Christian tragedy

More than any other cause, the national recession notwithstanding, the Crystal Cathedral self-destructed, ending a marvelous ministry.

During the Thanksgiving weekend I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine, the source of much good journalism, titled on the cover, “Inside the Murdoch-family Fortress.” It had all the earmarks of a good thriller: the father patriarch, conniving daughter and spouse, a son aspiring for the father’s media empire, a wife with undue influence, and much money at stake.

It might just as well been titled, “Inside the Schuller-family Fortress,” that just a week prior saw Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral sold off by the bankruptcy court to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Orange to cover some $50 million in debts the 56-year-old ministry owed to vendors and others.

The congregation may sustain itself in a diminished way, elsewhere, but the television ministry won’t likely survive. The four daughters and their spouses share the blame for a great congregation’s demise. But interestingly, if there are any bright spots in the sordid mess, it is with the grandchildren, the adult son and daughter of Robert Anthony and Donna Schuller.

Three years ago I interviewed Bobby Schuller and was immediately struck by his character and intelligence; if anyone in the family had a chance of making a success of succeeding his grandfather, it was Bobby, but it wasn’t to be his timing. He formed his own congregation near Garden Grove that continues today.

The daughter, Angie Schuller Wyatt, is an author, motivation speaker, and businesswoman. She brought an incisive intelligence and open mind when she wrote for Christian Post in November about the bankruptcy decision: “I liken my grief of the Crystal Cathedral’s death to grieving a loved one with a terminal illness.”

Her transparency on the issue is refreshing: “There was nothing I could do to stop my misguided family members. Others in the family seemed to be holding on to ‘a miracle’ that would come just in time. I knew better. Something that defined my life, something I hoped would define my children’s lives, was about to die …

“Eventually the madness worsened to the point that death itself signaled relief. If you’ve ever held the hand of a dying loved one, you know that death becomes the final blessing. Yet, during that final moment, you pause in respect. It’s a holy moment to reflect on what was and to grieve what shall never be again. Yesterday [Nov. 17], Crystal Cathedral Ministries died.”

Angie wrote: “Its problems were not terminal. They could have been solved. My father attempted to fix these problems during his short tenure as senior pastor. He saw the Crystal Cathedral was headed toward bankruptcy. He attempted to restructure the board, cut his siblings’ salaries and establish fiscal responsibility. For these actions, he was fired by the board [July 9, 2008] which consisted of, you guessed it, his siblings.”

A daughter’s love for her father aside, there is a ring of truth to her testimony. Sometimes truth skips a generation.

There was a book written some years back about the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, called “The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson.” When challenged on the meaning of the word tragedy, the author said he meant it not as “Oh, how terrible,” but rather as “Oh, what it could have been.” The Crystal Cathedral had a long run and did much good, but oh, how much more it could have been.

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