Paula Deen’s repentant wailing aside, it was Pentecostal minister Jimmy Swaggart who set the standard 25 years ago for the weepy public apology.
After his dalliances with a prostitute were exposed, the firebrand televangelist delivered an unforgettable nationally televised confession from the pulpit of his Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Tears streamed down Swaggart’s face. And then he blubbered the infamous line: “I have sinned against you my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain.”
It was a YouTube moment long before there was YouTube.
Swaggart’s mega-ministry never was the same. The Assemblies of God defrocked him. TV viewers stopped tuning in. Fiscal problems ensued.
And there was an encounter with another prostitute three years later.
Swaggart’s profile dropped dramatically, but he hasn’t disappeared altogether.
Now 78 and white-haired, he’s on television again on a network launched in 2009. And in August, he’s scheduled to make a rare crusade appearance in Niagara Falls as part of “Field of Miracles, the Return,” a three-day event in Sal Maglie Stadium sponsored by the Joshua Revolution and a host of area churches.
Organizers of the event say they believe God is using Swaggart to spread a message of hope, forgiveness and restoration in a city with desperate needs.
“He is the perfect candidate to win a broken city to Christ because he was a broken man and has been wonderfully restored,” said Pastor Jim Cassidy of Walnut Avenue Christian Church in Niagara Falls.
Michael Chorey, director of the Joshua Revolution, compared Swaggart with the biblical David, whom God continued to rely upon even after he fell into sin.
“I think he’s a modern-day David in many ways,” said Chorey, who personally invited Swaggart to the event. “What the Lord has done with Jimmy Swaggart is a great symbol of his power to restore.”
At the height of his popularity in the mid-1980s, Swaggart was a hyperkinetic tour-de-force, pacing back and forth on a large stage while belting out an impassioned sermon. He would then wander to the piano for a soulful Gospel performance.
A cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, Swaggart was an accomplished musician whose top-selling Gospel albums alone would have made him rich and famous.
“He had money coming in from all directions,” said Glen Jeansonne, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
His Jimmy Swaggart Ministries was a multimillion-dollar empire during an era of big-time TV ministers, as well as big-time scandals.
Swaggart publicly delighted in the downfall, due to scandals, of competitor televangelists Jimmy Bakker and Marvin Gorman, whose expulsion Swaggart had helped engineer.
Gorman then turned the tables on Swaggart, hiring a private detective to take pictures of the preacher with a prostitute outside a hotel.
The revelations led to Swaggart’s extraordinary apology and a three-month suspension from the pulpit.
Swaggart was caught again with a prostitute in 1991, this time in Indio, Calif., where he was stopped by police for driving on the wrong side of the street.
The woman in the car said she was a prostitute and Swaggart had asked her for sex.
Swaggart remains something of a cultural icon in Louisiana, where he maintains a complex and infrastructure worth millions of dollars, said Jeansonne, a native of Baton Rouge, who recently co-wrote a magazine biography of Swaggart for the summer edition of “Louisiana Cultural Vistas.”
“He’s not nearly the national figure that he once was,” he said.
Swaggart’s ministry offices in Baton Rouge did not respond to two requests for an interview.
The ministry’s website says that Swaggart’s SonLife Broadcasting Network reaches a “potential” viewing audience of more than 80 million people on 78 channels in 104 countries.
The SonLife network includes live and recorded programs featuring Swaggart and his family, including his wife, Frances; son, Donnie; and grandson, Gabriel, as well as classic footage of Swaggart crusades from 30 years ago.
Chorey of Niagara Falls acknowledged that he hadn’t paid much attention to Swaggart after the evangelist’s problems surfaced.
Chorey was in the midst of some problems in his own life when, for the first time in more than 10 years, he stumbled upon Swaggart preaching on television. Swaggart’s words that day brought Chorey to tears.
“He knows the struggle that can go on in a person’s life,” Chorey said.
Chorey ended up attending Swaggart’s “Easter Camp” meeting in Baton Rouge in 2001, where Swaggart spoke of how God had delivered him from sin. On a return visit in 2011, Chorey said he had a dream in which Swaggart was preaching in Niagara Falls.
Chorey inquired about Swaggart’s availability for an event in the Falls through Gabriel Swaggart, a guest speaker at past Joshua Revolution events.
“Gabriel asked him three times, and he said no three times,” Chorey recalled.
Chorey and another area pastor, Jesse Scott of Word of Life Ministries, earlier this year met with Swaggart in person.
“At first, he said that’s not what he does anymore,” Chorey said.
In recent years, Swaggart has preached outside the Family Worship Center only on a few occasions.
But Swaggart told them he’d pray about it, and three weeks later Chorey received a letter saying Swaggart agreed to participate.
Swaggart will take the stage at 7 p.m. Aug. 9 in the stadium at 1200 Hyde Park Blvd. Other speakers include his grandson, Gabriel, and Bob Cornell, a pastor and dean of students at World Evangelism Bible College in Baton Rouge.
Organizers are hoping for at least 10,000 people to attend the event.