At a time when growing numbers of Orange County residents are without health insurance and an estimated 1 million Los Angeles County children live in poverty, it's reassuring to know that not everyone is reaching for a life preserver in the current economic washout.
I learned from The Times' Hot Property column on Sunday that Costa Mesa-based televangelists Jan and Paul Crouch have purchased a $5-million "palatial estate" with nine bathrooms, a climate-controlled wine cellar, an elevator, six-car garage and tennis court.
I quote now from the story: "Jan Crouch had been wanting a bigger yard for her dogs, sources said." As further proof that the Lord works in mysterious ways, I first tuned in to the Crouches' Trinity Broadcasting Network several years ago entirely by accident.
While channel surfing, I came upon several odd-looking characters with costume-party hair. One of them resembled Chewbacca, so I assumed this was sort of a "Star Wars"-meets-"Nashville" movie.
I soon realized it wasn't a film at all, but a fund-raiser for Jesus.
And, hallelujah, do these folks raise money. The Crouches sit atop a $100-million-a-year operation, thanks to Jerry Lewis-like wingdings such as the Praise-a-thon that's scheduled to begin later this week.
So I got to thinking. If the Crouches could afford a $5-million dog run, maybe they don't need any more help. Maybe they can take whatever money they raise in the upcoming telethon and send it to the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign for needy families.
What could possibly bring them closer to God?
I dialed the Costa Mesa headquarters, and while on hold, I listened to a recording that gave me a true sense of hope. Jan Crouch sounded near tears as she related the simple experience of giving away toys.
"The greatest joy I have is when those little dolls slip out of my hand into the hands of some child that doesn't have them," she said.
Perfect, I thought. She'd gladly write a check to The Times' fund, which last year distributed money to food pantries, children's homes and agencies that care for disabled children.
This year the need is particularly urgent. Many good-hearted people have sent contributions to Sept. 11-related causes instead of local charities. Meanwhile, with thousands thrown out of work by the slump, more and more people need help.
Sure, the federal government has begun a Holiday Campaign Fund of its own. But that giveaway, in the form of bailouts and tax cuts, funnels proceeds directly into corporate coffers and the deepest pockets in the land.
Speaking of deep pockets, the Crouches were unavailable when I rang. A receptionist referred me to their attorney in Washington, D.C.
Colby May claims we had it wrong. The Crouches didn't buy the $5-million house, the ministry did. And the Crouches don't intend to move into it, May insists. It's for use by overseas guests who visit the ministry.
Oh. I didn't realize there were no hotels in Orange County.
May couldn't explain why Hot Property was told that Jan Crouch wanted more room for her dogs. But regardless of who ends up in the $5-million Glory Be compound, I asked May if the Crouches might like to get involved with the L.A. Times Holiday Campaign.
Sure thing, he said. Just get them an application form.
I explained that there was no form. All they have to do is write us a check and send it along.
This seemed to confuse him.
"We're going to send you money?" he asked.
Yeah, I said. To help needy children.
May had thought I was asking if the Trinity ministry would like to receive funds from the Holiday Campaign, not give to it.
God almighty, they've got one-track minds.
I suggested that if they're buying $5-million houses, they don't need any more money.
"We always need money," he said, to teach "the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
I refuse to believe that Jan and Paul Crouch would pass up a chance to do the Lord's work by sending a check to the L.A. Times Family Fund. From their own Web site--where "Holy Land Anointing Oil" is available in the online gift shop ($4.99, while it lasts)--comes this quote from Jesus: "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he shall be saved. . . ."
The Crouches' loyal followers might also consider helping a neighbor this year. Any money they send to Trinity could end up paying the air-conditioning bill on the climate-controlled wine cellar while local food pantries go begging.
The McCormick Tribune Foundation, an arm of The Times' mother ship, will match the first $500,000 in donations to the Holiday Campaign at 50 cents on the dollar.
Saint or sinner, do a good deed, and let the spirit fill you.