1940 (January 2): Jim Bakker was born in Muskegon, Michigan.
1961(April 1): Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye LaValley married in Minneapolis.
1965 (September): The Jim and Tammy Show premiered on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)
1966 (November): The 700 Club debuted on CBN.
1972 (November): Bakker formed Trinity Broadcasting Systems (TBS) in Southern California.
1973 (Spring): The PTL Club premiered on TBS.
1974: Jim and Tammy Bakker moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.
1978 (January 2): Bakker broke ground for Heritage USA.
1979 (March): The FCC started an investigation into PTL’s use of funds.
1978: Bakker launched the PTL satellite network.
1980 (December 6): Jim Bakker had a sexual relationship with Jessica Hahn, a twenty-one-year-old church secretary from Long Island, New York.
1982 (April 26): PTL opened its first People That Love Center at Heritage USA.
1983: Bakker announced the launching of the “lifetime partnerships.”
1983 (January): The Total Learning Center opened.
1983 (June): PTL opened the Heritage Inn, a ninety-six room motel.
1983 (December 7): PTL broke ground for the $25,000,000 504-room Heritage Grand Hotel.
1984 (February): Bakker began to promote the lifetime partnerships on the air.
1984 (September): Bakker announced another round of lifetime partnerships. This time the partnerships were for the twenty-one-story, 500-room Heritage Ground Towers.
1984 (December 22): Heritage Grand opened, six months behind schedule.
1985 (February 19): Bakker announced the Silver lifetime partnerships.
1985 (September 4): Bakker announced a new lifetime partnership program, the Silver 7,000.
July 1986: PTL dedicated the Heritage Island Water Park, Fort Hope, and Kevin’s House.
1986: 6,000,000 people visited Heritage USA, making it the third most visited attraction in the United States behind Disneyland and Disney World.
1987 (January 2): Bakker broke ground for the Crystal Palace Ministry Center.
1987 (March 19): Bakker resigned from PTL after his December 1980 sexual tryst with Jessica Hahn became public.
1987 (June 12): PTL declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
1988 (December 5): Jim Bakker was indicted on federal charges for mail and wire fraud.
1989 (October): Bakker was found guilty of charges of mail and wire fraud. He was sentenced to forty-five years in prison.
1990 (May): Morris Cerullo, along with a group of Malaysian investors, bought PTL for $52,000,000, $7,000,000 for the satellite network and $45,000,000 for the 2,200-acre Heritage USA complex. Cerullo renamed the park New Heritage USA.
1990 (December 14): Bakker was found guilty of common-law fraud in a class-action lawsuit and was ordered to pay $129,700,000 in damages.
1991(February): An appeals court reduced Bakker’s sentence to eighteen years.
1992 (December): Bakker’s sentence was reduced to eight years.
1994 (July): Bakker was released from prison.
1997 (November): New Heritage USA closed.
1998: Bakker married Lori Graham.
2003: Bakker started The Jim Bakker Show.
2007 (July 20): Tammy Faye died after cancer spread to her lungs and spine.
2008: Bakker moved to Blue Eye, Missouri to start Morningside.
2020 (March): Federal regulators and Attorneys General from New York and Missouri ordered Bakker to stop selling colloidal silver as a cure for COVID-19.
2021 (June): The Missouri Attorney general announced the settlement of the state’s lawsuit against Bakker.
Jim Bakker was born on January 2, 1940, in Muskegon, Michigan, to parents Raleigh and Furnia Bakker. Raleigh was a machinist at a piston plant and Furnia was a homemaker. Bakker grew up in a strict Pentecostal household. His father once washed his mouth out with soap for saying “Gee whiz” and his mother “emphasized fastidious standards of cleanliness.” Some of his earliest memories are of a three-foot tall picture of a human eye that hung in his Sunday school room as he and the other children sang, “His eye is watching you, you, you: (Wigger 2017:10). By the time he was in high school, Bakker started to come out of his shell. He participated in the school newspaper, deejayed dances, and hosted a series of popular variety shows.
Two life-altering events happened to Bakker as a youth. When he was eleven years old, he was molested by a man (Bakker called him Russell) from his church. The abuse lasted for several years. The second event happened a few years later when Bakker was sixteen. In December 1956, he ran over three-year-old Jimmy Summerfield in his father’s 1952 Cadillac.
In Bakker’s telling, running over Summerfield (who survived the accident) convinced him to attend North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, where he enrolled in 1959. At North Central, Bakker continued to be involved in the school newspaper and theater productions. When he was a sophomore, he met Tammy LaValley, who he asked to marry after three dates. They were married in April 1961. After marrying, the Bakkers dropped out and became itinerant Pentecostal evangelists. Especially popular was their puppet show, which Tammy brought to life, giving the puppets voices and personalities. [Image at right]
The puppet show soon caught the attention of Pat Robertson, founder of the upstart TV station Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Their first show, initially called Come on Over but changed to the Jim and Tammy Show to reflect the young couple’s popularity, premiered in September 1965.
Bakker also proved himself to be an effective fundraiser during CBN’s November 1965 telethon. That year’s fundraising goal was $120,000, up from $40,000 the previous year. As the telethon wore on, it became clear that the station wasn’t going to reach its goal. After Bakker’s tearful plea for money, pledges poured in, raising enough money to pay off the station’s debts and fund operations for the coming year. The following telethon was equally successful.
The fundraising success gave Bakker enough confidence to take his idea for a Christian talk show to Robertson. When the Bakkers were traveling evangelists, they decompressed at night by watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Bakker wanted to create a similarly entertaining show for a Christian audience. The new show, the 700 Club, debuted in November 1966.
By 1972, Jim and Tammy started to feel ostracized at CBN. Many of the staff believed they were “prima donnas” and Bakker and Robertson clashed over competing visions for the station. Bakker wanted to keep it 100 percent Christian while Robertson wanted to expand CBN’s audience by showing reruns of secular shows like Leave It to Beaver, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Gilligan’s Island. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to get his way, Bakker resigned from CBN in November 1972. The Bakkers then formed their own non-profit corporation, Trinity Broadcasting Systems (TBS), which was approved to operate in California in June 1973. Bakker also started a new talk show, the PTL Club, short for “Praise the Lord.”
As had happened at CBN, Jim and Paul Crouch, his new partner at TBS, clashed over the direction of the station. Though they were Pentecostals, Crouch and his backers didn’t like Bakker’s flamboyant style. They also fought over money. At the end of November 1973, Jim and Tammy were once again unemployed. The couple moved again. This time to Charlotte, North Carolina, to start another TV station, PTL.
PTL grew rapidly in the second half of the 1970s. PTL expanded its affiliate stations, created a satellite network, purchased new properties, and launched ministries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In 1974, there were only a half dozen people on staff. By 1979, there was 700 people on staff.
These years also saw Bakker at his most innovative. At PTL, Bakker continued to develop the talk show format to keep it relevant and appealing. Guests included Little Richard, Colonel Sanders, [Image at right] former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, Maria Von Trapp of Sound of Music Fame, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, Apollo astronaut James Irwin, actors Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dean Jones, Mr. T, Dale Evans, and Roy Rogers, Watergate figure Chuck Colson, and World Heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman.
One major innovation was the satellite network, which he launched in early 1978. The satellite network allowed PTL to air programming twenty-four hours a day. Only HBO and Ted Turner’s station in Atlanta beat PTL into space.
The next innovation was Heritage USA, which Bakker broke ground for on January 2, 1978. Part community, part church ministry, and part vacation resort, Heritage USA grew to 2,300 acres, had a 500-room hotel, one of the largest waterparks in the United States, a petting zoo, horseback riding trails, tennis courts, a home for unwed mothers, a recreation of the Upper Room, Billy Graham’s childhood home, a home for disabled children, a miniature railroad, paddleboats, a state-of-the-art television studio, and several condominium and housing developments. [Image at right] By 1986, it was one of the most popular attractions in the United States, drawing 6,000,000 visitors that year, third only to Disneyland and Disney World.
Fundraising for Heritage USA wasn’t the only stressor in Bakker’s life. His marriage was also falling apart, mostly as a result of his obsession with building Heritage USA and Tammy’s own affairs. Don Hardister, PTL’s head of security at the time, remembered that it “was a miserable, miserable time” (Wigger 2021). Though their accounts differ and have changed with time, Bakker and Jessica Hahn, who was a twenty-one-year-old church secretary at the time, both agree that they had sex on December 6, 1980, in a Clearwater Beach, Florida, hotel room. To keep the affair secret, some PTL executives, with funds from contractor Roe Messner, paid Hahn $265,000 in hush money.
Nothing at PTL came cheap. In the fall of 1983, while trying to raise money to build the $25,000,000, 500-room Heritage Grand Hotel, Bakker came upon a simple fundraising tactic. In exchange for a one-time gift of $1,000, Bakker promised 25,000 “lifetime partners” that they would receive four days and three nights free lodging at the Heritage Grand every year for the rest of their lives. Bakker started promoting the lifetime partnerships on the air in February 1984. By July, PTL sold over 25,000 partnerships and received over 13,000 pledges. This was just the first of several lifetime partnerships for other construction projects, most notably another 500-room hotel, the Heritage Towers, which were never completed. In all, PTL supporters bought more than 150,000 lifetime partnerships.
On March 19, 1987, Bakker resigned from PTL after his tryst with Hahn became public. In a phone call with reporters and editors from the Charlotte Observer, during which he read from a prepared statement, Bakker said, that he had been “wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends and then colleagues who victimized me with the aid of a female confederate” (“Jim Bakker” 1987). It was also at this time that Bakker’s alleged homosexual behavior was made public, though Bakker denied these revelations under oath. Shortly after his resignation, Bakker had a meeting with the Baptist fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, who Bakker chose because he was afraid that his fellow Pentecostal and rival, Jimmy Swaggart, had been eyeing the PTL satellite network and Heritage USA. Bakker and Falwell’s accounts differ about the meeting. Bakker has said that Falwell pushed him to give up control over PTL and that he would take over for about thirty to ninety days until the Hahn story dissipated, allowing Bakker to return to his positions as president, chairman of the board, and pastor of the church. Falwell claimed that it was Bakker who asked him to take over and that there was no timeline for his return.
When Falwell’s accountants finally got access to PTL’s book, they were shocked to discover that PTL was $65,000,000 in debt and losing $2, million a month and that from 1984 to 1986, it spent $40,000,000 more than it took in. Even as the ministry sank deeper into debt, the Bakkers continued to prosper. Between January 1984 and March 1987, for instance, the Bakkers drew $4.800,000 in salary and bonuses. With the exception of a few insiders, nobody was prepared for these numbers. After the discovery of PTL’s debt and the Bakkers’ compensation, Falwell declared that Bakker had turned PTL into “a scab and cancer on the face of Christianity” (Leland 1987).
The revelation of the Hahn hush money and PTL’s financial state caught the attention of federal regulators. In December 1988, a federal grand jury indicted Bakker on charges of mail and wire fraud. The ensuing trial focused on Bakker’s fundraising between 1983 and 1987, or the years when the lifetime partnerships were sold. Federal prosecutors alleged that Bakker had knowingly oversold lifetime partnerships in order to cover PTL’s massive debt and to prop up his own luxurious lifestyle.
After a tumultuous five-month trial, which started in August 1989, and during which a witness collapsed on the stand and Bakker experienced a mental breakdown, a jury found him guilty of mail and wire fraud. [Image at right] Federal judge Robert Potter, also known as “Maximum Bob,” sentenced Bakker to forty-five years in prison. After a series of hearings reduced his sentence, Bakker was released from prison in July 1994.
He came out of prison a changed man. Most notably, he renounced the prosperity gospel in his post-prison autobiography, I Was Wrong. In prison, he had time to closely study the Bible, something he had neglected while he was running PTL. In his book, he confessed that he had “become obsessed with building Heritage USA” and that “money [became] more important than ministry” (Bakker 1996). He was even more forceful in his denunciation of the prosperity gospel in his 1998 book, Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse. In the book, he said that he had preached a “Disneyland gospel” and admitted the moral failure of his lifestyle and salary at PTL.
While Bakker was trying to rehabilitate his image, Heritage USA fell in disrepair. Most of it was turned into Charlotte’s suburbs, but, in September 2004, Pastor Rick Joyner bought fifty-two acres of the old Heritage USA grounds. Joyner’s ministry rehabilitated the Heritage Grand into a retreat and conference center, but the Towers remain a shell.
After divorcing Bakker in March 1992, Tammy married Roe Messner, the contractor who built most of Heritage USA, in October 1993. She also embarked on her own career. Starting in December 1995, she co-hosted the Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show with openly gay actor Jim J. Bullock. By this time, Tammy had become a gay icon. Bullock reflected that gay people embraced Tammy because, “She was odd and different and did not fit into any mold”
(Wigger 2017:333). Bullock and Tammy taped fifty shows together before she was diagnosed with colon cancer in March 1996. Three years later, she was the subject of a documentary film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, narrated by RuPaul Charles. The film, which portrayed her as more than just a disgraced preacher’s wife and highlighted her candor and resilience, won her many new admirers. In 2004, she starred alongside several washed-up celebrities like Erik Estrada, Traci Bingham, Vanilla Ice, Trishelle Cannatella, and Ron Jeremy in season two of the VH1 series, The Surreal Life. [Image at right] Tammy Faye died on July 20, 2007.
Bakker has since returned to his roots as a fundraiser, empire builder, and television host. On January 2, 2003, Bakker returned to television, hosting The Jim Bakker Show from the Studio City Café in Branson, Missouri. Bakker, who assumed he would never return to television, was apparently sick for the two months leading up to the show’s premiere. “It was very frightening to go back on the air,” Bakker said. “But I spent 40 years of my life in front of the camera, and those first weeks back, I finally felt like I’ve come back home.” Though his operation paled in comparison to the glory days of the 1980s, Bakker hoped his return would give people “hope that the past can be past, that God can use them no matter what they have been through” (Buckstaff 2003).
Five years after his return, Bakker moved to Blue Eye, Missouri, about thirty miles southwest of Branson, where he now runs Morningside. With the exception of its scaled-down size, nearly everything at Morningside resembles Heritage USA. Its façade looks a lot like the Heritage Grand Hotel and its indoor Grace Street closely resembles Main Street at Heritage USA. Grace Street also has condominiums, a TV set, a restaurant, chapel, beauty salon and spa, general store, and cinema. [Image #6] Morningside, which cost an estimated $25,000,000, was bankrolled by businessman Jerry Crawford, who credited Bakker with saving his marriage on a trip to PTL in 1986 (McKinney 2017).
Bakker’s new show has a millennial, prepper feel. He sells products that he thinks people will need during times of crisis, including buckets of freeze-dried food, camping supplies, solar generators, and water filters. His guests also reflect this new message. Bakker and his guests often talk about how current events are signs of Christ’s imminent return (Funk 2018).
During this time, Bakker has also become more involved in politics. When he was the head of PTL, he generally avoided politics, especially the divisive culture wars, but he has since embraced them. He was a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump before, during, and after his presidency.
In May 2020, Bakker suffered what his son described as a “minor stroke” (Marusak 2020).
Bakker’s belief system can be broken down into two different eras. The first, during his PTL days, was centered around the prosperity gospel. As a prosperity preacher, Bakker believed that health and wealth were signs of God’s favor. At the center of Bakker’s prosperity message was “seed faith.” The idea was pretty simple: the more one gave to a Christian ministry, the more one could expect to be blessed. The less one gave, the less one could expect to prosper. This was an era of what historian Kate Bowler has labeled “hard prosperity,” which “drew a straight line between life circumstances and a believer’s faith” (Bowler 2013:97). Bakker’s version of the prosperity gospel was about more than just economic prosperity, however. PTL embodied what some historians have called the “gospel of the abundant life,” a more inclusive term than prosperity gospel. Visitors to Heritage USA (along with viewers on television) heard about how to live a more fulfilled life through exercise and healthy eating habits and sex lives.
Wrapped up in this prosperity message was a vision of an idyllic American past. Bakker blatantly borrowed from the Magic Kingdom’s “Frontierland” and “Main Street USA” to create a “pastiche of iconic Americana.” It might not be a surprise that the park’s popular Passion Play had its opening day on July 4, 1984 (Johnson 2014).
The second, and his most current, has been centered around the apocalypse. In 1998, Bakker wrote in his book, Prsperity and the Comin Apocalypse, “In a nutshell, the new message [is] this: the era of prosperity is over; perilous times are upon us, the end of the age is at hand” (Bakker 1998:6). As historian Matthew Avery Sutton has pointed out, apocalypticism has been a central feature of American evangelicalism since the late nineteenth century, surfacing “at crucial moments in American history” (Sutton 2014:7). Bakker’s apocalypticism became heightened after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In his 2012 book, Time Has Come, Bakker claimed to have had a vision of the attacks and Hurricane Katrina. In April 2020, he claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic was the fulfillment of a prophecy he had received months earlier.
Bakker has become more overtly political as well, often promoting right-wing conspiracy views. In July 2017, he said that anyone who opposed President Donald Trump would face God’s wrath. “God is doing something,” he said on his TV show. “God is speaking. God is taking over. And I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t fool with Trump. You better be careful, because I want to tell you, there is going to be judgment come if America turns its back on what God is trying to do, because God is trying to save America” (Mantyla 2017). In April 2018, he claimed that opposition to Trump was a sign that “America is in a war against God” (Mantyla 2018). During the 2020 presidential election, Bakker commented that Christians had a duty to vote because the other side was “voting for their faith, and their faith is Satan worship.” In September 2021, Bakker held a three-day telethon with noted 2020 election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell during which they sold pillows and promoted election fraud claims (Edwards 2021).
The apocalyptic message has seemed to work for Bakker. As of 2017, Morningside opened two new building projects. The Big Red Barn is six stories tall, has space for horses, and has enough storage for millions of servings of survival, according to Bakker. Lori’s House, named after Lori Bakker, is a home for unwed mothers that provides free housing, food, and other services pregnant women need.
At the center of many practices at Heritage USA was a deep faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This faith played itself out in a number of ways. First were the ways in which Bakker often talked about money. Hearkening back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century faith mission movement, Bakker often went into expensive building projects with little to no capital, believing that God would provide. Bakker wrote in 1977, “Some people think you need plenty of money in the bank before you can begin to operate in faith. I never have…Remember, facts don’t count when you have God’s word on the subject” (Wigger 2017:63).
Second, Bakker followed an unscripted format on his daily talk show. Unlike other talk show hosts, including Johnny Carson, Bakker rarely used notes and almost never pre-interviewed guests, instead relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “I don’t think a format ever came off the way it was written,” he once said, “because it was more like our type of church would be and that would be by inspiration…. If the spirit of God was moving, we would stay with whatever was happening” (U.S. v. Bakker, vol. 9, 1647). This format often gave the show a chaotic, unpredictable feel, but it was well within the evangelical tradition of rejecting read sermons or prayers.
A common fundraising ritual at PTL were the annual telethons. For six or seven hours a day of live television, Bakker went “into full huckster mode” (Wigger 2017:139) raising money for the various expensive projects at Heritage USA. The major telethon of 1983, “You and Us Together,” even had its own theme song.
For visitors to Heritage USA, Bakker’s prosperity theology wasn’t just a doctrine, but a lived experience. Guests could participate in workshops about family, sex, mental health, parenting, relationships, finances, dieting, and exercise. These workshops, held in the Total Learning Center, were important, according to John Wigger, Bakker’s biographer, because they “gave PTL the staff and facilities to work with people face-to-face rather than just over the air and provided another draw for people to come to Heritage USA” (Wigger 2017:132).
The PTL Club also instructed people on how to live a godly and abundant life. A popular topic of conversation during interviews was dramatic conversion experiences. Guests like Little Richard, Larry Flynt, and Eldridge Cleaver talked frankly about how the Lord delivered them from lives of sin. Other guests like Norman Vincent Peale, Merlin Carothers, Robert Schuller, and Frances and Charles Hunter gave advice on “how to love yourself, lose weight, improve your marriage, and reach your full potential” (Wigger 2017:67).
Bakker’s new television program, the Jim Bakker Show, has continued to feature guests who give advice on how to live godly and abundant lives, but its main focus is biblical prophecy. Guests have included New York Times best-selling authors James Rickards, Jonathan Cahn, and Joel Richardson, retired military leaders Michael Flynn, Jerry Boykin, and Robert Maginnis, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
In the beginning, PTL leadership, though sometimes haphazard, operated with a sense of mission and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of transparency. PTL leadership changed significantly in 1977 when Richard Dortch began his association with the ministry. Dortch, a long-time Assemblies of God minister and superintendent for Illinois, indulged all of Bakker’s worst habits. Under his leadership, PTL executives became more secretive.
When he was in charge of PTL, Bakker was a micromanager. He obsessed over every detail, no matter how minor, at Heritage USA, often making unrealistic demands on employees. The board of directors met infrequently and Bakker often had no idea how others on the executive committee behaved or spent the ministry’s money.
PTL faced a number of challenges during its existence. One was religious. Despite his fame within the Pentecostal world, Bakker’s prosperity theology was controversial. Jimmy Swaggart, another prominent Assemblies of God minister, was openly hostile to Bakker’s prosperity message. In March 1987, Swaggart’s monthly magazine took swipes at Heritage USA and all it represented, going so far as to equate Bakker’s theology with some of modernity’s most corrosive ideas, including Darwinism, Freudianism, Marxism, and communism. Elsewhere, Swaggart said that PTL “was a cancer that needed to be excised from the body of Christ” (Gaillard 1987). Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist Baptist, was also hostile to Bakker’s prosperity gospel. “I think this prosperity theology (what some call health and wealth theology) is the most damnable heresy being preached in the world today,” Falwell commented in 1987 (McClain 1987).
Bakker’s prosperity theology also came under scrutiny during his federal trial. One of the prosecution’s key arguments was that Bakker misled his supporters and the PTL board of directors in order to live an extravagant lifestyle. During the trial, former aides explained how the Bakkers spent money that was supposed to be for PTL on furs, homes, automobiles, plastic surgery, houseboats, jewelry, and designer clothes. The revelations were so shocking that the Charlotte Observer noted, after one former aide testified, that the day in court was “reminiscent of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’” (Shepard 1989).
For most of its existence, the national press paid scant attention to PTL. This all changed when the scandal broke in 1987, and PTL received extensive coverage in major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Much of the early coverage, in addition to covering Bakker’s misdeeds, revealed deep fissures within the American evangelical community as prominent evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart, John Ankerberg, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and Robert Schuller traded barbs in the press. Bakker accused Swaggart and Falwell of a conspiracy to take over the PTL ministry. Falwell and Swaggart denied the conspiracy charge. Swaggart admitted, however, that he was responsible for starting the investigation into Bakker’s sexual sins. In its investigation, the Assemblies of God, Bakker’s former denomination, also denied that there was a conspiracy to steal PTL. The press referred to the struggle between the evangelists as a “holy war,” “Godscam,” “Godsgate,” “Heaven’sgate,” “Salvationgate,” “Pearlygate,” and “Gospelgate” (Ostling 1987).
The press was so enamored by the PTL scandal that, during Bakker’s trial, reporters had to arrive at the courthouse at 6 AM for a seat and as early as 4 AM when star witnesses took the stand. The press helped make the trial a circus. Outside the courtroom, vendors sold food and novelty Jim and Tammy items. After Bakker’s psychiatric breakdown, a local radio station held a contest challenging spectators to stick their heads under a couch as they believed Bakker had done in his lawyer’s office. The Charlotte Observer, whose work on the PTL scandal earned it a Pulitzer Prize in 1988, published “Down the Tube,” a spoof on the board game Chutes and Ladders. The intent of the game was to make PTL and the Bakkers look ridiculous. The press was especially hostile toward Jessica Hahn, calling her the “whore of West Babylon” and a harlot.
The drama played out mostly on television, drawing record audiences for shows like Nightline and Larry King Live. In April 1987, John Ankerberg went on Larry King Live to accuse Bakker of paying for sex workers, condoning wife swapping at PTL, and homosexual acts. The Bakkers also used television to their advantage. Appearing on Nightline in May 1987, they turned the tables on their opponents by successfully making themselves the victims. Bakker told Ted Koppel that he was convinced that Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell “came here with the motive to steal Heritage USA and my ministry. I made a terrible mistake” (Shepard 1987).
Throughout his career, Bakker has also faced the scrutiny of government regulators. In 1979, PTL experienced its first run-in with federal regulators. PTL had allegedly raised $337,000 for television equipment for a church in South Korea, but diverted the money to pay other bills, a violation of federal law. Bakker responded to the investigation by denouncing it as a communist threat and a plot of the devil. The FCC investigation ended in 1980.
The new ministry has not been without its controversy. In March 2020, at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, federal regulators and Attorneys General from New York and Missouri ordered Bakker to stop selling colloidal silver as a cure for the coronavirus. According to the suit, Bakker allegedly violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by mispresenting the effectiveness of the silver as a treatment against COVID-19. The suit was settled in June 2021.
Image #1: Jim and Tammy Faye with their puppets.
Image #2: Jim and Colonel Sanders on the set of the PTL Club.
Image #3: Heritage USA entrance.
Image #4: Federal marshals leading Jim out of the courtroom.
Image #5: Cast of The Surreal Life.
Image #6: Grace Street at Morningside.
Bakker, Jim with Ken Abraham. 1998. Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Bakker, Jim with Ken Abraham. 1996. I Was Wrong. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Bowler, Kate. 2013. Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. New York: Oxford University Press.
Buckstaff, Kathryn. 2003. “Back in Their Good Graces.” Springfield News Leader, April 14.
Edwards, David. 2021. “Mike Lindell Teams Up with Televangelist Jim Bakker for 3-day ‘telethon’ Filled with Election Lies.” Raw Story, September 14. Accessed from https://www.rawstory.com/mike-lindell-jim-bakker/ on 12 December 2022.
Funk, Tim. 2018. “Fallen PTL Preacher Is Back with a New Message.” Charlotte Observer, February 18.
Gaillard, Frye. 1987. “Judge May Have Given Falwell a Welcome Cue to Exit.” Charlotte Observer, October 9.
“Jim Bakker: Personal Toll More Than We Can Bear.” 1987. Charlotte Observer, March 20.
Johnson, Emily. 2014. “A Theme Park, a Scandal, and the Faded Ruins of a Televangelism Empire.” Religion & Politics, October 28. Accessed from https://religionandpolitics.org/2014/10/28/a-theme-park-a-scandal-and-the-faded-ruins-of-a-televangelism-empire/ on 5 January 2023.
Leland, Elizabeth. 1987. “Falwell Defends Swaggart’s Motives, Denies Conspiracy.” Charlotte Observer, March 25.
Mantyla, Kyle. 2018. “Jim Bakker: Attacks on Trump Are a Sign That ‘America Is In A War Against God.” Right Wing Watch, April 6. Accessed from https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/jim-bakker-attacks-on-trump-are-a-sign-that-america-is-in-a-war-against-god/ on 12 December 2022.
Mantyla, Kyle. 2017. “Jim Bakker Warns That God’s Judgment Will Fall on Those Who Dare to Oppose Trump.” Right Wing Watch, July 27. Accessed from https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/jim-bakker-warns-that-gods-judgment-will-fall-on-those-who-dare-to-oppose-trump/ on 12 December 2022.
Marusak, Joe. 2020. “TV Pastor Jim Bakker Suffers Stroke, Wife Confirms.” Charlotte Observer, May 9.
McClain, Kathleen. 1987. “PTL Board Scrutinizing All Who Buy Network’s Time.” Charlotte Observer, May 24.
McKinney, Kelsey. 2017. “The Second Coming of Televangelist Jim Bakker.” Buzzfeed, May 19. Accessed from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kelseymckinney/second-coming-of-televangelist-jim-bakker on 5 January 2023.
Ostling, Richard. 1987. “TV’s Unholy Row: The Scandal of Televangelism,” Time, April 6. Accessed from https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,963939,00.html on 22 December 2022.
Shepard, Charles E. “Bakker Claims on TV Falwell Stole TV Ministry.” Charlotte Observer, May 27.
Shepard, Charles E. and Gary L. Wright. 1989. “Decorator Details Bakkers’ Pricey Jewels, Plush Retreats,” Charlotte Observer, September 12.
Sutton, Matthew Avery. 2014. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Wigger, John. 2021. “Underneath All the Makeup, Who Was the Real Tammy Faye?” The Conversation, September 16. Accessed from https://theconversation.com/underneath-all-the-makeup-who-was-the-real-tammy-faye-167023 on 5 January 2023.
Wigger, John. 2017. PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.
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