The Gurdjieff JournalFourth Way Perspectives
The Demons & Jimmy Swaggart:
The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist
by Ann Rowe Seaman
Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, New York
Say "televangelist" or "Jimmy Swaggart" and most people's associations are not likely to be positive. The media was ablaze with the story of the born-again Fundamentalist preacher, the top televangelist of his time, whose weekly television audience was more than 2.1 million in the U.S. alone, caught with a prostitute at a sleazy motel west of New Orleans. The picture of Jimmy Swaggart as just another money-seeking, power-hungry, megalomaniacal sex addict masking himself as a minister is a common one. Another is of Swaggart as an anointed (albeit flawed) man of God who had and has a genuine desire and calling to preach the Gospel in order to bring millions to salvation in Christ. Ann Rowe Seaman's Swaggart: The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, deftly moves between both images to give a deeper understanding of a story so rich in archetypal themes, drama and characters that Elmer Gantry pales beside it. Set against a southern backdrop during the rise of Holy Roller spiritual revivals and thumping rock-and-roll music, it is a captivating account of one of the most influential and conflicted men in the history of evangelical Christianity. He climbed to the temporal heights, but his dualistic split and inability to integrate the conflicting manifestations of his own sex energy, what Swaggart himself refers to as "demon oppression," ultimately led to his public humiliation and downfall.
Building an Organization
At its height, the Jimmy Swaggart Ministry included the 10,000-seat Family Worship Center, the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, video production buildings and numerous smaller ones that line Bluebonnet Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The organization employed 1,500 workers and received more than $500,000 a day from donations, tours to the Holy Land, subscriptions to his magazine The Evangelist and sale of his music and biblical merchandise. His weekly program was seen throughout America, as well as in 143 other countries. Millions of dollars from his crusades were pumped into third world countries for schools and outreach programs. With his popularity soaring, he thundered against Satan, prowling the stage, a large open Bible in one hand, a microphone in the other, sweating and hollering, quoting verses by heart and warning against the evil ways of a degenerate, materialistic culture of sex, drugs and money worship. Scrupulous in how his ministry accounted for moneyother than Billy Graham, a failing of many evangelistsperhaps he felt he was above attack. He took to criticizing the Catholic Church, other Fundamentalist ministers, and openly denounced the sexual misconduct of rival televangelists Jim Bakker and the lesser-known Marvin Gorman. The ensuing power struggles give an insight into this little-understood but powerful world of Fundamentalist Christianity. Allegorical depictions of Swaggart's struggle for spiritual attainment were now replaced by backbiting attacks, deception and pitiful attempts to maintain personal status. Then poof! It all exploded when the Swaggart, who had been throwing stones, was caught with a $20-dollar-a-trick prostitute in a sleazy New Orleans motel. Vacillating at first, the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God ordered him to stop preaching for three months and complete counseling treatment for sex addiction. Swaggart defied the ruling and left the Assemblies of God, proclaiming to his congregation (reduced now to 600) that he'd asked God to take his life that night, but that he was healed. "I do not deny that the wound was there.... But I proclaim it to demons, and devils, and hell, and Satan, and angels, and you: it is healed by the power of the Almighty God!" His congregation was moved and applauded him enthusiastically. However, shortly afterward near Palm Springs, in the grip of "demon oppression," Jimmy again was driven to seek comfort and release. Cruising in his big Lincoln Towncar, he picked up a street prostitute. Pulled over for a traffic violation, within minutes Jimmy and the girl were surrounded by police cars and reporters.
Seaman gives an insightful commentary about the origin of Swaggart's sex addiction and provides support for her interpretations by experts. She cites Patrick Carnes, author of Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, who believes the most important dynamic in sex addiction is fear of abandonment, pointing out that as a child Jimmy was left at home for long periods of time while his mother and father were on the road preaching. Also, both his grandfathers were known carousers, and she provides sources who say that Jimmy was molested as a child. Perhaps the most influential factor, however, is the heavily dualistic nature of the Fundamentalist subculture in which Swaggart grew up. The body is "filth," and the Prince of Darkness is always knocking at the door.
Sex energy was a key ingredient in Jimmy's services, as it is the basis of transmutation in all spiritual paths. It was apparent in both his music and his preaching, and helped bring millions of people into a state of ecstasy and transcendence, allowing a surrender and an openingbut always within (like the Unification Church) a rigid context of good and evil. In All and Everything, Mr. Gurdjieff speaks about how Christianity degenerated over time, no longer taking into consideration the plurality of man, adopting fantastical beliefs bedded in a dualistic nature of reality with external forces of 'good' and 'evil.' 'Havatvernoni,' or religions based on the 'maleficent idea' of 'good' and 'evil,' Gurdjieff says, are the chief factor for the abnormality and gradual 'dilution' of the human psyche, and are "the fundamental impeding factor for the possibility...for the self-perfecting of their higher being parts." With its fire-and-brimstone approach, the Pentecostal religion embodies what Gurdjieff speaks of.
Seaman notes that someone savvy about unconscious marital bargains might conclude that Jimmy was expected to deal with sex as best he couldas long as he delivered onstage. Perhaps his wife Frances, a childhood sweetheart, unwittingly knew early on that Jimmy was drawn to an essential contact with what he abhorred, and needed it regularly, in order to get up and do what he did onstage at the pace he did ita pace largely set by her. Writes Seaman: "If sexual tension was a big part of that, then let there be sexual tension. If that tension had to come from wickednessprostitutes or pornography or working out some issues over childhood sexual trauma, then let that happenbut keep up appearances. Tension, after all, was the constant companion of a sexual addict, from fear of being found out." Indeed, Jimmy would later write in puzzlement about a three-month period when "there was absolutely no attack by the powers of darkness. At the same time, there was no anointing of the Holy Spirit. It was uncanny. It was as if Satan had left, but it was as if the Holy Spirit had left as well." Unaware of the power of this energy and the danger of summoning it up in his own psyche, a psyche that had been forged in dualism, Jimmy rendered himself unable to control its "dark side" and refused when given the opportunity to heal this split.