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Scandals in the Televangelism Industry

In the late 1980's, several scandals emerged within the televangelism industry. Jim Bakker confessed that he had once had an affair with a church secretary named Jessica Hahn. Soon after, it was discovered that Bakker had built a personal empire of wealth by defrauding his followers. As a result of his actions, Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison (Anderson, 1991, p. 59). Another televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, was labeled a "public disgrace" after it was learned that he had consorted with prostitutes (Ostling, 1990, p. 62). This revelation was ironic, because Swaggart had spent a lot of time and energy in denouncing other televangelists for their sinful acts. In the late 1980's, critics also began condemning televangelists for the use of questionable tactics in fundraising appeals. As a result of these problems, many people have come to regard all televangelists as "corrupt and hypocritical" (Hughey, 1990, p. 31). In truth, not all televangelists are "hypocrites and con artists" (p. 31). Unfortunately, however, a certain percentage of televangelists have succumbed to the temptations that arise with the mixing of business and religion. This paper will examine some of the problems that occur when the opportunities of televised religion are abused.

The practice of televangelism has a long and interesting history. Even before there was evangelism on television, there was evangelism on the radio. With the rise in popularity of television in the early 1950's, some radio evangelists began turning their attention to the new medium. Television was an exciting concept for those evangelists because it provided an opportunity for them to spread their message to the masses in a way that was never possible before. The first television evangelist to make a name for himself was the Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen. Sheen's program was scheduled on prime time, and it was a great success during the years that it was run. Soon after Sh...

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