Tony Cummings goes in search of some Christian music on TV and finds JIMMY SWAGGART
I normally watch a bit of television on a Saturday afternoon. Usually it's sport or an old movie but on this particular Saturday (24th February) I decided to see if I could find any Christian music on TV on the multitude of channels now available to us. So that was how I stumbled across one Robin Hird on the station SBN TV which I had never watched and was unknown to me. Robin was a pretty good Southern gospel singer who took an enthusiastic congregation through the song "Look What The Lord Has Done". I warmed to its jolly, hand-clapping infectiousness as the middle-aged Robin crooned "He healed my body/He touched my mind/Come on and praise him/Look what the Lord has done." What came next - the preach - had me (later) filling in some gaps about what I was watching. For Mr Hird wasn't the main attraction either on this programme or in the plush Louisiana Auditorium where he was filmed. For the preacher I'd stumbled across was the famed Jimmy Swaggart and indeed he is the pastor of the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and SBN stands for SonLife Broadcasting Network.
As the Rev Swaggart began to preach I momentarily pondered that up to this moment I had never heard this most famous of TV evangelists preach. After the scandal that enveloped his ministry in 1998 which ultimately led to him being defrocked by the Assemblies of God and another scandal three years later involving a prostitute, Swaggart disappeared from my personal radar. In fact, I've managed to be actively involved in Christian media under the assumption that the Rev Swaggart had long since retired. Yet there he was on my TV set preaching, and preaching well. He expounded Scriptures without any discernible notes or Teleprompt and, considering the nature of his highly visible fall into sin, didn't flinch from warning the rapt congregation to defeat those giants within such as Internet pornography and hard drinking. He then made the point that not only should we avoid sin but we needed to be walking close enough to God to hear him when he guided us away from things which would not in the long run take us in the direction God wanted us to go. Jimmy brought in a story about an encounter he had had back in the '50s.
One day, long before fame and fortune came to Jimmy, when he was at a dinner-on-the-ground at a small church, he was surprised to see a shiny new limousine draw up and the father of rock and roller Jerry Lee Lewis get out. Jerry was Jimmy's cousin and Jerry's father was visiting Jimmy to bring him the exciting news that Memphis' Sun Records, awash with cash after their hits with Elvis and Jerry Lee, were offering to start a gospel record label and making their first signing preacher/singer/pianist Jimmy Swaggart. Instead of the expected excited acceptance, Jerry Lee's father got a "no thank you". Jimmy had heard the Lord and in that season at least turned down any immediate chance of substituting his beat up old car for a new limousine.
After Jimmy's preach one of Jimmy's sons Gabriel offered an ineptly delivered link from the SBN studio before introducing another musical item, this one from a black girl called Tara Montpetiit. She sang a slow hymn without really catching fire though I was impressed by the quality of the Family Worship Centre's backing band with both the guitarist and sax player offering tasty licks. Time was getting on and I wondered whether the veteran preacher would treat the congregation/viewers to a song before the programme closed. After all, in the '70s Swaggart was a major player in Christian music. In 1977 he was a Dove Award finalist in three categories, Male Vocalist Of The Year, TV Programme Of The Year and Instrumentalist Of The Year and in both 1976 and 1980 the Grammy Awards nominated Swaggart's albums.
I couldn't say though that I was anticipating much from the preacher singer. The few of his vinyl albums that I've heard tended to be stentorian and languid versions of old hymns completely lacking the boogie boogie adrenaline of his rock 'n' roll cousin. Therefore I was stunned when the aggregation announced as the Family Worship Centre Resurrection Choir came on screen. The choir featured Jimmy singing with the soul and passion of a man half his age. Jimmy's call and response fire was truly exciting as he roared out his delight in being saved as he stood in front of the 35 or so singers in choir robes. There was even some nice sax and bass guitar solos. Jimmy was singing, to quote from his sermon, "on the glory side of Egypt" and I, like the congregation excitedly handclapping and dancing in front of him, was left in no doubt that whatever his sins and mistakes of the past the Rev Swaggart was truly excited about having "a new song to sing."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.