Note: This story ran in the May, 1983 edition of Charisma magazine.
PTL evokes few neutral reactions. Millions watch it five days a week and contribute about $1 million a week to keep it on the air. They love it. Thousands have been saved through its ministry, others healed, and many others given hope. “God loves you: He really does,” PTL host Jim Bakker tells them day after day.
But others are turned off by PTL. they say it’s too emotional, or, they don’t like the frequent appeals for money or amount of makeup Bakker’s wife, Tammy, wears. Some are critical of what they consider PTL’s simplistic well-scrubbed type of you-can-make-it theology.
Baker once told the Saturday Evening Post that people “either love (us) or hate (our) guts—and both can be exhausting.”
But whether you love or hate PTL, you can’t ignore it. It is not only one of America’s largest ministries, but it is one of the most controversial. Over the years it has gone from one financial crisis to another. Newspapers constantly chronicle PTL’s shortcomings—real or trumped up. A series of articles by PTL’s hometown newspaper, The Charlotte Observer resulted in a long, expensive investigation of PTL by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that ended early this year with the FCC clearing Bakker and PTL of any wrongdoing. No sooner had the FCC dropped the investigation than The Charlotte Observer revealed on its front pages that PTL had purchased an expensive condominium for the Bakkers in Florida.
In addition to published reports, stories have circulated through the Christian community about internal problems at PTL and about problems in the Bakker’s home. These stories about PTL had so intrigued me that when Charisma decided to begin its “Television and the Great Commission” series on the major TV ministries I assigned myself the PTL story. I wanted to visit PTL to see first-hand what was happening. I asked for the opportunity to spend a day with Bakker, watching him at work and discussing in depth his ministry at PTL and asking him to answer many yet unanswered questions.
It took several weeks, but finally we settled on a date for me to interview Bakker. As I settled back on my early-morning flight to Charlotte, I went over some articles about PTL I had brought with me and reviewed some other background information my researcher had found.
One article in The Saturday Evening Post was entitled “Jim Bakker: Seen By Millions, Known By Few.” The subhead-line read: “Not even his live television audiences of loving fans and loyal supporters know the true rags-to-riches story of their PTL Club founder.” The article continued: “When Jim Bakker steps out on cue to meet his cheering audience, he leaves any resemblance to the holiness preacher stereotype behind. He has a slick impressive orchestra and fresh-faced, talented singers. He wears designer clothes: his set is comfortable, blue living room facade; his speech is polished and cool, yet as down to earth as the man next door. He is warm. Sincere. Cheerful. Dynamic. And the audience responds. When he jokes, they laugh. When he preaches, they say, “Amen!” When he details the world’s woes, they shake their heads. When he sermonizes, they nod in agreement.”
The article goes on to tell how Bakker was born a “blue baby” and he weighed only 28 pounds at the age of five. He was a shy child who didn’t like sports and who did not make good grades. Then in junior high he was befriended by a photography teacher who taught him to excel—first in photos and then in journalism and speech. As he gained self-confidence he began being a deejay and his popularity soared in school.
Then tragedy struck. Bakker accidentally ran over a young boy while he was playing hooky from church. Even though the boy ultimately lived, during the time in which the doctors did not know if he would live or die the anguished young Bakker committed his life to Christ as he prayed for the young boy’s recovery. After high school he enrolled in North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he met Tammy LaValley from International Falls, Minnesota. During his second year they were–married and expelled from college since there was a rule that students could not marry until the end of the term. They resigned their jobs and began traveling at evangelists. A few years later, they bought some Soakie Bubble Bath bottles with puppet heads and began using them as a means to preach to children. They caught the attention of Pat Robertson who asked them to join his staff at the small Christian Broadcasting Network.
CBN was a training ground for the Bakkers. Not only did they have a children’s puppet show called “The Jim and Tammy Show,“ but Bakker was instrumental in starting the “700 Club.” The work and pressure were so much, however, that after a while, his body could take no more and he suffered a nervous breakdown. From there he went to Southern California where he worked with Paul and Jan Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network in their “Praise the Lord” program. Then, in 1972 Bakker went to help in a telethon in Charlotte. North Carolina. He was so warmly received that he was invited to stay and to head-up the ministry that has become PTL. The ministry immediately began to grow. By 1978 Bakker had become such a celebrity that People Weekly magazine called him “The Johnny Carson of Evangelism,” and said his program was “the hottest show in religious broadcasting.”
In the years since the “PTL Club” went on the air, it has become the most watched daily Christian program in the world. According to statistics from PTL, it is carried on some 220 broadcast stations, daily on more than 180, the program can be seen by 84 percent of the nation.
The “PTL Club” also heads a 24-hour lineup of Christian programming, beamed by satellite into all 50 states on the Inspirational Network. The Inspirational Network began in April of 1978 and by October of 1982 was carried on some 630 cable systems with 6.5 million households by a PTL count. Another million households were added before Christmas and negotiations to serve an additional two-and-a-half million homes are pending.
“The PTL Satellite Network does not include Hollywood movies or reruns of old series,” says Bakker. “We offer 100 percent Christian programming from a diverse number of national ministries and program producers.”
The ministry of PTL extends far beyond the borders of the United States. Currently, evangelism is being done in 29 other nations by PTL’s own missions’ outreach or by other ministries supported by PTL.
PTL’s foreign productions are hosted by nationals in each country.
Juan Romero hosts the Spanish language “Club PTL” which reaches the second largest viewing audience of all PTL programs. “Club PTL” is broadcast in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Netherlands Antilles, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
The French program is called “Entr’ Amis” (Among Friends). Hosted by Roland Cosnard, it is aired in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, and Haiti.
The “PTL Redemption Hour,” with Nigerian host Benson Idahosa, reaches into Ghana and Uganda, as well as Nigeria.
Ten stations which cover about 90 percent of the nation now carry PTL in Japan. PTL even reaches into Southeast Asia with the Thailand “PTL Club.”
The newest foreign TV outreach is “Tra Amici” (Among Friends) in Italy. The program is broadcast on Tele Monte Carlo, Monaco Italian Network, which has 28 stations and a potential viewing audience of 50 million people.
A pilot program for Great Britain has been produced and air time is being sought on one of the new TV channels in England.
The American version of the program is seen in several English-speaking countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the West Indies, Bermuda, and Haiti. A new PTL-produced program, “Jim Bakker and Friends,” is seen in Zimbabwe and will soon be available in Australia and Hong Kong.
With the exception of Nigeria, Japan, and Thailand, all other foreign “PTL Club” programs are produced at the PTL World Missions TV Center in Charlotte.
In addition to its own extensive missionary outreaches, PTL also gives support to a number of foreign and home missions groups. Bakker gives a percentage of each dollar received by the ministry to projects and ministries totally unrelated to PTL. In the last five years PTL has given $12 million to other organizations spreading the Gospel. (Later Bakker would give me more details. Read his comments on page 47.)
PTL gave funds for the construction of a school for deaf children in Bolivia, collected more than $700,000 for missions in India to provide for orphan care, bread and milk-feeding programs, a nursing school, medical equipment and ambulances, and raised $290,000 for the Vietnamese boat people.
PTL also gives generously to worthwhile charities in the United States, and last year developed a network of People That Love Centers to provide food, clothing, household items, and other assistance to people in need—all free of charge.
A new and rapidly expanding PTL ministry is an outreach to prison inmates. For years PTL provided books, literature, tapes, Bibles, and study courses to prisoners, but last year, at the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, PTL dedicated a pre-tuned satellite reception dish which enables inmates to receive 24-hour ministry from the Inspirational Network. The response has been so positive that PTL has set a goal of placing two satellite dishes a month in larger prisons during 1983.
No account of PTL’s ministry would be complete without mentioning Heritage USA, home base for the organization. Heritage USA is a total living center geared for the thousands of visitors who come to PTL. It’s a family resort that combines camping, deluxe chalets, swimming pools, shopping centers, fishing, family entertainment, and TV shows all in a national-park setting.
On the shore of Lake Heritage, the three-bedroom chalets with full kitchen facilities, stove, fireplace, and living room cost $59 per night for the first two guests, and $4 per additional person up to a total of eight people. Rooms at the inns begin at $26 and run up to $39, according to PTL’s newspaper, Heritage-Herald.
For those who prefer to rough it, there are the campgrounds of Fort Heritage, which offer the unheard-of-luxury of bathtubs in the ladies bathhouses. Fees are $7 for tents, $8 for pop-up campers and vans, and $10 for other vehicles.
Heritage Hall (also called the Barn) is the nerve center. The “Jim Bakker” program is taped before a live audience every morning from its studios. Seminars by evangelists and Bible teachers are held in the afternoons, and Camp Meeting USA, an old-fashioned revival is held each evening.
The Upper Room, supposedly a replica of the one in Jerusalem, was dedicated on July 4, 1982. The ground floor houses prayer counselors for the “Jim Bakker” program. On the top floor is the prayer chapel, where a staff minister is on duty 24 hours a day.
The newest structure is the Total Learning Center which serves PTL’s pastoral staff, but also contains an outreach for troubled families. Seminars and workshops for singles, married couples with problems, and families with parent-children conflicts, are planned.
Despite the growth of PTL, its impressive achievements and obvious prosperity, Jim Bakker has had more than his share of critics. The secular press, which is inclined to look with skepticism on any successful religious figure, has had a field day with Bakker. In addition to scrutinizing his every pronouncement, it has attacked with withering sarcasm many of the Bakker’s more human foibles—such as Tammy Faye’s love of flashy jewelry and the tendency of some to cry on the air.
Attacks on the Bakker’s personal idiosyncrasies have been annoying, but they are the price one pays for celebrity status of any kind. It is the hard news articles, questioning the integrity of the ministry and presenting damaging financial statistics that have done the most real damage. The Charlotte Observer has been the ministry’s main nemesis. While it would probably be unfair to say that the paper has a vendetta against Bakker, it certainly seems determined to keep the heat on him.
It was a series of articles in The Charlotte Observer that led to a three-year investigation by the FCC.
In January of 1979 the paper claimed that hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the ministry for overseas ministries had been used instead to pay bills and finance domestic projects. The amount included almost $300,000 earmarked for the establishment of a telecast in Korea, hosted by Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church.
The Charlotte Observer did not tell the whole story. Bakker raised almost $300,000 to send start-up equipment to Korea, but then discovered that duty fees would double his costs. Bakker says that at that point he went to Korea and talked to Cho personally, and the two agreed to divert the funds to help launch Christian TV in Japan. When he returned, Bakker went on the air and explained what had happened to his partners.
However, on the basis of The Charlotte Observer’s articles and questions from donors, the FCC sent two investigators to PTL to look into the matter. In April 1979, the FCC subpoenaed PTL’s tapes and records.
The dispute consumed much of Bakker’s time and energy for three years. He estimates the investigation and the resulting publicity cost the ministry more than a million dollars in lost contributions. And an audit published by the CPA firm of Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells showed that PTL paid almost $1 million in legal fees during 1981 and 1982.
In addition, the turmoil demoralized the staff and in one year ten of the network’s 14 vice-presidents departed. Of those, six were forced out by Bakker and three left under a cloud. Fired in February 1979, was Jim Moss, PTL’s executive vice-president and executive producer who hired Bakker in 1974. Other executives who were forced out included Bill Perkins and Robert Manzano.
In January 1983, the FCC finally dropped all charges against PTL and referred the case to the U.S. Justice Department for further investigation into any possible criminal charges. But in March 1983, the Justice Department formally cleared PTL of any wrongdoing.
Bakker says that he learned a lot from the ordeal and that PTL is much more careful about its accounting procedures. Until 1982, the ministry operated without a budget and all transactions at Heritage Village took place out of a single checking account.
“We spent the first ten years at PTL just reacting to our growth. It’s like building a building and going back after it is built and putting the steel structure into it,” Bakker says. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes but we’ve learned. We’ve had the accounting firm of Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells working with us for about five years.
Not all of Bakker’s critics have been from the secular press or the government, however. He has also had difficulty with fellow Christians. Denominational pastors, many of whom have seen their own congregations dwindling in recent years, have on occasion lashed out at the TV evangelists, accusing them of drawing the faithful away from the church.
To them Bakker replies, “The electronic church is challenging some of those guys to wake up’ out there. And once they wake up, we can close the electronic church. I asked an Episcopal priest, ‘In all the time that you’ve been at your church, how many souls have gotten saved?’ We’re getting them saved.”
Others have voiced disapproval of the Bakkers’ somewhat flamboyant style—both on and off the camera. Jim and Tammy are very emotional people who have not hesitated to show their emotions on TV. Both are stereotyped as crying on the show, although I’ve never seen Bakker cry on the show. However, it is Tammy Faye who carries the brunt of the criticism for her heavy makeup, her love of flashy jewelry and clothes, and her giggling personality which sometimes seems almost silly.
The most severe criticism has not come from their actions on the set as much as from their rather extravagant lifestyles. The Charlotte Observer created a furor when it revealed in 1978 that the Bakkers had moved into a $195,000 house in an exclusive section of Charlotte. Although the house had been purchased by Kentucky businessman Harry Ranier, it left a bad taste in some people’s mouths. New revelations this year that PTL had purchased a $375,000 condominium in Highland Beach, Florida, and had installed a $11,678 sauna for his use at Heritage USA, reinforced the image of minister making money off the Gospel.
Bakker says the purchase of the condominium was a decision made by the board of directors against his recommendations. (See his exact quote on page 48.) Other Christians—primarily non-Charismatics—have serious disagreements with Bakker’s theology which they say presents an unbalanced view of the Christian life. “In television Bakker has found a perfect vehicle for his promises of health and wealth,” wrote Philip Yancey in Christianity Today. “His message seems to fit the medium. TV is made for packaged promises and easy-to-grasp answers . . . . It is a miserable platform for discussing complexity. and struggle . . . . Inevitably a Christian faith tailored for a TV audience comes across as scrubbed-up, incomplete. . . . Jesus warned the church against temptation, dissension. attacks from outside, lukewarmness, and painful persecutions. Discussing these aspects of the Christian life does not appeal to a large audience, though.
“In short,” Yancey concludes, “PTL offers an affirming, upbeat brand of faith, free of many of the negative strictures of traditional fundamentalism … Bakker grounds his approach in love, not in fear or threats of hell. He is capable of brimstone preaching, but he adapts himself to the ‘cool’ medium of TV smiling, constantly affirming, ‘God loves you and we do too.'”
If Bakker’s critics come largely from the secular press and evangelicals, his strongest support comes from Charismatics and Pentecostals. During one of his worst financial crises in 1981, several other large Charismatic ministries, including Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts, made large contributions to PTL. When Tammy Faye required surgery last year, she checked into the Oral Robert’s City of Faith in Tulsa. Jim speaks warmly of Rex Humbard, and other ministers. Perhaps, having faced many of the same grueling pressures, they have developed an empathy for each other.
Over the years friends who have been close to Bakker had told me stories of how he ran PTL as his personal empire, hiring and firing people almost at will, and beginning new projects sometimes by merely announcing on the air that he felt led of the Lord to do so. Many of the financial crises, they said, at PTL were caused by Bakker’s own impetuousness, lack of wisdom, and desire to constantly build bigger and better facilities to placate his own ego.
If Bakker has an ego-problem I can’t say so because I don’t know him well enough. But ego-problems are certainly an occupational hazard for the heads of large ministries who see their organizations, contributions and influence mushroom, often almost overnight.
As the ministries (and. cash flows) grow, the ministry heads often surround themselves with the trappings of power, with luxurious facilities and with adoring staff members. Of course, TV preachers aren’t the only ones who have this problem. Hollywood stars, politicians, and even some journalists give in to the heady wine of power, prestige, and the adulation of the public. But somehow we expect a little more of men of God.
Again, I don’t know if Bakker is really like this, but stories abound that he has had his share of problems in this area. And, the few times I have been around him, I lumped him into the class of ministers who did.
Then, several months ago I was at a meeting of pastors of large churches and media ministries and Bakker was there. It was a “peer-level” meeting in which these pastors and heads of ministries could share as peers about mutual concerns behind closed doors.
However, only a few of the large national ministries were represented. The heads of these ministries are all very busy and that is the excuse they give for not accepting an invitation to attend. But usually the real reason—I suspect—is that they are “too important” to meet with peers. Bakker’s meeting with these pastors and both answering questions and asking questions, made me think that maybe somehow Bakker was different.
His spirit at that meeting was not haughty as I had come to believe it would be. Instead it was gentle. He shared some of the deep needs in his own life. And, he told how he feels misunderstood, isolated by his brethren, and alone.
Could it be, I wondered, that the problems Bakker has encountered have matured him? Could he have learned some lessons? Had he really changed? It wouldn’t be long until I found out.
Just then the limousine turned into Heritage USA with its impressive avenue of flags. I was taken first to Bakker’s office on the top floor of the pyramid-shaped headquarters building. When I met him he was dressed in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a casual shirt. He was sitting behind a large desk in a lavishly appointed office. After exchanging pleasantries, I began to ask him about his day. Already he had a haircut, met with his top financial man and reviewed the Florida condominium story with his public relations man, Brad Lacey.
I asked Bakker to tell me about the first part of his day since I was following him on a “typical day” There is no “typical day,” he told me. But that day he was up at 7 a.m. in time to have breakfast with his two children—Tammy Sue, 13, and Jamie Charles, 7, before they left for school. His attorney then phoned him at home about some PTL business.
“It used to be that to be an evangelist all you needed was a Bible and a Hammond Organ,” Bakker told me. “Now you need a Bible, a Hammond Organ, and a lawyer.” I then remembered a line I’d read in a Christianity Today article about the FCC investigation of PTL in which the writer mused that Bakker was spending so much on legal fees that he must wonder if PTL meant Pay the Lawyer.
Since I hadn’t been to Heritage USA, Bakker drove me around, showing me the campsites, pointing out the chalets along Lake Heritage, motioning toward where the 3,000-seat amphitheater was where they have outdoor shows for guests in the summer. He parked the car and we walked toward the Upper Room. He stopped on the first floor where prayer counselors answer telephones 24 hours a day. Then, as we climbed the stairs to the prayer room on the second floor, he told me this month was a month of fasting and prayer. Each of PTL’s 611 employees is allowed to take a day to fast and pray (and still be paid.)
About ten people were kneeling in various parts of the. Upper Room praying softly when we went in. Bakker read his Bible for a few minutes, then prayed quietly for a few more minutes. I prayed for a while, then began looking at the thousands of snapshots that had been made into a giant collage on movable partitions lining the walls.
Then Bakker moved to a table where thousands of prayer requests had been piled. He asked the others in the room to gather around and pray with him. “There’s no magic in this,” he explained. “This is just a point of contact for our faith.”
Outside the Upper Room, Bakker pointed to where he intends to build a replica of Golgotha and a wall to represent the wall around Jerusalem. We passed a grave with a large marker that read: Aubrey Sara, 1917-1982.
“Brother Sara was the man who started me in the ministry,” Bakker said. “He believed in Tammy and me when we didn’t believe in ourselves. He drove us to our first revival and he arranged for us to be ordained in North Carolina. I had him on my staff in his later years, I told him I would take care of him until he died and that I’d bury him. I didn’t realize it would be so soon.”
We hurried to the auditorium, called the Barn, where Bakker’s church—the Heritage Village Church and Missionary Fellowship—meets for services each week and where the “Jim Bakker” program is telecast until larger studios are constructed. We went immediately to his dressing rooms which were more elaborate than I had imagined, decorated with shades of green with the most modern furnishings and appointments. Bakker invited me into a smaller dressing room where he sat in a barber’s chair while a cosmetologist applied makeup for the show. Lyn Robbins, the production supervisor, and Dale Hill, vice-president of broadcasting, went over the last-minute show details. Bakker was handed a schedule for the day’s program.
With only a few minutes to show time, I took my place in the studio audience. There were about 100 people in the audience that day—mostly older people with bright eager smiles. The set was casual—a comfortable living room setting with bright colors and lots of artificial flowers and potted trees.
Then, at 11 a.m., the timpani rolled, the theme song swelled, and the host introduced “JIMMMM AND TAM-MMMMY BAKKKKER!” Jim and Tammy trotted on stage, and as the applause died down and the music faded they promised their partners, as they do each day that “You can make it.”
The guest that day was Mike Murdock and the topic was pain. Murdock told about losing everything at one point in his life, only to have God restore him. The Bakkers said some of the hard things they have been through resulted in good. For example, Bakker said the marriage enrichment courses offered at the Total Living Center that are helping marriages be restored are the result of the “problems Tammy and I had.”
There was a worshipful song by the PTL singers, and Bakker asked people to accept Jesus as their personal Savior as the organ played softly in the background. I sensed the Spirit “tug” on my heart, much as I had in hundreds of Pentecostal altar calls.
Then, with only a few minutes of the 60-minute show to go, the announcer began talking about how people could write in for the “Expressions of PTL” calendar and a new book by Bakker entitled You Can Make It. Bakker asked the people to help the ministry of PTL expand, but there was none of the hardsell appeal I’d come to expect from PTL. The program was suddenly over. I felt uplifted.
It would be impossible to discuss PTL or Jim Bakker at any length without talking about the impact Tammy Faye has had on the ministry. For 21 years she has been his wife, the mother of their two children, his helpmeet and partner in the ministry. She has supported him through good times and bad and has stood loyally behind him through the agony of the FCC investigation.
At the height of that controversy she wrote a love-letter which was published in The Charlotte Observer. It read: “I love you, honey. I’ve seen the awful hurt in your eyes as you have read this paper and seen your good name run down by people who do not even know you. People that don’t know and don’t care about the sacrifices you have made and the tears I have seen you shed as you have tried to do your part to make this world a better place to live in.
“So many times I’ve wanted to scream, ‘Honey, it just isn’t worth it.’ Then I remember what this God you preach about has done in my own life and the joy He has brought me, and suddenly it makes it all worthwhile again.”
Over the years Tammy has always worked with Jim. Their marriage has been a true partnership. During their years on the evangelistic circuit she sang and ministered alongside him. For seven years she co-hosted the “Jim and Tammy Show.” on CBN, often working long hours. She has made several record albums for both children and adults, and has written two bestselling books, I Gotta Be Me and Run to the Roar. She frequently hosts the “PTL Club” and sings on the show often. She has invested her own blood, sweat, tears, and prayers into fulfilling their dream.
As one of eight children growing up in northern Minnesota, Tammy learned firsthand what poverty was like. Her family still did not have indoor plumbing when she and Jim made their first visit home as a married couple. She also experienced the sting of religious bigotry early. Her father deserted the family when she was small. Her mother later divorced him and remarried. Despite the fact that the divorce was not her fault. Tammy’s mother was never allowed to join the small Pentecostal church which the family attended.
When Tammy was a teenager she felt the call of God in her life and decided to enroll at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. It was there that she met Bakker. He proposed on the third date, and they were married in the prayer room of the Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium in 1962.
Jim and Tammy are a study in contrasts. Where he is dark, she is fair. He is conservative, she is flamboyant. He is introverted and suffers from ulcers. She is extroverted and lets her emotions run freely and easily. Jim rarely displays anger, while Tammy explodes, but forgives quickly. He is calm and premeditated in his actions. She is spontaneous and in her own words, “nutty.” Bakker is laid-back and Tammy is volatile.
Her irrepressible and unpredictable nature have served as a lightning rod for criticism. “Tammy might bounce around with false eyelashes and a wig today and be natural tomorrow,” says Cliff Dudley, coauthor of her autobiography “Some people can’t stand that.”
Her outlandish makeup and manner also invite parody. A comedienne on “SCTV” does a Tammy Faye imitation in which she advertises “industrial strength mascara” as it runs down her cheeks between sobs.
Tammy says her love of beautiful things, which has also caused controversy, is a result of a childhood spent dressed in serviceable black because the household budget had no room for frills. She acknowledges that she is an incurable window-shopper, but says that she buys many of her clothes at a cut-rate boutique where they snip the labels out of designer clothes and sell them for half price.
She loves to relate the story of a shopping spree in K Mart when she was pushing a basket filled with dresses down an aisle only to be confronted by a TV viewer who stared at her in amazement and then blurted out, “I see it, but I don’t believe it, but I like it.”
Tammy was devastated by the problems which swamped the ministry during the past three years, and they almost destroyed their marriage. As she tells it: “I knew Jim still loved me, but he was never there. He would always be in a meeting, and he would sit for hours and hours with his top people, but he never had an hour for me. 1 began to think that he cared more about them than he did for me and the kids. I finally got to the place where I just didn’t feel needed anymore. I felt less a part of PTL than the PTL singers.”
In early 1981 while PTL was shooting on location in Hawaii, she told Bakker the marriage was over and left. As rumors ran amok, she went to California—presumably to get some perspective on her problems—where she got an apartment next to Palmdale Hospital in Palmdale. There she counseled with Christian psychologists and sought God’s help. Today she says her marriage is better than ever. Bakker spends more time at home and she has learned to communicate better. They also have tried to cut back on separate travel, since they found that it was pulling them apart.
In spite of her high public profile, Tammy Faye still views her role as primarily a supportive one. “Backing Jim is what I’ve always felt was my role,” she says. “I do the program if he needs a rest or when he needs to do business. I feel I’m there to hold up his hand and help him—to take some of the burden from him. I’m a much lighter person than Jim is. I giggle and laugh a lot. I tend to be more optimistic.
Later that day I had dinner with the Bakkers, their two children and some friends. On our way to dinner we stopped by the hospital. Uncle Henry Harrison, Bakker’s co-host’s elderly father, was seriously ill and the Bakkers visited him while I stayed with the children. It showed me a side of Bakker which I hadn’t seen before—that of the pastor.
After dinner, I boarded a plane and headed home. My flight home was an opportunity to think about the day’s activities and to reflect on what I’d seen. Much of what I had seen was to be expected. PTL put its best foot forward for me. I saw its facilities and got to ask questions about its operation. But I came away with something more—a new understanding and new appreciation of PTL and of Jim Bakker. In a single day I had caught something of Bakker’s spirit. I had seen his dream. I had heard him talk about the struggle and pain he has gone through as he has seen that dream come into being. I also began to sense that in spite of Bakker’s weaknesses he is a strong man. Lesser men would have been crushed by what he has had to endure.
Perhaps the most revealing comment of the day was about after having built the building and having to go back and put in a foundation at PTL. That summed up better than anything else what has been happening at PTL. Here is an example of a ministry that did not put down a firm foundation. Jesus warned against this. When the winds and the waves came and beat on PTL, many things collapsed. But it didn’t all collapse. That is because, I believe, that PTL is of God. Because God has His hand on it. He has allowed the wind and waves, and the rebuilding process to happen.
I believe that PTL has learned some lessons—some hard lessons. But now that they have learned, their future ministry looks bright. There is no telling what God can do with that ministry in the years ahead.