Friends and foes alike are urging a spring cleaning for all television ministries in the wake of further developments surrounding PTL. Television preacher Jerry Falwell says this process is already taking place at the television network and amusement park empire founded by Jim and Tammy Bakker. He said on the “PTL Club” television show, “I believe a sovereign God is cleaning house.”

Falwell, who took over at PTL in March at Jim Bakker’s request, began putting the house in order at his April board meeting. His new board ceased paying the Bakkers’ $1.6 million annual salary, stopped payments to Jessica Hahn—the former church secretary involved in adultery with Bakker—and dismissed top Bakker aides, including PTL President Richard Dortch.

Financial Woes

A massive cleanup of PTL’S tangled finances began as well. New chief operations officer Harry Hargrave termed the PTL financial records “a mess.” Falwell said the ministry is $69 million in debt. Exorbitant salaries, retainer fees, and bonuses have been cut off, and building projects put on hold. A moratorium has been placed on issuing “lifetime partnerships” for $1,000, and more than 200 workers have been laid off.

In addition to these financial woes, investigations by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the South Carolina Tax Commission are on the horizon. According to the Washington Post, the IRS is challenging personal expenses exceeding $1.3 million.

Additional federal and state investigations, coordinated by the U.S. attorney’s office in Asheville, North Carolina, are exploring possible incidents of wire, tax, and mail fraud. And accountants are trying to determine what happened to several million currently unaccounted for.

Despite the problems, Falwell has pledged to see PTL survive, complying with “the rules and regulations of man as well as God.” He issued an urgent plea for sacrificial giving from PTL supporters to keep the ministry out of bankruptcy, saying it would have to shut down by the end of May unless $7 million in contributions arrived.

Meanwhile, rumors that the Bakkers would return to PTL came to a halt when new charges were leveled by Baptist talk show host John Ankerberg (see sidebar on p. 52). Ankerberg spoke publicly of evidence that Bakker had engaged in homosexual acts, used prostitutes, and condoned “wife swapping” by PTL staff.

Both Bakker and Dortch were dismissed last month as ministers of the Assemblies of God for “conduct unbecoming to a minister.” The Reverend G. Raymond Carlson, general superintendent of the denomination, said Dortch’s dismissal was for concealing information about the immoral actions of a fellow minister.

Carlson said Bakker was ousted for his admitted sexual encounter seven years ago and for “alleged misconduct involving bisexual activity.” At an impromptu press conference in front of his Palm Springs home, Bakker denied he had ever gone to a prostitute and said he is not a homosexual. (Bakker has indicated he might meet with his accusers.)


As a result of the scandals and publicity, a widespread reassessment of the role of religious broadcasting is under way. At his April press conference, Falwell said the national credibility of the cause of Christ is at “an all-time low.” He said, “We’re all injured and we’ve all got to pray for repentance and revival and restoration.…”

Many ministries are feeling the impact of PTL’S diminished credibility. Falwell said donations to his own “Old Time Gospel Hour” have dropped nearly $2 million since his involvement with PTL. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN,) said last month that publicity surrounding PTL has cost his ministry $10 million. He said donations to CBN through April were down “a staggering 33 percent” from the same time last year.

A Louis Harris survey conducted in mid-April found that even among self-described followers of TV ministers, 41 percent believe most TV evangelists do “more harm than good.” The group Fundamentalists Anonymous says it is forming a legal task force to address what it calls “religious malpractice.”

Ben Armstrong, of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB,) said the short-term effects will be negative, but that in the long run the “cleansing” is “a healthy process.” He said he hopes television ministries will join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or the NRB’S new self-regulatory Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission, which will be presented for NRB board approval in August.

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