The apostle Paul considered himself the “chief of sinners,” but then again, he never met Jim Bakker.
The latter’s ministry got off to an innocent enough start. Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye, were young, no-name, itinerant Pentecostal evangelists when a puppet show they had developed for children garnered the attention of pioneering televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson took a chance on the entrepreneurial couple, and they made the most of it, breaking out on their own and developing a signature Christian television talk show program, originally known as The PTL Club (the letters stood for “Praise the Lord”), that endeared them to millions of viewers across the country and world.
The Bakkers hailed from hardscrabble backgrounds. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s they built a Christian entertainment empire that won accolades from the likes of Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Until—as historian John Wigger declares in his riveting new book, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire—“it all fell apart.”
Sex and Greed
Drawing on a wide range of interviews, newspaper reports, and court documents, Wigger expertly documents the larger-than-life transgressions that eventually brought the Bakkers and PTL tumbling down. Where to begin a summary accounting? Perhaps with the sex? Jim Bakker’s December 1980 encounter with a young woman named Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room—one which she describes to this day as non-consensual, though she prefers not to call it rape—would prove central to his and PTL’s undoing. But as Wigger shows, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout Bakker’s time at the ...1
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