Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Christian talk show host John Ankerberg has been regarded by some as the villain in the scandal that has rocked PTL. Ankerberg first spoke out in defense of Jimmy Swaggart, who had been accused of instigating a “hostile takeover” of PTL. He later brought forth allegations that former PTL head Jim Bakker visited prostitutes and engaged in homosexual acts. Ankerberg discussed with CHRISTIANITY TODAY his role in revealing the allegations.
How He Got Involved
It was at this year’s (February) convention of the National Religious Broadcasters when Ankerberg first heard charges that Bakker had had an affair with New York church secretary Jessica Hahn in 1980, and that PTL had paid her to keep silent. Ankerberg said Swaggart had heard the same story several months earlier and had confronted PTL leaders last September. Richard Dortch, Bakker’s assistant who would later replace him as host of the PTL television show, denied the charges.
Ankerberg said that at first he did not believe the story, “but the people who told me were some of the most respected people in the world.… Everything I tried to do was based on the principles of Matthew 18:1 found there were two or three witnesses willing to testify concerning each of the accusations I was hearing.”
Ankerberg’s effort to determine the truth of the allegations surrounding Hahn led him to California businessman Paul Roper, who had met with PTL on Hahn’s behalf. Roper showed Ankerberg the legal documents of the financial arrangement, documents written to Dortch. When Ankerberg showed the documentation to Swaggart, Swaggart “realized Dortch had lied to him directly,” Ankerberg said.
Roper told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that Hahn had tried to act on her grievance, but was intimidated by PTL officials. Said Roper, “They [PTL] told her they would cause trouble for her and her family, that she would be better off if she just acknowledged she was at fault.” And, said Roper, “They could say anything they wanted on their TV program. They had the voice and the money. She had no voice and no money.”
Ankerberg noted that it was not he but Bakker himself who notified the Charlotte Observer of the Hahn incident. “I wish he would have waited,” Ankerberg said, “so we could have handled this in private, according to principles set forth in Scripture.”
Ankerberg said he spoke out initially to defend Swaggart against charges he was trying to take over PTL. “Jimmy was being slandered in the press. I knew the charges were ridiculous.” Once Ankerberg went public, people formerly affiliated with PTL began contacting him with additional allegations. “The press has wrongly stated that I was an investigative reporter or something,” said Ankerberg. “I was just sitting in my office and people would call with information.”
Ankerberg said he did not want to go public with the new allegations, which included homosexuality and wife swapping. But he said he believed PTL’S only chance to survive was if Falwell stayed. Falwell had received a wire from Bakker indicating Bakker’s intention to return to PTL before the April 28 board meeting. Falwell said he and his board would resign if Bakker returned. Ankerberg said he had heard other reports that Bakker was planning to come back. “If he did return, and Falwell and his board resigned,” Ankerberg said, “then when the Assemblies of God announced the additional allegations, no one could have saved the ministry of PTL.”
The testimony against PTL, said Ankerberg, came from people who had worked there at various times between 1976 and 1985. Some, he said, had actually witnessed incidents of misconduct, including homosexual behavior. Some confronted PTL’S leadership about problems within the organization and were forced to resign.
Ankerberg said that as far as he knows, the allegations of misconduct, including use of alcohol and diversion of funds, involved a “very limited number of people,” but most of them were in the organization’s “upper echelon.” He noted that the evidence against Bakker was strong enough to convince the Assemblies of God and the new PTL board to take strong actions, including the withdrawing by the Assemblies of God of the ministerial credentials of Bakker and Dortch.
Security Of The Witnesses
Ankerberg said he is committed to protecting the identity of those who testified against PTL, whom he called “godly and courageous people.” The witnesses, however, have testified before Assemblies of God authorities, and have given statements to representatives of the new PTL board. They told Ankerberg they were willing to testify to the truth of his allegations if it became necessary to do so in a court of law.
“I have never said Bakker himself was involved in wife swapping,” Ankerberg said, “only that he was made aware of at least one such incident, according to the witnesses, and did not take proper action. I have never said he is a homosexual. I talked about his involvement in homosexual incidents.…
“Tammy made the statement to the press, ‘John Ankerberg, come forward with your witnesses.’ That’s exactly what I’ve done, but in the church arena, not in the press. Jim Bakker had an invitation from his denomination to confess, or to set the record straight by meeting with his accusers.” Ankerberg said he was told by an Assemblies of God leader that Bakker chose not to appear at the investigation hearing concerning the allegations.
Ankerberg acknowledged that the Bakkers have “brought joy, happiness, and compassion … to many people who needed it.” He said it is “my prayer that Jim Bakker will submit to the spiritual authority of his own denomination and still accept the church’s help and admonition.”
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