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From popular televangelist to ex-con, here's the sordid history of Jim Bakker

Televangelist Jim Bakker made recent headlines for "calling his Missouri cabin the safest spot for the Apocalypse." Just who is Jim Bakker?

This question ignited a conversation in the Belleville News-Democrat newsroom. Seasoned reporters knew exactly who Bakker was while the younger set was left scratching their heads.

Here's a summary and timeline for those who need a Jim-Bakker-refresher or who, like me, knew nothing about the history of Jim Bakker:

Bakker, one of the original televangelists like Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart, was best known for his Christian television show in the 1970s and 80s called, "The PTL Club." The acronym stands for "Praise The Lord" or "People That Love."

He got in trouble with the law for overselling "lifetime partnerships" to viewers for nights at hotels, some of which were at the PTL ministry's Heritage USA theme park and retreat in South Carolina. Bakker built the theme park after, according to his testimony in court, "a vision from God."

According to the Charlotte Observer, which won the Pulitzer prize for its coverage of the misuse of money by the PTL ministry, the theme park boasted a $12 million water park, nightly Passion Play, and steam train. Shops in the park sold Jesus dolls, gold crosses and the playfully-named, “Heavenly Fudge.”

The television ministry contributors' money was used to purchase fancy cars, keep Bakker's pool heated to 90 degrees, give himself millions in bonuses and hire a private jet to fly his clothing across the country. Just his clothing.

1972 — Jim Bakker and, his wife at that time, Tammy Faye Bakker, found their ministry, Trinity Broadcasting. Their television show, "The PTL Club," had a talk-show format and brought in millions of dollars in donations.

1984 to 1987 — Jim Bakker sells more than 150,000 "lifetime partnerships" to viewers for about $1,000 apiece. In a later trial, Bakker was shown to have only 258 rooms available for these "partners" to stay in.

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Jessica Hahn, church secretary involved in the Jim Bakker sex scandal is shown in 1989. AP

March 1987 — Sex scandal breaks. Jim Bakker resigned from "The PTL Club" after saying hush money was given to Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary, for a sexual encounter with him in 1980. She goes on to pose in Playboy three times.

June 1987 — The PTL television ministry files for bankruptcy.

December 1988 — Jim Bakker is indicted for wire and mail fraud charges as part of an IRS investigation. He is accused of "living lavishly" on contributions from donations to his television ministry. He claims innocence.

January 1989 — The Bakkers revive their television ministry with the "Jim and Tammy Show."

August 1989 — Jim Bakker's trial for television, telephone and mail fraud begins. Tammy Faye Bakker appears on television to ask viewers for prayers and money. She said, "Not only is Jim on trial ... Everything that has to do with Christian television is on trial when Jim walks in that courtroom."

September 1989 — After suffering from apparent hallucinations, Jim Bakker is committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is fit to stand trial. A government psychiatrist diagnoses Bakker as having a "panic attack" and the trial continues.

Oct. 5, 1989 — Jim Bakker is convicted on 24 counts of fraud. Prosecutor Deborah Smith said, "The message is you can't lie to the people and use television and the mail to get them to send you money."

Oct. 25, 1989 — Bakker is sentenced to 45 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. He tells the judge, "I have sinned. But never in my life did I intend to defraud."

December 1990 — Jury finds Bakker liable for almost $130 million in damages in a lawsuit filed by former contributors to his ministry.

February 1991 — Bakker's 45-year prison sentence is thrown out on appeal because of a negative comment by the sentencing judge during trial.

August 1991 — A federal judge gives Jim Bakker a shorter 18-year prison sentence. In court, Bakker says prison is like "the land of the living dead."

March 1992 — Tammy Faye Bakker files for divorce from Jim Bakker. An attorney in the divorce proceedings said Tammy Faye Bakker couldn't stand being separated from her husband or suffering the uncertainty of when he would get out of jail.

July 1994 — Jim Bakker is paroled after serving nearly five years of his sentence.

September 1998 — Jim Bakker marries Lori Graham, who is 18 years younger than him.

2003 — Jim and Lori Bakker are the co-hosts of “The Jim Bakker Show,” another Christian talk show, which debuts in 2003.

July 2007 — Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Tammy Faye Bakker, who married Roe Messner after her divorce from Jim Bakker, dies of cancer at age 65.

Now — Jim Bakker uses the new "The Jim Bakker Show" as a platform for Christian television programming. He discusses Bible passages on his show and the Biblical Apocalypse. Viewers can purchase survival supplies for donations to the show's website to help their families survive the end of the world.

Episodes of the show may be viewed online at www.jimbakkershow.com.

Suggested reading — If you'd like to learn more about Bakker, in his own words, pick up I Was Wrong: The Untold Story of the Shocking Journey from PTL Power to Prison and Beyond by Jim Bakker. He penned the non-fiction tome in 1996.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

If you have a question for Ask Heidi, email it to questions@bnd.com or mail it to Belleville News-Democrat, ATTN: Ask Heidi, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.
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