Longstanding differences between television evangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, the type of conflicts in evangelistic circles normally kept out of public view, erupted Tuesday into internecine warfare involving many of America’s brand-name preachers.
Swaggart said Tuesday that he had forewarned his denomination against being “dragged through the mud” by Bakker’s scandal-touched PTL ministries, but he denied a charge that he was planning a takeover of the $172-million evangelistic empire Bakker relinquished to the Rev. Jerry Falwell last week.
Swaggert, a classic Pentecostal preacher with strict views of personal sanctity and doctrine, said he was hoping to minister to Bakker, who last Thursday confessed to a sexual encounter in 1980 and a payoff to keep the incident quiet.
But not long after Bakker gave up his PTL ministries, he and his attorney, Norman Roy Grutman, said that another evangelist was attempting a takeover of PTL.
Swaggart, a top-rated TV evangelist who will be preaching at the Los Angeles Sports Arena Friday through Sunday, acknowledged Tuesday 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 told the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer that a takeover “would be the last thing in the world I would ever want.” Swaggart said in a videotaped appearance on the “700 Club” Tuesday that “I don’t appreciate a preacher who commits adultery and then goes out and blames me.”
Indeed, Grutman on Tuesday modified his charges to accuse Swaggart of trying to “orchestrate” Bakker’s ouster.
In the past, Swaggart has been critical of Bakker’s success-oriented gospel on the “Jim and Tammy” television program, his Heritage USA park and hotel complex in South Carolina and his openness to Christians of various stripes, including Roman Catholics.
Pastor Jack Hayford of Van Nuys, the 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.”
Dropped Television Programs
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” strongly criticized many of the big evangelistic ministries, including friends of Bakker’s.
Bakker (pronounced Baker) 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.
Buckingham, who saw Bakker in Palm Springs on Tuesday, said he and other Christian leaders were working behind the scenes to “try to bring this thing to a peaceful conclusion.” At the same time, Buckingham said, he said he thinks God is saying to everyone who has become powerful in electronic ministries to scale down their ambitions, or as he put it, “that you can’t build your tower any higher.”
Bakker is in seclusion with his wife, Tammy Faye, in a Palm Springs home, and Swaggart is at an undisclosed location in Southern California. They 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.
Grutman, Bakker’s attorney, told a news conference at PTL’s Fort Mill, S.C., complex Tuesday that he has seen “clear-cut 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 that 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 Reverend Bakker’s.”
Jerald Ogg, Swaggart’s attorney in the evangelist’s hometown of Baton Rouge, La., said before Grutman’s news conference that “when people start questioning a minister’s integrity, that’s just a classy way of robbing and stealing.” Ogg 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.”
Swaggart told the Charlotte Observer that he urged the executive presbytery of the Assemblies of God last July 30 to distance itself from the PTL so that it would not “be dragged through the mud” in any scandal, but that officials told him they needed evidence.
When he heard that the Observer was about to break the story of the 1980 tryst with a church secretary in Florida and a $115,000 check in 1985 from PTL to the woman, Swaggart said he thought of getting a group of evangelists together to approach Bakker in person.
The purpose was “if it was true, to do anything we could to help him to serve in a rehabilitation process,” he told the Observer. Falwell, the Moral Majority founder who last week was asked by Bakker to become the new board president of PTL, was to be one of the evangelists.
‘A Fallen Brother’
Another participant, Chattanooga evangelist John Ankerberg, said in a statement that the intent was “only of restoring a fallen brother in the context of confession and repentance, which would bring forgiveness.”
In a memo to Ankerberg, Swaggart wrote that he was afraid Bakker and Richard Dortch, a PTL official who now hosts the “Jim and Tammy” show, would show the note on the air and distort its intent.
“Please believe me,” Swaggart wrote, “there is absolutely no chance of Bakker and Dortch stepping down for any type of rehabilitation. First they will try to lie their way out of it, but the documentation should be irrefutable.”
The Assemblies of God 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.
The Rev. Oral 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.
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 Buckingham described Tuesday as 15 to 20 minutes in bed. When the Bakkers put their marriage back together, Evans said, they started their broken marriage seminars and counseling segments of their ministry.
The counseling adjunct to PTL was another sore point with Swaggart, according to the Rev. Russell Spittler of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Spittler, an Assemblies minister, directs the David duPlessis Center for Christian Spirituality at Fuller.
“Jimmy does not believe in any kind of counseling, Christian or otherwise. That’s drawn Jimmy’s fire,” Spittler said in an interview. He said Swaggart is deeper in theological knowledge than Bakker but is also more dogmatic than Bakker.
Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this article.