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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Here’s another repost. I wrote this Epinions review of the Trinity Broadcasting Network on August 11, 2003 (!!). I am reposting it because it’s kind of entertaining, and again, has NOTHING to do with current events. Perhaps the next post will be fresh. Waiting for inspiration now.
Pros: Unintentional comedy makes the comedic quality of the programming even funnier.
Cons: Paul and Jan Crouch. Tasteless. Constant pleas for $$$$!
The Bottom Line: A few gems scattered in a pile of rubbish. Dig deep to find them.
Well… maybe that title is a little harsh, but goldarnit, I’m not usually inspired by the Holy Ghost when I watch TBN. Usually, I’m just inspired to laugh my hiney off for a good long while. Why do I watch it? Usually because there’s nothing else on and I’m tired of watching Fox News or 7th Heaven on ABC Family Channel. I hate to admit it, but TBN is darn funny sometimes… although I do think that it does occasionally teeter on blasphemy. The network uses God and religion to squeeze people for money. Love gifts? Yeah right… do love gifts go to pay for those ugly monstrosities of furniture that sit on the stage? Tsk tsk tsk…
The first time I ever spent any time watching TBN was in a Microtel motel room (see my review) last Labor Day weekend. I was lying in the sweltering, stinky room, drinking a Red Stripe beer, and watching some Christian musical group sing some sappy song about Jesus called “That’s Him”. At the bottom of the screen was a telephone number. I noticed that the number was NOT toll-free. The camera was panning over the audience, which was staring at the singing group, dreamlike. I expected to see someone pull out a lighter and hold it up. It reminded me a little bit of the old Nashville Network back in the 1980s. I was fascinated by the spectacle, but had to turn the channel… only to flip it back later. Superbook was on! For those of you who don’t know about Superbook or Flying House, these are cartoons about the Bible. They’re both very similar– Japanese anime, where two little kids, a boy and a girl, find a Bible up in the attic and take trips along with a robot. At least I think that’s what happens… Anyway, I found myself watching the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The cartoons were entertaining, but still a little bit creepy! And what was it about them that made me want to watch?
When we got back from our trip to Tennessee last year, I’d find myself flipping to TBN occasionally. And one day, I caught Pastor Paula White on the tube. Pastor Paula has perfectly coiffed blonde hair and wears very expensive suits. Her audience is very multi-cultural and, I have to admit, the woman is quite a dynamic speaker. If I closed my eyes and listened to her, I’d think I were listening to a sister in the ‘hood, but Paula looks very much like the classic Barbie doll (with short hair, of course). Her appeal is that she’s easy on the eyes, but she relates to the people. She stands up at the pulpit and shouts, “Turn to the woman next to you and say, ‘Girl, you been pregnant! You got a dream about to be born!'” And I have to admit, sometimes the woman makes sense. But the sermon lasts about twenty minutes– albeit an energy packed, hyperactive twenty minutes in which Pastor Paula gets so excited that she sounds like she’s about to hyperventilate and maybe pass out. To hear the rest of the sermon and see if she actually does, in fact, faint dead away, you have to order her tapes, which cost an ungodly amount of money. Or you have to send her a “love gift”. Do the love gifts pay for those expensive suits or the fortune she must spend on her hair?
If you ever catch Pastor Paula during a TBN fundraiser, you’ll no doubt be treated to watching her speak in tongues while she lays hands on people! One time she did this and one of her goons (they typically stand behind people to catch them when they inevitably fall backwards from the sheer power of her touch), wasn’t paying attention and dropped someone! I hate to admit it, but I had a good long laugh at that one (I’ll bet that goon caught some serious hell afterwards)! Paula White mentions in every broadcast that she was molested when she was a little kid and her daddy committed suicide when she was seven. Well, not to belittle her experiences, but must she bring it up in every broadcast? And after she mentions all of these unfortunate events, must she then speak a few words in tongues? It seems a bit contrived to me.
I also enjoy watching when Paul Crouch, who, along with his wife, Jan, is one of the station’s founders, comes on to beg for money. He wears these weird looking ties to go along with his funky combed over hair and the extremely tasteless gold furniture on the set. I watched last night while he begged for money to help set TBN up in China! The other night, Paul Crouch claimed that the government of Fiji demanded that TBN set up more stations there. But to do that, they needed more satellites and for that, they need more of your money, so call now, PLEASE! Apparently, TBN is all over the world now, spreading all over the place like a virulent disease! And are these folks in third world countries pledging money to support the TBN kingdom in Santa Ana, California? If they are, is this the best use of their hard earned money? Come to think of it, is pledging money to TBN the best use of anyone’s hard earned money?
There were about eight middle-aged guys standing behind Crouch last night, and a couple of guys were in three-piece suits. One guy in a three-piece suit (ETA: I later learned it was Roger McDuff) who regularly appears on TBN fundraisers looks just like a big ole Q tip. He has curly white hair that sits atop his head; when he sings, he looks like he’s either going to take a big dump or have a heart attack. There’s another guy with a goatee and bleached blond hair who always sings a song called “Come On In”, which sounds like it was written for Branson, Missouri. The other guys look like they missed out on Nashville and became aluminum siding salesmen instead. They appear to have come fresh from a convention. As I watch them on stage, singing about Jesus, I get the feeling they’re all heading for a bar for some bourbon (probably Jim Beam) and soda after they’re finished with their musical numbers. The camerapeople never miss panning over the audience, though, to catch folks singing along, or closing their eyes in reverence or powerful swooning as these fools in their suits sing their pseudo country songs about Jesus. Of course, sometimes the songs are more R&B influenced. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with programming religious music that’s more mainstream, but if you’re gonna do it, at least invite singers who look like they believe in the words they’re singing. Some of these ding a lings look about as sincere as game show hosts.
I was spared the sight of Jan Crouch and her pink hair and flashy, sequined clothes last night, but I’ve often seen her on other nights. She reminds me a little bit of a warped game show model, sort of hovering by, looking on supportively as her husband wheels and deals for cash. Sometimes I wonder what kind of a life she leads. What was her wedding day like? Yes, I know… I have too much time on my hands. She wears so much makeup that under all those hot lights she looks like a plastic doll that was held too close to a flame. Half her face melts off in the heat. Any day now I expect her pink hair to melt down like a big wad of cotton candy after a summer storm.
The point of all of this ranting? I don’t get the feeling that this network is about worshiping God or Jesus at all. I get the feeling that this network is about cheating people out of their money, occasional entertainment, sometimes good, but often pretty laughable and mediocre, and tasteless and tacky behavior. My husband and I were flipping channels one day and we actually caught an extremely garish wedding being broadcast. It must have cost well over $100,000, it was such a production. And despite all of the dancing in the aisles that went on, I didn’t get the feeling that the ceremony had anything to do with two people joining together in the presence of God. What’s more, it was on cable TV for all the world to see.
For all its money grubbing, though, TBN does have its sterling moments. Sometimes there’s a good religious show on with a pastor who has a worthwhile message from the Bible that speaks of something besides tithing. Not only are the messages sometimes good, but the person delivering them is often a pretty good speaker. The Saturday morning lineup is okay sometimes, although I think if I were a kid, I’d probably rather watch another channel. If you’re a Davey and Goliath fan though, TBN is the place to be on Saturdays.
Do I recommend TBN? Not if you’re serious about wanting to praise or worship God. If you want a laugh, then yes, TBN is fine. Every once in awhile, you might even come upon an inspiring program where a pearl of wisdom will be imparted onto you. Sometimes you’ll laugh. Sometimes you’ll see some bizarre things that will make you wonder. But I do caution you to be careful. Some of this programming might be dangerous if you don’t keep yourself grounded in reality. There are some people who can’t seem to do that. Unfortunately, those poor souls are the ones that keep TBN in business.
And here are the comments from that post. One person apparently thinks I’m going to Hell.
AlexisARApril 12, 2013 at 6:16 AMI think the Q-tip head guy might be Roger MacDuff, or something similar to that.My mom was telling me several TBN stories 9To be honest, I haven’t found the channel yet since we moved. I need to find it.) Someone was hosting the fall or spring praise-a-thon (the big findraisers)- I think it was Dean Brown of the Dean and Mary Brown singing duo. He spoke on the microphone to a woman on the stage who happened to be Roger’s wife. He asked her if she was a singer. She said, “No, my husband’s a singer.” He laughed and said , “You call Roger as singrer?” obviously jokingly, although those of us with discerning ears might have fund truth in his words.Roger’s wife found neither humor nor truth in Dean Brown’s words. “I most certainly do consider Roger a singer.” she practically exploded.
My mom said another time during the fall or spring praise-a-thon the collective group of singers was just sort of jammming on songs they all knew, acompanied mostly by m/ary /brown on the piano. Mary Brown is a versatile pianist with a good ear who changes keys and songs at will. Someone had invited an obnoxious trumpet player who was olaying some sort of micro-trumpet. The trumpet isn’t the ideal instrument to accompany a grrup of singrers jamming to gospel songs or anythig else. The trumpet has its place, but that place is not an impromptu vocal jam. Mary Brown apparently agreed with my mom, so she was modulating all over the place in a very successful attempt to lose the trumpet player, ho lacked the skills and ear to keep up with her key changes. 9They were harmonically sound changes, my mom said, with seamless transition chords. The singers could hear it and follow, but the poot trumpet player didn’t have a prayer f following aloing. Mary Brow and her husband Dean must have disagreed on the appropriateness or necessity of having the trumpeter play along. At onepoint a cameraman or controller slipped up (or maybe they showed it on purpose; who knows?) and showed Dean Brown shaking his fist at his wife Mary.
Do you remember Nancy Harmon and the Love Special? I’ve seen her on videotape. Nancy Harmon may be still alive and kicking and maybe even performing, or she may be six feet under. I haven’t a clue. nancy had whatactually sounded like not a bad black gospel singer voice, although she was about as white as Lee Harvey Oswald. She tended to have a lot of young people on her program who were not exactly overloaded with talent. I have to give her credit for trying to give them all their big breaks.
At one point, rumors concerning Nacy harmon’s person life were apparently circulating. She devoted the mojority of one show to addressing those responsible for passing these rumors. she and all her young bsack-up singers were quite vtrioli in calling these rumor mongers to repentance. My best guess id that someone in the rumor circuit had accused ms. Harmon, a singlewoman, of being a lesbian, but the topic of the rumors was never addressed.
I’ve seen a coul eof videotapes of LaVern and Edith tripp’s show. Edith Tripp (Edith Tripp was supposedly part Indian princess. Why is it that no one is a descendant of common Indian stock, but, instead, of Indian royalty?) had a solo every week, yet you could walk into a random IHOP and pick the first person you saw and hand him or her a microphone, and the person’s performance would be superior to that of edith tripp.
knottyApril 12, 2013 at 1:19 PMSince I wrote that review, I have pretty much given up on watching TBN. We moved a few months later and our new cable service didn’t air TBN. I got out of the habit. I will admit that religious programming can be very funny, though. And of all the networks, TBN seems to have more comic moments than others.
my mom’s best friend lives nd teaches in a part of California that has a lot of dust Bowl Oklahoman and Arkansan descendants, and it’s essentially an extension of the Bible Belt. she got so tired of one woman on her staff sending out mass emails promoting one of Pastor Paula’s appearances that she forwarded the emails to the district technological director and complained. the offensive emails were stopped, but now the God-squadders hate my mom’s best friend (how Christ-like of them) but she’s fine with that as long as she isn’t bombarded with any more offensive emails.
I don’t know who most of the people on TBN are… but I do get quite a kick out of watching that network!
UnknownApril 16, 2014 at 12:36 AMPaul Crouch recently passed away…one of the sons is now running the station (he and his wife look like the younger versions of Paul and Jan). The older son has been exiled since his daughter is suing the network for financial abuses and sexual misconduct. With all the money this network is worth, one can only imagine the amount of corruption there is in that organization. BUT, if you REALLY want a laugh, you ought to tune into SBN, the network of Jimmy Swaggart (yes, he’s still around)! He’s maintained control through generational incest (Jimmy, the son Donnie and his son Gabriel). They’re all alike! One show that will really give you a laugh is called “Frances & Friends.” It’s Jimmy’s wife, Frances, and a “panel” of sycophants who discuss doctrine and current events! The ignorance of these people is astounding…I’ve never seen anything quite like it on TV! It’s actually quite sad because it confirms every negative stereotype that’s out there regarding Christians! I am one, so it makes me cringe to think that anyone (however dishonest) would buy that ALL Christians are like that! Anyway, check it out! You might have to search hard…some areas don’t list them as SBN, but instead the station is carried on a series of stations all called “Shop Zeal.” Good luck!
knottyApril 16, 2014 at 1:15 AMLOL… Thanks Thurza! We seem to have a number of religious stations where I live and every once in awhile, I pass them on the dial. We very well might have Swaggart’s station. I’ll look for it!
AlexisARAugust 3, 2017 at 9:47 AMI didn’t see Cici girl’s reply earlier. She’s one of the people who takes psalms 105: 22 and 1st Chronicles 16:22 (“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prohets no harm”) literally and assumes they plainly refer to the hustlers on TBN. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the faith (and intelligence) of a small child?
Some of my regular readers might know that I sometimes like to watch the Ernest Angley Hour. I started doing it when Bill and I last lived in Virginia. He was in Iraq, and I was left with a lot of time to fill. So I would find the most bizarre stuff on the Internet and watch it… Back in 2007, Ernest Angley had a “girl” group called the Sign Singers, who would cheerfully dance and sign along to homemade songs written by Angley’s stable of musicians. I stopped watching so much when Bill got back, since we had to pack up and move to Germany the first time.
In 2009, when we moved back to the States, I started watching again. That time, I got hooked on a “boy band” called The Gospel Five. I noticed the musicians in Angley’s groups were rotated into other groups. It was kind of cornball, although I did notice that he had some talented musicians working for him. I wonder how many of them actually believe in Angley’s version of “the gospel” and how many just want to be employed as musicians.
Anyway… regarding the title of today’s post. I happened to watch a snippet of Sunday’s service. For the first time I have ever seen, Angley was NOT preaching. In fact, the Reverend Chris Machamer, who always introduced himself as an “associate pastor” and “guest host” of the program, was now calling himself a “pastor” and “host”. I wondered when he got his promotion, so I watched part of the program from July 7th. Angley was preaching that day, but he was barely coherent and hard to hear.
Angley is 97 years old, so I would certainly expect him to be less coherent than he was at an earlier time. I mean, everyone has to die at some point, and I would imagine his time is coming soon. Still, it was surprising to find him not behind the pulpit, offering his usual monotone sermons. I can never stand to listen to more than a minute or two, although some people must be enchanted by him. He’s been preaching for many decades.
I was actually kind of impressed by Machamer’s sermon… what little I heard of it, anyway. He’s always struck me as a bit wooden in his introductions to the show, but he was much more alive when he was preaching. Frankly, I think I would rather listen to Machamer than Angley, anyway. Actually, I think I’d rather listen to uncontrollable diarrhea than either of them. Like I said, I really only tune in to catch a few seconds of the musicians, who are usually hilariously cheesy.
A few years ago, there was a huge bombshell in the news regarding Ernest Angley and his Grace Cathedral. Supposedly, he was encouraging members to get vasectomies or have abortions. There was also some discussion about how Angley had “violated” one of his former pastors, a man named Brock Miller. Miller was later painted as a drug addict and a liar by Mr. Machamer, who said Miller was only making his claims because he wanted to take over the ministry once Angley finally croaks. And yet, I see Machamer is the one preaching. I’ll give him credit where credit is due. He’s not a bad speaker behind the pulpit. If I were inclined to listen to sermons, I’d probably pay more attention to him than Angley, anyway. I kind of wonder how Angley got in the position he’s in anyway, since he really isn’t the most eloquent speaker I’ve ever heard.
I posted about the sex scandal on my old blog and got some interesting comments from people who actually attend the church. I also posted about a scandal involving labor violations at Angley’s Cathedral Buffet restaurant, in which Angley got people to work in his for profit restaurant for free or for less than minimum wage. A third story was about how one of Angley’s musicians conned an elderly woman out of her fortune, convincing her to donate six figures to the church. All of this is somewhat old news, although I’m sure there are many stories out there about this church and how people have been either blessed or cursed by it. Brock Miller is apparently going through some rough stuff now, as he recovers from the scandal and his divorce. He moved to a new state and is or was in counseling.
It’s no secret that I’m not much a fan of religion in general. I especially dislike predatory religious organizations like Angley’s. So many people’s lives are ruined by them.
In any case, it doesn’t look like Mr. Angley will be around that much longer, based on his most recent shows. He looks like he’s barely functioning. I’m sure his church will carry on regardless. I wish people would wise up.
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