Of God and Greed…

Found this article on Time.com (from 2001, concerning events of 1987), thought it was interesting:

“…Said Falwell: Bakker “needs to return the millions of dollars that have been taken from the coffers of this ministry at the cost of widows and supporters and people who have sacrificially built this Christian ministry.” At the press conference, Falwell waved a note that Tammy had jotted on her own stationery. She had given it to a PTL emissary who was sent last month to Palm Springs by Falwell to arrange a severance package. The note’s wish list: $300,000 a year for life to Jim; $100,000 a year for life to Tammy; all royalties and rights to their PTL-related books and records; the furnished $400,000 lakeside mansion in South Carolina that PTL had provided for the Bakkers’ personal use; two cars; security staffing; payments for attorneys to handle the Bakkers’ possible problems with the Internal Revenue Service; a maid and secretary for one year. Falwell thundered, “I see the greed. I see the self-centeredness. I see the avarice that brought them down.”

On Nightline, the Bakkers described the list as a starting point for bargaining, but it was apparent that they were not geared for a hardscrabble life. Jim estimated his 1986 salary at $1.1 million, while Tammy professed that she had no idea what she made. (By Falwell’s account, Jim got a salary of $1.6 million, and Tammy, $300,000, not counting perks.) Bakker, however, did admit to Koppel that “I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’m very sorry about it.”

The couple protested that the PTL board had urged the munificent sums upon them, and Koppel did not pursue the nature of Bakker’s control over the board. The Washington Post later reported that PTL board minutes, which could prove important in federal investigations, show that members often took no action on important money matters.

To underscore the Bakkers’ opulent life-style, the Falwell administration escorted journalists on tours of the couple’s private penthouse in PTL’s Heritage Grand Hotel. There they examined Tammy’s 50-ft. walk-in closet and the gold-plated plumbing fixtures. The lavish expenditures of the Bakkers were pointed up even further at a mammoth May 23 auction of the possessions acquired during the fat years of PTL. The auction served a second purpose, explained by a PTL aide: “Whatever we don’t need we are trying to convert to cash.”

No auction artifact better symbolized the excesses of Bakkerdom than the air-conditioned doghouse that Tammy had built at their lakeside home. Among the 1,000 bargain-hunting fans on hand at Fort Mill was a California contractor who bought the doghouse for $4,500, and then donated it back to PTL so it could be resold for $600, this time to a Pennsylvania railroad worker. Other notable transactions: $27,000 for a restored 1927 Franklin automobile, $10,500 for a 25-ft. boat. So mountainous is the miscellany that a second auction will be held on July 4.

The day’s $200,000 take, however, was piddling compared with the amounts of PTL cash the auditors have been trying to trace. Supporters had sent in $50 million to build an addition to the PTL hotel at Fort Mill — a project now in suspension — but only $11 million was allotted to construction. The Bakkers have drawn salaries and bonuses of $4.8 million since 1984; they and top aides also picked up $640,000 in unexplained cash advances. One Bakker friend, James Taggart, got $120,000 a year to decorate Tammy and Jim’s residences. Peter Teeley, Vice President George Bush’s former press secretary, received $120,000 as a consultant.

South Carolina last week was given $1 million in back taxes due from a PTL “Lifetime Partner” offer of three nights a year at the hotel to all who donated at least $1,000. Meanwhile, the state consumer-affairs office is checking out complaints from Lifetime Partners who have been refused promised hotel visits. The IRS is so intrigued by the flow of cash that it has opened a temporary field office at Heritage USA. Federal tax laws state that officials’ remuneration from nonprofit organizations must be “reasonable,” which might mean deep trouble for the Bakkers and their well-paid former executives.

The FBI and the Department of Justice are also on hand, and PTL Board Member Jerry Nims, for one, hopes for a full-dress fraud investigation. He charges that the local representative for PTL’s outside auditors, Laventhol & Horwath, operated a secret fund through which PTL higher-ups got enormous bonuses. Laventhol says it is unable to discuss the situation until PTL gives permission. In addition, says Nims, some PTL officials were observed pocketing cash from mail donations right off the counting table.

What are PTL’s prospects? Amazingly enough, attendance at Heritage USA is running 20% ahead of last year’s levels. At week’s end a banner at the entrance to the amusement park that had read MAY EMERGENCY had been altered to read MAY MIRACLE! The proclamation was the result of a surge of donations that enabled Falwell to raise the $7 million he said was needed by May 31. Now, however, another $20 million to $25 million within 90 days is being solicited by Falwell, who claims PTL requires that amount to consolidate its loans and pay 40 TV stations to which it owes $8 million. Survival depends on keeping the daily PTL show on its broadcast and cable systems so that money will continue to roll in. Belt tightening and staff cuts (including the Bakkers’ $45,000-a-year housekeeper) have dropped the monthly operating deficit from $2 million to $250,000.

Nonetheless, long-range prospects are at best uncertain. One looming threat ) emanates from a vocal group that wants to rally the 518,000 PTL Partners in order to oust Falwell. Like the Bakkers, these protesters are Pentecostals and Charismatics, believers in “gifts” of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. As a Fundamentalist Baptist, Falwell is doctrinally opposed to these practices, and the five-member PTL board he appointed has no Pentecostal representatives. The loudest of the anti-Falwell group is the Rev. Mike Evans of Fort Worth, who thinks the chastened Bakker “has every right to have the PTL back,” if he is not guilty of homosexual sins. Evans regards the homosexual charges as unproven. As for Falwell: “I think the guy is a skunk.”

On Nightline, Bakker, musing about a possible return to PTL, proposed to set up a new 25-member board to govern the organization. The notion of the Bakkers’ making a comeback might seem incredible, but supportive mail has poured in to the Palm Springs retreat. Some Pentecostals think Bakker could try to set up a clone of Heritage USA in California, or an independent Charismatic congregation somewhere. Indeed, one Chattanooga, Tenn., TV station has already offered to help Bakker launch a new gospel show. Says the Rev. Tommy Barnett, of the flourishing (15,000-member) Phoenix First Assembly of God: “I know the man has his drive and dreams, and you just don’t hold a man like that back.”

The scandal seems to have had a fallout effect on some other televangelists. Falwell admits that proceeds at various enterprises in Lynchburg were down $2 million in April; Jimmy Swaggart reports a $1.5 million decline for that month. The Rev. Robert Schuller of Garden Grove, Calif., whose popular Hour of Power is carried by 172 TV stations, shows a 3% dip in donations so far in 1987, but he does not consider that necessarily a result of the PTL scandal. The televangelist with the most to lose is the one with the biggest video operation, Republican Presidential Candidate Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He briefly took time out from the campaign trail to report that April donations were down a perilous 33%. “We can’t just continue to have that sort of drain,” said the worried preacher.

It is not difficult to discern why many contributors are becoming edgy about secretive and sensationalistic televangelism empires. Asks McKendree R. Langley in Eternity, a respected evangelical news monthly: “Wouldn’t it be a step in the right direction for TV preachers to cut back on financial appeals, end outrageous claims of having direct pipelines to God, reaffirm by example the rightness of modest life-styles, demonstrate deeper biblical spirituality and articulate a Christian worldview?” That sound you hear is an army of embarrassed Christians shouting “Amen!”

FOOTNOTE: *The initials stand for Praise The Lord or People That Love, though mockers suggest other variations, such as Pass The Loot or Pay The Lady.

With reporting by Reported by Marcia Gauger and Joseph J. Kane/Fort Mill, with other bureaus”

One Response

  1. I’m surprised that there’s no mention here of the “New” Jim Bakker Show. Maybe it began after the writing of this article. In short, their buying real estate with zealous people’s money and showing the same greed all over again. Thanks, good research.

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