Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker: inside their relationship and the scandals that brought down their empire

As a couple, Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker created an evangelical empire that included a Christian ministry, broadcast network and theme park. They became two of America’s most famous televangelists, whose pious teachings often appeared at odds with the extravagant lifestyle they led. The fact that their eventual fall from televised grace was due to a sex and financial scandal only increased the public’s fascination with them.

The couple connected quickly and quickly got their first TV show

Tammy Faye LaValley was born in International Falls, Minnesota, in 1942 to Pentecostal preaching parents. Jim Bakker was a self-proclaimed visionary and dreamer born in 1940 and raised in Muskegon, Michigan. They met in 1960 when they were students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis and on their first date Jim invited Tammy Faye to go to church with him. In his memories Tammy: Say it my way, Tammy Faye remembers Jim telling her at the end of that date, “Tammy LaValley, I love you since the minute I saw you walk into school …” before asking her to marry her.

A year later, the newlyweds had dropped out of college to pursue their shared dream of creating a ministry. As traveling Assemblies of God evangelists, Jim preached while Tammy Faye sang and played the accordion, ministering in churches across the United States. Part of their teachings involved a children’s puppet show ministry, which in 1965 became a television show on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Capitalizing on Robertson’s admiration for the children’s program, Jim convinced him that if the puppet show was successful, Jim should have the option of creating a late-night Christian talk show.

Jim wanted to create “a Christian version of The Tonight Show,” John Wigger, author of PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire, Recount ABC News of Bakker’s time at CBN, noting that the Christian talk show was one of Jim’s first big innovations in televised ministry. This first foray into talk shows became Club 700, still a flagship program for CBN. “It’s not listed in the Bible, but my spiritual gift, my specific call from God, is to be a TV talk show host,” Jim said in To spy magazine.

Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye

Jim and Tammy Faye finally started their own TV network

As Jim and Tammy Faye’s public profile grew, so did their family unit. In 1970, Tammy Faye gave birth to her daughter Tammy Sue “Sissy” and in 1975 to a son, Jamie “Jay” Charles. In the years that followed, the Bakkers moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Jim founded the PTL (Praise the Lord) satellite network in 1974, followed by the beginnings of The PTL Club in 1976 which continued to air until 1987. Formatted as a late-night fare, the program hosted prominent ministers speaking on current affairs, featured guests as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Eldridge Cleaver, and presented popular Christian recording artists.

As hosts, the Bakkers helped popularize the “prosperity gospel», Where Christian faith is often equated with financial and material success. To viewers of The PTL Club, Jim and Tammy Faye were the embodiment of God rewarding strong faith with financial blessings, and the distant flock of the Bakkers willingly titled in the belief that they would receive the same blessings in return.

Between guests and musical interludes, a heavily made-up and wig-wearing Tammy Faye and flashy dressed Jim encouraged viewers to send money in exchange for prayers, blessings, and the opportunity to have a similar lifestyle. to theirs. The show’s ratings quickly climbed higher and higher and generated even greater financial returns.

The couple showed a united front on TV but unraveled in private

Tammy Faye’s outpouring and Jim’s calm faith were endearing, as was her unpredictability that could bring tearful tears to life’s struggles and successes, including his own. Reverend Mel White, a former negro of preacher Jerry Falwell, described his call as combination Martha Stewart, Dr. Joyce Brothers and Carol Burnett. “She talked about sex and flirted with Jimmy,” White said. “She took the caricature of an obedient wife and castigated her. You’ve never seen Pat Robertson’s wife, or Jerry Falwell’s wife. They stay home doing what these women do.

In private, the Bakkers were starting to move away. Jim devoted all of his energies to building the PTL network, expanding studios and office buildings – which became known as Heritage Village – and developing and broadcasting new Christian programming. Although she co-hosted the network’s most popular show, Tammy Faye often felt home alone, looking after their young children with little to no help from Jim.

Soon other people “began to notice a growing tension between Jim and me,” Tammy Faye wrote in Say it my way. “You could smell it on set, you could smell it while visiting our house. Jim became so preoccupied with the development of Heritage Village that he had little energy left to deepen our relationship. As I encouraged his efforts, I started to feel more distant from him than ever before. Intimacy between the couple had become rare, according to Tammy Faye.

Tammy Faye Jim Bakker

Jim Bakker (right) and Tammy Faye (center) sit with Edwin Louis Cole (left), a guest on their “People That Love” show, April 28, 1986.

Their world fell apart when Jim was involved in a sexual assault scandal

In 1978, the Bakkers used $ 200 million of PTL funds to finance the construction of Heritage USA, an experience park and a 2,300-acre Christian-themed residential complex in Fort Mill, South Carolina. At the height of its popularity Heritage USA is invoiced as the third theme park in the country with an estimated attendance of 4.9 million visitors per year. By the mid-1980s, the couple ruled a multi-million dollar evangelical empire, but their lavish lifestyles were drawing detractors from the mainstream media. Tammy Faye’s appearance and love of shopping had become a punchline for the comics. Shopping, Tammy Faye often stated publicly, was cheaper than a psychiatrist, and she noted she hoped that paradise would include a shopping center “where there is no limit on your payment card”.

But no amount of shopping has eased the pain of the 1987 revelation that her husband used $ 279,000 of PTL money in an attempt to buy the silence from 21-year-old church secretary Jessica Hahn, who claimed that Jim sexually assaulted her at a Florida hotel. bedroom in 1980. Although Jim insisted that sex was consensual, his downfall – and by association that of Tammy Faye – from televised grace was swift.

Jim reluctantly resigned his post at PTL, ceding control to fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell. Worse for the Bakkers was the revelation of a Charlotte Observer investigation that Jim had mismanaged funds and that PTL had been exploited to the point of financial collapse. According to Time, in the final months of the Bakker era at PTL, the organization was making $ 4.2 million per month and spending $ 7.2 million. All of the Bakker’s luxury homes and overspending were now in a much harsher light than the couple were used to, and a criminal investigation into PTL’s finances was opened in June 1987.

Tammy Faye initially stood alongside her husband but eventually divorced

Publicly Tammy Faye stood alongside her man, even appearing alongside Jim in a now infamous 1987 interview with Ted Koppel for Night line, defending their actions. She was present when he was indicted in 1988 with eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy, then sentenced to 45 years in federal prison, with the sentence ultimately reduced to eight years. When Jim was convicted, Tammy Faye – who has never been charged – appeared during a press conference and sang in tears: “On Christ the solid rock I stand / All other ground is pouring sand.” “

Three years later, they divorce. Criticized for initiating the divorce while her husband was behind bars, Tammy Faye said in her memoir:. “In a 1992 letter to her church in Florida, she explained the reasons for her divorce.” For years I pretended everything was fine, when in fact it hurts all the time, “he said. she wrote, “I can’t pretend anymore.”

A year after the divorce, Tammy Faye married real estate developer and former family friend Roe Messner, who had helped build much of Heritage USA. Messner was convicted of bankruptcy fraud in 1994 and served 27 months in prison. Tammy Faye remained married to Messner until her death in 2007 at the age of 65, after an 11-year battle with colon cancer. She was asked in 2002 if she still had a relationship with her ex-husband, Tammy Faye responded, “Oh yeah. We have a really great relationship. I’m saying I love being Jim Bakker’s friend and I love being Roe Messner’s wife.

Released on parole in 1994, Jim returned to Christian broadcasting in 2003 with The Jim Bakker Show, co-hosting alongside his second wife Lori, whom he married in 1998. In a declaration At the time of Tammy Faye’s death, Jim said his ex-wife “lived her life like the song she sang, ‘If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.'”

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