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Monday, July 29, 2013

Review of Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry:

I must admit to watching the fall of Jim and Tammy with some glee in the late eighties. It was the classic case of the pompous, arrogant , holier-than-thou, rich evangelist getting his due in a sex and greed scandal that brought down his religious television empire.

Bakker was one of the pioneers of the television ministry and his rise was similar to that of the Pentacostal Church in the United States. He profited to a large extent from that revival. But his story also is a parable for the dangers inherent in television ministries which accumulate huge sums of money, most of it exempt from any kind of taxes and prosecution for fraud, because of its "sacred" tinge, is almost unheard of lest the prosecutors be accused of being anti-religion.

Following a stint working for Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, Bakker struck out on his own. Even from the beginning he would get his way by relying on the old standby, "God told me so." He would often completely disregard financial and legal realism saddling PTL with more and more debt. He was impulsive, controlling, and chronically impractical. He would just charge off and plan the most grandiose projects and then fail to follow through with promises, often embarrassing his friends and staff (whom he would fire at will for lack of loyalty.)

Bakker's theology was what has become standard in the pentecostal circuit: the prosperity gospel, otherwise known as "seed-faith," i.e., you give to the ministry and God will reward you financially. In the meantime, Bakker was buying bigger cars and houses for himself, usually with PTL funds. Irregularities surfaced everywhere. Attempts at budgeting failed because Bakker would charge off, buy a new boat or house or begin a new project and money had to be siphoned off from other accounts to cover hie expenditures.

Evidence of Bakker's sexual proclivities were apparent almost from the start. He began paling around with John Wesley Fletcher, a supposed faith healer, who also had a penchant for the ladies. In one case Fletcher brought Jessica Hahn down from New York, procured, I should say, for Bakker. Several male staff were asked to give Bakker massages and then were solicited for sex; most were too embarrassed to report anything. He sent one friend at CBN (Pat Roberstson's Christian Broadcasting Network) a case ! of condoms.

One of my favorite stories surfaced in this book. Bakker sold his remaining TV station to avoid an FCC investigation into his financial dealings (the FCC could regulate TV station owners, but not those who supplied content.) The buyer was a rather shady character who had taken over Billy James Hargis's ministry. (Hargis was known for his Bible thumping anti-communist and anti-gay rhetoric.) Hargis got into trouble when the story surfaced he had had sex with five students at his college and that two of those students discovered on their wedding night that both of them had slept with Hargis.

When the Charlotte Observer began writing articles critical of PTL and their prevarication and mismanagement, the PTL response was a series of shows proclaiming victimhood and claimning it was a conspiracy to prevent them from getting the Word out. Typical. Ignore the facts and marshal the forces against the truth. And marshal they did. The reporters were soon subjected to phone calls and letters detailing the miseries God would wreck upon them. Of course, nothing happened except to reveal the mental degeneracy of most of Bakker's followers.

Bakker, constantly under financial pressure because of his erratic and grandiose building projects, hit on a plan to fund his endeavors while his regular PTL operations were running a $1.2 million per month loss. For $1,000 (later $2,500) you could purchase a partnership in his Heritage Park hotel that would guarantee free lodging, first for two nights then three, every year. The problem was that the partnerships soon exceeded the capacity of the hotel which need at least 50% paying occupancy just to come close to breaking even, let along make money, which was the original intent. So each partnership "sold" became a long-term liability. Soon the IRS became interested in how the money was being spent. The board and Bakker had ignored their auditor's recommendations to use money collect for religious purposes that instead was being used to support an extravagant Bakker lifestyle, and the IRS soon began to question PTL's religious tax exemption.

By this time, some PTL staffers had observed that the structure of the organization resembled the Soviet Union, i.e., it was run by a small bureaucracy which controlled all the money, urged the "rank and file to sacrifice", held all the privileges and manipulated the flow of information about the organiztion, "individuals were expendable, that everything existed for the good of the state."

The Assembly of God leadership was also becoming concerned. Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert were dueling on-air, Bakker complaining that Swaggert was coming down too hard oin a Texas ministry who had been caught, literally, with his pants down. In light of what happened to Swaggert later on (see...), perhaps he should have listened to Bakker. Be that as it may, the church leadership was also very concerned about the financial irregularities becoming increasingly apparent at PTL. In addition "...the denomination mainstream found the ministry superficial. gaudy, self-aggrandizing--and perhaps guilty of using religion as a cover for greed. . . Bakker had manufactured a ministry with an adjustable moral compass." One might argue that's not so unusual, but that's another debate.

It was, as everyone knows,the Jessica Hahn affair that brought down the walls around Bakker and he served some prison time. No need to recount the sordid details. I find it interesting that Bakker is still on cable, and I tuned in the other day. Looked like the same old crap to me. Guess he didn't learn.

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