The electronic church serves as a mouthpiece; but it should not be confused with the whole body.

The program’s preliminary speaker is a skilled Assemblies of God pastor from Maine with a lyrical Irish accent. He begins calmly, “I just want to share a few verses of Scripture with you here, and then I’ll be done.”

The story, from I Kings, becomes less a retelling than a 20-minute dramatic performance. His arms flail the air. He falls to his knees. “God will take your nothingness and through it do anything!” he shouts.

A crowd erupts into applause. In front of them a well-groomed, smiling man in a vested suit nods his head enthusiastically, holding his hands high and clapping to encourage applause, pantomiming “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.”

To the right, off camera, is a formal living room setting, with a plush blue carpet and baby blue walls accentuated by cream-colored Corinthian columns. Jim Bakker, 38, host of the PTL Club (“Praise The Lord,” or “People That Love”), sits behind a desk there, shuffling through papers, studying the lineup of guests who will appear as soon as the preacher finishes.

Miss Illinois of 1959 is clearing her throat, waiting for her entry cue. Four cameras mounted on silent electric carts—$80,000 cameras, the best in the business—sweep the scenes, focusing now on the preacher, now on an intense listener. Overhead, a bank of 300 computer-controlled lights swivel and adjust.

Other people flutter around the studio, dodging cameras and stepping over electric cables thick as an arm. Beautiful, stylishly dressed women whisper instructions to the next guests while a make-up expert freshly powders their noses. The smell of perfume hangs like a cloud in the air.

Offstage, all this activity is fed into an audio control board that is rumored to be the most sophisticated in the country. Twelve video tape editing machines, worth $75,000 each, patch together the very best camera angles.

Meanwhile, at 7:30 A.M. in New York City, 10:30 P.M. in Chicago, 3 P.M. in Manila, and 8 A.M. in Anchorage, people sit down to listen to the upbeat Bible story from I Kings. It’s as if an old-time Pentecostal church service has been captured intact, extruded through machines, monitors, microwaves, and satellites, and then magically dispatched into millions of homes simultaneously. No one went to church to hear that pastor preach on the widow’s miraculous supply of oil; he came packaged into their bedrooms and living rooms.

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And I, propped on a stool amid the whirl of energy, am one of the waiting guests. I had come to Charlotte, North Carolina, to examine PTL as the most visible and controversial symbol of a mushrooming phenomenon: the electronic church.

Besides the normal tensions of live television, also present are unspoken but crackling tensions about the future of PTL. For a year Jim Bakker and his show have been attacked in the local press for shaky financial dealings, and a feeling of anxiety pervades the staff. Executives have left; employees have been fired.

There are few signs of tension on Jim Bakker’s face, however, after the preacher finishes speaking and he begins chatting on camera with other guests on the show. He is laughing, pleasant, and easygoing. On the desk are meticulously prepared prep sheets on each guest, including a list of stimulating, relevant questions to ask them. But, as usual, he ignores the preparations and goes with his instincts. He talks about whatever he feels like discussing, giving each guest as much time as he “feels led,” disregarding the prepared schedule. Sometimes guests who are flown in from far-away cities never get on the show.

Those very instincts pulled Bakker to the top in Christian television, first in starting the “700 Club” and now at PTL. “It’s not listed in the Bible,” he says, “but my spiritual gift, my specific calling from God, is to be a television talk show host. That’s what I’m here on earth to do. I love TV. I eat it, I sleep it.” A good talk show host has the ability to make each viewer—not the masses of viewers, but each individual viewer—feel that he understands and is speaking directly to him or her. Somehow, to his loyal audience, Jim Bakker accomplishes that. As many as 20,000 viewers contact PTL each day, either through letters or by phone. In a year, 30,000 call in to be born again through telephone counseling. And 700,000 PTL partners support Bakker monthly—even throughout the recurring money crises. Because of his impact, the Atheist Journal named Bakker “the most dangerous Christian in America.”

Despite his spectacular success and popularity, Jim Bakker feels misunderstood and persecuted by the Christian community at large. Some criticize his down-home unsophistication, some the show’s excessive emphasis on charismatic gifts and healing, and almost everybody criticizes his use of money. After the program, at a private lunch in the brick kitchen of the mansion that serves as PTL’s headquarters building, he vented some of his frustrations. “The Christian press picks up material that was in error when it went into the paper here—half truths mixed with lies—and then they go with the same spirit as publishers who are atheists and whose reporters are Jewish. All that is repeated in a Christian magazine as being gospel truth.” Bakker is weary of answering questions and of bearing the incredible strain of the financial obligations to which he has committed PTL. “I feel like I’ve been pushing a railroad train up a mountain,” he says.

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He is a complex man, full of ironies. His book, Move That Mountain, tells of his youth: short of stature and insecure, he grew up with an inferiority complex and in relative poverty as the son of a machinist at a piston ring plant. After he dropped out of North Central Bible College (in Minneapolis) to marry his wife, Tammy, the two traveled together as a gospel team, sleeping in pastors’ bedrooms, cheap motel rooms, and dusty church attics, accepting whatever meager “love offering” their host church offered. Those painful, struggling days are etched sharply into Bakker’s memory, and today he can’t understand why people censure his plush lifestyle.

It took Jimmy Carter a few months in the White House to realize that he was no longer a peanut farmer in Georgia, that every word he spoke, every glint in his eye, every personal taste, no matter how trivial, would be picked up instantly, perhaps distorted, and then broadcast around the world. Jim and Tammy have not yet adjusted to seeing themselves as symbols in the public eye. For example, they fail to understand the outcry that arose when, the same month that Jim wrote a direct mail letter saying, “Tammy and I are giving every penny of our life’s savings to PTL,” he bought a $24,000 Drifter houseboat equipped with white shag carpeting, two wood-paneled bedrooms, a gas grill, TV, and refrigerator. “I paid for that boat just like anyone else,” he protests. “I financed it with a bank—there was no PTL money involved.”

The Bakkers also drew flak for moving into a $200,000 house during one of PTL’s worst financial crises. A wealthy donor had provided the house free of charge.

Visiting reporters wax eloquent in describing the luxury of PTL headquarters in Charlotte. The mansion, obtained by PTL at a bargain basement price, is tastefully decorated with chandeliers, a grandfather clock, and oriental rugs over solid mahogany floors. Bakker’s office is paneled in mahogany with a black marble hearth on his fireplace.

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The $3 million studio is one of the best in the world, and a TV tower is cleverly concealed in the steeple of a giant replica of the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg. Outside, brick sidewalks lead to a meditation garden and a pool lined with 50 flags.

Interviews with Bakker keep drifting toward financial questions, and with good reason. The electronic church, of which he is an impressive representative, has skyrocketed to a place of financial prominence in the evangelical world. The shift of power and resources is as abrupt and decisive as the recent shift of world resources to the Arab oil countries. Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts both have yearly revenue that is expected to top $50 million and PTL may surpass them in 1979. PTL was started in 1974 with $65 in a bank account. Last year, during a telethon, it raised $1 million in a single day. One man, with a five-year-old television ministry, can easily beat the annual income of Zondervan, Revell, or Word book publishers. Established organizations such as Inter-Varsity and Youth for Christ struggle to raise funds, only to find that PTL gathers in a sum equal to their annual income in a single week.

Naturally, grumblings have emerged from certain Christian quarters, notably the evangelical denominations, who fear a siphoning off of needed revenue. Bakker, however, insists his effect is to raise an awareness for giving among his viewers and that giving to churches actually increases during his telethon appeals.

What do PTL donors get in exchange for their money? First, of course, is the daily two-hour program aired throughout the U.S. and the English-speaking world. Purchasing of air time from local stations consumes a third of the PTL budget. Currently approximately 200 broadcast affiliates carry PTL, at a cost determined by audience size and the time of day of the broadcast.

PTL also finances other electronic ministries. On their satellite, an RCA Satcom I, they broadcast 24 hours a day of Christian programming, featuring their own programs as well as those of Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, James Robison, and others, with no charge to an affiliate. By investing around $60,000 for a receiving dish and transmitter, a local station can hook up to the satellite’s free programs and broadcast prerecorded Christian programs around the clock. The PTL studios also underwrite a $2 million Spanish program seen in 17 Spanish-speaking countries with a potential viewing audience of 30 million. Guests are flown gratis to Charlotte for the tapings. A new version has been broadcast in Nigeria and Kenya and others are planned for Asia and Europe.

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But Jim Bakker’s dreams extend far beyond the television ministry. In his autobiography he records that he got the idea for Heritage Village, a miniature version of colonial Williamsburg, from a direct revelation.

“God had imprinted a blueprint of the building in my head. I began drawing it just as I had seen it. With the Carters Grove mansion situated in the front, the buildings would be interconnected with walking paths and flower gardens.” Besides the mansion, the studio, and the well-equipped offices, the complex now includes a sauna, a massage room, and a remarkable $200,000 swimming pool, which is surrounded by white Grecian columns, arched mirrors, and plastic trailing vines.

But Heritage Village is dwarfed by Bakker’s latest project. Fifteen miles down the road, just over the border in South Carolina, PTL purchased a 1400-acre tract of ground, and Bakker’s eyes light up when he tells about the big plans for “Heritage, U.S.A.” One aspect of it is an already completed recreational mecca for Christians who have been blessed by PTL’s ministry. There are log chalets overlooking a lake, which rent for $150 a night, and tent and camper hookups (an RV space costs $16 a night, including cable TV and phone hookups, though PTL partners pay half that amount). Open-air tram vehicles shuttle guests along the winding asphalt drives to shady hiking spots, an Olympic-sized pool, eight lighted tennis courts, and a barn auditorium seating 2,000, where summer TV programs are taped. The village includes a general store and gas station that sell PTL frisbees, T-shirts, and sun visors.

A massive Polynesian-style pyramid, designed to house Heritage University, dominates the site. The university started off in grand style, boasting it would serve 12,000 students in four years, and hiring Donald Barnhouse, Jr., son of the late Donald Grey Barnhouse, as its dean. Barnhouse later resigned, as did two successors, and early this year almost all the students left. Now plans for the university have been vastly curtailed, and PTL officials are studying how to use the nearly-completed building.

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All facilities on the Heritage, U.S.A., property—costing $10 million so far—were completed in just one year, despite work stoppages when contractors insisted on cash payments. Bakker also talks, less confidently now, of a retirement center, a 12-story Polynesian hotel, a clinic, an Old American Main Street, a golf course, a high-rise condominium, and other developments, all approaching $100 million. The entire grand scheme is called the Total Living Center. Bakker defends the project: “I know some will say that I should not have built the Total Living Center, but I know I heard from God.”

Such plans have taken their toll on the PTL ministry, however. Last November creditors started hounding Bakker for up to $13 million in debts. In his telethon appeals he spoke darkly of the threat of PTL going into receivership. On the air he tearfully warned viewers that he might have to sell the studio: “We’re within days of this network ceasing.” In fund raising letters he pleaded, “Unless God performs a financial miracle, this could be the last letter you will receive from me,” and “It will be a sad Christmas for Tammy and me without your help.”

But Bakker was caught in a great pincer. As he cried and described the failing financial situation on TV, more and more money poured in. Giving never sagged—it was up 100 percent last year. But anxious creditors, scared by his pronouncements, demanded cash before resuming work, banks refused to make loans, and creditors filed liens against PTL assets. The cash squeeze became so serious at one point that payroll checks were delayed. In April of this year, Bakker handed over the managerial and financial responsibility of the network to his new executive vice-president and general manager, Edward Stoeckel. Bakker remains president, however, and will continue to host the PTL Club.

While Bakker has his desire for big, impressive monuments—one Charlotte reporter accuses him of having “an edifice complex”—he also has his compassionate side. One on one with a hurting person, he can be deeply touched. When a black church building burned down in Charlotte, he helped rebuild it at PTL expense, and with no fanfare. When visitors from such organizations as Wycliffe Bible Translators or Teen Challenge describe their needs on his show, Bakker will often weep, then on the spot promise the group whatever amount it needs.

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In the midst of all the financial haggling, he made a five-week, around-the-world survey trip to see firsthand the needs in other countries. Bakker hit Calcutta, India, shortly after the disastrous flood in 1978. The sight devastated him. “As tears streamed down my face, I cried, ‘Oh Lord, please make it possible for us to do more.’ ” Though PTL was at the brink of crisis, he tripled the pledge for India to feed more children each day and to supply a new nurses’ wing at a hospital.

Bakker urgently appealed to his supporters to make personal sacrifices. It was an unusual request: the mastermind of a multimillion dollar, first-class Total Living Center begging American Christians to give up the money they waste on sweets and soft drinks to help the starving in India. The appeal went live via phone hookup through one of the most lavishly appointed studios in the world. Such are the anomalies of Jim Bakker and PTL.

After his trip, Bakker was so impressed by the needs of the world that he decided to commit 10 percent of PTL’s gross income to overseas mission projects. He did, however, include a clause that allows PTL to use the funds for operating expenses if needs arise. Recipients of those funds have reported it may take a year for money designated for them to reach overseas work, and the FCC is investigating some contributions that never made it overseas.

Charlotte newspapers delight in pointing out PTL’s profligate use of money, editorializing how the money would best be spent. Yet impoverished people who read the papers rise in righteous anger to Bakker’s defense. “If Jim Bakker got $1 million a year, it wouldn’t be too much,” said one (his salary is $52,000), “when you consider the marriages he’s saved, the healings, the alcoholics, the dope addicts.” PTL’s use of money is widely broadcast, but giving—most of it averaging $15 per gift—continues to climb.

When asked, “If you had $100 million to spend on implementing the gospel of Jesus in the world today, is a Total Living Center—with its chalets, campgrounds and condominiums—the best way to do it?” Bakker responded first by describing the education that future missionaries would receive, then the retirement section, then the nursing home and hospital. Then he concluded, “People talk like there’s a lack somehow in God, like there’s a shortage, and that if we build a Christian retreat center, we wouldn’t have the money to send to India, or we wouldn’t have the money to do this or do that. There is no shortage in God, believe me.”

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Bakker’s belief in God as a benevolent resource permeates his theology and the message he offers his viewers. His 182-page autobiography contains 55 specific instances where God responded to his pleas for material assistance or requests for healing. In two instances he “felt led” to write checks for $20,000 knowing there was no money in the bank to cover them, believing God would fill the account before the check was cashed.

He consistently holds to a “health and wealth theology,” believing God will bless Christians materially wherever they are. If you turn to Christ, your life will work. India’s problems, he says, are due to that country’s rejection of Christian principles. In Africa and India, he has observed, the Christians’ homes are better and more comfortable than non-Christians’. Most ghettos, he says, are “ghettos of the mind. The gospel will bring people to a higher standard than they’ve known before. I’m convinced that Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of life—not a religious experience. And I believe the Scripture says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he’ll give you the desires of your heart.’ ” His book relates one prayer incident where a man who asked for a brown Winnebago got exactly that.

When asked how this Christian lifestyle differs from the Positive Mental Attitude or Dale Carnegie lifestyle, Bakker replied, “It doesn’t. They base about everything they do on scriptural principles. The Bible says, ‘Give and it shall be given unto you.’ ” He flares up at people who blame America for oppressively contributing to the world’s poverty, asserting that the original principles of America—such as the freedom of man and free enterprise—are biblical principles that naturally result in success. Bakker’s Christianity is not a counterculture; it is a superculture, a realization of the very best the world has to offer.

How does Bakker handle such passages as the one where Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all he has? “Keep reading,” he says. “Later in that chapter Jesus says everything we give up will be returned to us. What would have happened if the rich young ruler had given all to serve Jesus? I sincerely believe he probably would have moved up in his ruling class. Everywhere we turn Jesus was preaching an abundant, full life.”

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In television Jim Bakker has found a perfect vehicle for his promises of health and wealth. His message seems to fit the medium. TV is made for packaged promises and easy-to-grasp answers. National network shows resolve life situations in neat one-half- or hour-long segments. Commercials promise solutions, not problems. It is a miserable platform for discussing complexity and struggle, and hosts who try to represent life’s complexity, such as Dick Cavett, are eventually relegated to the minority viewing audience of public television. Inevitably, a Christian faith tailored for a TV audience comes across as scrubbed-up, incomplete. A non-Christian friend, who has watched PTL faithfully, though mainly out of curiosity, comes away puzzled. “If their God is so benevolent,” he asks, “why does he allow death and suffering? The Bible can’t be as polyannaish as it seems on PTL.”

Indeed, Jesus did not paint a rosy picture to his disciples or to the early church. 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.

Many viewers of a more conservative persuasion are disturbed by another emphasis on PTL: physical healing. Tammy Bakker on one show recalled a bizarre personal episode of healing. She had a hernia and was scheduled for surgery to relieve it, but she believed God did not want her to have to endure the trauma of surgery. So, one Sunday during Communion she felt moved to immerse a wart on her finger (she didn’t explain the connection) in the Communion glass. She felt a sudden energy rushing through her, and discovered the next day that her hernia had been healed and surgery was not necessary. As I listened to her I wondered how many devoted viewers canceled their scheduled surgeries that day.

Yet PTL is flooded with accounts of healing from its viewers—20,000 in a single year. In addition, people describe in great detail marriages saved, families reunited, and miracles performed. And the experience of hearing and seeing others’ faith on television challenges many to seek new spiritual heights.

Critics, of course, point out certain dangers implicit in an experience-oriented Christianity. Grounding faith in a God who will make your lifestyle comfortable and take care of your health opens up several alarming possibilities. First is the confusion that arises when problems don’t seem to work out. Christians like Joni Eareckson, who was not healed despite fervent prayers, suddenly feel the implication that they are second-class citizens, somehow unworthy of God’s best for them. Faith is tied to a money-back guarantee of God’s protection—exactly the bargain Satan wrongly accused God of sealing with Job.

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Also, when people tie religious experience to a lifestyle experience, rather than grounding it in objective reality, they seem to make Christianity equal to other faiths that promise similar results. Mormons, Moonies, Christian Scientists—they all have impressive success records, complete with their own stories of healing and financial rewards. Where are the distinctives of Christianity, that cost God the death of his Son? Exuberant Tammy on one show got carried away: “This life is so great—I just love it whether or not it’s true!” Life is not always so great, at least in material terms, and it is worth living precisely because it is true.

In short, PTL offers an affirming, upbeat brand of faith, free of many of the negative strictures of traditional fundamentalism. In Charlotte, the staff seems to reflect this philosophy. Employees are warm, considerate, and loving—even to local critics of their organization. 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.”

The explosive growth of the electronic church, symbolized by PTL, is such a recent phenomenon that its impact is still being measured. Certainly it expands the total outreach of evangelism, reaching into homes unaware, presenting the gospel to people who would never seek it out in a church. The loyalty of PTL viewers demonstrates that there are millions of needy, lonely people whom the church is not reaching. They see Jim Bakker as a friend, someone they can count on to understand their problems. Scores of thousands of them write him personal letters and send in prayer requests. (PTL has one person in charge of the prayer room full-time, and other employees volunteer to pray in shifts for these requests.) Their effusive letters recounting how PTL and its guests have touched them are undeniable testament to the power of an electronic ministry.

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Barker freely admits his ministry and others like it are supplements to the church, not replacements for it. “To those pastors who feel like the media is draining from the churches,” he says, “I would advise them to seek God for what they are feeding their sheep—the sheep will go where there is good food. If they are fed in their churches, they probably won’t need PTL or Oral Roberts or anyone—if the church would do the job.”

TV evangelists have not yet, however, sifted through the limitations that electronic media place on them, and the resultant effect on the message they present. In television, the consumer is in control—at any moment he can reach up and turn the channel selector—so the emphasis of the message must be on what the viewer wants to see, more than what he should see. One can hardly imagine the Old Testament prophets with their stern message from God capturing an acceptable viewing audience. Even Jesus—though he might arouse the curiosity of TV documentary crews—would hardly fit the normal TV format; his discussions were too slippery, not packaged right for a consumer-oriented society.

Bakker admits TV ratings limit him from, for example, Bible exposition. Yet television can offer programming not available to the local church. What church could afford the weekly lineup of famous guests that appear before PTL’s cameras, as well as the musical professionalism of the PTL Singers and the likes of Gary Paxton, Noel Stookey, Reba Rambo, and B. J. Thomas?

To people on the fringes of Christianity, especially those with acute personal needs, the PTL Club opens up a whole new avenue of hope. Bakker and his guests promise that their viewers’ lives can have answers and fulfillment. To many lonely people, PTL is the one, big, bright spot in an otherwise overwhelmingly dark existence. One reason PTL staffers are so hurt by criticisms is that they are aware daily of suicides prevented and lives remade because of their ministry.

One encouraging trend at PTL is to refer callers with problems to local pastors who can follow them up personally. So far, over 2,000 pastors have agreed to help. A prison ministry is on the drawing board, whereby volunteers would organize small group Bible studies oriented to PTL programs.

The danger comes when viewers confuse the excitement of PTL with the message and the work of the church incarnate. Compared to the glitter of television, the average local church is lackluster. Services are boring by contrast; the message seems complex and confusing. And perhaps most dangerous of all is the latent effect of TV to create a dependence on vicarious experiences. The church on TV is experienced, after all, not in a room that includes sniffling children, restless teen-agers, hard-of-hearing grandparents, and sleepy parishioners. It occurs in a much safer, more sterile environment: your own living room.

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When you watch a TV church, no one asks you to participate in a visitation program. No one challenges you to hold the attention of a junior high Sunday school class. No one asks you to make meals for shut-ins. The only response PTL solicits is a monthly check of gratitude. What better way is there to reach the world for Christ? A member of the electronic church may easily conclude the answer is his cash contribution to the newest satellite, never questioning whether his own personal involvement is of greater value. What can one solitary person’s service accomplish, he may wonder, when dwarfed by the marvels of electronic evangelism.

The Bible presents a realistic picture of the Christian life, including long, dull marches through the wilderness, humiliating failures, pain, and struggle. These don’t come off well on television—unless they’re told as a quick, summarized prelude to the victorious conclusion. The resulting picture of the Christian life as being one of incessant joy and constant success can actually backfire instead. The viewer, whose experience is different, can begin to feel distressingly inferior, as if somehow he’s missing out on the magic of faith.

In essence, the electronic church is the mouth of the body, but without the other parts. Few Christians would question the validity of the mouthpiece of the body of Christ, or the remarkable potential of electronic media for exploding the gospel’s outreach. But people can confuse the mouthpiece with the whole body. Occasionally people are so turned on by what they see on PTL that they pack up and leave their homes, spending their savings on a plane or bus ticket to the Charlotte headquarters. “Wouldn’t it be better,” they reason, “to visit Jim Bakker in person, to let him lay hands on my arthritis, to share in the financial success that is so alluring on the television screen?”

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Naturally, PTL is not set up to handle pensions, senior citizens’ housing, marriage counseling, healing clinics, food distribution outlets, and race relations centers. It is not the church; it is only a mouthpiece. But by appealing to the needs in humanity that can only be met on a local, corporate-body level, PTL fosters exactly the kind of situation it is not set up to handle. Despite the compassion shown by individual PTL staffers, many of these vagrant people turn away bitter.

In order to experience a direct link with the people PTL is reaching, on my last day there I volunteered as a phone counselor during the live TV show. I was quickly instructed about how to handle suicide calls and prank calls, and briefed on how to fill out the four basic telephone response forms: blue for prayer requests, green for salvation reports, pink for praise reports, and yellow for miscellaneous requests or criticisms.

My first call was from a black boy in Arizona, age ten. “How do you stop bein’ bad?” he asked, then giggled and hung up. Next was a New Jersey housewife trying to locate the song “In the Center of His Will.” Prayer requests followed, including one for “a fearful spirit and insecurity,” two for heart conditions. Some more prank calls were sprinkled in among the requests; one said, “Merry Christmas,” then hung up, and another said, “Hey, I need eight dollars.” One woman wanted to become a Christian, she thought, but preferred to read the book Salvation Clear and Plain first. And so it went.

The last call of the day was the most involved, and the most telling. A lady from California described in great detail her troublesome situation, which developed after her husband left her a year ago. Though she declined to give her name, she told me intimate accounts of fights with her husband. Her dilemma is basically financial. She has two sons, aged nine and three, and she must work to support them, since her husband sends no child support. Yet the only jobs she can find require weekend work, and she has to hire babysitters. She feels an obligation to be with her sons, who become mean and irresponsible when they’re with babysitters so much. Yet when she quits her job, welfare money ($350 per month) is not enough to pay basic expenses.

Telling me this on the phone, she was torn, confused, and sobbing. Her lack of skills confines her to low-paying jobs, and she hates herself for neglecting her children in a struggle for survival. She said she had accepted Christ, but was very disheartened because nothing seemed to work out right.

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Could PTL help this woman? Something about its guests with their easy, confident smiles and their suede sports coats and fancy dresses had attracted her. Even in her financial straits, she spent $10 on a desperation phone call. But the prayer I offered for her, across 3,000 miles of telephone transmission, seemed puny in light of her problems. When PTL admirers pull into their campsites and plug into the phone diverter hookups to counsel people like her, what can they offer but hope?

Could the local church help? As a Catholic, she felt rejected because of her church’s stand against divorce. No church around her had extra funds to dole out to needy people; none had free babysitting service.

This lady, eager to do right, but unable to cope with the pressures of her world, represents millions with great human needs. PTL and other programs like it tap into those needs, awakening a thirst for justice and hope and joy. Yet television is limited; it is not the church, and so its help is incomplete. What the California woman needs is some old-fashioned, sacrificial Christian love—someone to be her friend, to keep her sons sometimes, perhaps to help out financially. I couldn’t help wondering how many of her Christian neighbors are too busy watching TV to give her that love.

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