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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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