Thanks to a North Carolina jury, a time of recovery can come to American Christians.

At first glance it seemed to have all the swagger of a Jim Bakker telethon: microphones and minicams; Tammy Faye responding to a reporter by singing, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand”; and Jim himself incantationally quoting, “All things work together for good,” fully expecting God’s good to match up with the PTL version.

But this was not television and the effect was not inspiring. This was the real world, a North Carolina courthouse where Bakker had just been found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The effect was pathetic.

Bakker’s trial and conviction on charges that he oversold “lifetime partnerships” in his Heritage USA theme park, guaranteeing free annual vacation lodging, was simply the end of a decade-long pattern of irresponsible use of over $500 million raised through televised appeals for ministry support. Investigations revealed that much of what was being supported was not legitimate ministry but lavish lifestyle. PTL ministries attempted to circumvent the already generous laws that govern nonprofit businesses and churches. Testimony showed that this end run was not done out of ignorance or incompetence, but willful disregard.

It does not take a thorough knowledge of the United States Penal Code to understand what Bakker did wrong. Try Matthew 19:18: Don’t lie. As prosecuter Deborah Smith said, “The message is you can’t lie to people and you can’t use television and the mails to lie to get people to send you money.” Bakker did just that.

In the past Bakker has preached and pled for forgiveness from his followers and the Christian community at large. But even Bakker’s unique theology—a kind of couch-potato orthodoxy—surely ...

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