Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crystal Cathedral Politics

Dare we say it?  You'd think they'd be more transparent.

Robert H. Schuller, founder of the famous Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Cal. and its large television ministry, has apparently removed his own son, Robert A. Schuller, from the cat-bird's seat he has occupied in recent years:  sole preacher in one of the premier televangelism broadcasts.  Beyond that, details are murky.

The goal appears to be expanding the ministry of the "Hour of Power" beyond automatic association with the name Schuller.  This seems like a reasonable idea, and was apparently something the church's denomination -- Reformed Church in America -- had pushed for.  The only problem is that Schuller fils didn't like it.

We have a distant personal interest in this story.  Some years ago, Father Anonymous and his beautiful wife toured the Cathedral grounds, accompanied by a sweet old volunteer whom we'll call Bob. (Look, we were lost and thought it was Disneyland, okay?  We got there eventually).  With a great deal of pride, Bob showed us both the original church building and the much more impressive new one, as well as several other architectural set-pieces.  They were nice enough, if you like that sort of thing.  But he also showed us the columbarium garden, where his own wife was buried, and talked about the role that the ministry of the church had played in his own spiritual life.

When we asked, Bob also made it, ahem, crystal clear that this was a congregation of the Reformed Church in America, into which Schuller pere had been ordained.  That gave us at least a little hope for the church's theology, as the RCA is among the more traditional of America's Calvinist denominations.

All this leaves us wondering just how the current events have really played out.  Press coverage has been spotty, and the LA Times story linked above is the best, but tends to ask the wrong questions. The reporters, Mike Anton and Sam Quinones, seem to see the generational conflict in preaching emphases at work:

 Schuller built his worldwide ministry over a half century on the psychology of positive thinking and appealing to people turned off by the formality of traditional faiths. In contrast, his son's sermons have been full of direct references to the Bible....

"I was called to start a mission, not a church," Schuller told his audience Sunday. "There is a difference. . . . You don't try to preach . . . what is sin and what isn't sin. A mission is a place where you ask nonbelievers to come and find faith and hope and feel love. We're a mission first, a church second." ...

Asked whether his son wanted to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a church rather than a mission, Schuller declined to answer, then said, "But I think it is a wise question.

That's a reasonable hook, but oughtn't reporters be more interested in the nuts and bolts?  Here are some of our questions:  How much control does Schuller exercise over the broadcast, and -- separate question -- over the internal affairs of the congregation?  Was anybody besides the elder Schuller involved in the decision -- say, a board of directors?  

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