Who is Jimmy Swaggart?
Jimmy Swaggart (1935-present) is an American Pentecostal pastor, teacher, musician, author, and televangelist. He has preached to crowds around the world through his weekly telecast. According to the official website for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, his 1980s telecast was transmitted to over 3,000 stations and cable systems each week. Sexual scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s led the Assemblies of God to defrock him, and to his temporarily stepping down as the head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.
Swaggart's television ministry, which began in 1975, continues airing nationally and internationally. The weekly Jimmy Swaggart Telecast and A Study in the Word programs are seen nationwide and abroad on 78 channels in 104 countries as well as live over the Internet. Swaggart was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, to Willie Leon (a.k.a., "Son") and Minnie Belle (née Herron) Swaggart. He is the cousin of rock'n'roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and country music star Mickey Gilley. With his parents, Swaggart attended a small, 25-member Assemblies of God church in Ferriday.
On October 10, 1952, Swaggart married Frances Anderson. Their son, Donnie, was born in 1954. Swaggart worked several part-time odd jobs in order to support his young family and also began singing Southern Gospel music at various churches. According to his biography, Swaggart, along with his wife and son, lived in poverty during the 1950s as he preached throughout rural Louisiana, struggling to survive on US$30 a week. Being too poor to own a home, the Swaggarts lived in church basements, pastors' homes, and small motels.
Sun Records producer Sam Phillips wanted to start gospel line of music for the label (undoubtedly to remain in competition with RCA Victor and Columbia, who also had gospel lines) and wanted Swaggart for Sun as the label's first gospel artist. Swaggart's cousin Jerry Lee Lewis, who had previously signed with Sun, was reportedly making $20,000 per week at the time. Although the offer meant a promise for significant income for him and his family, Swaggart turned Phillips down, stating that he was called to preach the gospel.
Ordination and early career
Preaching from a flatbed trailer donated to him, Swaggart began full-time evangelistic work in 1955. It was then that Swaggart began developing a revival-meeting following throughout the American South. Swaggart began attending Bible college in 1957. In 1960, he began recording gospel music record albums while building up another audience via Christian radio stations.
In 1961, after graduating from Bible college, Swaggart was ordained by the Assemblies of God; one year later, Swaggart began his radio ministry. By 1969, Swaggart's radio program, The Camp Meeting Hour, was being aired over numerous radio stations throughout the American Bible Belt. In the late 1960s, Swaggart founded what was then a small church named the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the church eventually became district-affiliated with the Assemblies of God. The Family Worship Center grew from barely 40 members in 1970 to over 500 by 1975 and over 1000 by 1980.
During the 1970s the church grew from a one room church to a more modern building with new additions being built every couple years. In the late 1960s, Swaggart began airing a weekly 30-minute telecast over various local television stations in that city and also purchased a local AM radio station, WLUX in Baton Rouge (now WPFC).
The station broadcast Christian feature stories, preaching and teaching from various fundamentalist and Pentecostal denominations and played a blend of black gospel, Southern gospel, and inspirational music. As Contemporary Christian music became more prevalent, the station avoided playing it. Swaggart would ultimately sell his radio stations gradually throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
Shifting to television
By 1975, Swaggart's television ministry had expanded to more stations around the US; it was at this time that he decided to use television as his primary preaching venue. In 1978, Swaggart's weekly telecast was expanded to an hour. In 1980, Swaggart began a daily weekday telecast featuring Bible study and music while the weekend, hour-long telecast would feature a service from either Family Worship Center (Swaggart's church) or an on-location crusade in a major city. In the early 1980s, Swaggart's crusades expanded to major cities nationwide. By 1983, more than 250 television stations featured Swaggart's telecast. As a result, it was claimed that multitudes of people around the world were converted to Christianity, receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord.
In 1988, Swaggart was implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute that resulted initially in his suspension and ultimately Swaggart was defrocked and removed from the ministry by the Assemblies of God. Three years later, Swaggart was again implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute. As a result, Swaggart's current ministry is non-affiliated, non-denominational and significantly smaller than it was in the ministry's pre-scandal years.
Swaggart's exposure came as retaliation for an incident in 1986 when Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been accused of having several affairs. Once exposed, Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his ministry all but ended. As a retaliatory move, Gorman hired his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo to stake out the Travel Inn on Airline Highway in New Orleans. A camera with a telephoto lens was placed in the window of the motel's Room 12 and draped with a black cloth. When Swaggart arrived, he reportedly went into Room 7. Randy Gorman and Garland Bilbo proceeded to let the air out of Swaggart's tires and called Marvin Gorman, whose church was located nearby.
The two had taken photos of Swaggart outside of Room 7 with Debra Murphree, a local prostitute. Gorman showed up at the Travel Inn a short while later and asked Swaggart what he was doing there. According to Swaggart: The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, by Ann Rowe Seaman, Gorman secured a promise from Swaggart that he would publicly apologize to Gorman and start the process of Gorman's reinstatement to the Assemblies of God. Gorman offered to remain silent if Swaggart would state publicly that he lied about Gorman's affairs.
Gorman waited almost a year, then hand delivered a note to Swaggart informing him his time was up, but Swaggart did not respond. On February 16, 1988, Gorman contacted James Hamil, one of the 13-man Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God. Hamill in turn called Raymond Carlson, the Assemblies Superintendent. He summoned Hamill and Gorman to fly to Springfield and arranged for an emergency meeting of the presbyters. Carlson was shown photos of several men coming in and going out of Room 7 at the Travel Inn Motel in New Orleans. This was done in order to establish the fact that the room was being used for prostitution.
One of the men seen leaving Room 7 was Jimmy Swaggart. The presbytery leadership of the Assemblies of God decided that Swaggart should be suspended from broadcasting his television program for three months. According to the Associated Press, Murphree, who claimed to have posed nude for Swaggart, failed a polygraph test administered by a New York City Police Department polygraph expert.
The test administrator concluded that Murphree had failed to tell the truth on all key questions concerning her statement. The test was administered after Murphree offered to sell the story to the National Enquirer for $100,000. Paul Levy, senior editor for the Enquirer, stated that the polygraph examiner had concluded Murphree was not truthful on six key questions, including one in which she was reportedly asked if she had fabricated the story.
Levy stated that the Enquirer decided not to print her story due to the test results, her drug use, and the fact that she had arrest warrants in three states. Murphree failed questions about whether she was paid or promised money to "set up" Swaggart, and whether she made up the story in order to make money from it. Both times she answered no; this was determined by the polygraph examiner to be a lie.
Swaggart's confession and downfall
On February 21, 1988, without giving any details regarding his transgressions, Swaggart gave his now-infamous "I Have Sinned" speech as he tearfully spoke to his family, congregation, TV audience, and finally his God, saying, "I have sinned against You, my Lord, and I would ask that Your Precious Blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness, not to be remembered against me anymore."
On a New Orleans morning news show four days later, Murphree stated that while Swaggart was a regular client, they had never engaged in sexual intercourse. The clip of Swaggart's confession was played repeatedly on news and tabloid television programs. The Louisiana presbytery of the Assemblies of God initially suspended Jimmy Swaggart from the ministry for three months. The national presbytery of the Assemblies of God soon extended the suspension to their standard two-year suspension for sexual immorality. His return to the pulpit coincided with the end of a three-month suspension originally ordered by the Assemblies.
Believing that Swaggart was not genuinely repentant in not submitting to their authority, the hierarchy of the Assemblies of God immediately defrocked him, removing his credentials and ministerial license. It was then that Swaggart decided he would be an independent, non-denominational Pentecostal minister and Family Worship Center would become non-denominational. Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (now World Evangelism Bible College) would lose many of its students by the end of May 1988.
On October 11, 1991, Swaggart for a second time was found in the company of a prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. According to Garcia, Swaggart stopped to proposition her on the side of the road.
When the patrolman asked Garcia why she was with Swaggart, she replied, "He asked me for sex. I mean, that's why he stopped me. That's what I do. I'm a prostitute." This time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business." Swaggart's son Donnie then announced to the stunned audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for "a time of healing and counseling."
Currently, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries mainly comprises Family Worship Center, The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, radio and television programs called A Study in the Word, SonLife Radio Network, a website, JSM.org; and a 24/7 cable and satellite television network, SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN). Swaggart's wife Frances hosts a television program, Frances and Friends, which is seen daily on SBN. Swaggart also hosts a daily Bible study program on SBN, The Message of the Cross. His son Donnie preaches at Family Worship Center and also preaches in churches across America and abroad. Donnie's son Gabriel is the ministry's youth pastor who leads Crossfire, Family Worship Center's youth ministry.
Swaggart is married to Frances (née Anderson) Swaggart and has one son, Donnie Swaggart. Donnie was named for Swaggart's brother, who died in infancy. He has three grandchildren: Jennifer, Gabriel, and Matthew Swaggart; and five great-grandchildren: Samantha, Abby, Ryder, Lola, and Harper.
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