Charles Swindoll talks with CHRISTIANITY TODAY about his new house, the press, and the effect the controversy has had on his family and Insight for Living.

The Orange County Register reported that you are building a $2 million home. Is that correct?

The reporter stated a value on our house that was not only greatly in excess of its cost but also greatly in excess of its value. Actually, we do not yet know for sure what the house will cost because we have not finished building it. But it will be closer to half the amount stated in the original article.

Is this a second home or will it be your only home?

This is a second house. We will not live there. The broader purpose of the house will be to host occasional gatherings for the staffs of my church and Insight. But mainly it is a private home and getaway for my family, which will soon number 14. Essentially it is not a “retreat house.” It will be owned by the Swindolls, paid for and maintained entirely by our own money.

Do you understand how sincere people might question a Christian leader building a house such as the one you are building?

Perhaps; but this is a matter of personal choice. Some will always question such things and some never will. But it’s something that doesn’t concern me that much, because you can never satisfy everyone. It’s in that sense I feel our privacy has been raped. Something that began with a clear motive and involves no wrongdoing has, now, unfortunately, become a controversial issue.

In a letter to your supporters you stated the reporter had not conducted a personal interview with you. Where did she get her information?

From a few people who did not know the facts and from a real estate agent who later told us she was deceived. The reporter called me, and by her second question it was clear she was not interested in writing an objective story. At that point I told her I did not want to go further with the interview. She got some information on our home from a real estate agent who has since written the reporter and denied much of what was written in the article. The real estate agent, Rita Sternuth, has told us she felt uneasy doing the interview and resents being misquoted.

Were you contacted by anyone from the Christian publications that picked up the story?

No, and that’s really what is troubling. It would seem that the responsible thing for a journalist to do would be to check out the story he or she decides to print.

Do you think the building of your house was something that should have been reported?

Frankly, no. I don’t think the house I live in is much of a story. It’s a matter of taste. If I drive a new Oldsmobile or get a second car, that’s not a story, and I think that’s what this is. If the whole story had been told, I don’t think it would have been that big a flap.

But what is at issue here is integrity. It boils down to telling the truth, which requires research and accuracy in reporting. A reporter has to think of the pen like I have to think of my tongue. And in this case, impressions were given that were not true. Our church is not divided. My family is not greedy. The project was not a secret thing. What I have missed here is responsible journalism. If you’re going to write about my personal life, do me the courtesy of giving me a call.

If this had not been reported, would you have issued an announcement about the house?

No. Since the inception of this project, the board at Insight for Living and the board of elders at our church (to whom I am accountable) were aware of it and were in support of it. Neither they nor I saw it as a problem, so I never intended to make a public statement about it. And I didn’t really view it as anyone’s business. I really see the private life of an individual as private.

And yet, you are a public person. Do you think the scrutiny you receive is a fair tradeoff for the rewards of being well known?

I suppose it’s an occupational hazard, but my problem is that I refuse to think of myself as such a public person. I don’t like the celebrity role. I’m still surprised people listen when I preach or even buy my books, so naturally I’m surprised when they’re shocked that I am building a private place for my family to get away. I never set up a plan to keep everything secret because I thought people trusted me to be the same in private as I am in public. I was so confident that we had built such a trust over the years that people would not question us. I really believed that. I think our problem was that we were naïve.

What have been the practical implications of this controversy?

It has cost us two months of anguish and thousands of dollars in terms of the time and expense involved in trying to correct the faulty information and impressions. It briefly got our ministry off target.

Something else has happened. We have grown up. We are no longer naїve. I have always lived rather openly and unguardedly. Now I realize not everyone will automatically accept what I do.

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