TV evangelist Robert Schuller sent a fund-raising letter to supporters in 1981 that indicated that he was writing during a trip to China, but the letter was dictated months before Schuller left the United States, according to his former director of marketing and planning.
The letter included a simulated snapshot of Schuller standing on the Great Wall of China holding a Chinese translation of one of his books. The former marketing director, Timothy D. Waisanen, said the photograph was faked by posing Schuller in front of a studio backdrop.
A spokesman for Schuller confirmed Tuesday that the letter and snapshot were mailed to potential contributors before Schuller left for China. But the spokesman denied "any intent to deceive or otherwise engage in any dishonesty" and blamed the early mailing on a clerical error. Schuller's spokesman, Michael C. Nason, said Schuller was at a Hawaiian retreat with other ministers Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
Nason said in a press conference at Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove that there would be no further comment on the matter from church officials and threatened legal proceedings against "any and all individuals and entities that continued attacks on this ministry."
Waisanen now is pastor of Orange Christian Assembly, a small congregation affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination.
Referring to records he said he still retains from his fund-raising work with Schuller, Waisanen said that the China letter was sent to 366,131 people on Schuller's mailing list. It netted contributions of $220,459, a relatively low return that made the letter "one of the poorer mailings," he said.
Waisanen said he was hired in August, 1980, by Robert Schuller Ministries Inc., which produces the "Hour of Power" television show.
Waisanen said that during a April, 1981, meeting at Schuller's home in Orange, Schuller "had everyone stop talking and then brought out his tape recorder and began to dictate into the tape recorder something regarding, 'Here I am in China,' and talking on and on about events in China and about rushing this letter off to his secretary to make sure it got into the hands of people who were on the mailing list."
"I'm trying to figure out what in the world is going on here . . . ," Waisanen recalled of the incident. "Quite frankly, I didn't understand what he was doing with that dictation."
Schuller's trip to China was not scheduled until early August, 1981, Waisanen said.
But weeks before the trip--Waisanen said he thinks it was mid-June, 1981--an advance copy of the letter appeared on his desk, Waisanen said. The letter, dated Aug. 4, 1981, was six pages long, printed to appear to be handwritten and included the simulated snapshot.
On the back of the snapshot was the following message:
"Here I am standing on the Great Wall in China--holding up my book, 'Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking,' published in Chinese! I want you to know that what has happened here in China is nothing short of a miracle!--Robert Schuller."
Nason said Schuller "apologizes for the error" but "objects to the crude efforts to capitalize on the hysteria that is presently being generated in the news media against television ministries."