Imagine a teenager waking up and getting prepared for school every morning in an empty house, both parents having already left for their respective jobs. Now picture this same teenager channel surfing as he devours a bowl of cereal at the kitchen countertop. The pictures on the TV screen land on a charismatic television preacher with a stern, slightly southern voice that grabs the teenager’s attention. The channel surfing stops, and the teenager is almost late for school. This routine is repeated day after day for four years. The television evangelist is the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart; the teenager is me.
I doubt many of my public school classmates followed my morning routine, but I was fascinated by this Assemblies of God preacher who was so intimate with the Bible that it seemed he had the mind of a computer and a heart with God’s hand surrounding it. His sermons and lessons were full of historical, geographical, and philosophical knowledge that surpassed anything I had ever been witness to. I watched and listened to Rev. Swaggart because I wanted to have a better understanding of the God I knew had created me and the world surrounding me.
Years later, after the fall of TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker (that’s another story in and of itself), Jimmy Swaggart would make a tearful apology to his congregation and his Lord for indiscretions with a prostitute. The video tape of his confession and request for forgiveness appeared on news programs worldwide. In 1988, the man I believed walked the walk he preached fell about as hard as a preacher can.
But it was not Jimmy Swaggart’s fall from the top of mountain that shocked me so much. It was the secular public’s reaction to the downfall of a man of God that turned my world upside down. Even some of my closest friends laughed and mocked Swaggart as his confession was replayed on the ten o’clock news.
The day Jimmy Swaggart stumbled was the same day that I first recognized how much anger the world has for the faith I have freely chosen to embrace. The day Jimmy Swaggart stumbled before the world was the day that I realized the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not lie at the feet of any one man, one church, or one congregation. The message of forgiveness, redemption, and renewal is not dependent upon the powerful and the headstrong, but the meek and the seeking.
Even today, as I sit and listened to the minister of my own church preach a great sermon, my faith was strengthened more by the fragile, elderly woman who sat down next to me. She gave me an enormous smile when she came up beside me. I couldn’t help but wonder how much work it must have been for her to make it to the church every Sunday, being sure that there are days that her bones, joints, and muscles tell her to stay home and rest. Yet here was this follower of Christ singing “Amazing Grace” right alongside others who have no spotlight upon them, no television ministry to show off, and no scandal waiting in the wings.
I still believe Jimmy Swaggart has been, is, and always will be a great man of God, relentlessly trying to tell the world about the salvation Jesus has delivered to the undeserving, but I now know that all men can stumble when pride becomes their lanterns in the dark.
I am sending the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart a copy of this column. I want him to know that when his televised confession and request for forgiveness went out among the masses, there was a young man in Griffith, Indiana, who forgave him instantly – me, and there was of course another man who forgave him 2,000 years before the ten o’clock news that evening.
It's hard to believe that it is almost twenty years since the televangelist had their...fun in the sun. With all the scandals that the Baker's were going through and Oral Roberts being held hostage by God, I can remember thinking, not Jimmy, too? when the news came out of what had happened. And it should be mentioned, that he was the only one that had a heart felt apology and I hope he never ventured down the road again. This is a good piece and I hope the good and right Rev. Swaggert received it well also.
Dan, thank you for writing and submitting this. You reflect the forgiving attitude of a true Christian. You highlight what should be clear to all, only Jesus was perfect on this earth. We, His followers, are knocked down, but we get back up; because Jesus reaches down and takes hold of us and picks us up. Thomas
I remember with a smile the days I spent on campus at Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, for, you see, I was also "that young man" in the story. Sunday mornings in Jackson County Jail would be "Dons' time for the T.V." as my cell mates said and I'd sit listening to every word I heard Jimmy speak. It was his love for the Lord and for His people that compelled me to enroll at that college. I've met the man and this column is sure to bless him, it sure blessed me.