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'Hour of Power' crux of schism

After ousting his son, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller will turn the show over to several ministers and laymen.

October 27, 2008|Mike Anton and Sam Quinones | Anton and Quinones are Times staff writers

The schism between the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his son at Orange County's Crystal Cathedral arose over a disagreement about broadening the church's long-running television show, "Hour of Power," beyond a single personality -- a move opposed by the younger Schuller, pastors involved in the matter said Sunday.

The elder Schuller announced Saturday that he was removing his son, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, as the show's only preacher three years after turning the program over to him.

The show will now be hosted by different pastors, and even businessmen, from around the country and Latin America.

"Hour of Power," which reaches 20 million people worldwide, had not been revamped in many years, according to those familiar with it.

Robert H. Schuller obliquely addressed the change during a service Sunday.

Though never referring directly to his son, he said the long-term survival of his ministry was dependent on expanding its imprint beyond the Schuller name.

"The real minister's name that we honor is Jesus, not Schuller," he said to thunderous applause.

Schuller built his worldwide ministry over a half century on the psychology of positive thinking and appealing to people turned off by the formality of traditional faiths. In contrast, his son's sermons have been full of direct references to the Bible.

"I was called to start a mission, not a church," Schuller told his audience Sunday. "There is a difference. . . . You don't try to preach . . . what is sin and what isn't sin. A mission is a place where you ask nonbelievers to come and find faith and hope and feel love. We're a mission first, a church second."

Schuller said he hoped "Hour of Power," now in its 39th year, would go on "for decades, centuries to come. Because of that, we don't want one face . . . to be a spokesman."

When he finished, he received a standing ovation. He sat down and dabbed tears from his eyes.

In a brief interview, Schuller said that replacing his son on "Hour of Power," a formidable fundraising source, had nothing to do with church finances.

"I love my son and am proud of my son," he said, adding that the younger Schuller will continue to work as a Crystal Cathedral senior pastor.

Asked whether his son wanted to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a church rather than a mission, Schuller declined to answer, then said, "But I think it is a wise question."

Schuller said that by expanding his ministry, he would be "immunizing myself against glorifying myself."

Robert A. Schuller could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Rick Mysse, a pastor with the Reformed Church of America, the Schullers' denomination, said the decision to revamp the program reflected a consensus view among many of those who run the church.

"We kept talking to board members and said we ought to have a broader audience," said Mysse, who was involved in discussions leading to the change. "This one message from one person is just not broad enough right now."

Mysse said the younger Schuller believed that he could carry the show alone but was overruled by his father and the church's board of directors.

Mysse said the change, discussed in the last year and made during the last few weeks, has strained the relationship of a father and son who once seemed to be a solid team.

"We're trying to do the best we can and bring about a deeper reconciliation," Mysse said. Their relationship "is not irreparable, but it's gone through some difficult days."

Congregants at Sunday services, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by the change.

"It's not about a church and the name [of its pastor]," said Elizabeth Munoz, 52, of La Habra. "It's about reaching out to Jesus Christ. This is about reaching out to people who don't want to label themselves."

Zenobia Coe of Lake Forest said she preferred the young Schuller's Scripture-laden sermons. "But because God called me to this church, I intend to keep coming . . . whatever the church decides."

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mike.anton@latimes.com

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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