Schuller said the family became involved in the church's early days when money was scarce and he delivered Sunday morning sermons from the tar paper top of a drive-in movie snack bar in Orange. He tells how he and Arvella drove to Orange County from their native Iowa in 1955 with $500 and a portable organ. She was the church's first organist and gradually expanded her duties. For 22 years, Schuller said, she worked without pay.
"When you started a church like I did 32 years ago with no money, you need all the free help you can get," Schuller said. "Nobody in my family ever got paid what they are worth in current scale."
Chuck Todd, the ministry's general counsel, said Robert and Arvella Schuller "do give back in cash (to the ministry) much more than they take out" in salaries. Todd said that over the last three years the Schullers have made average annual cash contributions of $100,000 to the ministry and have donated some properties, including a cabin in Big Bear, and some royalties on their books. In addition, he said, Schuller last year gave the ministry $100,000 to $125,000 earned in lecture fees.
Schuller does not consider himself especially wealthy. "I have no consciousness of wealth," he said. "I don't think in those terms. But when you have power that's where I have a consciousness. And I want power to do good . . . to influence people to be creative people, honest people who are part of the answer and not part of the problem. And that is what every book is geared for, every message is geared for, all parts of our ministry are geared for that."
Schuller and his wife own a well-appointed house on 1 3/4 acres in Orange as well as condominiums in Honolulu, Winter Park, Colo., and Laguna Beach. Schuller uses the Laguna Beach home as a private writing studio. According to Schuller ministry officials, all these properties are mortgaged and were purchased from book royalties or with family inheritances.
The Schuller ministry's landholdings include the 20-acre church grounds, an interest in the 92-acres near San Juan Capistrano, 126 acres of farmland in Michigan, a manor in Maui and an office building in Sydney, Australia.
Although the majority of church members appear devoted to Schuller, there have been a number of complaints from some congregants. Schuller acknowledged that there were objections when his son-in-law, Paul Dunn, took over as director of the church's Christmas and Easter pageants in May, 1986. But he said that although the former director's productions had won critical acclaim, they had been extravagantly expensive.
Also the ministry got into trouble in 1984 over tours that were advertised on "Hour of Power" and arranged by a travel business founded by Schuller's son and his wife at the time, Linda.
When Robert A. and Linda Schuller were going through a divorce, two overseas tours they had put together were canceled. Just who was responsible for the tours and the cancellations is a matter of dispute. In any case, about 35 people who had heard about the tours on "Hour of Power" and made deposits failed to get refunds from the tour business, and some of them threatened to sue the television ministry.
Attorney Todd said that to avoid a public airing of the family dispute--and because legal advisers said the television ministry was financially liable--the ministry paid $104,000 in refunds for the two tours.
Schuller's son later paid $12,249 to Robert Schuller Ministries to help cover the loss, and he volunteered to write a book, "How to Be an Extraordinary Person" for use in television fund raising, waiving royalty rights.
The ministry did not recoup any money from Linda Schuller, according to Schuller officials. Instead, they paid her $20,000 and assumed the remaining liability for the tours' refunds. In exchange, she promised to refrain from making further derogatory remarks about the family after she was interviewed for a story that appeared in the Globe, a supermarket tabloid.
Having swallowed a bitter pill, Robert Schuller Ministries tried to be more careful when it entered into a subsequent business relationship with Arbel Corp., known as Travel Possibilities, a tour agency operated by Schuller's daughter, Jeanne Schuller Dunn, and her husband, Paul Dunn, Todd said. The ministry has a written contract with Arbel, he said, that requires strict financial controls, including audits, of money that the Dunns collect for tours they arrange that are advertised on "Hour of Power."
Arbel, with headquarters near Crystal Cathedral, routinely uses the church and the Schuller name as selling points. A brochure touting a July tour of the Orient promised participants "a special reception with Dr. Schuller at our hotel" in Korea.
Schuller officials said the Dunns have agreed not to receive any personal compensation for services that their travel agency provides to the cathedral, the television ministry or any affiliated organization.