Robert H Schuller, the preacher whose "Hour of Power" once attracted millions of TV viewers and turned him into one of America's first superstar televangelists, has been forced out of the church he founded, which has fallen deep into debt and is being torn apart by a simmering family dispute.
The board of the Crystal Cathedral – a landmark building in Sothern California's Orange County built in 1980, at the height of Reverend Schuller's fame – voted to remove him over the weekend, amid what insiders said was a dispute over financial management.
The ministry, started in 1955 from the roof of a snack shop at a local drive-in cinema, has fallen roughly $50m into debt after 84-year-old Mr Schuller's decision to retire from day-to-day preaching five years ago. His five children have feuded over its future, and some are no longer on speaking terms.
After the organisation filed for bankruptcy last month, it emerged that a plan to sell its headquarters to a property developer would leave it $7m in the red. Despite spiralling debts, many senior employees, including Mr Schuller's daughters, who preach there, have continued to draw large salaries.
Mr Schuller's departure appears to be related to his efforts to regularise the Church's financial practices by enlarging its board of directors to include people who are not on the payroll. His son, Robert A Schuller, who was ousted from the board three years ago, told reporters that the plan had been poorly received by existing members.
"A majority of that board consists of paid employees of the church and that's a serious conflict of interest," he told The Orange County Register. "It's a very sad day and I know how that feels ... It's absolutely horrible what has happened to the church. I know that my father is disappointed, but he is detached."
The Crystal Cathedral's President, Jim Coleman, declined to comment yesterday, as did all existing members. It is understood that Rev Schuller's wife Arvella, who has a seat on the board, was in the minority who voted against her husband's removal.
At the height of his fame, Mr Schuller would draw several thousand worshippers to his twice-daily services, televised across the nation. His sermons were relatively light on gospel and scripture, majoring on the power of positive thinking and the benefits of self- improvement. His motivational speaking struck a chord with the "baby boomer" generation that flocked to suburban Orange County, south of Los Angeles, in the late 1960s and 1970s. Their donations, and those of TV viewers enabled him to spend $20m building the Crystal Cathedral on a 30-acre site.
The development boasts 10,000 panes of glass, seating for 3,000 and walls that open at the touch of a button. It also carries extensive overheads. Congregations began to dwindle during the 1990s, and the TV shows faced increasing competition from other televangelists.
If Mr Schuller now finds himself in need of some supportive advice, he could always read some of his own bestselling self-help books. They include Life's Not Fair But God is Good and The Power of Being Debt-Free.