I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to Mike Huckabee, Republican hopeful for president, until I saw that he was a guest on the Jim Bakker Show.
As a Catholic girl who was dragged sideways through the Charismatics and then Assemblies of God (Hello, Apponaug!) I was fascinated by the 1980’s unfolding scandal that was Jim & Tammy Bakker. They broke into televangelism early, and found success in begging Social Security dollars from widows so that Tammy could binge-shop and indulge her pets with a luxury air-conditioned doghouse while Jim paid church secretary Jessica Hahn to stay quiet about her claim that he and another preacher, John Wesley Fletcher, drugged and raped her in 1980.
Whatever happened to Jessica, it was bad enough that Jim Bakker wanted to keep it quiet…
Hahn was paid the $10,000 in 1984, and later accepted $265,000 from the ministry in exchange for keeping quiet about her motel tryst with PTL founder Jim Bakker in 1980. Evangelist John Wesley Fletcher also was charged with perjury for his accounting under oath of how he introduced Bakker and Hahn.
Like most of you reading this, I would rather eat broken glass than beg strangers for money. But I’ve done it for a good cause. Have you pledged to WRNI lately? Just asking. Anyway, it’s not the money, it’s the ruthless disregard for the people they deceived.
The Bakkers had been selling lifetime memberships to the park. For $1,000 donation, you’d get a three-night stay in a luxury hotel at Heritage for the rest of your life. Tens of thousands of people bought in, but the Bakkers only started building one 500-room tower. And construction was slow.
Turns out, Jim Bakker was using some the money to pay off a church secretary who says he raped her. He also gave himself more than $3 million in bonuses. The Charlotte Observer exposed the Bakker’s conduct, and more media and legal scrutiny followed. Park attendance dropped, Bakker went to prison for fraud, and Heritage USA filed for bankruptcy.
I’m just imagining Harry and Louise sitting in the cramped living room of their trailer, counting what’s left of their Social Security check after they tithe. They’ve never had a vacation, but here’s their chance. Heritage USA! Good Christian people they can trust! Three nights in a queen-sized bed and days at the water park with real Americans! Louise is going to save the cute little soaps and shampoo bottles for souvenirs!
Jim Bakker got some of what was coming to him. His brother in the Lord, Jerry Falwell couldn’t wait to get his hands on the Bakkers’ PTL media empire and Heritage USA, which was a happening place, not the ghostly ruin it is today.
Jessica Hahn had a brief career posing for Playboy and being notorious, she got pecked at by Barbara Walters in a ‘where are they now?’ TV interview in 2011. Maybe she invested the hush money that Bakker paid her.
Jim’s wife, Tammy Faye, got busy with Jim’s friend, Roe Messner. Roe divorced his wife and Tammy ditched Jim and married Roe while Jim was in prison. Roe later did some time himself for fraud. Tammy liked the bad boys.
Tammy really should have gone to prison too. There’s no way she didn’t know that they were living large off poor people’s money. But she was the better performer of the two, and that is how she’s remembered. She was a female drag queen, troweling on the makeup and vamping in reality shows. Sadly, she got cancer and died. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Their daughter,Tammy Sue, appeared on Jim Bakker’s new show, their son, Jay Bakker, went into the family business and started a church. I guess it’s what they know, but I’d like them better if any of them got a real job.
Jim Bakker still chases money and power, and Mike Huckabee is his kind of politician.
Journalist Charles Shepard wrote a book about Jim and Tammy, file it next to Bonny and Clyde. There’s still some references to be found on the net-
‘People Magazine’ cover from Mental Floss
‘Tammy Faye at the Mall’ T-shirt from Etsy.com
JewEatYet? is worth visiting for Danny Miller’s hilarious review of The PTL Club, The Bakkers’ daytime extravaganza. High camp to some, but they talked the money out of the pockets of countless lonely widows and trusting souls. If there is a God they will spend eternity somewhere warmer than Tammy’s doghouse.