RELIGION

TV’s endless holy wars

MALCOLM GRAY July 6 1987
RELIGION

TV’s endless holy wars

MALCOLM GRAY July 6 1987

TV’s endless holy wars

RELIGION

In the beginning there was the fall from grace—Rev. Jim Bakker resigned as the head of a multimillion-dollar religious empire last March amid revelations that he had engaged in a one-night sexual encounter with a young church secretary in 1980. Then came seclusion in the desert—as a chastened Bakker and his loyal wife, Tammy Faye, began a selfimposed exile in the resort centre of Palm Springs, Calif. But the Bakkers emerged from their $800,000 retreat earlier in June. And last week they intensified an attempt to regain control of the lucrative PTL television ministry (the initials stand for Praise The Lord and People That Love). In so doing, they ensured that the war of words that broke out soon after Bakker turned over power to the current PTL chairman, Rev. Jerry Falwell, would continue.

Bakker opened last week’s offensive against Falwell—whom he now accuses of stealing his ministry—with a fervent appeal for peace. Declared Bakker:

“For the cause of Christ I feel this so-called holy war has to come to an end.” At the same time, however, he issued what amounted to a call to arms to Bakker loyalists among the 500,000member ministry by proposing that PTL supporters be allowed to vote in a leadership referendum.

And to strengthen his campaign to regain power, he has enlisted the services of Melvin Belli —a wellknown San Franciscobased lawyer. Falwell’s response: returning the PTL ministry to Bakker “would be like letting the fox back into the hen house.”

The embattled Falwell says that the couple’s taste for high living and Bakker’s financial mismanagement while he was PTL leader now threaten the church’s chances for survival. As a result, he noted that the organization, which has $130 million worth of assets, including a satellite television system, had to file a petition for

bankruptcy in a federal court in South Carolina earlier this month. For his part, Bakker cheerfully acknowledges that he and his wife enjoy the good life. Said Bakker: “We preach prosperity. We preach abundant life.” Still, he denied that he had committed any serious financial wrongdoing during the 13 years that he presided over PTL.

And last week he offered proof that he and his wife placed the health of the ailing PTL above material gain—by promising to vacate a ministry-owned $1.7-million mansion in Tega Cay, S.C., within several weeks. The couple has occupied the so-called parsonage since they left California on June 10.

Still, they are going to another wellappointed home—a residence in Gatlinburg, Tenn., that is owned by Roe

Messner, a Bakker supporter and building contractor who says that PTL owes him $14 million. Messner added that he and several other PTL creditors want to see Bakker reinstalled as PTL leader.

Prominent evangelist Oral Roberts also endorsed the couple’s attempt to regain control of PTL. In addition, the Tulsa, Okla., broadcaster said that he forgave Bakker for what he termed an “unfortunate mistake”—and delivered a pitch familiar to faithful supporters of television ministries. Declared Roberts: “Give, give, give. Do not let something like this turn off your giving.” Clearly, he and other television preachers are concerned that the fighting in their ranks will affect contributions. But as supporters of those programs and simply curious viewers alike can attest from last week’s events alone, television’s religious soap opera shows no sign of drawing to a close.

MALCOLM GRAY