Fred Cottriel says he rarely watches famous television evangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart because he's too busy directing the Southern California district of their denomination, the Assemblies of God, from Costa Mesa.
It is "not because I disapprove" of Bakker or television ministries, Cottriel said, but that "I'm a busy, busy man." When he does watch, it's more often Swaggart, Cottriel said, because "he's a member in good standing" of the Assemblies of God and "he does preach the gospel."
Bakker, until recently host of the "PTL Club," is being investigated by executive church officials in Springfield, Mo., and by local church leaders in Charlotte, N.C., following charges by Swaggart and others that Bakker was involved in a sexual incident with a young church secretary in a Florida motel room seven years ago.
Cottriel, 64, said in an interview Friday at the district's Costa Mesa headquarters that he had seen a dozen broadcasts of the "PTL Club," which stands for Praise the Lord and People That Love.
Cottriel said that he has received "surprisingly few" telephone calls regarding the Bakker controversy, primarily because adherents in Assemblies of God congregations know that PTL has no official ties to the denomination, although Bakker's ministerial credential is from the Assemblies of God.
"We deeply regret what has happened," Cottriel said. "We do not approve of sin, yet we recognize that every man is capable of failing."
Church literature describes the organization, which claims about 2 million adherents, as "the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, and the fastest growing." A central tenet of the denomination, which has its roots in a late 1800s' revival, is "baptism in the Holy Spirit," an ecstatic, charismatic form of worship also known as "speaking in tongues."
The denomination ordains women as ministers, Cottriel said, because "we think God is an equal opportunity employer." Assemblies of God churches also participate in joint activities with like-minded denominations, like Billy Graham's Anaheim crusade last summer.
As district superintendent since 1985 and assistant superintendent since 1979, Cottriel has had responsibility for an estimated 100,000 Assemblies of God adherents in 415 congregations from Fresno to the Mexican border. There are 37 affiliated churches in Orange County and nearly 100 in Los Angeles, Cottriel said.
Adjoining the district's headquarters on Newport Boulevard are one of the affiliated churches, the Newport Mesa Christian Center, and Southern California College, an affiliated institution which moved to Orange County from Pasadena in the late 1940s.
By coincidence, Cottriel was at the denomination's headquarters in Missouri Thursday when members of the executive presbytery announced that they had found no evidence that Bakker was the victim of blackmail or that PTL was the subject of a takeover by Swaggart or any other group. Speaking for the denomination was Everett R. Stenhouse, Cottriel's predecessor as head of the Southern California district.
Because the denomination is "a big family," Cottriel said, "we're all going to be hurt" by the controversy.