James Orsen Bakker|
January 2, 1940
Tammy Sue Bakker Chapman |
Assemblies of God (1960-1988)|
The PTL Club |
Heritage Village Church
James Orsen Bakker ( "baker"; born January 2, 1940) is an American televangelist, former Assemblies of God minister, convicted felon, and former host (with his former wife, Tammy Faye Bakker) of The PTL Club, an evangelical Christian television program. Bakker is also known for building Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina, a former Christian theme park which opened in 1978 and closed in 1989. He has written several books, including I Was Wrong and Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead.
A cover-up of hush money paid to Bakker's secretary, Jessica Hahn, for alleged rape led to his resignation from the ministry. Subsequent revelations of accounting fraud brought about his conviction, imprisonment and divorce. Bakker later remarried and returned to televangelism, where he founded his new ministry Morningside Church in Blue Eye, Missouri and currently works on The Jim Bakker Show. He sells buckets of food to his audience on the show, in preparation for the end of days.
James Orsen Bakker was born in Muskegon, Michigan, the son of Raleigh Bakker and Furnia Lynette "Furn" Irwin. Bakker attended North Central University (a Bible college affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Minneapolis), where he met fellow student Tammy Faye LaValley in 1960. He worked at a restaurant in the Young-Quinlan department store in Minneapolis; Tammy Faye worked at the Three Sisters, a nearby boutique.
They married on April 1, 1961, and left college to become evangelists. The Bakkers have two children: Tammy Sue "Sissy" Bakker Chapman (born March 2, 1970) and Jamie Charles "Jay" Bakker (born December 18, 1975). They divorced on March 13, 1992. On September 4, 1998, Bakker married Lori Beth Graham, a former televangelist, just fifty days after they met.
In 1966 the Bakkers began working at Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which had an audience in the low thousands at the time. They contributed to the network's growth, and their success with a variety show format (including interviews and puppets) helped make The 700 Club a company staple.The Jim and Tammy Show, aimed at young children, was broadcast for several years from their Portsmouth, Virginia studio.
The Bakkers built Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina (south of Charlotte), the third-most-successful theme park in the U.S. at the time, and a satellite system to distribute their network 24 hours a day nationwide by the early 1980s. Viewer contributions were estimated to exceed $1 million a week, with proceeds to expand the theme park and The PTL Club mission. Bakker responded to inquiries about his use of mass media by saying: "I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be on TV".
The Bakkers had a lavish lifestyle. In an April 23, 1990 New Yorker article, Frances FitzGerald quoted Dave Barry: "They personified the most characteristic excesses of the nineteen-eighties--the greed, the love of glitz, and the shamelessness--which in their case were so pure as to almost amount to a kind of innocence." Bakker was dismissed as an Assemblies of God minister on May 6, 1987.
He began broadcasting the daily Jim Bakker Show at Studio City Café in Branson, Missouri in January 2003 with his second wife, Lori; it is carried on the Daystar and CTN networks. Most of Bakker's audience receives his program on DirecTV or Dish Network. His show has a millennial, survivalist focus, and Bakker owes the IRS $6 million. On his program, he sells buckets of freeze-dried food to his audience in preparation for the end of days. In 2013, Bakker wrote Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead about end-time events.
In an October 2017 video, Bakker said that "God will punish those" who ridicule him; he has said that Hurricane Harvey was a judgement of God, and blamed Hurricane Matthew on then-President Barack Obama. Bakker predicted that if current President Donald Trump is impeached, Christians would begin a Second American Civil War. He compared the 2017 Washington train derailment to the sinking of the RMS Titanic and stated the Amtrak train derailment was a warning from God. He also claimed that he predicted the September 11 attacks of 2001, stating that he "saw 9/11 in 1999 before New Year's Eve" and that there would "be terrorism" and bombings in New York City and Washington, D.C." A few days after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, he stated that in a dream that "God came to him wearing a camouflage, a hunting vest, and a AR-15 rifle strapped to his back" and claimed that God supported Trump's plan to arm teachers. Following the death of Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, Bakker attended Graham's funeral and paid his respects, stating that Graham was the greatest preacher since Jesus, and also remarking that Graham had visited him in prison.
The PTL Clubs fundraising activities between 1984 and 1987 were reported by The Charlotte Observer, eventually leading to criminal charges against Bakker. Bakker and his PTL associates sold $1,000 "lifetime memberships", entitling buyers to an annual three-night stay at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA, during that period. According to the prosecution at Bakker's fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships were sold but only one 500-room hotel was ever finished. Bakker sold "exclusive partnerships" which exceeded capacity, raising more than twice the money needed to build the hotel. Much of the money paid Heritage USA's operating expenses, and Bakker kept $3.4 million.
A $279,000 payoff for the silence of Jessica Hahn, who alleged that Bakker and pastor John Wesley Fletcher drugged and raped her, was paid with PTL's funds through Bakker's associate Roe Messner. Bakker, who made the PTL organization's financial decisions, allegedly kept two sets of books to conceal accounting irregularities. Charlotte Observer reporters, led by Charles Shepard, investigated the PTL organization's finances and published a series of articles.
On March 19, 1987, after the disclosure of a payoff to Hahn, Bakker resigned from PTL. Although he acknowledged that he met Hahn at a hotel room in Clearwater, Florida, he denied raping her. In late March 1987, Bakker was succeeded as PTL head by Jerry Falwell. Later that summer, as donations declined sharply in the wake of Bakker's resignation and the end of the Bakkers' PTL Club TV program, Falwell raised $20 million to keep PTL solvent and took a promised water slide ride at Heritage USA.
After a 16-month federal grand-jury probe, Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. In 1989, after a five-week trial which began on August 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a jury found him guilty on all 24 counts. Judge Robert Daniel Potter sentenced Bakker to 45 years in federal prison and imposed a $500,000 fine. At the Federal Medical Center, Rochester in Rochester, Minnesota, he shared a cell with activist Lyndon LaRouche and skydiver Roger Nelson.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Bakker's conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, voided Bakker's 45-year sentence and $500,000 fine, and ordered a new sentencing hearing in February 1991. The court ruled that Potter's sentencing statement about Bakker, that "those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests", was evidence that the judge had injected his religious beliefs into Bakker's sentence.
A sentence-reduction hearing was held on November 16, 1992, and Bakker's sentence was reduced to eight years. In August 1993, he was transferred to a minimum-security federal prison in Jesup, Georgia. Bakker was paroled in July 1994, after serving almost five years of his sentence. His son, Jay, spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to the parole board advocating leniency. Bakker was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody on December 1, 1994.
Jerry Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history." In 1988, Falwell said that the Bakker scandal had "strengthened broadcast evangelism and made Christianity stronger, more mature and more committed." Ed Brayton called Bakker a false prophet in an article on the Patheos website, and Geoffrey Grider called him a false teacher on the Now The End Begins website. On CNN, Jimmy Swaggart told Larry King that Bakker was a "cancer in the body of Christ". On the Stand in the Gap Today radio program, Pennsylvania Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer criticized Bakker's civil-war prediction. His doomsday food was also labeled as overpriced. His PTL scandal was also compared to the 2017 Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. His TV show also received criticism as a "spiritual abuse", and critics stated that it has "no business" being on TV screens.
In his 1996 book, I Was Wrong, he admitted that the first time he actually read the Bible all the way through was in prison. He wrote that he realized that he had taken passages out of context and used them as prooftexts to support his prosperity theology:
The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet!
Bakker published Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse in 1998, and The Refuge: The Joy of Christian Community in a Torn-Apart World in 2000. His son Jay (a minister at Revolution Church in Minneapolis) described the PTL years in his book, Son of a Preacher Man:
The world at large has focused on my parents' preaching of prosperity, but ... I heard a different message--one of forgiveness and the abundance of God's love. I remember my dad always seating a mentally handicapped man in the front row and hugging him. And when vandals burned an African American church down, Dad made sure its parishioners got the funds to rebuild. His goal was to make PTL a place where anyone with a need could walk in off the streets and have that need met.
Bakker described himself as a supporter of President Donald Trump in an interview with Stephen E. Strang and in the book God and Donald Trump.
I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be on TV
Jim Bakker: One day, you're going to shake your fist in God's face. And you're going to say, 'God, why didn't you warn me?' He's gonna say, 'You sat there and you made fun of Jim Bakker all those years. I warned you, but you didn't listen.
Jim Bakker: If it happens, there will be a civil war in the United States of America.
Jim Bakker: The great preachers of all times have said the Titanic is God's warning
Jim Bakker: I saw 9/11 in 1999 before New Year's Eve... I said there's going to be terrorism; there's going to be a bombing in New York and Washington DC. I said it would be at a high defense location in DC...
To me, that is a sign that he is against gun control. God ordained Donald Trump and he supports his plan to arm teachers.
Bakker kept $3.4 million in bonuses for himself
Jim Bakker is a cancer in the body of Christ
televangelist Jim Bakker, who served an eight-year prison term for fraud, returned to a broadcasting ministry nine years after getting out of jail.
The more I studied the Bible