Three decades after his PTL empire near Charlotte crumbled amid financial and sex scandals, Jim Bakker is back on TV with a different, darker message: The Apocalypse is coming and you better get ready.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Prosperity Gospel shill Jim Bakker wants you to prepare for the coming apocalypse by purchasing his freeze-dried survival packages. Funny thing,though, he mentions nothing about the Rapture of the Church which comes well before the Battle of Armageddon. Not much money to be made there because all you have to do to “prepare” for that is to be born again. Back in the 1980’s, Bakker became a millionaire selling the lie of the Prosperity Gospel, and he has become a millionaire again selling the lie of “preparing” to face Antichrist in the time of Jacob’s trouble by purchasing his freeze dried gruel. People loved to be fooled, don’t they?
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3,4 (KJV)
Ready to be judged by God, sure. But the main mission of “The Jim Bakker Show” – broadcast from a Christian compound deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri – appears to be to sell you fuel-less generators, doomsday guidebooks and freeze-dried food with a shelf-life of up to 30 years.
Bakker, whose co-host is second wife Lori, says stocking up on such survivalist merchandise could keep you alive amid the catastrophes – earthquakes, hurricanes, war, famine – that some Christians believe are signs that End Times are near.
“Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, ah, ah, ah, ah,” Bakker’s daughter, Tammy Sue, now 47, sang on one show as her dad promoted buckets of long-lasting emergency food. That day’s “Staying Alive” special: Ten buckets, with 2,410 servings, for a $600 donation plus shipping.
“We are in the final days” is Bakker’s refrain as he points a warning finger at Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and to recent talk of nuclear war with North Korea.
Now 78, with a white beard, Bakker is no longer the sunny, baby-faced preacher who co-hosted “The PTL Club” in the 1970s and ’80s with then-wife Tammy. She did the singing back then, often while shedding happy, mascara-tinged tears about Jesus.
Together, Jim and Tammy built Heritage USA, a 2,300-acre Christian theme park and resort that drew nearly 6 million visitors at its peak in 1986. Their flock came to the Fort Mill, S.C., campus to splash in the water park, pray in a stone-faced Upper Room meant to suggest the site of Jesus’ Last Supper, and cheer on televangelism’s most famous couple as they taped their TV talk show.
PTL was short for “Praise the Lord,” though critics of the Bakkers’ opulent lifestyle – they bought vacation homes, high-priced cars, even an air-conditioning unit for their doghouse – suggested it should stand for “Pass the Loot.”
Everything came tumbling down in 1987, amid revelations that Bakker had had a 15-minute tryst and paid hush money to a young church secretary named Jessica Hahn. He later served in federal prison for nearly five years for PTL-related fraud.
More than 30 years after the fall of PTL, public records indicate that unpaid IRS tax liens against Bakker or against him and Tammy, who died in 2007, still add up to at least $5.5 million.
The question now: Has Bakker repented and found a genuine calling to help Christians prepare for the end times forecast in the Bible? Or is he stoking 21st-century fears – terrorism, climate change, war – to make money?
Answer that at your own risk, Bakker tells viewers:
“One day you’re going to shake your fist in God’s face and you’re going to say, ‘God, why didn’t you warn me?’ He’s going to say, ‘You sat there and you made fun of Jim Bakker all those years. I warned you. But you didn’t listen.’ ”
John Wigger, author of a new book called “PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire,” argues that the savvy Bakker is changing with the times to tap into new opportunities.
“The Prosperity Gospel, with all its glitz and money, fit the culture of the 1980s and Jim found that was a very successful component of his message,” said Wigger, a professor of history at the University of Missouri. “In this post-9/11 era, he’s found that the Apocalypse and survivalism make for a very compelling message that will also gain him an audience.” source