Jim Bakker

From Academic Kids

Jim Bakker (born January 2, 1939 in Muskegon, Michigan) is an American televangelist, Assemblies of God preacher, and evangelist beset by scandal, and the former host of The PTL Club (PTL being an acronym for 'Praise the Lord' and 'People That Love') with his then-wife Tammy Faye Bakker.

Contents

History in Christian broadcasting

In the early 1960s, Bakker and his new wife Tammy began working with Pat Robertson at Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which at the time barely reached an audience of thousands. The Bakkers greatly contributed to the growth of the network, but their success with a variety show format (including interviews and puppets) sparked controversy, and they were eventually forced out by Robertson in the early 1970s. Bakker was distraught but continued on. Robertson retained for his 700 Club show the successful format the Bakkers had devised, and that show became one of the longest running and most successful televangelism programs ever.

Teaming with Paul and Jan Crouch, the Bakkers created the "Praise the Lord" show for the Crouchs' new Trinity Broadcasting Network in California. While that relationship lasted only about a year, this time the Bakkers retained the rights to use the initials "PTL" and traveled east to Charlotte to begin their own show, The PTL Club. This time, with the Bakkers fully in control, their show grew quickly until it was carried by close to a hundred stations, with average viewers numbering over twelve million, and the Bakkers had established their own network, The PTL Network. They attributed much of their success to decisions early on to accept all denominations and to refuse no one regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or criminal record.

By the early 1980s the Bakkers had built Heritage USA (in Fort Mill, south of Charlotte), then the third most successful theme park in the US, and a satellite system to distribute their network twenty-four hours a day across the country. Annual contributions requested from viewers were estimated to exceed one million dollars a week, with proceeds to go to expanding the theme park and mission of PTL.

Between 1984 and 1987, the Bakkers received annual salaries of $200,000 each and Jim awarded himself over $4 million in bonuses. Their assets at that time included a $600,000 house in Palm Springs, four condominiums in California, and a Rolls Royce. In their success, the Bakkers took conspicuous consumption to an unusual level for a non-profit. PTL once spent $100,000 for a private jet to fly the Bakkers' clothing across the country. It also once spent $100 for cinnamon rolls because the Bakkers wanted the smell of them in their hotel room. According to Frances FitzGerald in an April 1987 New Yorker article, "They epitomized the excesses of the 1980s—the greed, the love of glitz, and the shamelessness—which in their case was so pure as to almost amount to a kind of innocence."

Scandals

On March 19, 1987, following threats of the revelation of the payoff to Jessica Hahn, whom Bakker's staff members had paid $265,000 to keep secret her sexual services to him, Bakker resigned from the PTL. Jerry Falwell called Bakker a liar, embezzler, sexual deviate, and "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in two thousand years of church history." Falwell was rumored to be using the situation to gain control of a leading broadcast competitor. Bakker's absence resulted in a fierce fight for control of The PTL Network among several other prominent televangelists, which Falwell won. Upon taking over, Falwell fired Bakker's entire staff, and he provided much of the damning information presented at Bakker's later fraud trial. Under Falwell's leadership, the PTL Network within a short time went bankrupt and was liquidated at a deep discount.

Financial irregularities in the PTL organization led to another scandal. From 1984 to 1987, Bakker and his PTL associates had sold "lifetime memberships" for a $1,000 or more that entitled buyers to a three-night stay annually at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA. According to the prosecution at Bakker's later fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships had been sold, but only one 500-room hotel was ever completed. Bakker sold more "exclusive" partnerships than could be accommodated, while raising more than twice the money needed to build the actual hotel. A good deal of the money went into Heritage USA's operating expenses, and Bakker kept $3,700,000 for himself. Bakker, who apparently made all of the financial decisions for the PTL organization, kept two sets of books to conceal the accounting irregularities. Reporters from the Charlotte Observer newspaper, led by Charles Shepard, discovered and exposed the financial wrongdoings.

Conviction and prison

Bakker was indicted on federal charges of fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering. In 1989 after trial in Charlotte, Judge Robert Potter convicted Bakker of fraud and conspiring to commit fraud and sentenced him to forty-five years in federal prison. Bakker's associate, Richard Dortch, senior vice-president of PTL, and associate pastor of Heritage Village Church, also went to prison. In 1992, Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye were divorced at her request. Reminiscent of Biblical passage Matthew 25:36, evangelist Billy Graham visited Bakker in prison, as did his son, Franklin Graham, repeatedly saying, "Jim Bakker's my friend."

The Bakker scandals and conviction affected the reputation of other televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart. Richard Dortch said that pride, arrogance and secrets led to the scandals. While most people never face temptations on the same scale, he said, the ingredients are the same as in seemingly smaller failures. Dortch said the men in PTL's leadership felt they were above accountability, that they felt specially called by God and accountable only to Him. He said they didn't plan the scandal, but that it was the natural result of living for oneself rather than for God.

Defending Bakker one of his attorneys said: "If a man raises over $150 million for a business that competed with Disney and the major networks and kept $3 million for himself, he may be guilty of mismanagement, na´vetÚ, even stupidity, but should it be a crime? Do you think Falwell lives in a 5-room house?" Critics say this defense ignores the differences between a not for profit entity and a for profit entity, between secular and religious enterprises, and between fraud and mistake. Ultimately, the defense failed and Bakker went to prison.

In early 1991, a federal appeals court upheld Bakker's conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, but voided Bakker's 45-year sentence, as well as the $500,000 fine, and ordered that a new sentencing hearing be held. At that hearing, Bakker was sentenced to eight years prison. One of his cellmates during his incarceration was political activist Lyndon LaRouche.

After prison

In 1993, after serving almost five years of his sentence, Bakker was granted parole for good behavior. Upon his release, the Grahams paid for a house for him and gave him a car. At that point many Christians found themselves able to forgive or at least accept him. In 1995 he addressed a Christian leadership conference where 10,000 clergymen cheered and gave him a fifteen-minute standing ovation. "I thought people would spit on me," he later recalled. "Instead they received me with open arms."

Missing image
Jim_Bakker_I_was_wrong_book_cover.jpg
I was wrong (http://www.jimbakkershow.com/resource.html) written by Jim Bakker

On July 23, 1996, a North Carolina jury threw out a class action suit brought on behalf of more than 160,000 onetime believers who contributed as much as $7,000 each to Bakker's coffers in the 1980s.

The Charlotte Observer reported that the Internal Revenue Service still holds Bakker and Roe Messner, Tammy Faye's husband since 1993, liable for personal income taxes owed from the 1980s when they were building the Praise The Lord empire, taxes assessed after the IRS revoked the PTL ministry's nonprofit status. Tammy Faye Messner's new husband said Bakker and his former wife didn't want to talk about the tax issues: "We don't want to stir the pot." He also said that the original tax amount was about $500,000, with penalties and interest accounting for the rest. The notices reinstating the liens list "James O. and Tamara F. Bakker" as owing $3 million, on which liens the Bakkers still pay.

In 1996 Bakker published the book I Was Wrong, describing his rise and fall. In 1998 he released another book, Prosperity And The Coming Apocalypse, and in 2000, The Refuge: The Joy of Christian Community in a Torn-Apart World.

In January 2003, Bakker began broadcasting the "Jim Bakker Show" with his second wife, Lori Graham Bakker, whom he married in 1998. He denounces his past teachings on prosperity, saying they were wrong.

External links and references

  • "TV's Unholy Row," Time, April 6, 1987.
  • "Fresh Out of Miracles," Newsweek, May 11, 1987.
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