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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nostalgia, religion

Repost: When religious television isn’t that wholesome…

Every once in awhile, I like to repost content from my original blog that means something significant to me, even if my readers aren’t all that interested. After I wrote about Jerry Falwell Jr. yesterday, I was reminded of a religious cult in Virginia that I blogged about in June 2018. I’m going to repost that content today as/is, just so it’s easily available for the future.

Yesterday, I was perusing RfM and noticed a thread about a church in Virginia that encourages members to shun their children.  Since I’m originally from Virginia, I opened the thread and found a Washington Post article about Calvary Temple, a Sterling based Pentecostal church led by Star R. Scott.  I immediately, recognized the pastor’s name, and not just because it’s unusual.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about WYAH, an independent Christian television channel that was owned by Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and operated in southeastern Virginia.  WYAH no longer exists today, but it thrived in the era of over the air and basic cable television.  I grew up in the 80s and watched too much TV.  I often watched WYAH, not because of its wholesome and/or sanitized programs, many of which were religious, but because despite being a religious channel, they did air some funny sitcoms.  I remember WYAH played shows like Diff’rent StrokesWKRP in CincinnatiBensonThe Jeffersons, and my personal favorite, The Brady Bunch.  They also aired some of my favorite cartoons in the afternoons. When I wasn’t riding my horse, I’d tune in.  The censors would dutifully blank out any swear words.  Can’t be listening to any cussing if you’re a good Christian, right?

Another thing that WYAH had plenty of were religious ads.  In my last post about the network, I included some clips of ads that aired regularly on WYAH.  The videos I shared included some folks I had completely forgotten about, including Star R. Scott.  His ad for Calvary Temple and the weekly television show that used to air on WYAH on Sunday nights at 11:00pm had a memorable musical track that stuck in my head.


This is the show that aired on WYAH.  This particular episode is from 1986.  Check out Star R. Scott’s hair.


Skip to 4:26 and you can see the ad for Star R. Scott’s show, “Sword of the Spirit”.  It uses a vital, energetic soundtrack.  The music suggests the show will change your life for the positive.  The graphics suggest space… the future…  Listen to this message and your future will be vital and powerful.

In 1989, WYAH was sold and the programming turned secular.  The call letters are now WGNT and the channel no longer bears any resemblance to what it was during my childhood.  I’m actually kind of sad about that.  I like independently run TV channels.  They’re more interesting than channels that are part of a huge conglomerate and show the same programming.
I read the article in the Washington Post about Star R. Scott’s church, Calvary Temple, which was regularly advertised on WYAH.  To be honest, although I didn’t know about weird religions when I was a kid and wasn’t raised in a weird religion myself, I always kind of got creepy vibes from some the religious shows WYAH broadcasted.  Sometimes I used to watch The Rock Church Proclaims, which aired at about 10:00pm every Saturday night.  The church was kind of local, since it was based in Virginia Beach and run by Anne and the late John Gimenez.  The pastors used to sing and dance behind the pulpit to the music, which included a lot electric instruments… nothing like the organ and piano used at my very conservative Presbyterian church.  For some reason, it gave me the willies.

A clip of a service at the Rock Church from 1990, which is kind of like what WYAH used to air.  Lots of speaking in tongues, swaying to music, and dancing.  I’ve never heard anything bad about the Rock Church.

According to the Washington Post’s article about Calvary Temple, Star R. Scott’s church is quite abusive.  The story, written by journalist Britt Peterson, follows the experiences of several former members of Calvary Temple.  Ex churchgoers report that they were expected to shun anyone in their family, including children, who left the church.  In one case, a mother was ordered to send her 15 year old non-believing daughter away from the home because church leaders feared she would influence her 13 year old sister.  In another case, a mother decided to leave the church and four of her five children shunned her.

Scott is also accused of other kinds of abuses.  Former members report that they were required to send their children to Calvary Temple’s privately run school.  Although corporal punishment in public schools was banned in Virginia back in 1989, it is apparently still alive and well at Calvary Temple’s school.  Cynthia Azat, whose mother shipped her off to live with her grandmother at the behest of church leaders, reports that when she was attending the school in the 1990s, she would be paddled regularly.  At one point, she’d be paddled as often as daily.  Sometimes, she didn’t even know why she was being punished.  The paddlings were painful and humiliating; if a student moved during the strikes, he or she would get more.  Moreover, parents were expected to sign legal paperwork that would allow church leaders to discipline their children whenever they wanted to.

Here’s a Washington Post article about Calvary Temple from 2008 with more detail about Scott’s leadership.  Ten years ago, people were calling him toxic and dictatorial.  Below is a snippet from the 2008 article, detailing more abuses by Calvary Temple leaders.

About 400 members remain and are at the church most days for services or activities including fellowship breakfasts and student basketball games, former members said. Families are expected to send their children to Calvary’s school, which has classes from kindergarten through high school.

…others who attended the school say punishments ranged from spankings with a thick wooden paddle to spending the day outside digging, filling and redigging holes.

Charm Kern, a nursing student and mother, says she was traumatized by Calvary teachers telling her in her early adolescence that she was too overweight to be on the cheerleading squad. As punishment for being a “glutton,” said Kern, who is 20, she was tied by a rope to faster children and pulled during runs. She and her brother, who was also overweight, would be required to run while other children ate lunch, she said. By ninth grade, she was rebelling against her teachers, and pastors tried to place her and her brother with another family. Her parents pulled the family out of Calvary.

And further, from the same 2008 article,

Michelle Freeman, 48, left in December 2007 after church leaders and other members urged her to reject her son and her husband, who was not a member. Her son, Channing, had left Calvary as a high school sophomore, setting off heated debates between his parents, leading to their separation.

Channing, 18, wrote an essay this year at his public school describing terrifying dreams about God and Satan he had while in the church. Calvary, he wrote, has “stolen so much of my life. For eleven years I’ve been devoid of a real life. I don’t know what it’s like to live.”

Now, Michelle Freeman is among more than two dozen former members who gather for support. At a Loudoun Starbucks recently, Freeman cried as those around her talked about their wounded families.

In 2002, Star R. Scott’s wife, Janet, was dying.  Rather than mourn for his partner, Scott remarried two weeks after her death.  His new bride was a 20 year old woman named Greer Parker.  Scott was 55 years old and had told his congregation that the book of Leviticus forbade “high priests” to mourn; instead, they were to “take a wife in her virginity.”  He brought Parker up from the congregation after he finished delivering his sermon.

Six years later, there was another scandal within the church, when Scott’s son, Star R. Scott, Jr., and his then-wife sent an email to Scott Sr. accusing him of molesting his two nieces.  The email was circulated among church members.  Other allegations of Scott’s sexual proclivities toward young girls came out, although there were never any criminal charges brought against him.  Although Scott has claimed that the email was full of inaccuracies and “gossip”, he never expressly denied the accusations.

Star Scott is also not above wringing money out of his congregants.  Not only are they expected to tithe ten percent, they are also expected to give money to other projects, some of which never materialized, even when they’re barely able to scrape by.  Meanwhile, Scott owns several expensive cars and motorcycles, which he shows off regularly.  According to Peterson,

Scott started a race car ministry that, to this day, holds shows to display his collection of expensive cars and motorcycles. Around the same time, he led the church leadership to vote for independence from Assemblies of God, which had required that pastors tithe to the umbrella organization. Scott then rewrote the Calvary constitution to eliminate the traditional voting process and end financial transparency, according to several former members.

I could go on about what was in the Post’s article, but I think it’s best for people to read it for themselves.  I did find a few interesting YouTube videos about the church, including one posted by someone who is mentioned in Britt Peterson’s article.  Below, you’ll hear Pastor Scott preaching, sounding very belligerent as he refers to Mormonism as a cult…


“Okay, we’re a cult.  Now go on with your life.  What’s your problem?  What is your problem?  Go grab a Mormon and hassle him!”  

Pot… meet kettle!  Although to Scott’s credit, he does admit that his church is a cult.  Then he says that Christianity is a cult.  

I find cults fascinating.  There’s always a charismatic leader who convinces people to submit to strict rules and makes high demands of the cult members.  Those demands keep the members busy and prevent them from thinking about what they’re doing and how they’re being sucked dry and abused.  

This is an excellent video about cults.  I highly recommend taking the time to watch it because it very clearly illustrates what cults are and how they damage people. 

I guess the hinky feelings I used to get while watching WYAH were genuine.  For all of their sanitizing of sex and profanity from their programming, they were actually encouraging abusive cult leaders like Star R. Scott.  But since that channel was owned by Pat Robertson, I guess I can’t be too surprised.  Robertson himself is a bit of a nut.

You might get AIDS in Kenya…

And demons can attach themselves to clothes… This man once ran for president… I suppose he’s no worse than the man who is in the White House now.

Anyway, I’m grateful that I survived a childhood watching Channel 27 without being sucked into a cult.  But then, I did marry a man who was sucked into Mormonism, so there you go…


Another video about Star R. Scott and how his church has damaged families…  Be careful about the church you join.  It might be a cult.

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musings

Damn, I miss the 80s…

I didn’t grow up in Oakland, California. I’ve never even been to California. Thanks to YouTube, I can watch old clips of a puppet duo called Charley and Humphrey. They had a show in the 70s, but then after the show went off the air, the duo starred in one minute PSAs. Voiced by Pat McCormick, Charley (the horse in the sailor’s cap) and his sidekick, Humphrey (a bulldog), would deliver quick lessons of life to children in the San Francisco Bay area on KTVU, a local channel.

Here are a few Charley and Humphrey clips I found this morning:

The library is a good place to be.
I like the jaunty little intro. And I like how McCormick doesn’t really change his voice between these two characters.
No, I didn’t do any exercise…
Hitting someone in the nose doesn’t make you right. It just makes you a bully.

We did kind of have this kind of thing in Virginia. Back in the early 80s, most areas had independent television stations. Where I lived, we had WTVZ channel 33, which was secular, and WYAH, which was owned by Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network. I remember WYAH, in particular, had morals lessons like the ones above. They had this one feature called “Squeaky’s World” that was Christian and involved puppets. The one clip I can clearly remember was about the evils of lying. Squeaky was washing himself in the shower, singing about washing away his sin with a little bit of soap. The punchline was that he was using “lie soap” (lye soap). I doubt I can find “Squeaky’s World” on YouTube, although a thorough Web search finds a mention of it in a Virginia Beach newspaper from 1979. My sister was annoyed with me once because I was watching it.

I haven’t watched a lot of network TV lately. I have a feeling that the stuff we used to love watching when we were growing up would be considered totally lame today. I loved the weird commercials and diverse messages that were aired on independent TV and radio stations back in the day. I remember how, back in the late 70s, I could be listening to a top 40 radio station and they would play Led Zeppelin, then follow it with Earth, Wind, & Fire. Or I’d hear Heart followed by the Bee Gees. It was like that throughout the 80s, until radio stations became a lot more automated. Now, radio basically sucks, and television has become nationalized. It used to be you could really get a sense for an area based on what was on the local stations. Now, not so much…

I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but southeastern Virginia in the early 80s was very Christian focused. Or maybe it just seemed that way because I always watched WYAH, which was a very religious channel. They were always airing Pentecostal stuff. I find it fascinating now, especially as I’ve gotten older and started learning about cults. On my old blog, I wrote a well received post about Calvary Temple, a church in northern Virginia that has come under fire for abusing its members. Star R. Scott, pastor of Calvary Temple, used to host a weekly television show called “Sword of the Spirit” that aired on WYAH. I remembered the theme for it. They’d advertise it between ads for “Benson” and “Brady Bunch” reruns.

This is what we had on our local channel.

Thank God for YouTube. It’s where I love to go and remind myself of what used to be. A lot of relics from my past are long gone, but on YouTube, they are still preserved. And this Star R. Scott character is a creep.

Yikes! I think I’d rather watch Charley and Humphrey.
A lot of people were hurt by this church that was so heavily promoted on WYAH.

I’m sure if I had grown up in Utah, I would be totally flooded with memories about stuff put out by the LDS church. Or if I were growing up in New York, there would be a lot of Catholic or Jewish based PSAs. I’m glad I grew up when and where I did. Virginia was an interesting place in those days.

Even my hometown had a channel for a short time. I found it mostly unwatchable.
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