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Swaggart Ordered to Rehabilitate, Limit Preaching

February 23, 1988|JOHN DART and J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writers

The Louisiana state hierarchy of the Assemblies of God church announced late Monday that it has ordered fallen evangelist Jimmy Swaggart to immediately begin a two-year rehabilitation period that will limit his preaching and include counseling.

Cecil Janway, the church's Louisiana District supervisor, made the announcement outside an Alexandria, La., church about 10 p.m., after more than 9 1/2 hours of meeting with Swaggart.

The evangelist, who heads a Baton Rouge-based, $140-million-a-year television ministry, was accused of sexual misconduct and admitted Sunday to unspecified sins.

"The following action has been taken by the board of the Louisiana District of the Assemblies of God concerning evangelist Jimmy Swaggart: We accept his confession of specific incidents of a moral failure. Based on his detailed confession and the evidence we observed of true humility and repentance, we have offered him rehabilitation, in accordance with the bylaws of the general council and Louisiana District," Janway said.

"Brother Swaggart has submitted to the terms of rehabilitation," he added.

Swaggart, who had slipped through the back door of the church early Monday for the hearings, made no comment as he left Monday night. He was whisked away by guards and left in a van, apparently headed for his private, twin-engine airplane waiting at Esler Regional Airport in Pineville.

Janway told reporters that Swaggart will be prohibited from preaching a minimum of three months, "except in fulfillment of present commitments involving foreign governments during that period."

The globe-trotting evangelist canceled a three-day crusade scheduled to start Friday in the West Indies.

In addition, Swaggart will be relieved of his duties as co-pastor of the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, but he will be allowed to return to preaching after three months, Janway said.

The church official said Swaggart would be counseled and supervised weekly by three members of the Louisiana District Presbytery during the rehabilitation period. He will be required to submit quarterly and monthly reports to church officials, Janway said.

"Again, no doubt, much speculation and rumor will find its way into the secular media. But for the church, the body of Christ, such speculation and rumor has no place," he said.

"We urge Brother Swaggart and his associates to resist the request of those outside the church to respond to questions. Brother Swaggart has been in complete cooperation with the Assemblies of God and has pledged to work within the structure of the church," Janway said.

He declined to answer questions after reading his statement, saying "No comment" when asked if Monday's action would require further action from the church's 13-member Executive Presbytery in Springfield, Mo.

But the Rev. Glen Cole of Sacramento's Capital Christian Center, a member of the presbytery, said the group probably would take up the matter at its regular meeting next month.

"It is possible that we could meet sooner," he said.

Ministry officials refused to comment on the future of Swaggart's television program, which is videotaped at his regular Sunday service and distributed in more than 100 countries. The denomination actually has no control over the television ministry.

Jim Rentz, co-pastor with Swaggart at the worship center, said he would assume duties as chief pastor.

Without identifying the "sexual misconduct" confessed by Swaggart, Cole earlier Monday said the preacher has committed such indiscretions off and on since youth and that Swaggart told his family about it last October.

The evangelist has struggled with the problem for years, Cole said.

Swaggart tearfully informed his World Faith Center congregation Sunday morning that he was leaving his pulpit for an undetermined period. His confession to an unnamed "sin" came after an Assemblies district official told the sobbing, often supportive crowd that Swaggart had "confessed to specific incidents of moral failure."

The Washington Post, quoting a source who spoke to a Jimmy Swaggart World Ministries board member, reported Monday that Swaggart said he did not engage in sexual intercourse with the woman cited in the reports of "sexual misconduct" but "paid her to perform pornographic acts." The evangelist had confessed to a fascination with pornography stemming from his boyhood, the source said.

Asked Monday about news reports that Swaggart's offense was "pornographic" and not adultery, Cole said by telephone, "In a situation like that, I don't know what a man's interpretation is of what happens." He mentioned the saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (5:28) that one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.

Cole said he did not want to be more specific. He said that Swaggart needs to comment himself "so that this doesn't get all out of proportion."

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