Cerullo, Morris 1931-
CERULLO, Morris 1931-
PERSONAL: Born October 2, 1931, in Passaic, NJ; son of Joseph Cerullo; married Theresa Le Pari, 1951; children: David. Education: Attended Northeastern Bible College.
CAREER: Evangelist minister. Assemblies of God, ordained 1952; pastor of various congregations, c. 1950s; Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, Inc., San Diego, CA, founder and administrator, 1961—, leader of annual World Conference, beginning 1972; Inspirational Network (formerly Praise the Lord Network), partner, beginning 1990, and host of Victory with Morris Cerullo (television program), beginning 1991; Heritage USA (Christian theme park), Fort Mills, SC, former co administrator. Leader of missionary crusades around the world, including in Argentina, Greece, and Nicaragua; creator of Messianic Bible Correspondence Course; European Independent Television Christian Network, England, founder.
My Story (autobiography), World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1962, revised as From Judaism to Christianity, 1965.
The Back Side of Satan, Creation House (Carol Stream, IL), 1973.
A Guide to Total Health and Prosperity, World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1977.
Revelation Healing Power, World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1979.
Victory Miracle Living, It's Harvest Time, World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1982.
The Miracle Book, World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1984.
The Last Great Anointing, foreword by C. Peter Wagner, Renew (Ventura, CA), 1999.
Cerullo's writings have been translated into several languages.
SIDELIGHTS: Evangelist Morris Cerullo published his autobiography My Story in 1962, the year after he founded his Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, Inc. (MCWE) in San Diego, California. Cerullo's story has, of course, continued since that time. Over his lifetime, the successful Pentecostal minister has accrued great wealth, including a 12,000 square-foot gated mansion in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, assets estimated at over twelve million dollars, and several private jets.
Cerullo was born in New Jersey, the fifth and last child of an Italian immigrant father and Jewish mother. After his mother died, he was placed in an Orthodox Jewish orphanage. As a teenager, Cerullo converted to Christianity, claiming that he heard God's voice and had holy visions. After being ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1952, Cerullo served as pastor in various churches before becoming an itinerant healing evangelist. His calling took him to Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Hector Avalos wrote in Free Inquiry that "during the 1980s, Cerullo was probably better known in Latin America than in the United States. He was especially famous for anticommunist crusades filled with undiplomatic rhetoric. He was reportedly censured several times in Argentina for such outspokenness. In 1981 the Nicaraguan government barred him from entering the country."
In 1990, with the help of other investors, Cerullo purchased two pieces of the empire of former televangelist Jim Bakker: the Praise the Lord (PTL) satellite network and Heritage USA, a Christian theme park in Fort Mills, South Carolina. After a falling out between Cerullo and his major partners, the theme park came under the control of Malaysian United Industries, and Cerullo held on to the network. Through PTL he broadcast his Victory with Morris Cerullo, which aired in the United States and Canada, and sent out his Pentecostal message emphasizing that such Old Testament powers as speaking in tongues and faith healing are still possible.
In the Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, Nancy A. Schaefer commented on Cerullo's presence in England, writing that "by the mid-1990s, Cerullo had held revivals in more than seventy countries and established permanent offices in over twenty-five, including Britain." Schaefer noted that his operation was then worth about forty million dollars. Schaefer went on to note that in February 1991, Cerullo's television program was launched on the European Super Channel, which attracted some twenty-three million people. British viewers complained to the Independent Television Commission that the show contained Pentecostal practices, such as exorcism and faith healing, in violation of British program codes. Episodes that contain miracle healing were suspended until a disclaimer was created that was acceptable to regulators.
Despite such steps, the controversy escalated, particularly when Cerullo launched his Mission to London (MTL) crusade, which was advertised with representations of broken canes, discarded wheelchairs, and smashed hearing aids. Cerullo was accused by many of exploiting the disabled with his promises of miracles. Members of the clergy debunked Cerullo's claims, among them Peter May, a physician and evangelical member of the Church of England Synod. Controversy surrounding Cerullo's claims and fundraising practices continued for years, even though these elements of his ministry had remained essentially the same for the three decades since he first became a part of the British religious scene. But reports of people who were injured or died as a result of their faith in Cerullo's power of healing continued to fuel concern, and religious people feared that those who were not healed would lose faith or blame the results, or lack thereof, on themselves.
May wrote in Free Inquiry of his challenge to Cerullo to submit three of his best cases for investigation. Cerullo claimed he had healed 2,250 people. He provided a list of nine cases, but only six of these agreed to be examined. May said that none reflected an actual cure and concluded that claims of vanishing pain were psychological. May detailed many cases of people who suffered from back pain, poor vision, knee pain, fibroids, deafness, and a variety of other ailments. Some of these were not as claimed, and others improved for other reasons, including conventional medical treatment. In conclusion, May wrote that "after extensive inquiries that included sending out a questionnaire to the many people on his lucrative mailing list, he [Cerullo] has been unable to find a miracle. As one of the doctors on his own medical panel reported, they have uncovered nothing that lies outside the realm of normal clinical experience. Undeterred, he continues to announce at his meetings, 'Every kind of disease is being healed right now.'"
Cerullo caused a stir in 1997, when he mailed a million unsolicited copies of a Hebrew-language missionary tract to Israeli Jewish homes. His targeting of Jews for conversion to Christianity infuriated the community. The action, which was considered anti-Semitic, caused orthodox rabbis to forbid the postal workers to deliver the pamphlets, and many were burned in front of the Knesset building. Cerullo's 1999 visit to Saudi Arabia led to a targeting of Christians. Three days after he preached to approximately one thousand people in an auditorium eighteen miles outside the capital of Riyadh, the Islamic religious police raided places of worship, arrested Christians, and destroyed property. Christians were forced to sign letters saying that they would not in the future practice their religion.
Cerullo maintains a Web site from which he writes about his ministry and its history. He has also self-published a number of books.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cerullo, Morris, My Story (autobiography), World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1962, revised edition published as From Judaism to Christianity, World Evangelism (San Diego, CA), 1965.
Atlanta Business Chronicle, June 18, 1990, David Allison, "PTL Bidder's Atlanta Ties: Chandler Peterson Adviser to California Evangelist," p. A1.
Business Week, December 31, 1990, Stephanie Anderson Forest, "You Can't Say Morris Cerullo Has No Faith," p. 59.
Christian Century, August 8-15, 1990, "Cerullo Buys PTL," p. 728.
Christianity Today, May 19, 1997, S. Aaron Osborne, "Christians Protest Proposed 'Anti-Missionary' Legislation," p. 55; December 6, 1999, C. Hope Flinchbaugh, "Arrested Christians Face Deportation," p. 31.
Free Inquiry, winter, 1993, Peter May, "The Faith Healing Claims of Morris Cerullo," p. 5; winter, 1993, Hector Avalos, "Who Is Morris Cerullo?," p. 7.
Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, fall, 2000, Nancy A. Schaefer, "An American 'Faith Healer' in Britain: Another Moral Panic?," p. 1.
San Diego Business Journal, June 25, 1990, Rick Dower, "Praying for Reign, Cerullo Will Raise Funds to Buy PTL," p. 1; April 22, 1991, Rick Dower, "Foreign Partners Oust Cerullo from S.C. Theme Park," p. 1; April 29, 1991, Rick Dower, "Cerullo's Partners File Second Suit over Fundraising," p. 1; December 16, 1991, Rick Dower, "Judge Dismisses Partners' Suit against Televangelist Cerullo," p. 4.
Cephas Ministry, Inc. Web site, http://www.cephaslibrary.com/ (January 6, 1999), "Morris Cerullo, A Man of God or a Fraud?"
Deception in the Church, http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/ (November 1998), "The Last Great Anointing?"
Morris Cerullo Web site, http://www.mcwe.com (October 21, 2004).*