National leaders of the Assemblies of God meeting in Springfield, Mo., yesterday said that they have asked church officials in Louisiana to impose a stiffer penalty on fallen TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
The Louisiana group earlier recommended a three-month suspension from preaching for Swaggart, which hundreds of callers criticized as too lenient. In the past, the minimum punishment in similar cases has been a one-year suspension.
Twelve members of the denomination's highest governing board met for 12 hours at the church's international headquarters yesterday and Thursday to discuss the Louisiana district's proposed sanctions.
Officials of Swaggart's home district recommended earlier this week that the fiery television evangelist, who confessed before his congregation to undisclosed moral misconduct, be prohibited from preaching for three months and undergo two years of rehabilitation and counseling.
At the end of the Assemblies of God meeting in Springfield, General Superintendent G. Raymond Carlson said, "We will not discuss the content of our meeting." He said it could be several weeks before a final decision is made on Swaggart's punishment. The local board is expected to take up the matter on Monday.
Sources within the national organization said they expect the Louisiana district to go along with the national presbytery's recommendations. If it doesn't, a significant and "unprecedented" family feud could develop in the nation's largest Pentecostal body, the sources said.
There have been several phone conversations over the last few days between national and local officers, according to national spokeswoman Juleen Turnage. The local district upset national leaders by announcing its decision on Swaggart before it told the Springfield office, in violation of church bylaws, Turnage said.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, La., a newspaper editor said a column Swaggart used to write in which he often railed against pornography had been dropped because of plagiarism.
Jim Hughes, executive editor of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, said Swaggart plagiarized other writers' stories on at least two occasions.
"Twice he plagiarized material," Hughes said. "The first occasion we caught before it got into the paper.
"There was a story in Parade magazine in which a reporter had gone to Atlantic City. The story began with him saying he got in a cab and asked the driver what effect gambling had on the city," Hughes said. "The driver said, 'It made a whore out of my daughter and a pimp out of my son.' That same lead was in a Swaggart column the next Sunday but presented as if Swaggart had been there in Atlantic City."
Hughes said Swaggart later plagiarized a story and wrote a column for Easter Sunday 1987 relating to Dartmouth College's distribution of "safe sex" kits. Editors did not discover until after it had been published that it was plagiarized, he said.
"In his next column we ... ran an explanation apologizing to the original writer of the story."
Hughes said that a couple of weeks later the paper canceled its agreement with Swaggart and no further columns appeared.
Also yesterday, the companion of a prostitute who claims she performed pornographic acts for Swaggart for about a year said he was negotiating to sell her story to the mass media.
"This is a shot for me and a shot for her," said John Martinez, a carpet cleaner who said he met Debra Murphree, 28, in West Palm Beach, Fla., about four months ago. "It's the American way -- see an opportunity and jump on it."