Gorman died Wednesday at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, at the age of 83. Before his death, though, Gorman rose to TV prominence, sank into obscurity and slowly rebuilt his ministry.
Gorman, who was born in Hampton, Ark., in 1933, began ministering to faithful masses in Arkansas and its neighboring Louisiana when he was 16 years old. During the 21 years he served as the Pastor of First Assembly of God Church, its “congregation grew from 100 to over 6,000 members,” according to an obituary posted to his foundation’s page.
Gorman spread the message of Pentecostalism not just at his church, but also on a television program that aired in all 50 states.
His operating budget was $4.5 million per year.
That may sound high, but it was peanuts compared to a competing Assembly of God preacher who lived just 80 miles up the Mississippi River.
The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart’s fame arguably dwarfed Gorman’s by the mid-to-late ’80s. Aside from airing in all 50 states, his daily television show was dubbed into 15 foreign languages for overseas broadcasts. He traveled the world in a personal Gulf Stream jet and the production center he built in Baton Rouge in 1983 cost $20 million.
As his media buyer Shirley Cooke told The Post in 1987, “There is not a pocket in this country where Jimmy can’t be viewed.”
Still, for all his fame, Swaggart apparently kept a keen eye on Gorman.
On July 15, 1986, Swaggart invited Gorman to his bayou mansion and accused the married preacher of committing adultery with several different women.
He claimed the confrontation was a kindness. In fact, six weeks later, according to The Post, he sent Gorman a letter that read in part, “We want you to know we love you and are continuing to pray for you.”
The accusations eventually led Gorman to admit to having a single tryst with a church member.
“It was an act of attempted intercourse, but I was overcome with guilt,” he told the Associated Press in 1991.
Many accused Swaggart of attempting to destroy Gorman’s reputation.
“Marvin‘s ministry was blessed, and was growing too fast,” an unnamed source told The Post in 1988. “I know it doesn’t sound logical, but Jimmy was a little jealous. He was afraid Marvin might get too big.”
At the time, Gorman’s lawyer Hunter Lundy called the accusation “an effort to bankrupt Marvin Gorman and his ministries.”
Whether that’s true, it’s exactly what happened. By early 1987, Gorman was in bankruptcy and he told the AP, “People I had known would actually cross the street so as not to speak to me.”
In addition, the preacher was defrocked and stripped of his religious obligations.
Gorman didn’t go quietly into that sweet night, though.
As luck would have it, Swaggart had secrets of his own. On Oct. 17, 1987, he drove a Lincoln Town Car into the parking lot of a no-tell motel, one with a sign reading “positively no refunds after 15 minutes.” He walked into one of the rooms, a prostitute at his side. Unbeknown to him, they weren’t alone.
Someone snapped a photograph of the two. Then, the unnamed photographer “disabled Swaggart’s car by yanking out the tire valves.”
That person immediately called Gorman, thinking he might be interested in such a smoking gun.
Gorman rushed over and confronted Swaggart in the parking lot, asking him to come clean. Months later, when Swaggart had remained silent on the issue, Gorman gave the photographs to the Assemblies of God board.
An unnamed Swaggart adviser told The Post that Gorman was “just trying to destroy Jimmy,” a claim Gorman denied.
“I have been asked, ‘Have I been involved in a vindictive way?’ and the answer is, ‘No,’ ” Gorman said. “That’s so far from my nature, it’s not worth addressing . . . I’m praying earnestly for the Swaggarts.”
Intentions aside, quickly thereafter Swaggart confessed to unspecified sins on his program and resigned his position on his television show.
“I have sinned against You, my Lord. And I would ask that Your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain, until it is in the seas of God’s forgetfulness, never to be remembered against me anymore,” he said in the infamous speech.
Later, he too was defrocked.
Gorman also sued Swaggart for defamation, eventually winning a $10 million award, though parties later settled out of court for $1.85 million, the Times-Picayune reported.
Gorman wasn’t the only profitable man of God that Swaggart attacked in 1986.
Swaggart brought to light similar adultery charges against Rev. Jim Bakker, who hosted “The PTL Cub,” another extremely popular televangelist show that Swaggart wasn’t fond of.
On “Larry King” in 1987, Swaggart said, “I have been a critic of PTL almost from the outset. I have felt that it did not exemplify the cause of Christ. I felt the almost day-to-day soap opera atmosphere, lurching from one crisis to the other, was not exactly the image that should be projected to the world in general.”
In addition, Bakker had staunchly defended Gorman, whom he considered a close personal friend.
After Swaggart initiated a church investigation of Bakker, he was once again accused of attempting to eliminate his competition in order to win the religious ratings war.
At the time, his lawyer Norman Roy Grutman said in a press coverage, “It was like this in the time of the Holy Roman Empire and such power struggles were true in days of the medieval popes. I have seen unmistakable evidence that . . . Jimmy Swaggart was attempting to orchestrate the ouster of Jim Bakker.”
Swaggart denied doing any such thing, claiming he had the interests of their believers in mind.
“This cancer has been excised that I feel has caused untold reproach on the body of Christ,” Swaggart told King. “It’s painful, a surgical procedure, but it was necessary.”
The memories of their flocks proved short, as all three men managed to recover from their downfalls in one way or another. Swaggart continues to preach through the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries today and has his own television channel. Though he would go on to serve prison time for fraud in an unrelated case, Jim Bakker still broadcasts an eponymous television show.
Gorman’s sights were a bit more modest — he founded the Temple of Praise, a small congregation in the New Orleans middle-class Gentilly neighborhood. He also, as the Pentecostal magazine Charisma reported, “wrote a book about how God had humbled him through his fall, and told him to forgive and pray for his enemies.”
Those who knew him had kind words at his passing.
“He was the most compassionate, tenderhearted minister I’ve ever met,” his son Randy Gorman told Nola.com. “He was a phenomenal man.”
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