Reflections on Robert Schuller

Three years ago, we lost one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th century. Rev. Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral, died at age 88. The charismatic televangelist built an empire over 50 years, starting with a small church meeting at a drive-in movie theater. In recent years, this empire crumbled under the weight of divided leadership, declining attendance, and lost donations that drove the church into bankruptcy, with debt topping $43 million. The glass-paned cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011. Schuller lost a lawsuit to recoup $5 million.

At his popularity peak, Schuller was seen by 20 million viewers in 180 countries every week. In his declining years, the author of over 30 books lived in a care facility where he received treatment for tumors that spread from his esophagus. Schuller was roundly attacked by the establishment and by fundamentalists. He was widely viewed as a heretic and humanist. His friendship with President Bill Clinton sparked an outrage among the conservative citizens of Orange County and among other religious leaders around the nation. Schuller was mocked for being self-serving, shallow, and Biblically illiterate.

But this is not a time to pile on. It is too easy to take shots at those in the spotlight. I loved Robert Schuller, for I do not make agreement on every point a necessity for acknowledging the good and the God I see in that person. It was Schuller who said, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” As a young minister, I remember hearing him ask, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” He said, “Always look at what you have left, not at what you have lost.” “Build a dream and that dream will build you.” And I love this word of encouragement: “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”

On September 16, 1926, Robert Harold Schuller was born in the small town of Alton, Iowa. Yesterday he stepped into the presence of God. The man who hosted Hour of Power for 40 years has lived his last hour in this world. Today he has a new body as he has joined his wife of 64 years, Arvella, before the throne of God. Today is not the day to criticize one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders. It is a day to grasp the hope and grace that he taught millions around the world.

To you whose life is touched by both hopes and hurts (all of us), I leave you with these words: “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” And as you follow your hopes, thank God for a simple man from Iowa – a loving husband, adoring father, gifted author, influential leader, faithful pastor, and child of the King. Breathe a prayer of gratitude for the father of positive living. Without him, earth just got sadder. With him, heaven became an even happier place. It is truly amazing – what God can do through one man. His name was Robert Schuller.

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