Jimmy Lee Swaggart (born March 15, 1935) is an American Pentecostal pastor, teacher, musician, author, and televangelist through his weekly telecast. According to the official website for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, his 1980s telecast was transmitted to over 3,000 stations and cable systems each week.
Sexual scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s led the Assemblies of God to defrock him, and to Swaggart temporarily stepping down as the head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.
Swaggart's television ministry, which began in 1975, continues airing in the US and internationally. The weekly Jimmy Swaggart Telecast and A Study in the Word programs are broadcast throughout the US and on 78 channels in 104 other countries, and over the Internet.
Swaggart was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, on March 15, 1935, to Willie Leon (a.k.a., "Son") and Minnie Belle (née Herron) Swaggart. He is the cousin of rock'n'roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and country music star Mickey Gilley. With his parents, Swaggart attended a small, 25-member Assemblies of God church in Ferriday. On October 10, 1952, Swaggart married Frances Anderson (born on August 9, 1937). Their son, Donnie, was born on October 18, 1954. Swaggart worked several part-time odd jobs in order to support his young family and also began singing Southern Gospel music at various churches.
According to his autobiography Swaggart, along with his wife and son, lived in poverty during the 1950s as he preached throughout rural Louisiana, struggling to survive on US$30 a week. Being too poor to own a home, the Swaggarts lived in church basements, pastors' homes, and small motels. Sun Records producer Sam Phillips wanted to start a gospel line of music for the label (undoubtedly to remain in competition with RCA Victor and Columbia, who also had gospel lines) and wanted Swaggart for Sun as the label's first gospel artist. Swaggart's cousin Jerry Lee Lewis, who had previously signed with Sun, was reportedly making $20,000 per week at the time. Although the offer meant a promise for significant income for him and his family, Swaggart turned Phillips down, stating that he was called to preach the gospel.
Ordination and early career:
Preaching from a flatbed trailer donated to him, Swaggart began full-time evangelistic work in 1955. He began developing a revival-meeting following throughout the American South. In 1960, he began recording gospel music record albums and transmitting on Christian radio stations. In 1961, Swaggart was ordained by the Assemblies of God; a year later he began his radio ministry. In the late 1960s, Swaggart founded what was then a small church named the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the church eventually became district-affiliated with the Assemblies of God.
In the late 1960s Swaggart began transmitting a weekly 30-minute telecast over various local television stations in Baton Rouge and also purchased a local AM radio station, WLUX (now WPFC). The station broadcast Christian feature stories, preaching and teaching from various fundamentalist and Pentecostal denominations and played black gospel, Southern gospel, and inspirational music. As Contemporary Christian music became more prevalent, the station avoided playing it. Swaggart sold many of his radio stations gradually throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries still operates several radio stations that operate under the name Sonlife Radio.
Shifting to television:
By 1975, Swaggart's television ministry had expanded to more stations around the U.S., and he started using television as his primary preaching forum. In 1978 Swaggart's weekly telecast was expanded to an hour.
In 1980, Swaggart began a daily weekday telecast featuring Bible study and music, and the weekend, hour-long telecast included a service from either Family Worship Center (Swaggart's church) or an on-location crusade in a major city. In the early 1980s Swaggart's crusades expanded to major cities nationwide. By 1983, more than 250 television stations broadcast Swaggart's telecast.
In 1988, Swaggart was implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute that resulted initially in his suspension, and ultimately defrocking, by the Assemblies of God. Three years later Swaggart was implicated in another scandal involving a prostitute. As a result, Swaggart's ministry became non-affiliated, non-denominational and significantly smaller than it was in the ministry's pre-scandal years.
Swaggart's exposure came as retaliation for an incident in 1986 when Swaggart exposed fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, who had been accused of having several affairs. Once exposed, Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, his ministry all but ended. As a retaliatory move, Gorman hired his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo to stake out the Travel Inn on Airline Highway in New Orleans. A camera with a telephoto lens was placed in the window of the motel's Room 12 and draped with a black cloth. When Swaggart arrived, he reportedly went into Room 7. Randy Gorman and Garland Bilbo proceeded to let the air out of Swaggart's tires and called Marvin Gorman, whose church was located nearby. The two had taken photos of Swaggart outside Room 7 with Debra Murphree, a local prostitute. Gorman arrived at the Travel Inn a short while later and asked Swaggart what he was doing there.
According to Swaggart: The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, by Ann Rowe Seaman, Gorman secured a promise from Swaggart that he would publicly apologize to Gorman and start the process of Gorman's reinstatement to the Assemblies of God. Gorman offered to remain silent if Swaggart would state publicly that he lied about Gorman's affairs. Gorman waited almost a year, then hand-delivered a note to Swaggart informing him his time was up; Swaggart did not respond. On February 16, 1988, Gorman contacted James Hamil, one of the 13-man Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, who called Raymond Carlson, the Assemblies Superintendent. Carlson summoned Hamill and Gorman to fly to Springfield and arranged for an emergency meeting of the presbyters. He was shown photos of several men coming in and going out of Room 7 at the Travel Inn Motel in New Orleans. This was done in order to establish the fact that the room was being used for prostitution. One of the men seen leaving Room 7 was Jimmy Swaggart. The presbytery leadership of the Assemblies of God decided that Swaggart should be suspended from broadcasting his television program for three months.
According to the Associated Press, Murphree, who claimed to have posed nude for Swaggart, failed a polygraph test administered by a New York City Police Department polygraph expert. The test administrator concluded that Murphree had failed to tell the truth on all key questions concerning her statement. The test was administered after Murphree offered to sell the story to the National Enquirer for $100,000. Paul Levy, senior editor for the Enquirer, stated that the polygraph examiner had concluded Murphree was not truthful on six key questions, including one in which she was reportedly asked if she had fabricated the story. Levy stated that the Enquirer decided not to print her story due to the test results, her drug use, and the fact that she had arrest warrants in three states. Murphree failed questions about whether she was paid or promised money to "set up" Swaggart, and whether she made up the story in order to make money from it. Both times she answered no; according to the polygraph examiner, this was untrue.
Swaggart's confession and downfall:
On February 21, 1988, without giving any details regarding his transgressions, Swaggart gave his now-infamous "I have sinned" speech as he tearfully spoke to his family, congregation, TV audience, and finally said "I have sinned against You, my Lord, and I would ask that Your Precious Blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgetfulness, not to be remembered against me anymore." On a New Orleans morning news show four days later, Murphree stated that while Swaggart was a regular client, they had never engaged in sexual intercourse. The clip of Swaggart's confession was played repeatedly on news and tabloid television programs.
The Louisiana presbytery of the Assemblies of God initially suspended Jimmy Swaggart from the ministry for three months. The national presbytery of the Assemblies of God soon extended the suspension to their standard two-year suspension for sexual immorality. His return to the pulpit coincided with the end of a three-month suspension originally ordered by the Assemblies. Believing that Swaggart was not genuinely repentant in submitting to their authority, the hierarchy of the Assemblies of God immediately defrocked him, removing his credentials and ministerial license. Swaggart then became an independent, non-denominational Pentecostal minister, and Family Worship Center became non-denominational. Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (now World Evangelism Bible College) had lost many of its students by the end of May 1988.
On October 11, 1991, Swaggart, for a second time, was found in the company of a prostitute, this time Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by a police officer in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. According to Garcia, Swaggart stopped to proposition her on the side of the road. She later told reporters, "He asked me for sex. I mean, that's why he stopped me. That's what I do. I'm a prostitute." This time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business." Swaggart's son Donnie then announced to the stunned audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for "a time of healing and counseling."
As of 2007 Jimmy Swaggart Ministries mainly comprised Family Worship Center, The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, radio and television programs called A Study in the Word, SonLife Radio Network, a website, JSM.org; and a 24/7 cable and satellite television network, SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN).
Swaggart's wife Frances hosts a television program, Frances and Friends, shown daily on SBN. Swaggart also hosts a daily Bible study program on SBN, The Message of the Cross. His son Donnie preaches at Family Worship Center and also preaches in churches across America and abroad. Donnie's son Gabriel is the ministry's youth pastor who leads Crossfire, Family Worship Center's youth ministry. SBN also broadcasts all weekly services at Family Worship Center live, as well as their camp meetings.
Swaggart's first album, Some Golden Daybreak, was recorded to give to people at his early revivals. Swaggart's wife then began encouraging him to contact radio stations. Disc jockey Chuck Cossin is credited with playing the first Jimmy Swaggart recording on WMUZ in Detroit.
In 1974 Swaggart was voted Favorite Gospel Music Artist by readers of the magazine Singing News. In 1977 Record World magazine honored him as Male Vocalist of the Year. In that same year, Swaggart was a Dove Award finalist in three categories: Male Vocalist of the Year, TV Program of the Year, and Instrumentalist of the Year. In 1978 Swaggart again became a Dove finalist as Instrumentalist of the Year. In 1980 Swaggart became a Dove Award finalist in four categories: Children's Album of the Year for Color Me a Story, Instrumentalist of the Year, Year's best Traditional Album for Homeward Bound, and Best Gospel Album of the Year for Worship. The Grammy Awards nominated Swaggart's album Live from Nashville for Best Gospel Album in 1976. And again in 1980, Swaggart's album, Worship, became a Grammy finalist.
Swaggart originated SonLife Radio on the noncommercial FM band. Unlike his previous stations, SonLife was commercial-free and did not sell time to outside ministries; the preaching and teaching were all produced in-house. The music played was primarily Southern Gospel. SonLife Radio can be received in 22 US states and is streamed on the Internet.
In 1973, Swaggart proposed to television producers in Nashville, Tennessee a television program including a fairly large music segment, a short sermon, and time for talking about current ministry projects, after two faltering attempts to tape the half-hour program in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. They accepted, and within weeks the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast was being broadcast around the United States.
In 1981, Swaggart launched a daily television program titled A Study in the Word. From the beginning, the primary cable channels the program was aired on were CBN Cable (now ABC Family), TBN, and the old PTL Network (now the Inspiration Network).
In 2010, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries launched a 24 hours a day television network entitled the SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN), on DirecTV channel 344, Dish Network channel 257, Glorystar channel 125, AT&T U-verse, Verizon Fios, and various cable TV providers and broadcast stations.
SBN is available in the U.S. through Free To Air (FTA) satellite television.
World Evangelism Bible College:
In fall 1984, Swaggart opened Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (now World Evangelism Bible College, or WEBC). The college originally provided education and communication degrees. WEBC offers intensive short term certificate programs, Associate of Arts degree programs, and a four-year Bachelor's degree program.
Swaggart has written about 20 Christian books offered through his ministry. He is the author of the Expositor's Study Bible, 13 study guides and 38 commentaries on the Bible. The ministry also publishes a monthly magazine, The Evangelist.
Swaggart has been married to Frances Swaggart (née Anderson) since 1952. They have one son, Donnie, named after Jimmy Swaggart's brother who died in infancy. He has three grandchildren: Jennifer, Gabriel, and Matthew Swaggart.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license