book reviews, religion

Repost: Jim Bakker and his fall from grace…

I am inspired to repost this book review I wrote for Epinions.com, back in 2010, about the book¬†Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry. The reason I’m inspired is because, today, I watched Fundie Friday’s excellent video about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I was reminded of this very comprehensive book by Charles E. Shepard and how much I learned about Jim and Tammy Faye’s ministry before it all fell apart in the late 1980s. I also reposted this review in 2014, so I’m going to post the whole thing as/is. At the bottom of this post, look for Fundie Friday’s video. It’s a good one!

From 2014

I was about fifteen years old when televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker ran into big trouble when they were discovered to be misusing financial “love gifts” sent by their viewers.  I never forgot seeing Jim Bakker curl up in a fetal position when he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for fraud.

In 2010, I found a fascinating book about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the PTL  network.  I wrote a review of the book Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry.  This book is currently out of print, but if you are interested in the Bakkers in the 80s, it’s a great read.  It’s very comprehensive and informative and if you have the time and the inclination, well worth your attention.  I bet you can find used copies on Amazon, too.

And now the review, circa 2010…

A couple of weeks ago, I was on YouTube watching old videos from the 1980s, when I ran across a video of televangelist Jerry Falwell addressing members of the PTL Club.  The year was 1987 and the PTL Club was in the midst of a scandal involving its founder, Jim Bakker, and his wife, Tammy Faye.  On the YouTube video I found, Jerry Falwell was explaining to the audience about the situation that developed with Heritage USA, Jim Bakker’s overly ambitious and overextended project.  

Heritage USA was supposed to be a sort of Christian oasis, where Christians could live, work, worship, and play together.  Jim Bakker was planning to build hotels, theme parks, churches, TV studios, and restaurants.  Unfortunately, Bakker’s vision lacked proper financial planning and the whole thing ended up collapsing.  What’s more, the Charlotte Observer, a local newspaper, had discovered an unfortunate tryst Bakker had had back in 1980 with a 21 year old church secretary named Jessica Hahn.  In 1987, Jim Bakker and the PTL Club were going down in flames.  And Jerry Falwell had been called in to help salvage whatever could be saved.

The videos that prompted me to read this book in 2010.

I was 15 years old at the time of the PTL scandal.  Though I’ve always been interested in the unseemly world of televangelists, as a teenager, I didn’t really pay that much attention to what was going on with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  Watching that video on YouTube and hearing Jerry Falwell get screamed at by an angry man in the PTL Club audience made me want to learn more about Jim Bakker’s story.  So off I went to Amazon.com, where I found Charles E. Shepard’s very comprehensive book, Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry

Forgiven was published in 1989 and is now out of print.  Nevertheless, I found it very interesting and well worth reading.  Shepard follows Jim Bakker’s life from his beginnings in Muskegon, Michigan all the way to his very public disgrace in the late 1980s when the world watched the collapse of his $160 million empire built on love gifts and the sale of bogus lifetime partnerships to loyal supporters of the PTL ministry.  Shepard also covers the late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner’s life, from the time she and Jim Bakker met at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the end of the ministry, when Bakker’s shady and sordid dealings were uncovered. 

Indeed, after reading this book and seeing Tammy Faye Bakker Messner on television in the years before she died of cancer, I have some empathy for what she must have gone through during the scandal.  Aside from having an affair with Jessica Hahn, Jim Bakker also allegedly had a number of homosexual trysts with men who worked in his ministry.  All of this dirty laundry, coupled with Tammy Faye’s own problems with drug abuse and people who mocked her for her tears and heavy makeup, must have been humiliating for her.  Shepard doesn’t really give Tammy much empathy in his book and, to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have either had I written it.  Back in 1989, Tammy Faye Bakker wasn’t a very sympathetic character.  But in the years since the scandal, she revealed a very sweet, kind-hearted side of herself that wasn’t overshadowed by her ex husband’s massive ego.  I think Tammy Faye died in 2007 a redeemed woman.  

A raging narcissist   

As I read about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s enormous salaries and bonuses, constant purchases of new cars and houses, expensive clothes and makeup, and ostentatious displays of extravagance, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jim Bakker was a narcissist.  The way Shepard describes Bakker’s behavior and the way he treated people, it sure seemed that way to me.  And lo and behold, at the end of the book, Shepard does offer the opinion that Bakker probably suffers from full blown narcissistic personality disorder.  Granted, Shepard is no mental health professional, but the signs were clearly evident to him.  He describes Bakker as a creative, charismatic person, the kind of man who needs to surround himself with loyal admirers whom he can exploit at will.  While I’m not really a mental health professional either, I have done my share of studying narcissistic behavior and I think Shepard is spot on about Jim Bakker.  Only a true narcissist could expect to get away with the blatant abuses that Bakker did for so many years.

Another reason this book was interesting to me   

I happened to grow up in Gloucester, Virginia, not at all far from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network’s headquarters were located.  I grew up watching Robertson’s local Christian channel 27, WYAH. Based in Portsmouth, Virginia, WYAH happens to be the very same channel where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker got their big break as televangelists.  Shepard includes some interesting information about Pat Robertson’s ministry as well as how his show, The 700 Club, got started with Jim’s and Tammy’s help.  I also learned how fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, supposedly offended by the opulent spectacle of Bakker’s ministry, worked to bring him and the PTL down.  Having done some more reading about Swaggart and his ministry, I think he must be among the world’s biggest hypocrites.

Overall 

If you’re interested in learning more about the televangelists of the 1980s, I highly recommend Charles E. Shepard’s Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry.  This book takes an exhaustive approach to the subject, includes plenty of pictures (even one of Tammy Faye with no makeup on), and plenty of dirt. 

He took over Heritage USA with a splash…
Falwell was quite the scumbag… but I think his son may be even worse.

And this is the excellent “Bakkermania” video done by Fundie Fridays… I like that she praises Tammy Faye, who really did seem to redeem herself, while showing that Jim Bakker is just as narcissistic as ever…

Pretty much…

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politics, religion, true crime

Less drama… more mama…

Wow. I really could go on a tear today. I have a lot I could write about. I think I’ll start with Kellyanne Conway’s decision to step away from Trump’s re-election campaign. She says it’s “[her] voice and [her] choice”. Apparently, this is coming about due to her 15 year old daughter, Claudia, who has gone viral on TikTok criticizing Donald Trump and her mother’s support of him. Meanwhile, Conway’s husband, George Conway, is stepping down from his role on The Lincoln Project, a conservative anti-Trump political action committee. Why? Because these two folks have four children who are evidently going off the rails. Or, at least Claudia is… based on what I’ve read.

Let’s hope the next Trump advisor knows how to sit properly…

I don’t pay any attention to Kellyanne Conway myself. I thought she was laughable in the early days of the Trump nightmare and I never took her seriously. If she really is deciding to step down to be there for her kids, I think that’s a good decision. Better late than never, I suppose. At least we won’t see her sitting like a double amputee in the White House anymore. However, her poetic rhyming for the press could use a bit of shoring up in the wit department. Whatever she does, I hope it doesn’t involve a return to stand up comedy.

Alternative jokes?

Next on the agenda… Jerry Falwell and his sex scandal!

I have not made it a secret that I was born and raised in Virginia, and that is a hotbed of televangelism. My own childhood was spent in the shadow of Pat Robertson’s empire out of southeastern Virginia. I grew up watching WYAH, channel 27, which was owned by Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and had all kinds of censored sitcoms, cartoons, westerns, religious programming, and weird PSAs on it.

But in the southern central part of Virginia, there’s Lynchburg, home of Liberty University, which was founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell. I went to college at Longwood, which is about 55 miles east of Liberty. I used to drive through Lynchburg to visit my grandmother, who lived in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I remember getting the willies as I passed Liberty’s huge campus, remembering the religious vibes from my own part of the state.

But it seems that right now, the Falwell family is back in the news. Jerry Falwell Sr.’s son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who looks like someone should put horns and a pointy tail on him as they hand him a pitchfork, is in the news right now because he and his wife, Becki, were apparently having an affair with a 29 year old business partner named Giancarlo Granda.

Falwell has been leading Liberty University since 2007, and it’s definitely grown under his leadership. However, Liberty students are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct which rules out sex outside of marriage between a natural man and a natural woman, drinking alcohol, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t feel like looking up right now. Mr. Falwell was clearly engaged in activities that would not be tolerated from Liberty University students when he was recently photographed on a yacht with his pants unzipped as he drank some kind of dark liquid. He claimed it wasn’t alcohol, but it sure looked like it was.

Falwell took a leave of absence from leading the university when that photo started circulating. But then, more information came to light which prompted university officials to encourage Mr. Falwell to step down from his role as Liberty University’s president. Falwell initially agreed, but supposedly changed his mind, and now he’s throwing his wife, Becki, under the bus. All I can think is that Falwell is a pretty poor example of a Christian, but I think a lot of televangelists are pretty much charlatans, anyway. I have never been very comfortable with much organized religion, but I have been both fascinated and repelled by the religious folks I’ve seen on TV. There have been too many stories of these charismatic folks taking advantage of the poor and gullible who look to them for hope and guidance.

Of course, Falwell’s conduct should not be a surprise. His famous father, who started Liberty University in 1971, was not a whole lot better. See the below videos from 1987, during which Falwell Sr. was trying to defend the scandal that rocked the PTL network.

PTL always fascinated me when I was growing up, although it was never included in our cable channel line up. I probably could have fallen down the rabbit hole in a big way if it had been.
Yep… Jerry Falwell Sr. was full of shit, too. But he doesn’t look as evil as his son does.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Like I said… I find religious types like the Falwells and their ilk fascinating to watch. Almost all of them are total hypocrites who are up to their eyeballs in shit. Falwell Jr. is kind of a handsome guy, in a devilish sort of way. I would never trust him, though, mainly due to his dogged support of Donald Trump, who is about as anti-Christian as a man can get. And now, it seems my instincts about Jerry Falwell, Jr. were dead on. He’s definitely a dishonest creep, at the very least.

And finally…

It looks like the juicy thread I started last month about Erin McCay George in a Facebook group for Longwood University has reignited. Some more information has come to light about what went on back in the days when we were in college. I’ve heard from a former roommate of hers, as well as from a few people who worked with her on the college newspaper, for which she was editor in chief.

I was once myself briefly a Rotunda reporter. If I had continued with it, I might have had more insight than I would have ever wanted about Erin McCay George. From what I’ve read so far, she was not a very good person, underneath a veneer of superficial respectability. But then, that is often the case for people who commit crimes. Maybe it seems obvious that she wasn’t “good”, since she’s now in prison for 600+ years. But I can think of cases in which someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or got hooked up with someone who took advantage of them somehow. I don’t think that’s the case for Erin George. The more I learn about her, the more I think she has a serious personality disorder of some kind. I empathize with people who were in her sphere of influence, because I have an inkling of what that must have been like for those people.

More and more, I think that if only Erin had gone to jail for allegedly embezzling money from Longwood University back in the 90s, she would probably not have committed murder. If anything, her case is one that should show people that it’s important to hold others accountable when they commit crimes. But then, maybe if she hadn’t shot her husband for money, Longwood would have eventually caught up with her and prosecuted her for what she was accused of doing, back in the day.

It’s amazing to me how many people are interested in this case. Ever since I first wrote about it in 2013, back when I was still using Blogger, I’ve heard from all kinds of people who knew Erin at Longwood, knew Erin’s children in England, and even one of Erin’s children. People around the world are oddly fascinated by this story, and I’m not sure why. I even reposted my original posts about Erin George on this blog because a German requested to read them. I know the book she wrote about being in prison is being used in college courses, but I can think of a lot of true crime cases that would seem more interesting than Erin’s was.

Anyway… for all of the grief I get from social media, sometimes it really is useful.

Well, I’m going to sign off for now. Arran is jonesing for a walk and I need to practice my guitar. I’m glad to have a new topic or three for today. I’m sure if I could stomach watching politics, I’d have even more to write about. But I don’t really enjoy writing about Trump. I’d rather write about kooky religious shit. Maybe Falwell Jr. will give me an opportunity to do that.

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rants, religion

What would Jesus tweet?

This morning, I woke up to more news about fiery riots in cities across America. My heart sank as I looked at the pictures and videos of people protesting George Floyd’s horrifying death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with whom Floyd used to work a security detail at a Minneapolis night club. In the wake of Floyd’s death by cop, Chauvin has been arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, and his wife, Kellie Chauvin, has filed for divorce.

A news item about this…

As I scrolled past that news, I noticed an item about Jerry Falwell, Jr., conservative Christian president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and big time Trump supporter. It’s no secret that Falwell is no fan of liberals, and he’s not a fan of being ordered to wear a face mask. To protest Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s order that everyone wear a mask in public, Mr. Falwell has decided to turn his into a political statement. He has a mask that has a picture of Northam’s infamous blackface yearbook photo on it and shared it on Twitter.

Wow… really? This does not seem very “Christlike”, Jerry.

A black professor who taught online for Liberty University has already resigned over Falwell’s racist tweets. Dr. Christopher House, who began teaching for Liberty University in the fall of 2019, is an associate professor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, and is also a pastor. Dr. House was alerted to Falwell’s tweets by a friend and cited two of them as he immediately resigned his affiliation with Liberty University.

Dr. House’s resignation letter, which was also posted on Facebook.

Frankly, coming from Virginia myself, I’m surprised that anyone holds Liberty in esteem. When I was a teenager looking at colleges, I would not have considered Liberty, even if I had been religious enough to want to attend a Christian college. Back then, it was not considered a very prestigious school. However, over the past few decades, the school has grown by leaps and bounds, apparently mostly due to its online programs. When I was in graduate school, I knew that online and distance learning were going to be waves of the future, even as some of my professors were against it. My graduate school, the University of South Carolina, was an early pioneer in distance education. Looks like Liberty has cashed in on online education and that’s why it has so much power today. When I was in college, the idea of a professor from Ithaca College could teach remotely to students in Virginia was like something out of a science fiction novel.

But anyway… while I completely understand why so many people in Virginia are chafing at being required to wear face masks, I think Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s decision to provoke more of a racial divide is just reprehensible and disgusting. Now, especially, is NOT the time to race bait anyone. Not while the country is going crazy with riots over the unjustified killing of a black man by a white former cop. It is shocking to me that Jerry Falwell, Jr. considers himself a Christian with this type of behavior. This is definitely NOT Christlike behavior, nor is it appropriate leadership. As Dr. House says, Jerry Falwell, Jr. should repent.

Falwell says that the masks are not meant to be racist. He says he created them as a means of reminding people of who Northam is– that he’s a racist. Perhaps Governor Northam was guilty of racist behavior at one time, but people can evolve and change. I don’t think the Northam of the mid 1980s is the same Northam of 2020. It would be a sad world indeed if people couldn’t learn from their mistakes. Indeed, shouldn’t Falwell, as president of a Christian university, be championing the idea of learning and growing instead of being stuck on something from the past? Christians, in particular, should be open to the possibility that people can grow and be better than they once were. It’s one thing when a person is an asshole and continues to be an asshole. It’s quite another when a person was an asshole and makes an effort not to be one in the future.

It’s true that Governor Northam dressed up in blackface when he was in medical school, back in the mid 1980s. It was wrong of Northam to do that, although in the 80s, the culture was not nearly as sensitive to racism as it is today. Northam has evolved beyond his racist actions of the 80s and done a lot of good for the people of Virginia. My former shrink, a doctorate level clinical psychologist, knows Governor Northam personally and has done work with him on a professional basis, as Northam was a pediatric neurologist before he got into politics. He says Northam is an exemplary man and an excellent physician, despite making a poor choice to wear blackface in the 1980s. Seems to me that being a good Christian includes being forgiving and charitable to others.

It surprises me that Jerry Falwell, Jr. would fault Governor Northam for being politically incorrect by dressing in blackface. Falwell has said he appreciated our feckless dickheaded POTUS because he’s not politically correct. So… while I can understand why so many people hate the face masks and I can see why people are upset with Northam for being caught without one on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, I also think that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a terrible example of a “Christian”. He should be ashamed of himself, although I think that much like Trump, Falwell has no shame. Jesus would never tweet this shit, Jerry. Grow up and be a leader.

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