Jim Bakker (born January 2, 1939, Muskegon, Michigan) is an American televangelist, and the former host of The PTL Club (PTL is an acronym for 'Praise the Lord' and 'People That Love') with his wife Tammy Faye Bakker.
From 1984 to 1987, Bakker and his associates offered life-time partnerships to fund the building of facilities at "Heritage USA", a Christian holiday and activity center in Fort Mill, South Carolina. In return for their financial support, the partners were promised free lodging at Heritage USA, if space was available. However, the organisation could not keep its promises towards them and was accused of deliberately refraining from building sufficient lodging space for regular guests plus Lifetime Partners. One of the most important allegations was that they oversold, which constituted a fraud. After reporters at the Charlotte Observer, led by Charles Shepard, discovered the financial wrongdoings, Bakker was put on trial, and resigned from his position at PTL. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Judge Robert Potter convicted Bakker for fraud and conspiring to commit fraud and sentenced him to 45 years in prison. He served almost 5 years in prison and was paroled for good behavior in 1993. In 1992 he and his wife Tammy Faye were divorced at her request.
On his release, many Christians found themselves able to forgive, or at least accept, Bakker. In 1995, when he was barely out of prison, he addressed a Christian leadership conference where 10,000 clergymen cheered and gave him a 15-minute standing ovation. "I thought people would spit on me," he later recalled. "Instead they received me with open arms."
Assembly of God preacher and Evangelist Jim Bakker presided as the king over one of the most corrupt television ministries of the past two decades. As a result Jim Bakker and his sidekick Richard Dortch ended up in prison accused of sexual immorality, tax evasion, and racketeering. The wave of corruption not only affected other televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart, but also showed a dark, dirty fight for the control of PTL among several other prominent televangelists.
Felon Richard Dortch, senior vice-president of PTL and associate pastor of Heritage Village Church, said pride, arrogance and secrets led to the PTL scandal. While most people never face temptations on the same scale, the ingredients for seemingly smaller failures are the same, he said. Dortch said the men in PTL's leadership felt they were above accountability. They felt specially called by God and accountable only to Him. He said they didn't plan the scandal; instead, it was the natural result of living for oneself, rather than for God.
Most people are aware of Jim Bakker's $265,000 payoff to Jessica Hahn to keep her sexual services to him a secret, his longtime homosexual relationship with his right hand man David Taggart, his prison sentence, his close relationship to Billy Graham, and his lust for the public spotlight.
As his fellow evangelists seemed to take their turns facing justified criticism, Billy Graham maintained his own integrity and the sincerity of his message. Far from publicly condemning his peers, Billy spoke of them with concern, and even visited Jim Bakker in prison.
Franklin came to prison over and over again to visit Jim Bakker. Franklin Graham said, "Jim Bakker's my friend". When Bakker got out of prison the Grahams sponsored him and paid for a house for him to live in and gave him a car to drive.
- Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler and sexual deviate. He fired Bakker's entire staff when he took over Praise The Lord show. Falwell bankrupted the PTL Club calling Bakker "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in two thousand years of church history"
A jury in North Carolina on July 23, 1996, threw out a class action suit brought on behalf of more than 160,000 onetime believers who contrubuted as much as $7,000 each in the '80s to Bakker's funds.
The Internal Revenue Service says Bakker and Messner owe personal income taxes from the 1980s when they were building their Praise The Lord empire reported the Charlotte Observer. The IRS assessed the taxes after revoking the PTL ministry's nonprofit status, said Roe Messner, Tammy Faye's husband since 1993. Tammy Faye Messner new husband said Jim Bakker and his former wife didn't want to talk about the tax issues. "We don't want to stir the pot," Messner said. He said the original tax amount was about $500,000. Penalties and interest account for the rest of the bill. The notices reinstating the liens list "James O. and Tamara F. Bakker" as owing $3 million.
Bakker, who apparently made all of the financial decisions for the PTL and kept two sets of books to conceal the accounting irregularities, took conspicuous consumption to new extremes. PTL once spent over $100,000 for a private jet to fly the Bakker's clothing across the country. PTL also spent more than $100 on a purchase of cinnamon rolls because Jim and Tammy wanted the smell of them in their hotel room. "They [Bakkers] epitomized the excesses of the nineteen eighties--the greed, the love of glitz, and the shamelessness--which in their case was so pure as to almost amount to a kind of innocence."
PTL sold "lifetime memberships" for a $1,000 or more, which entitled buyers to a 3-night stay annually at a luxury hotel in Heritage USA. According to the prosecution at Bakker's trial, tens of thousands of memberships had been sold, and only one 500-room hotel completed. Bakker had not only sold more "exclusive" partnerships than could be accommodated, but had also raised more than twice the money needed to build the hotel. The Bakker trial revealed that a good deal of the money had gone into operating expenses of Heritage USA, and Bakker kept $3,700,000 for himself. (Frances FitzGerald, "Jim and Tammy," The New Yorker, April 29, 1990.)
Between 1984 and mid-1987, the Bakkers received annual salaries of $200,000 each and Jim awarded himself over $4 million in bonuses. The Bakkers' assets at that time included a $600,000 house in Palm Springs, four condos in California, and a Rolls Royce. ("Fresh Out of Miracles," Newsweek, May 11, 1987, and "TV's Unholy Row," Time, April 6, 1987.)
Neither Jim Bakker nor the Assembly of God with whom he was ordained have ever publicly discussed or dealt with the fact that Jim Bakker was bisexual. Although a contrite Jim Bakker returned to his childhood church to ask forgiveness, he never talked about David Taggart, his male lover. Bakker has downplayed the role of the bisexual evangelist John Wesley Fletcher, who arranged his tryst with Jessica Hahn. He hardly talks about James and David Taggart, the brothers who many claim controlled Bakker in his final PTL years Fletcher was bitter and said Bakker had failed to keep promises and had forsaken him during tough times. Fletcher stated during the "Pearlygate" media storm that he, too, had been sexually involved with bisexual Bakker, reported Christianity Today.
In 1996 Jim Bakker published a book I Was Wrong (Thomas Nelson Publishers), describing his rise and fall. In 1998 he released another book, Prosperity And The Coming Apocalypse (Thomas Nelson Publishers), and in 2000 The Refuge: The Joy of Christian Community in a Torn-Apart World (Thomas Nelson Publishers).