You shouldn’t throw stones at people who live in glass houses. I take no joy in observing the tribulations of Rev. Robert Schuller and his famous Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
It isn’t really a cathedral, a term which is properly used for the official church residence of a bishop in a hierarchical church body like the Episcopal Church or Catholic Church. What it is is a daring architectural tour de force, taking advantage of Orange County’s legendary persistent sunshine. Schuller had told the architect, Philip Johnson, “Make it all glass!” And he did. The huge campus with its “Tower of Hope” has become an O.C. tourist destination.
The church is also home to Rev. Schuller’s Hour of Power television program, which he began at Billy Graham’s urging in 1970. Alas, the program is now mired in controversy after the elder Schuller recently forced out his chosen heir, his son Robert Anthony. The son allegedly was departing from the “possibility thinking” philosophy of the father. A string of guest speakers now appears on the show, since the elder Schuller at age 82 apparently is not up to the stress of televised messages. The word is that the church is deep in debt, tens of millions of dollars, and has begun selling off large portions of its huge campus.
The very qualities that enable some individual ministers to ramp up their ministries to global scale—drive, intensity, focus, salesmanship, ego—can also cripple the business when transition time comes. Television is an intensely personal medium and no transition is easy. There is now nothing left of Rex Humbard’s suburban Akron “Cathedral of Tomorrow” and huge TV ministry from the 1970s.
Some day Time of Grace will move on without me and will become, I hope, an even better program. I promise you that I will not hang on past my time and sabotage the succession. My personal goal will be a succession like the “Tonight Show,” in which Jack Paar, then Johnny Carson, then Jay Leno, and now Conan O’Brien, have kept the show vital and alive.
Straight talk. Real hope.