Jimmy Swaggart. Pentecostal pastor, teacher, musician, author, televangelist… porn addict?
Jimmy Swaggart was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, in 1935, 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. At the age of nine, he began to preach on street corners and lead congregations in singing.
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 began singing Southern Gospel music.
The Swaggarts lived in poverty during the 1950s as he preached throughout rural Louisiana, struggling to survive on $30 a week. 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 a gospel line of music and wanted Swaggart 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. From a flatbed trailer donated to him, Swaggart began full-time evangelistic work in 1955. He began developing a revival-meeting following throughout the American South.
In the late 1960s, Swaggart began airing a weekly 30-minute telecast over various local television stations in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the mid-1970’s Swaggart shifted from radio to television, and by 1980 began a daily telecast featuring Bible study and music as well as a weekend, hour-long telecast featuring a service from either the Family Worship Center (which would grow to seat 7,500) or an on-location crusade in a major city. Swaggart’s crusades expanded to major cities nationwide.
By 1983, Swaggart’s telecast had as many as 8 million viewers in 145 countries. By 1985 the ministry employed 1,500 people and took in $500,000 per day, counting their extensive book and tape revenue. Annually the ministry grossed over 180 million. He was arguably the most popular video preacher in the world.
He had all the perks of that highly successful work- three spacious homes, a personal jet and the use of a luxurious ministry “retreat” in California. The jet was a DC3 once owned by the Rockefellers.
Swaggart takes a swing
In 1986 Swaggart began an on-screen attack against fellow televangelist Jim Bakker, exposing Bakker’s infidelity with Jessica Hahn.
Swaggart had always been a firebrand on the subject of moral turpitude and “demon lust”- “that thing,” as one of his discourses titled it. Swaggart wielded the avenger’s sword, smiting Bakker as “a cancer on the body of Christ.”
“To allow a preacher of the Gospel, when he is caught beyond the shadow of a doubt committing an immoral act…to remain in his position as pastor, would be the most gross stupidity,” Swaggart said.
Swaggart believed he would not fall himself. “It is impossible for me to stray sexually. My wife Frances is with me all the time. If she can’t go on Crusade with me, I have several people who go with me. I’m never alone.”
Swaggart takes another swing
July 15, 1986 Swaggart summoned fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman to a meeting In Baton Rouge. Gorman pastored the 5,000-member First Assembly of God Church in New Orleans and was the star of his own budding TV ministry.
Swaggart threatened to call Gorman’s wife, Virginia, if he didn’t come. With Assembly leadership present and under questioning by Swaggart, Gorman confessed to an adulterous relationship with a member of his own congregation.
Gorman said he hoped to be forgiven by his brethren
By his own account, Gorman confessed to a fling “with one woman” seven years prior, saying he had been forgiven by God for this act and that he hoped to be forgiven by his brethren, congregation, and family…since these gentleman now wished to expose the matter in public.”
The Assembly of God bylaws offered two options for a minister caught in adultery- a two-year rehabilitation with no preaching, or complete dismissal.
Swaggart later reported the episode in a letter to a church official: “I asked him if there had been other women involved. He assured me there were no others. However he was, even then, having an affair with the second woman”—the wife of a former First Assembly deacon.
Louisiana District Superintendent was willing to cut Gorman some slack. Jimmy wasn’t. Swaggart told Gorman, “You need to come clean with your confession, leave the ministry, and seek rehabilitation.” (Swaggart would later refuse to do the same himself.) Swaggart opened the bible to I Timothy, Chapter 5. He made Gorman read aloud ‘what to do when an elder had sinned’- “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others may also fear.”
“What should you do?” Jimmy asked him. Silence filled the room. Finally Swaggart spoke up. “You’re going to have to call Brother Carlson (General Superintendent Carlson, the denomination’s leader in Springfield, Mo.) and Brother Janway.”
Gorman begged for a break, to no avail. Humiliated, he asked the men to at least keep quiet until he had had a chance to tell his family. And he said that he would call the Superintendent himself. Concerned about how Gorman would deal with the sudden stressful situation, Jimmy and a colleague drove Marvin back to New Orleans in Marvin’s car. Gorman later said it was after midnight when they got there, and even though it was very late, Frances Swaggart was at that time on the phone back in Baton Rouge calling members of Gorman’s church.
The following day, at the request of his board, Gorman resigned from his pulpit and church, anticipating that he would be able to carry on his TV ministry. For Swaggart, it was not enough. Swaggart insisted Gorman abandon “the ministry in its entirety,” submit to two years of rehabilitation and walk away from his TV operation and “others depending on its existence.” Gorman refused.
Spearheading a group that Gorman portrayed as a brotherly lynch mob, Swaggart helped prepare a church statement accusing Gorman of “numerous adulterous and illicit affairs”- a statement read to Gorman’s former flock on July 20, 1986.
“We cannot minimize the loathsomeness of sin”
District officials delivered their verdict, reciting evidence that Gorman had sinned: “adultery, illicit affairs, unscriptural lascivious conduct with women who came to him for counseling…we cannot minimize the loathsomeness of sin or the horrendous consequences of sin…”
Gorman claimed he was denied a chance to review the evidence, and that women cited by the church had no complaint against him.
Evidence from the devil himself
Among evidence Gorman claims Swaggart and other officials used was testimony from the devil himself, who spoke during an exorcism. A New Orleans minister was quoted in Gorman’s lawsuit as an example of the shaky evidence that denomination officials used against him.
“And when I cast the devil out (of her), the devil then spoke in a man’s voice and that man’s voice was…Marvin Gorman…I have heard that voice many times and I was sure it was the voice of Marvin Gorman.”
Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his ministry all but dead in the water. So it was of more than casual interest to him when he began receiving anonymous telephone calls informing him that Jimmy Swaggart was seeing a prostitute.
Gorman swings back
October 17, 1987 Gorman sprang into action. He had his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo stake out the Travel Inn, one of several then-deteriorated motels along Airline Highway not three miles from Swaggart’s Family Worship Center. The Inn rented rooms by the hour. A sign in the lobby read, “Positively No Refunds after Fifteen Minutes”.
The two followed Swaggart to the motel where he rendezvoused with Debra Murphree, a local prostitute and mother of three. Murphree would later report that Swaggart had seen her to fulfill his sexual fantasies as often as several times a month for more than a year. She said that several times she had mentioned to Swaggart that he reminded her of the famous Baton Rouge evangelist. “A lot of people tell me that,” he had told her. He only identified himself to her as “Billy”.
Randy took several photos of the two entering the motel room, then quickly flattened one of Swaggart’s tires. Swaggart’s attire: a sweat suit with headband. Randy then called his dad.
“Billy” exited the motel room and walked to his tan Lincoln. He opened the door and slid into the car seat. He started the engine, and began backing out when he realized he had a flat tire. He pulled back in, in front of Room 6. As he changed the tire, Debra sat on the curb next to a small rectangle of sour dirt. If he was stopped, she fretted, it might go badly. Lots of girls had been busted that week. As he worked, perspiring in his sweat suit, she entreated him not to tell the cops anything.
He hoisted the spare onto the nuts and started tightening them (a later report said that he struggled with the tire and put the wheel on backwards). Debra glanced around. Across the highway was a billboard that showed an open Bible. In large letters was a verse from the book of John: “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God! Your eternity is at stake!”
“Barked a name as he approached the Lincoln”
Her eyes roved, rested on the window of Room 12, and froze. In the window was a telephoto lens, draped with a black cloth. She ran back into her room [Room7] and watched through a crack in the door as a blue car pulled into the lot. A man got out. Debra didn’t recognize him.
The man barked a name as he approached the Lincoln. Billy didn’t look up. Before she closed the door of her room, she heard the stranger say to Billy, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The man was Gorman. He wore tinted aviator glasses. Mr. Swaggart wanted to shake Gorman’s hand. Gorman refused.
Swaggart breaks down
The two climbed into Gorman’s car and they talked for over two hours. As they talked, Gorman said, Jimmy broke down and cried. He admitted seeing numerous prostitutes over the years, especially on the road when travelling. He said he’d had a problem for a long time- 28 years.
“If those women go to hell,” he told Gorman, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
According to Gorman, Swaggart pleaded with him to drop the matter, offering Gorman and his family jobs with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. Gorman declined.
Now it was Gorman’s turn to quote scripture. “Rebuke before all,” from I Timothy. But Gorman was more interested in getting his name cleared and his ministry back.
“Your blasting days are over, man…”
“How could you be living this kind of life,” Gorman asked Jimmy, “and attack me? Your blasting days are over, man…”
Swaggart asked repeatedly, “What do you want, Marvin?” Gorman offered to remain silent if Swaggart would state publicly that he lied about Gorman’s affairs. Swaggart promised that he would publicly apologize to Gorman and start the process of reinstating Gorman to the Assemblies of God.
“I’m sorry I’ve hurt you,” Jimmy ended, “and I’m gonna make it right.”
Gorman agreed to let Jimmy talk it over with Frances. At first, according to Hunter Lundy (Gorman’s lawyer), Gorman was to follow Jimmy home to Baton Rouge to help him tell Frances. But outside of New Orleans, Jimmy pulled off the road. He walked back to Gorman’s car; he’s had second thoughts- he’d tell Frances alone. He said he’d call Gorman tomorrow, and the two men parted.
The next day, Sunday, October 18, Jimmy and Frances drove Kenner, La., to meet Gorman at the Sheraton Hotel. After negotiating, Gorman agreed to keep quiet about the details of the Travel Inn and let Jimmy be the one to decide how to tell the church elders, how to pitch the matter in The Evangelist, what to tell his employees and viewers.
But Frances couldn’t help but ‘play hardball’, according to Lundy. She pushed Gorman to drop his lawsuit against Swaggart Ministries if Jimmy did what he promised. Gorman refused to discuss the lawsuit.
Months passed. Nothing happened. Gorman hand delivered a note to Swaggart informing him that time was up. He was going to tell the story.
Amazingly, three weeks before the story broke, in an article Swaggart’s The Evangelist magazine, Swaggart detailed a dream God had recently given him. Richard N. Ostling of Time magazine (March 7, 1988:46) reported the story as well (Time, March 7, 1988:46).
‘In the dream, Jimmy and wife Frances attend a large meeting where an Assemblies of God stage show is being promoted with magazines containing obscene pictures in their centerfolds. Jimmy cries out in protest but is ignored. He bows to weep, then looks up again to find the auditorium empty. The floor is littered with debris which Jimmy starts to collect. When someone asks him what he is doing, he responds, ‘I am trying to clean up the church. I am trying to clean up the church.’
Gorman went public with Swaggart’s motel encounter. Confronted by pictures of himself with a prostitute, Swaggart reportedly admitted in a 10-hour session with church elders that he had paid Murphree to perform pornographic acts for him and that he ‘had a fascination with pornography since childhood’*. Murphree stated that she and Swaggart had met off and on for almost a year, and that while he wouldn’t have sexual relations with her, he would often masturbate while with her.
Swaggart steps down
February 1988 from the Fort Scott Tribune newspaper, Monday, Feb. 22, 1988- Church leaders left the door open for evangelist Jimmy Swaggart to resume his TV ministry after he delivered a tearful confession of sin and stepped down from the pulpit.
“I think he [Swaggart] is a man of integrity. I think he made a mistake. I don’t think it’s a fatal mistake.” -Cecil Janway, Assemblies of God Louisiana District Superintendent. Swaggart did not describe his misconduct Sunday in his confession, which drew gasps and tears from his congregation. An overflow crowd packed his 7,500-seat family worship center after reports that church officials had been given photographs purporting to show Swaggart and a known prostitute going in and out of a motel room.
The Washington Post reported today, quoting a source who spoke to a Jimmy Swaggart World Ministries board member, that Swaggart said he did not engage in sexual intercourse [except maybe once, according to Murphree] with the woman but “paid her to perform pornographic acts”.
The evangelist had confessed to a fascination with pornography stemming from his boyhood, the source said.
Not sexual but pornographic
Cal Thomas, a columnist who worked for the Rev. Jerry Falwell said the same thing Friday on ABC-TV’s Nightline. Thomas said he understood that the incident was not sexual but “pornographic”.
“True humility and repentance”
“He confessed to specific incidents of moral failure,” Forest H. Hall, secretary-treasurer of the Assemblies’ Louisiana District, told Swaggart’s congregation. “In the opinion of the officers of the Louisiana District, he has shown true humility and repentance and has not tried to blame anyone else for his failure.”
Swaggart, tears streaming down his face, said Sunday he would step down from the pulpit “for an undetermined, indeterminate period of time. We will leave that in the hands of the Lord.”
The Louisiana presbytery of the Assemblies of God initially suspended Jimmy Swaggart from the ministry for three months. He was ordered to step down from the pulpit.
March 14 — Swaggart`s wife and son make a televised plea for donations. Swaggart, who does not appear on air, says in a ministry publication that the $140 million ministry is about $14.7 million behind in February receipts.
March 27 — After a rash of protest calls over the lightness of Swaggart`s punishment from Louisiana leaders, national Assemblies of God officials order him to stop preaching for at least a year and undergo two years of rehabilitation.
March 29 — Swaggart announces he will return to the pulpit on May 22 — in keeping with the Louisiana Assemblies of God order but in violation of the national directive.
May 22 –Jimmy put himself back in the pulpit after three months. 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.
Swaggart went independent. He became a non-denominational Pentecostal minister; the Family Worship Center became a non-denominational church. Swaggart was re-ordained shortly thereafter “by his own Jimmy Swaggart Ministries”.
May 24 — Penthouse magazine says its July issue will carry a story by Debra Murphree, who says she is the prostitute who had sex with Swaggart.
The media frenzy went into maximum warp. It became open season on the Pentecostal movement itself. Satire, insult and ridicule became the rage. Saturday Night Lives’ Church Lady skit featured episodes on both Swaggart and Jim Bakker.
Gorman sued Swaggart for defamation. Finding both Swaggart and Swaggart’s television ministries liable for damages, a jury awarded Mr. Gorman’s television and crusade ministries $9 million. In addition, it awarded Gorman $600,000 for defamation and $400,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Swaggart appealed. His insurance companies paid $1.85 million to settle the lawsuit.
Violently whipping the preacher
March 1989 The Straits Times**, 31 January 1989. A topless dancer and part-time strip-o-gram performer claims to have a perverted sexual affair with Swaggart before he was defrocked by the Assemblies of God, Penthouse magazine reported.
In the March issue of the magazine, Ms. Catherine Kampen, 38, of New Orleans, chronicled her alleged affair with Swaggart, which she claimed began in July of 1987 and lasted until January 1988. Kampen told the magazine that the seven-month affair began after she met Mr. Swaggart on the street and after he had offered to give her counseling for marital problems.
During some 10 dates with Mr. Swaggart, Ms. Kampen said the evangelist coaxed her into performing sado-masochistic sexual acts including violently whipping the preacher with a riding crop (a type of horse whip).
October 1991 Jimmy Swaggart and his wife Frances head for a desert retreat in Indian Wells, California, relishing the prospect of a few days of rest. But restful sleep evaded him there, because of a “terrible oppression in my spirit”. The second day he was unable to stay with his scheduled hour of walking and praying. That night, in the crooning quiet of the desert, he didn’t sleep at all.
The next day, Thursday, October 10th, was Jimmy and Frances’ 39th wedding anniversary. They went to dinner with a group that evening. Jimmy had flowers delivered to Frances at their table.
The following morning Jimmy drove his friend’s white Jaguar (with Louisiana plates) into the nearby small town of Indio, not far from where the Swaggarts were staying. There he took Indio Boulevard, where the faded motels sat. He picked Rosemary Garcia out of three or four women in the parking lot of Clark’s Cafe. She was standing near a phone booth. He pulled up and asked if she wanted a ride.
“No,” she replied. “I’m working. Are you interested in a date?”
“Yes,” he said. “Get in.”
There were two of three pornographic magazines on the passenger seat, each one folded out to a certain page. He had to move them off the seat so she could sit down.
“Your place or mine?” she asked.
“Let’s just drive for a while.”
He made a right onto Palm Avenue, behind the nest of ratty motels into a neighborhood of cheap stucco apartments and stumpy little houses.
He told her several times that he was very nervous. She asked him where he was from. Rancho Mirage, he said- he had a house there. He wore a sweatband and an old, worn out t-shirt.
He asked if there was a nearby hotel that showed porno films. They rolled to a stop sign at Palm and Valencia streets. As soon as he pulled away, he spotted a police car parked down the street to the right.
Stuffing pornographic magazines under the car seat
Swaggart started stuffing the magazines under his seat, which made him swerve into the oncoming lane about the time that he reached the next stop sign at Biskra Street. He saw the police car pull out and swing in behind him, lights flashing.
Swaggart pulled over and stopped. “Get out of the car and walk,” Jimmy told her urgently.
“No,” she replied. “I’m under the influence. Anyway, they all know who I am. I’m not getting out of here; you’re taking me home.”
“Think about it.” she said as the officer got out of his squad car. “They know who I am, they know what I do, and they know I’m under the influence. If I get out, they’re gonna think you’re trying to date me. If I stay in, you can tell them you’re just giving me a ride. There’s no law against that.”
“Yeah, ok, you’re right,” Swaggart said.
The policeman walked up to Swaggart’s rolled-down window. Swaggart explained that he had pulled over to give a ride to the young woman who was standing on that side of the road and was in the process of pulling back over when he was stopped.
The cop might have accepted that or given him a ticket and gone on his way, except for two things: the woman was a known prostitute and the driver was a well-known televangelist.
The cop asked Jimmy for his license and registration. Swaggart’s hand was shaking as he reached for the glove compartment. The cop, Officer Burt, returned to his patrol car. After a while he returned and asked Jimmy to step out. He took Jimmy to the front of the Jaguar. Rosemary couldn’t hear what took place.
Suddenly squad cars arrived from all over. Another officer asked Rosemary to step out of the Jag. He took her aside and asked if she knew who she was riding with. No, she told him. He asked her to look again. Still she didn’t recognize the man.
“How about Jimmy Swaggart?” he asked.
She looked at Jimmy again. “Well. Sure is.”
The cops wrote Jimmy a citation for driving on the wrong side of the road, for not wearing a seat belt, and for driving a vehicle not registered in the state of California. Swaggart took the ticket and drove away, leaving Rosemary standing there surrounded by cops.
Officer Burt told Rosemary that he had been following them because the car was a Jaguar, a vehicle out of place in that neighborhood.
None of Rosemary’s friends believed that she had been in a car with Jimmy Swaggart-until the cameras showed up.
“I watched Frances dying by the moment”
Jimmy had to go back the way he’d come, back to Indian Wells. He had to dump the magazines. He had to tell Frances what happened. He recalled, “I watched Frances dying by the moment before my eyes. I just sat there in a daze, a stupor. I didn’t want to live.”
Swaggart steps down, again
The New York Times, October 15, 1991- The television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, faced with accusations that he picked up a California prostitute for sex, will step down from his worldwide ministry at least temporarily, a ministry official said tonight.
The ministry official who administers the ministry’s school, the Family Christian Academy, J. R. Heische, said in an interview that Mr. Swaggart’s son, Donnie, would take over the ministry “until Brother Swaggart gets back on his feet.” He said the co-pastor, Jim Rentz, would lead the church.
Donnie Swaggart told ministry employees at the Swaggart Family Worship Center that he will temporarily be head administrator of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries while his father undergoes professional counseling and medical care.
Donnie told ministry employees at the Swaggart Family Worship Center that after “a time of healing and counseling…. Dad will once again assume the pulpit at Family Worship Center”. It was never revealed who the professional counselors and medics were.
Swaggart steps back up
The Seattle Times, October 17, 1991– One day after Jimmy Swaggart was said to be leaving the pulpit in a scandal involving a streetwalker, the evangelist said he has gone back to preaching because God told him to do so.
“He [the Lord] said, ‘You tell them that Thursday morning you’ll be making television programs,’ ” Swaggart said last night from the pulpit in his Family Worship Center.
Swaggart refused to talk about an incident last Friday in Indio, Calif., in which he was stopped by police and charged with traffic violations. A woman in the car later said she was a prostitute and that Swaggart had asked for sex.
Troubles and Tribulations
From that day onward, the troubles and tribulations that Jimmy Swaggart Ministries faced began to mount. A 1998 CNN report on the ghost-town status of Swaggart’s Baton Rouge ministry revealed unfinished buildings, vast, curtained-off sections of his church, and hasty sales and rental of properties once purchased to support ministry growth.
from The Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1994- The crowds dwindled to one-third of what it was. But Swaggart still plays the piano with that almost boogie-woogie style that is so akin to that of his famous and controversial cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis.
“It would be very amazing to the Lord if you danced down these aisles and gave your gift shouting ‘Alleluia’ all the way.”
Swaggart’s appeals to his congregation
Please let me say it again: Any Believer who has supported this Ministry in the past, and has stopped, at least because of these adversaries, they have not stopped because the Lord has told them to do so, but because Satan has told them to do so and regrettably, they listened to him. Consequently, the Work of God has been hurt greatly. The Truth is, you can listen to men or you can listen to the Lord. You cannot listen to both.”
Most of the Church world thinks that so-called Church Leaders took their stand against me because of particular situations which transpired years ago; however, that was just an excuse. They did not like what I preached, considering that I had the ear of much of the Church World.
As well, these same individuals join in the chorus, that I am not qualified to be a leader; however, I remind one and all, that it’s not men who call Leaders, but God. In fact, men do not have anything to say about it. They can recognize those whom God calls, which they seldom do, or they can reject them, but they have nothing else to say in the matter.
*In the aftermath of the Debra Murphree incident, Swaggart would reportedly acknowledge to his superiors on the Assembly of God’s national council that he had an obsession with pornography since childhood.
Seaman, Anne Rowe. Swaggart, The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist. Continuum, November, 1999
Wright, Lawrence. Saints and Sinners, Random House Digital, Inc., 2011
**The Straits Times, 31 January 1989, Page 3. The Strait Times, a publication of Singapore Press Holdings, has a readership of 1.43 million and is the most widely read newspaper in Singapore.
The Fort Scott Tribune Newspaper
The Pittsburg Free Press, Feb. 28, 1988