Today’s Opinion: Remember Jimmy Swaggart

POSTED: 04/27/11 11:51 AM

We were mildly amused by the letter to the editor we received from Todd Peterson about the silence of the Christian Council of Churches about the decision to allow for the establishment of two more brothels on the island.

It is of course no secret what the churches think about prostitution. But the churches also know that prostitution is here to stay. After all, it’s been around for 2000 years and beyond and it is, in a way, a hugely successful business.

It is also a business easily despised by many. You don’t have to be religious to have a problem with prostitution. From a human rights point of view, prostitution is predominantly about abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.

It is a high risk profession where girls constantly have to be on their guard. They are faced with menacing employers, sometimes violent and dangerous customers and the ever present risk of catching diseases. No girl gets up one day and says to her mom: I want to become a prostitute. This career path is born out of misery and poverty and it befalls women who are so desperate that they do not see any other way to survive.

Why then, indeed, is the Christian Council of Churches so silent about the expansion plans for the prostitution branch in St. Maarten?

Todd Peterson hints darkly at ulterior motives with his pointed punch line. Remember Jimmy Swaggart.

Since it is already 21 years ago we think it’s quite likely that remembering Jimmy Swaggart could be a problem for some people, including members of the Christian Council of Churches. So let’s go down to memory lane a bit and examine the rise and fall of this Pentecostal pastor.

He just turned 76 last month but that birthday was not what made Jimmy notorious. A cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis – the artist who broke his own international career by marrying his 14-year-old niece – Swaggart was living in poverty throughout the fifties as a preacher. By 1983 he had become the most popular television preacher in the United States. More than 250 TV-stations broadcast his program. It was an excellent business. Some reports suggest that Swaggart was making $140 million a year at that time.

Swaggart, who once famously labeled Christian rock and heavy metal music “the new pornography,” moved slowly towards disaster a couple of years later. A self-righteous man, Swaggart exposed that Marvin Gorman, a New Orleans-based minister, had had several affairs.

Gorman was defrocked, and trained his guns on Swaggart. He hired his son Randy and his son in law Garland Bilbo to stake out the Travel Inn in New Orleans. There they caught Swaggart on camera with a prostitute called Debra Murphree.

Gorman confronted Swaggart and told him he would remain silent about the encounter. There was of course a condition: Swaggart had to make a public apology about what he’d done to Gorman and he had to help reinstate him in the church.

Swaggart kept his blackmailer at bay for a year, but then Gorman went public, and Swaggart’s public disgrace was about to begin.

Swaggart made a tearful confession to his congregation, but his church gave him the boot and he started out on his own. Three years later he was again caught in the company of a prostitute.

So yeah, we can well imagine why Todd Peterson came up catchy punch line.

Things are never what they seem to be. Swaggart’s downfall shows that being a man of the cloth is no guarantee that the human being underneath will never go astray. The opposite is also true: not everyone with a calling is like Jimmy Swaggart, and that is certainly something to keep in mind when it comes to judging others’ action or inaction.

 

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