East Of Eden

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East of Eden

The Preachers: Jim and Tammy Faye: Part 3.

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Image and caption from PTL.

 

When PTL fell apart, I was just 5. I didn't know about the sex scandals, but I do remember my parents discussing the Bakkers' outsized lifestyle. The mansions, the cars, the blingy lifestyle- it came up repeatedly. What stuck in my mind, besides how disappointed my mom was (she was a SAHM of 3 and Pentecostal; of course she watched the Bakkers), had to be the air conditioned dog house. We didn't even have AC in our house. We depended on a series of electric fans for three more years, and that little yellow Cape Cod got very hot during the summer months. Yet, their dog chilled in cool comfort. Yup, decades later, I still remember that.

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The lobby of the Heritage Grand Hotel. (Photo Credit: Robin Rayne Nelson/ZUMA Press, via PTL)

 

For this post, I'm going to turn to a recent NY Daily News story by Sherryl Connelly (that also uses John Wigger's "PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire" as a source) to get a rundown of the Bakker's Baller Lives: 

"Heritage USA [was] the first of its kind Christian Disneyland, set on 2,300 acres in the rolling hills of South Carolina.

Its spectacular attractions included a 163-foot waterslide, a 14-foot high fiberglass moose, a 501-room luxury hotel and a massive indoor shopping complex.

Christian counseling services were available on request.

The theme park quickly became America's third most popular attraction behind Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The difference was that Heritage USA enjoyed tax-exempt status.

But Bakker's megalomaniacal ambitions for expansion turned the park into a money-suck, plunging PTL into one financial crisis after another.

None of that slowed the Bakkers’ epic spending on personal luxuries.

Their shopping sprees reflected insatiable greed. In 1984, after an exhaustive run through luxury stores in Manhattan, they added $24,500 in furs (including a full-length Blackglama) and $27,500 in jewelry (one item was a $6,000 diamond bracelet) to their homeowner's insurance.

While in New York, the couple stayed at a suite in the Waldorf Astoria, complete with a fireplace and baby grand piano. Wherever they traveled, their hotel bills were astronomical.

Later that year, the couple chartered a Gulfstream for a $107,000 flight to Palm Springs. Jim's feet no sooner touched the ground than he raced off to buy three luxury cars, including two antique Rolls-Royces, totaling $170,000.

They shared a secret suite at the Heritage Gold Hotel, with gold-plated bathroom fixtures and a 50-foot walk-in closet. Even the doghouse was air-conditioned.

You see? That AC really is a major point in the Bakker Hall of Shame. Back to the story:

The Bakkers owned several expansive and expensive homes — two in Palm Springs alone. PTL paid for an endless succession of maids and security guards. The latter also washed the cars nightly, cleaned the hamster cages and performed grocery runs.

Once, when the Bakkers needed their clothes in California, the church paid $100,000 to fly their wardrobes in by jet from North Carolina.

In fact, the church picked up the tab for almost everything. The Bakkers continued to collect hefty salaries, as well as bonuses, throughout the burgeoning financial crisis from 1984 to 1987.

The total take was close to $10 million in today's dollars.

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Image and caption from PTL.

Ridiculous. They were just greedy. However, as was detailed in Part 2, it wasn't just the money and things. There was, of course, sex. Besides Jessica Hahn, Jim allegedly cheated on Tammy with men:

Austin Miles, a professional clown, later claimed he walked in on Jim Bakker and three younger males "playing with each other" in the sauna at the Heritage Village complex.

According to Miles, one of the men was stretched naked on a table while Bakker administered an intimate massage.
The clown beat a retreat, but not before Tammy Faye stormed inside. Pounding on the door of the steam room, she screamed at her husband to come out before collapsing in sobs.

The door stayed shut.

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Image and caption from PTL.

 

Ouch. You may recall from Part 2 the name John Wesley Fletcher, who Hahn said set her up with Jim. Fletcher might've had a thing with Jim, too. Flipping back to John Wigger's book:

John Wesley Fletcher later claimed, in a 1989 Penthouse article, that he and Bakker first had sex in the Heritage Village sauna, which would have been sometime before the spring of 1979. According to Fletcher, in early November 1980,... Fletcher claimed that he walked in on Bakker and Taggart in bed. Taggart later pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked under oath whether he had ever had sex with Bakker. Fletcher says that his sexual encounters with Bakker continued until 1981, when he was defrocked by the Assemblies of God and banned from PTL after a security guard complained about his advances.

JessiHahn

Image and caption from PTL.

HOT. MESS. But back to the Daily News story and Jessica Hahn:

Hahn claims that he raped her, describing a nauseating scene in a hotel room. At first, Bakker pleaded for sex, but when Hahn refused, she says he forced her onto the bed.
...
Hahn's silence was later bought for $279,000 in church money, according to the book.

In the book, Hahn is quoted as saying:

“I feel like we were set up by John [Fletcher],” Hahn says. She was naïve and overwhelmed by the situation, but to a certain extent so was Bakker. It was not “consensual” and she did not “say yes.” “It just happened, it just suddenly happened and I didn’t run out of the room because I felt, to be honest with you, that this guy was like my idol and I didn’t know what to do. I just thought I should go through with this because it’s Jim Bakker. And that’s something that I haven’t really thought about but that’s basically the truth,” Hahn says. “I can’t call it rape. I just can’t. Everybody else does, though, and it bothers me for some reason.”

Jim vehemently denied that it was rape:

“We had a fifteen- to twenty-minute tryst, a quick, furtive sexual encounter… . We did not drink wine, as was later reported. Nor did I imply that by having sex with me she was serving God somehow. Most of all, I did not rape Jessica Hahn. Foolish and sinful as it was, the sexual encounter for which we are both infamous was completely consensual.”

It wasn't the "encounter" that would eventually tumble the house of cards so much as the six figure hush money. Back to the Daily News story:

By 1987, Jimmy Swaggert, an Assemblies of God preacher who would later be defrocked in a sex scandal, was on the trail of the Hahn hush money. He had a hungry eye on the PTL ministry.

But it was Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, who won what he thought was the prize. Bakker surrendered the PTL to him just as the Hahn scandal broke.
...

[Bakker] was indicted on 23 federal charges of wire and mail fraud and one count of conspiracy.

In order to keep Heritage USA afloat, Bakker had knowingly oversold $158 million worth of "lifetime memberships" entitling entitled buyers to a three-day annual stay at a Heritage hotel.

The money raised to build those accommodations had been diverted elsewhere. Bakker was accused of running a Ponzi scheme.

In 1989, Bakker he was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to 45 years in prison. The term was reduced to eight, and he was released in 1994.

JF

Image and caption from PTL.

 

Falwell only stuck around PTL for seven months before resigning, saying, according to the PTL book, "that Bakker had turned PTL into a “scab and cancer on the face of Christianity,” a disaster unparalleled in the last 2,000 years. By then PTL was already in bankruptcy, headed for liquidation." 

At this point in the story, normally, this would be the end. A closing graf about how Jim lived a quiet life of obscurity and post-prison shame. But as I noted in Part 1, he's still alive, and unbelievably, still in the televangelical biz. He's got a new wife, a new headquarters far from Charlotte, and instead of selling vacay suites, he's selling post-apocalptic survival food. 

Seriously.

And in Part 4, we'll discuss Jim and Tammy, after the fall.

 

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