Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From the drive-in to the Crystal Cathedral ... and back again

The in-Chapter 11 Hour of Power Ministry is so over its head that it reluctantly decided to sell off its flagship piece of real estate in Garden Grove, California.   The bidding war for the Crystal Cathedral has come down to three candidates, but only two of them are really credible, reports the LA Times:   the Disciples of Christ affiliated Chapman University, which would buy the property (essentially wiping out its debts) and then leasing the building back for a buck a month; and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County which would promptly turn it into its new cathedral (after giving the church formerly run by Robert Schuller Sr a three year stay of execution).

The Times story suggests that the Chapman proposal would only be delaying the inevitable complete shut down of the ministry; besides which, Rev Schuller is also in court fighting for what he claims is a contracted $350k per year allowance for his and his wife's rest of their lives as well as the copyrights to all his sermons and video and radio appearances.   (The Chapman proposal offers to buy out the family for a lump sum $2 million.)   It should be pointed out that while Chapman U is one of the things keeping the OC afloat, other than Disneyworld ™, it has also managed to attract faculty that gathers scorn from both the right and the left.   I'm not too sure what's left of the church would want an association like that.

As for the RC proposal -- well, Schuller has long come off as a proponent of the ecumenical movement, pointing out the similarities of Christianity rather than what divides the global Church.   During the 1970s, he even had Archbishop Fulton J Sheen ("Life is Worth Living") on his show on several occasions, and numerous Catholic guests (ministry and lay) since.   Some of Schuller's parishioners however aren't necessarily that open minded.   Getting the "get" would be a jackpot prize for the Roman Church without question (although with all the sex abuse scandals, you have to ask where they can get the money).   There would also be an irony too -- the reason why newer churches of all denominations have used regular glass instead of stained is to show that that church is looking out into the world; however, it also means the world is looking in and holding it accountable.

Perhaps Schuller forgot about that which is why his former ministry is now in the fix it's in.

I wonder too, whichever way the bankruptcy court rules, if the sale of the Crystal Cathedral might also mean the end of the spectacular annual Christmas Pageant the HoP puts on every Yuletide -- the biggest one of all.   It has never failed to sell out and competes for prima donna with the series of concerts at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.   But seemingly lost in the message is that to give of your excess, not build up more and more of it -- to lay up treasures not on earth but in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

I'll give my donation money to those who actually give back to the community, openly -- or who practices the "reverse tithe," that is giving 90% of one's gross to charity and living off the remaining 10.   Rick Warren, also an OCer, lives by this principle (since he earns so much from book and podcast royalties, he can afford to live just off his church's stipend while handing over the royalties to medical mission and AIDS prevention causes).   Billy Graham, too, has long chosen to live a very simple life despite raking in $89 million last year and sitting on a foundation with $341 million in assets.   Compare that to Frederick KC Price who drives a Rolls-Royce ™ (because "that's what Jesus would drive if he was here today") or Benny Hinn -- don't get me started again on him.    As far as Schuller -- well, until the financials were forced open in bankruptcy court we weren't even allowed to know about what finer things he chose to live off of.   And remember his air rage incident?

It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.   Because either way, no amount of "possibility thinking" will get the Schullers their church back, or the wholeness of their family which had been ripped apart even before Chapter 11.  (I was going to type "positive thinking / living" but that was Norman Vincent Peale, who also practiced what he preached.)

UPDATE (6:26 PM EST, 2326 GMT):  A couple of points -- first, the bid from the diocese also offers a campus swap -- cathedral for cathedral -- so the Schullers wouldn't be totally out of the cold.   But that would be quite the spectacle, a mass desanctification and rededication ceremony for both buildings.   Many are already speculating that, even if Chapman wins, after a few years it would just kick out its "tenants" anyway and sell the CC to the RC of OC for a profit.

Second, in case you were wondering about the drive in reference -- that's how the church got started, at a drive in theatre and the fact people can still drive right up to the glass of the complex itself.

I have to wonder if everything started going downhill after the brutal rape and murder in 2002 of a little 5 year old girl who was a parishioner there, Samantha Runion; or the 2004 on-campus suicide of Johnnie Carl Jr, the music director (remember when that was breaking news on CNN -- the gunshots being fired in the empty sanctuary during a pageant rehersal?).   And while the church has traditionally stuck to a form of "blab it and grab it" it has really ratcheted that up since daughter Sheila took over.   Not a good sign ... and definitely against the ethic of Chapman's parent church, the Disciples of Christ, which appears on the face of it to support the principles of the Social Gospel, the exact opposite of the Word of Faith.

Bottom line ... again, it will be the Diocese that gets the Crystal Cathedral.   Not if, but when.

No comments: