A jury in California has awarded $2 million to a woman who accused her grandmother, a powerful televangelist, of ignoring her sexual assault as a child by an employee. Carra Crouch says she was raped by a 30-year-old Trinity Broadcasting Network staffer when she was 13. When she told her grandmother, Jan Crouch, the network’s cofounder, the older woman allegedly blamed her for the incident and never reported it to police.
The events Carra Crouch described in her civil suit are chilling. Crouch, who is now 24, said she was attending a fundraising telethon in Georgia with her grandmother when the attack took place. The employee, who has not been named, “coerced himself” into her room and pressured her to drink alcohol and a glass of water she believes was laced with a sedative. When she woke up, she said, there was blood on the bed and she believed she had been raped. Soon afterward, she told her grandmother about the incident, but Jan Crouch only lashed out at the girl. “Why would you have that man in your room?” she said, according to Carra Crouch’s testimony. “Why would you let this happen?”
Crouch’s suit argues that Jan Crouch, who died in 2016, was legally obligated to report the accusation to police because she was a minister. The lawyer for Trinity Christian Center, TBN’s parent organization, countered by arguing that Jan was told about the incident in her capacity as a grandmother. The jury agreed with that distinction, but still faulted her for her callous response, and held Jan Crouch and Trinity responsible for $900,000 of the $2 million verdict. Trinity’s lawyer also said that Crouch only told Jan that the employee had made advances on her, but not that an assault had taken place. The employee was fired quickly and has never been charged with a crime.
Jan Crouch may seem like a relic from the 1980s, with her enormous cloud of purple hair and Tammy Faye Bakker-style eye makeup. But her network, cofounded with her husband, Paul Crouch Sr., remains hugely influential. TBN, which claims to be the world’s largest Christian TV network, boasts a roster that includes big names like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and—coming this fall!—Mike Huckabee. When then-candidate Donald Trump arranged a meeting with pastors at Trump Tower in 2015, Jan Crouch was among the televangelist-heavy group that assembled to pray for him.
The Crouches belong to the “prosperity gospel” tradition, in which adherents are assured that God materially blesses those who please him. A 2004 story in the Los Angeles Times describes Paul Crouch looking into the camera during a “Praise-a-thon,” and urging viewers to make a $1,000 pledge to help raise $8 million to evangelize India. Even those who couldn’t afford it should “take a step of faith,” and trust that God would repay them. “Do you think God would have any trouble getting $1,000 extra to you somehow?” Paula White, Donald Trump’s once-obscure spiritual advisor, is also a regular presence on TBN. Her church uses similar tactics to cajole her low-income audience to open their wallets. A reporter who recently visited White’s church near Orlando found a guest preacher urging parishioners to give “your first $200 seed” on the spot. “Money will not be a problem,” he said. “Please hurry up.” These predatory tactics and false promises are disdained by mainstream evangelicals, who often label prosperity gospel teachings as heresy.
It’s easy to make cynical guesses about why Jan Crouch did not go to the police with her granddaughter’s shocking story. Going public with such a tale would surely have done little for the reputation of her lucrative ministry. But her theology offers an even darker explanation for her allegedly cold-hearted response: In the world of the prosperity gospel, people get what they deserve.