Denies Takeover Attempt : Issued Warning About Bakker, Swaggart Says

Times Religion Writer

TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart acknowledged Tuesday that he warned the Assemblies of God denomination last summer about fellow preacher Jim Bakker's adulterous sexual encounter and urged the church to distance itself from Bakker's PTL ministries.

Swaggart said he took the action to try to prevent the church from being "dragged through the mud" in the scandal. But Swaggart found himself under fire Tuesday for, in the words of Oral Roberts, "sowing discord among the brethren, because somehow you think you're holier than thou. "

Bakker, after admitting to the sexual encounter with a church secretary in 1980, resigned last week as host of his nationally telecast PTL show and as chairman of his organization's $172-million Heritage USA park and hotel complex in Fort Mill, S.C.

As charges and countercharges continued to fly Tuesday, involving many of the nation's most prominent evangelists, New Orleans evangelist Marvin Gorman filed a $90-million lawsuit against Swaggart in a case with some parallels to the Bakker case.

Gorman accused Swaggart of trying to bankrupt Gorman's television ministry by spreading tales of sexual misconduct. Gorman said in the lawsuit filed in Louisiana district court that he committed "an immoral act" with a woman in 1979. But he said he repented and felt he was forgiven by God.

He said in the lawsuit that he resigned in July as pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in New Orleans after Swaggart joined church officials in a conspiracy to defame him.

Gorman continues to head Marvin Gorman Ministries at his television studio in suburban New Orleans.

Gorman's lawyer, Tommy Frasier, alleged at a New Orleans press conference Tuesday that Swaggart was making an attempt to win over Gorman's followers--and their money.

Frasier said Swaggart and Swaggart's wife, Frances, telephoned members of the First Assembly last summer and told them that Gorman had had affairs with numerous women. Frasier also distributed copies of a letter he said was written by Swaggart in which Gorman is accused of misconduct with at least two women.

Query Brings Laugh

Swaggart, in an interview Tuesday with WBRZ-TV of Baton Rouge, La., laughed when asked about the lawsuit.

"I think Marvin Gorman, the last place in the world he wants to see is a court of law. That'll be my answer to that," Swaggart said.

Swaggart, a classic Pentecostal preacher with strict views of personal sanctity and doctrine, had been critical in the past of Bakker's success-oriented gospel and openness toward Catholics.

Pastor Jack Hayford of Van Nuys, a nationally influential Pentecostal pastor of the 7,000-member Church on the Way, said Tuesday in an interview:

"I know of cases where Jimmy Swaggart has influenced the bringing of charges against other ministers for far less significant causes than anything moral or financial. I feel very badly that he is apparently making a crusade to topple anything that's unappealing to him when he is so gifted making a positive crusade in evangelism."

Bakker dropped Swaggart's television programs last year from his PTL network after Swaggart began endorsing author David Hunt, whose book "The Seduction of Christianity" criticizes heavily many of the big evangelistic ministries, including friends of Bakker. Bakker did not think he could tolerate the "narrowness" of Swaggart on his network, said Jamie Buckingham, an editor-at-large at Charisma magazine, the leading Pentecostal publication in the country.

July 30 Report

Swaggart told the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer that he first brought up reports of Bakker's sexual indiscretion July 30 at the Springfield, Mo., headquarters of the Assemblies of God, the denomination to which both ministers belong.

But Swaggart said that a claim by Bakker and his attorney that he planned a takeover of PTL "would be the last thing in the world I would ever want." In a videotaped appearance on the "700 Club" Tuesday, Swaggart added that "I don't appreciate a preacher who commits adultery and then goes out and blames me" (for his resignation).

Bakker is in seclusion with his wife, Tammy Faye, in a Palm Springs home and Swaggart is at an undisclosed location in Southern California preparing to conduct a crusade this weekend at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The two preachers have not made themselves generally available to the press and apparently are not in contact with each other.

Nevertheless, sharp volleys were exchanged by their lawyers Tuesday even as other evangelists were drawn into the edges of the fray.

Norman Ray Grutman, Bakker's attorney, told a news conference at PTL's South Carolina complex Tuesday that he has seen "clearcut evidence that Swaggart was attempting to orchestrate the ouster of Jim Bakker." Without mentioning Swaggart by name Monday night on ABC-TV's "Nightline," Grutman said if the unidentified evangelist was going to take more steps to discredit Bakker, "then we're going to be compelled to show that there's a smellier laundry in his hamper than the laundry that he thought was in Rev. Bakker's."

Jerald Ogg, Swaggart's attorney in the evangelist's hometown, Baton Rouge, said lawyers were examining Grutman's statements. "It's no secret that Jimmy doesn't see things the way they do, but this is ridiculous."

'Distortions' Claimed

Meanwhile, Chattanooga, Tenn., evangelist John Ankerberg, issued a statement accusing Bakker and Grutman of "distortions and blatant misrepresentations" in their account of the events.

"When the facts are known it will be clear that the money paid as a consequence of Jim Bakker's sexual misconduct was in no way blackmail, but was in fact an attempt to cover up the incident," said Ankerberg, 40, host of a nationally syndicated religious telecast.

"Second, the rumors and innuendos about a 'hostile takeover' are patently false. These appear to be attempts to shift the attention away from the immorality and cover up at PTL and evoke sympathy and support for Jim Bakker," he added.

Ankerberg's statement said that some time ago, he and Swaggart "and originally Jerry Falwell" attempted to meet with Bakker in an effort at "restoring a fallen brother." Ankerberg did not say what happened as a result, although he denied it was any attempt at a takeover of PTL. Falwell, however, did assume the chairmanship of PTL at Bakker's request when Bakker resigned.

Need for Evidence

The Assemblies of God's North Carolina district received allegations of sexual misconduct and a payoff by Bakker two weeks ago and began a formal investigation. The person bringing the charges was Al Cress, according to Juleen Turnage of the Assemblies of God headquarters, who said she only knew that he was a former PTL employee.

Bakker turned in his resignation as a minister last Thursday, but it was not accepted because the church needs to consider whether there are grounds for dismissal, a spokesman said.

Roberts' Criticism

Roberts, speaking from his Tulsa, Okla., prayer tower on his son's television show, criticized Swaggart without mentioning his name. Addressing this unnamed evangelist, Roberts said, "you are sowing discord among the brethren, because somehow you think you're holier than thou. Somehow Satan has put something in your heart that you're better than anybody else."

Roberts further admonished: "Move back, and treat Jim Bakker like what he is, an anointed man, a prophet of God."

On the PTL show Tuesday morning, Fred Gross, a licensed clinical psychologist who works at a Christian therapy program at Palmdale Hospital Medical Center, said that Bakker had released him from a secrecy vow Monday in Palm Springs to tell how Bakker confessed his sexual sin to him in 1980.

'He Was Sobbing'

Gross, a regular member of the PTL "family," said, "He was sobbing. . . . He was shaking so violently that I had to hold him. . . . We were prone on the floor. His face was buried in the carpet. . . . If there has ever been a release, that was a release."

Former western star Dale Evans, a frequent guest on the "Jim and Tammy" show who guest-hosted earlier this month, said the couple is just like anyone else, "prone to make mistakes." She said the Bakkers were separated at the time of the affair, which Charisma editor Jamie Buckingham described Tuesday as 15 to 20 minutes in bed.

Buckingham, who saw Bakker in Palm Springs Tuesday, said he and other Christian leaders were working behind the scenes to "try to bring this thing to a peaceful conclusion." Any problems experienced by one prominent ministry tends to hurt other evangelistic enterprises, most conservative Protestant leaders contend. Thus, the "700 Club" of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network is expected to be involved in reconciliation attempts.

Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this article.

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