Jimmy Swaggart

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Jimmy Swaggart
Swaggart in 2009
Jimmy Lee Swaggart

(1935-03-15) March 15, 1935 (age 89)
Years active1955–present
TelevisionThe Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (1971–present)
SonLife Broadcasting Network (2007–present)
Frances Swaggart
(m. 1952)
ChildrenDonnie Swaggart
RelativesMickey Gilley (cousin)
Jerry Lee Lewis (cousin)

Jimmy Lee Swaggart (/ˈswæɡərt/; born March 15, 1935) is an American Pentecostal televangelist.

Jimmy Swaggart Ministries owns and operates the SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN). Swaggart is the senior pastor of the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Early life[edit]

Jimmy Lee Swaggart was born on March 15, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana,[1] to fiddle player and Pentecostal preacher Willie Leon (known as "Sun" or "Son") Swaggart and Minnie Bell Herron, daughter of sharecropper William Herron. Swaggart's parents were related by marriage, as Son Swaggart's maternal uncle, Elmo Lewis, was married to Minnie Herron's sister, Mamie. The extended family had a complex network of interrelationships: "cousins and in-laws and other relatives married each other until the clan was entwined like a big, tight ball of rubber bands".[2][3][4]

Swaggart is the cousin of rockabilly pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and country music star Mickey Gilley.[5] He also had a sister, Jeanette Ensminger (1942–1999). With his parents, Swaggart attended small Assemblies of God churches in Ferriday and Wisner.[citation needed]

In 1952, aged 17, Swaggart married 15-year-old Frances Anderson, whom he met in church in Wisner, Louisiana while he was playing music with his father, who pastored the Assembly of God Church there. They have a son named Donnie. Swaggart worked several part-time odd jobs to support his young family and also began singing Southern Gospel music at various churches.[citation needed]

According to his autobiography To Cross a River, Swaggart, along with his wife and son, lived in poverty during the 1950s as he preached throughout rural Louisiana, struggling to survive on an income of $30 a week (equivalent to $330 in 2023). Being too poor to own a home, the Swaggarts lived in church basements, homes of pastors, and small motels. Sun Records producer Sam Phillips wanted to start a gospel line of music for the label (perhaps to remain in competition with RCA Victor and Columbia, who also had gospel lines at the time) and wanted Swaggart for Sun as the first gospel artist for the label. Swaggart's cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, had previously signed with Sun and was reportedly earning $20,000 per week at the time. Although the offer meant a promise for significant income for him and his family, Swaggart turned Phillips down, stating that he was called to preach the gospel.[6]


Ordination and early career[edit]

Preaching from a flatbed trailer donated to him, Swaggart began full-time evangelistic work in 1955. He began developing a revival-meeting following throughout the American South. In 1960, he began recording gospel music record albums and transmitting on Christian radio stations. In 1961, Swaggart was ordained by the Assemblies of God; a year later he began his radio ministry. In the late 1960s, Swaggart founded what was then a small church named the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the church eventually became district-affiliated with the Assemblies of God.[citation needed]

In 1971, Swaggart began transmitting a weekly 30-minute telecast over various local television stations in Baton Rouge and also purchased a local AM radio station, WLUX (now WPFC). The station broadcast Christian feature stories, preaching and teaching to various fundamentalist and Pentecostal denominations and playing black gospel, Southern gospel, and inspirational music. Swaggart sold many of his radio stations gradually throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.[citation needed]

Shifting to television[edit]

By 1975, the television ministry had expanded to more stations around the United States, and he began to use television as his primary preaching forum. In 1978, the weekly telecast was increased to an hour.[citation needed]

In 1980, Swaggart began a daily weekday telecast featuring Bible study and music, and the weekend, hour-long telecast included a service from either Family Worship Center (Swaggart's church) or an on-location crusade in a major city. In the early 1980s, the broadcasts expanded to major cities nationwide. By 1983, more than 250 television stations broadcast the telecast.[citation needed]

Promotion of RENAMO[edit]

Throughout the 1980s, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries was one of many American Evangelical leaders who promoted the South African-backed Mozambican National Resistance, aka RENAMO, which was accused of committing systematic war crimes during Mozambique's 15-year-long civil war. In addition to moral support and publicity, Swaggart Ministries was repeatedly accused of providing funding and material support to the group. In September 1985, government forces supported by Zimbabwe captured RENAMO's main headquarters inside Mozambique, Casa Banana. Among the materials left behind by retreating rebels were piles of Swaggart's 1982 publication, "How to Receive The Baptism in the Holy Spirit", translated into Portuguese.[7] During the 1988 trial of Australian missionary Ian Grey, who coordinated much of the private support to RENAMO, it was claimed by the defendant that Swaggart Ministries worked through Shekinah Ministries to provide support to RENAMO. That year, extensive media coverage of Swaggart and his businesses in the wake of a sex scandal largely excluded these allegations.[8] In 1991, Covert Action Magazine and the government of Zimbabwe both accused Swaggart ministries of continuing to fund RENAMO.[9]

Prostitution scandals[edit]

In 1988, Swaggart was accused of patronizing a prostitute. He was suspended and ultimately defrocked by the Assemblies of God. Three years later, Swaggart was implicated in another scandal involving prostitution. As a result, Swaggart's ministry became non-affiliated, nondenominational, and significantly smaller than it was in the ministry's pre-scandal years.[10][11][12]

Swaggart's sex scandals received national media attention.[13][14][15][16]

1988 prostitution scandal[edit]

Swaggart's first prostitution scandal occurred in retaliation for an incident in 1986 when he accused fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman of having several affairs. Gorman was defrocked from the Assemblies of God, and his ministry was all but ended.[17] Gorman filed a successful lawsuit against Swaggart for defamation and conspiracy to ruin his reputation; he was awarded damages amounting to $10 million in 1991.[18] Following an appeal, the parties settled the matter for $1.75 million.[19]

As a retaliatory measure, Gorman hired his son Randy and son-in-law Garland Bilbo to watch the Travel Inn on Airline Highway in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.[20] At the Travel Inn, the two men photographed Swaggart outside Room 7 with Debra Murphree,[11][21] a local prostitute. Gorman arrived at the Travel Inn a short while later and confronted Swaggart.[22]

According to Swaggart: The Unauthorized Biography of an American Evangelist, Gorman secured a promise from Swaggart that he would publicly apologize to Gorman and start the process of Gorman's reinstatement to the Assemblies of God. Gorman offered to remain silent if Swaggart would state publicly that he lied about Gorman's affairs. Gorman waited almost a year, then hand-delivered a note to Swaggart informing him his time was up; Swaggart did not respond. On February 16, 1988, Gorman contacted James Hamil, one of the 13-man Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, to expose Swaggart's assignation with the prostitute.[23] The presbytery leadership of the Assemblies of God suspended Swaggart from broadcasting his television program for three months.[citation needed]

According to the Associated Press, Murphree failed a polygraph test administered by a New York City Police Department polygraph expert.[24] The test administrator concluded that Murphree had failed to tell the truth on all key questions concerning her statement. The test was administered after Murphree offered to sell the story to the National Enquirer for $100,000. Murphree failed questions about whether she was paid or promised money to "set up" Swaggart, and whether she made up the story to make money from it.[25] In place of Murphree's interview, Enquirer editor Levy published an accounting of Swaggart's family where they allegedly expressed their fears over Swaggart's health.[26] Murphree, who blamed her failed polygraph on "cocaine use" the day before the test was given, went on to have her interview published by Penthouse magazine.[27]

This image of Swaggart brought to tears while delivering his "I have sinned" speech has become a symbolic illustration of the televangelist scandals of the late 1980s.

On February 21, 1988, without giving any details regarding his transgressions, Swaggart delivered what came to be known as his "I have sinned" speech on live television. He spoke tearfully to his family, congregation, TV audience, and ended his speech with a prayer: "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."[11][28]

The national presbytery of the Assemblies of God extended Swaggart's suspension to their standard two-year suspension for sexual immorality. His return to the pulpit coincided with the end of the three-month suspension originally ordered by the denomination. Believing that Swaggart was not genuinely repentant in submitting to their authority, the hierarchy of the Assemblies of God defrocked him, removing his credentials and ministerial license.[29]

Swaggart then became an independent and non-denominational Pentecostal minister, establishing Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, based at the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Sonlife Broadcasting Network (SBN) which can be seen in the United States and other countries.[30][better source needed]

1991 prostitution scandal[edit]

On October 11, 1991, Swaggart was found in the company of a prostitute for a second time. He was pulled over by a police officer in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. With him in the vehicle was a woman named Rosemary Garcia. According to Garcia, Swaggart had stopped to propose sex to her on the side of the road. She later told reporters: "He asked me for sex. I mean, that's why he stopped me. That's what I do. I'm a prostitute."[31] This time, rather than confessing his sins to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center, "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business."[32] Swaggart's son Donnie then announced to the audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for "a time of healing and counseling".[33]

Later career[edit]

As of 2007, Jimmy Swaggart Ministries mainly comprised Family Worship Center, The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast,[34][better source needed] radio and television programs called A Study in the Word, SonLife Radio Network,[35][better source needed] a website, and a 24/7 cable and satellite television network, SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN).[citation needed]

Swaggart in 2011

Swaggart's wife Frances hosts a television program, Frances and Friends, shown daily on SBN.[36][better source needed] Swaggart also hosts a daily Bible study program on SBN, The Message of the Cross.[citation needed] His son, Donnie Swaggart, preaches at Family Worship Center and also preaches in churches across America and abroad.[37][better source needed] Donnie's son, Gabriel Swaggart, has served as the ministry's youth pastor who leads Crossfire, Family Worship Center's youth ministry.[38][better source needed] SBN also delivers live broadcasts of all of its weekly services at Family Worship Center, as well as live broadcasts of all of its camp meetings.[citation needed]

Swaggart's son, Donnie, preaching in Florida in 2018

As of 2024, Swaggart remains senior pastor of Family Worship Center.[39]



Swaggart started SonLife Radio on the noncommercial FM band. Unlike his previous stations, SonLife was commercial-free and it did not sell time to outside ministries; the preaching and teaching were all produced in-house. The music which it played was primarily Southern Gospel. SonLife Radio is also streamed on the Internet.[40][better source needed]

List of radio stations[edit]

The network's flagship station is WJFM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[41]

Call sign Frequency City of license State Power
(m (ft))
Class FCC info
WJIK 89.7 FM Fulton Alabama 2,100 166 m (545 ft) A FCC
WQUA 102.1 FM Citronelle Alabama 15,000 130 m (430 ft) C3 FCC
KJSM-FM 97.7 FM Augusta Arkansas 100,000 189 m (620 ft) C1 FCC
KNHD 1450 AM Camden Arkansas 1,000 C FCC
KUUZ 95.9 FM Lake Village Arkansas 20,000 92 m (302 ft) C3 FCC
KSSW 96.9 FM Nashville Arkansas 6,000 100 m (330 ft) A FCC
KPSH 90.9 FM Coachella California 230 190 m (620 ft) A FCC
WGSG 89.5 FM Mayo Florida 20,000 76 m (249 ft) C3 FCC
WFFL 91.7 FM Panama City Florida 310 H
304 V
63 m (207 ft) A FCC
WBMF 88.1 FM Crete Illinois 90 114 m (374 ft) A FCC
WAWF 88.3 FM Kankakee Illinois 1,250 87 m (285 ft) A FCC
WWGN 88.9 FM Ottawa Illinois 4,100 H
1,400 V
148.4 m (487 ft) B1 FCC
KBDD 91.9 FM Winfield Kansas 48,000 150 m (490 ft) C2 FCC
KJGM 88.3 FM Bastrop Louisiana 63,000 82 m (269 ft) C1 FCC
WJFM[a] 88.5 FM Baton Rouge Louisiana 25,500 85 m (279 ft) C2 FCC
KTOC-FM 104.9 FM Jonesboro Louisiana 25,000 72 m (236 ft) C3 FCC
KCKR 91.9 FM Church Point Louisiana 12,500 141.9 m (466 ft) C3 FCC
KDJR 100.1 FM De Soto Missouri 2,000 106 m (348 ft) A FCC
WTGY 95.7 FM Charleston Mississippi 6,000 100 m (330 ft) A FCC
WJNS-FM 92.1 FM Bentonia Mississippi 4,800 111.3 m (365 ft) A FCC
KNBE 88.9 FM Beatrice Nebraska 7,500 146 m (479 ft) C3 FCC
KNFA 90.7 FM Grand Island Nebraska 1,300 58.3 m (191 ft) A FCC
WJCA 102.1 FM Albion New York 3,700 129 m (423 ft) A FCC
WYRR 88.9 FM Lakewood New York 420 102 m (335 ft) A FCC
WJYM 730 AM Bowling Green Ohio 1,000 day
359 night
KAJT 88.7 FM Ada Oklahoma 31,000 73 m (240 ft) C2 FCC
KMFS 1490 AM Guthrie Oklahoma 1,000 C FCC
KREK 104.9 FM Bristow Oklahoma 5,000 107 m (351 ft) A FCC
KSSO 89.3 FM Norman Oklahoma 5,600 50 m (160 ft) A FCC
WAYB-FM 95.7 FM Graysville Tennessee 6,000 100 m (330 ft) A FCC
KNRB 100.1 FM Atlanta Texas 50,000 150 m (490 ft) C2 FCC
KYTM 99.3 FM Corrigan Texas 6,000 86 m (282 ft) A FCC


  1. ^ Flagship station; for WJFM translators, see WJFM § Translators


Call sign Frequency
City of license State Class ERP
FCC info
W209CN 89.7 Andalusia Alabama D 10 FCC
W205BX 88.9 Eufaula Alabama D 13 FCC
K250BQ 97.9 Camden Arkansas D 250 FCC
K209DT 89.7 El Dorado Arkansas D 38 FCC
K219AO 91.7 Fairmont California D 89 FCC
W213BF 90.5 Key West Florida D 50 FCC
W215BM 90.9 Dublin Georgia D 13 FCC
W212BL 90.3 LaGrange Georgia D 10 FCC
W214BG 90.7 Waycross Georgia D 38 FCC
W206AN 89.1 Carlinville Illinois D 80 FCC
W204BG 88.7 Effingham Illinois D 19 FCC
W217BJ 91.3 Freeport Illinois D 55 FCC
W201BL 88.1 Jacksonville Illinois D 27 FCC
K208DW 89.5 DeSoto Parish Louisiana D 20 FCC
K220ID 91.9 Grayson Louisiana D 10 FCC
K232FN 94.3 Many Louisiana D 250 FCC
K216EX 91.1 Minden Louisiana D 38 FCC
K218EY 91.5 Morgan City Louisiana D 160 FCC
K211DY 90.1 Natchitoches Louisiana D 10 FCC
K219FA 91.7 Alexandria Minnesota D 50 FCC
K213DN 90.5 Morris Minnesota D 27 FCC
K201GD 88.1 Kirksville Missouri D 10 FCC
K219FD 91.7 Mountain Grove Missouri D 50 FCC
K207DG 89.3 Rosati Missouri D 140 FCC
K218DC 91.5 Springfield Missouri D 250 FCC
K213DK 90.5 Willow Springs Missouri D 50 FCC
W202BS 88.3 Columbia Mississippi D 13 FCC
W208BC 89.5 Corning New York D 10 FCC
W220DD 91.9 Morehead City North Carolina D 50 FCC
W202BR 88.3 Rockingham North Carolina D 10 FCC
W209BN 89.7 Chambersburg Pennsylvania D 10 FCC
W212BK 90.3 Franklin Pennsylvania D 10 FCC
W207BM 89.3 Lock Haven Pennsylvania D 55 FCC
W218BN 91.5 Mansfield Pennsylvania D 10 FCC
W204BQ 88.7 Andrews South Carolina D 55 FCC
W202CG 88.3 Clinton South Carolina D 27 FCC
W204BR 88.7 Manning South Carolina D 50 FCC
W215CK 90.9 Winnsboro South Carolina D 10 FCC
K209DX 89.7 Brookings South Dakota D 250 FCC
K207EW 89.3 Mitchell South Dakota D 250 FCC
K211EC 90.1 Watertown South Dakota D 100 FCC
K214FC 90.7 Yankton South Dakota D 92 FCC
W217BG 91.3 Pikeville Tennessee D 10 FCC
K216DN 91.1 Bonham Texas D 45 FCC
K216FD 91.1 Columbus Texas D 40 FCC
K219FH 91.7 Midland Texas D 50 FCC
K216FC 91.1 Palestine Texas D 170 FCC


In 1973, Swaggart proposed to television producers in Nashville, Tennessee a television program including a fairly large music segment, a short sermon, and time for talking about current ministry projects. They accepted, and within weeks the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast was being broadcast around the United States.[citation needed]

In 1981, Swaggart launched a daily television program titled A Study in the Word. From the beginning, the primary cable channels which the program was aired on were CBN Cable (now Freeform), TBN, and the old PTL Network (now the Inspiration Network).[citation needed]

In 1988, Swaggart lost some of his broadcast and merchandise rights following his first prostitution scandal.[22][42]

In 1991, Swaggart's career as a standard televangelist came to an end after more local TV stations cancelled their contracts with him following his second prostitution scandal.[43][44][45]

Jimmy Swaggart Bible College[edit]

In autumn 1984, Swaggart opened Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (JSBC). The college originally provided education and communication degrees.[citation needed]

JSBC enrollment dropped drastically in 1988 when students left as a result of Swaggart's scandal, followed by accreditation issues.[46]

In 1991, JSBC was renamed the World Evangelism Bible College and enrollment dropped to 370 students. The college shut down programs in music, physical education, secretarial science, and communications that October and disbanded its basketball team. In November "the college laid off three Bible professors and an English professor, effective at the end of the fall semester".[47]


Swaggart has written about 50 Christian books offered through his ministry.[48] He is the author of the Expositor's Study Bible,[49] 13 study guides and 38 commentaries on the Bible. The ministry also publishes a monthly magazine, The Evangelist.[citation needed]

Swaggart published Religious Rock n Roll: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, in 1985.[50]


In 1980, Swaggart received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Gospel Performance, Traditional for his album Worship.[51]


Since October 10, 1952, Swaggart has been married to Frances Swaggart (née Anderson, born August 9, 1937). They have one son, Donnie (born October 18, 1954), named after Jimmy Swaggart's brother who died in infancy. He has three grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.[52]

Donnie Swaggart and his son, Gabriel Swaggart, are also preachers, making four generations of the Swaggart family to have become involved in ministerial work.[53][54]

In popular culture[edit]

Swaggart's prostitution scandals inspired the Ozzy Osbourne song "Miracle Man" on Osbourne's fifth studio album No Rest for the Wicked (1988).[55]

During his 1988 concerts, Bruce Hornsby would begin his song "Defenders of the Flag" from Scenes from the Southside with a tongue-in-cheek dedication to Swaggart.[56]

Similarities were noted between heel World Wrestling Federation character Brother Love and Swaggart.[57]

"Jesus He Knows Me", a 1991 song by Genesis, is a satire on televangelists such as Swaggart, Robert Tilton, and Jim Bakker.[58]

Canadian rock band the New Pornographers took their name from a 1986 speech by Swaggart in which he lambasted rock music as "the new pornography."[59][60]

American avant-garde musician Kristin Hayter (as Lingua Ignota) released the EP Epistolary Grieving for Jimmy Swaggart on the 5th of November in 2021.


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External links[edit]