“The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person. Rather, we have started from the ‘unworthiness of the sinner,’ and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology,” wrote Robert H. Schuller in his book “Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.”
Christian fundamentalists attacked Schuller as a heretic and humanist for statements they believed denied the need for the personal repentance of sin and for his tolerance of Jewish, Roman Catholic and other theologies. In response, Dr. Schuller gave a sermon on inclusiveness and tolerance: “I do let people know how great their sins and miseries are,” he said in a 1992 radio interview. “I don’t do that by standing in a pulpit and telling them they’re sinners. …The way I do it is ask questions. Are you happy? Do you have problems, what are they? So then I come across as somebody who cares about them.”
By Marion Algier – Ask Marion
Rev. Robert Harold. Schuller, the renowned Southern California televangelist, motivational speaker and author who shared his upbeat messages on faith and redemption with millions from his famed landmark Crystal Cathedral via the Hour of Power, only to see his dream crumble in his waning years, has died at age 88.
Daughter Carol Schuller Milner reported that her father, Dr. Robert H. Schuller, died early Thursday (04.02.15) at a care facility in Artesia. In 2013, Schuller was diagnosed with a tumor in his esophagus that had spread to his lymph nodes and began treatment.
© AP Photo/Chris Carlson, Feb. 9, 2006 file photo/ Rev. Robert H. Schuller poses for a photo outside the Crystal Cathedral in Orange, CA.
The well-known charismatic televangelist was watched by millions worldwide every Sunday, yet Dr. Robert H. Schuller faded from view in recent years after watching his church collapse amid a failed leadership transition along with sharp declines in viewership and donations because of the economy that ultimately forced the ministry to file for bankruptcy.
The iconic, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral — the centerpiece of Schuller’s well storied ministry — was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011, and Schuller lost a legal battle the following year in an attempt to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry for claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.
Schuller, who preached in a flowing grey robe adorned with purple striping and sporting oversized aviator-style glasses, flashing his Cheshire cat smile, suffered a mild heart attack back in 1997, but he was quickly back on the pulpit, saying “the positive person” is not afraid of life’s surprises. Then in July 2013, he was hospitalized for several days after a fall at his Orange, CA home.
Schuller’s evangelical ministry, part of the Reformed Dutch Anglican Church in America, was a product of modern times and creative thinking. He and his late wife, Arvella, an organist, started a ministry in 1955 with $500 when he began preaching from the roof of a concession stand at the Orange drive-in movie theater southeast of Los Angeles.
The church’s motto — “Come as you are in the family car” — tapped into both the post-World War II suburban boom in America and the burgeoning Southern California auto culture.
By 1961, the foundling church had a brick-and-mortar home — a “walk-in/drive-in church” — and Schuller began broadcasting the “Hour of Power” in 1970.
In 1980, towering glass-and-steel Crystal Cathedral was built to house Schuller’s booming TV ministry, run by his wife Arvella, which was broadcast live each week from the cathedral’s uplifting and sunlit 2,800-seat sanctuary. At its peak, in the 1990s, the program had 20 million viewers in about 180 countries.
The Cathedral was also outfitted with the infrastructure to fly the beautiful Angels for which the church’s Glories were known; an idea that was presented and sold to Rev. Schuller by Mary Martin, who played Peter Pan on stage and had been a Sunday guest.
Angel Summer Miles Singing to Mary © Photos/the UCLA Shutterbug
Schuller’s message — that “Possibility Thinking” and the love of God overcomes hardships — was a uniquely American blend of Bible and psychology. It was inspired by late author Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Schuller also wrote more than 30 books, including several best-sellers like Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!
“He was a young guy like me, and he was going out there and trying new things,” said his grandson, Bobby Schuller, who pastors his own church that includes some of his grandfather’s former congregants. “He did so many amazing, innovative things.”
Unlike many other televangelists, Schuller seniors’s message lacked fire-and-brimstone condemnations or conservative political baggage, and until the end was relatively scandal free.
“The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person. Rather, we have started from the ‘unworthiness of the sinner,’ and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology,” he wrote in his book “Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.”
Schuller had admirers that ranged from fellow evangelist Billy Graham to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. He also was among the first foreign religious figures invited to preach on Russian television.
But Christian fundamentalists attacked him as a heretic and a humanist for statements they believed denied the need for the personal repentance of sin as well as for his tolerance of Jewish, Roman Catholic and other theologies.
Schuller’s friendship with President Bill Clinton also raised some eyebrows among the conservative Republicans of his Orange County congregation and prompted a deluge of angry letters and phone calls.
In response, Schuller gave a sermon on inclusiveness and tolerance.
In a 1992 radio interview Schuller said “I do let people know how great their sins and miseries are” but… “I don’t do that by standing in a pulpit and telling them they’re sinners; the way I do it is ask questions. Are you happy? Do you have problems, what are they? So then I come across as somebody who cares about them.”
Schuller sometimes cited the example of his daughter Carol, who lost part of her leg because of a motorcycle accident in 1978 but then went on to become a champion skier.
“When tough times come, we need to take tough action, to hold on until the tide turns for the better, to tenaciously dig in and bloom where we are planted,” he wrote.
And the test of tough times was coming for Schuller and his church as well…
In 2006, Schuller’s only son, 61-year-old Robert A. Schuller, was installed as senior pastor, the start of what was planned as a carefully choreographed leadership transition. Although a father-son succession is rare in the Reformed Church in America, the Schullers considered the church a “family business” and the planned move was sanctioned by the national church, officials said.
The organization fell on hard times after the younger Schuller’s installation who left amid a bitter family feud in fall 2008. His father had removed him from the “Hour of Power” broadcasts, and he quit as senior pastor a few weeks later.
Sheila Schuller Coleman, one of Schuller’s daughters, took over as the church’s top administrator, and a stable of preachers, including her and her father, handled preaching duties on the “Hour of Power.” Sheila also ultimately left, taking some congregants with her to start a new ministry.
The tumult on the pulpit worsened a pre-existing decline in viewership and donations. And in 2010, the Crystal Cathedral ministries filed for bankruptcy, citing debt of more than $43 million.
Bankruptcy filings indicated the ministry was paying significant tax-exempt housing allowances to Schuller family members and insiders. The allowances were legal but raised concerns among vendors and other creditors who had gone unpaid for months. Schuller friend, long time congregant and frequent performer at the Cathedral Pianist Roger Williams said the Schuller kids spoiled the Crystal Cathedral
In 2012, Dr. Schuller was removed from and his wife quit the board of directors in a dispute over copyright infringement and breach of contract. That same year, they lost a legal bid to recover more than $5 million from their former ministry.
Schuller’s grandson, Bobby Schuller, took the remaining congregation and founded a new church. Bobby Schuller also took over the “Hour of Power,” broadcasting from a new location.
Four generations of Robert Schullers – photo by Donna Schuller
Robert Harold Schuller was born in Alton, Iowa, in 1926, and was ordained by the Reformed Church in America in 1950. He was pastor of Ivanhoe Reformed Church in Chicago from 1950 to 1955 before moving to California.
Besides his son, Reverend Schuller and his beloved wife, Arvella, had four daughters, Sheila, Jeanne, Carol and Gretchen. Arvella Schuller died Feb. 11, 2014, after a brief illness.
The Crystal Cathedral and Dr. Schuller were known for their Glory productions: The Glory of Easter, the Glory of Christmas and the Glory of Creation as well as for the weekly Hour of Power broadcasts and Schuller’s positive messages from the pulpit and through his 30 books. Many people’s lives were changed forever after attending one of the Cathedral’s Glory Productions. And for those of us who had the honor of knowing the Schullers and being part of that ministry and the Glory productions it is a huge and final loss.
The passing of Dr. Robert H. Schuller is definitely the end of an era.
Marion Algier, Tim Algier, and Summer Miles
3 Kings – Tim Algier, Bruce Martz and Don Eldridge
Photos © Photos by the UCLA Shutterbug and Diane Visser
Arvella Shuller died the day before Shirley Temple Black who also passed of natural causes at age 85