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The 1980s downfall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker shook evangelicalism and Pentecostalism and made televangelism a national mockery. But scholars doubt that her mascara-colored mark will be a lasting one in the history of the conservative Protestant movements.

"American Christianity isn't really that different for her having been there. Erase Jim and Tammy and PTL from the record and I don't think anything really changes," said Michael Hamilton, chair of the history department at Seattle Pacific University. "I suppose if you're a preacher you can get a lot of good sermons out of the whole PTL thing."

Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College, agreed. "Younger evangelicals such as my college students already have no idea who she was."

But as an icon and symbol, they said, Messner provides a spectacular representation of religious trends in the late 20th century.

Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker "helped mediate Pentecostal worship forms, Pentecostal ideas, and Pentecostal spirituality to broader groups of Christians," Hamilton said. "That's what we now call the charismatic movement, this mediation of Pentecostal spirituality to other Christians. They were clearly at the forefront of that."

But Tammy Faye, who divorced Bakker while he was serving prison time and married Roe Messner, was a new kind of charismatic, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College.

"She embodied the new style of charismatic female personages, being such a change from the old traditional stay at home Pentecostal image," he said. "It was reflective of the larger changes going on in the Pentecostal charismatic world—sort of jettisoning this whole ascetic mindset that they'd ...

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Will Tomorrow's Evangelicals Remember Tammy Faye?
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July 2007

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