last year, according to a recent letter from the elder Schuller to elite donors. In the letter, Schuller Sr. implored the Eagle’s Club members — who supply 30 percent of the church’s revenue — for donations and hinted that the show might go off the air without their support.

Awwww…too bad, so sad. But wait, you haven’t heard the “almost” part yet:

The Crystal Cathedral blames the recession for its woes. But it’s clear that the elder Schuller’s carefully orchestrated leadership transition, planned over a decade, has stumbled badly.

It’s a problem common to personality driven ministries. Most have collapsed or been greatly diminished after their founders left the pulpit or died.

Members often tie their donations to the pastor, not the institution, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University. Schuller, with a style that blends pop psychology and theology, has a particularly devoted following, she said.

“Viewers are probably much less likely to give when it’s not their preacher they’re giving to,” she said. “There’s something about these televised programs where people develop a certain loyalty.”

Translation: It’s a cult of personality, and when the personality at the head steps down, the cult is in trouble. In the US, the media are quick to denounce democratically-elected “demagogues” elsewhere (i.e. Venezuela), but the unelected real thing at home gets a free pass, especially if the demagogues in question disguise their demagoguery as “religion”. That’s why I find this passage so…enlightening:

The elder Schuller, who called his weekly show “America’s Television Church,” founded his ministry in a drive-in theater after moving to Southern California in 1955.

He studied marketing strategies to attract worshippers and preached a feel-good Christianity, describing himself as a “possibility thinker” and spinning his upbeat style into a 10,000-member church and a broadcast watched by millions worldwide.

The church’s main sanctuary, the Crystal Cathedral, is a landmark designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, with a spire visible from afar amid Orange County’s suburban sprawl. Thousands make the pilgrimage to see where the broadcast is filmed before a live congregation.

The Schullers consider the church a family business and the younger Schuller’s 2006 appointment was sanctioned by the Crystal Cathedral’s parent denomination, the Reformed Church in America.

Emphasis added.

If it’s a family business, it’s supposed to be a profit-generating enterprise, no? At least that’s the way I understand it, as the daughter and granddaughter of a couple of mom-and-pop (or pop-and-grandpop) entrepreneurs.

But wait, isn’t that kind of at odds with the Schullers’ professed religion? It is if you actually listen to what Jesus said.

That’s why I have so much trouble feeling sorry for the Schuller clan-cult-Ponzi pyramid. True religions exist, but this “church” isn’t one of them, so the fall of its glass spire is as predictable as it is unlamentable. Glass, after all, is modified sand, and sand is the thing the foolish man in the parable built his house on.

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